DETROIT — Down to potentially their last chance, two runners on with two outs in the ninth inning of a scoreless game and facing Tigers All-Star closer Gregory Soto, the Rays were looking for something big Sunday to salvage a steamy afternoon.
It turned out to be patience.
Jose Siri walked to load the bases. Yu Chang walked to force in one run. And Yandy Diaz walked to score another.
Three straight hits followed, and from those small beginnings, the Rays produced their biggest inning of the season and a 7-0 victory that may rank among their most rewarding.
In doing so, they won their first series in five tries since the All-Star break, improved to 58-50 at the two-thirds mark of the season and held on to one of the three American League wild-card spots.
They ensured the stellar pitching of Drew Rasmussen — who was limited to just three innings — and five relievers on a hybrid bullpen day, and some impressive defense topped by Randy Arozarena’s home run-robbing catch didn’t go for naught.
And they made history, the first team in the modern era (since 1901), according to STATS LLC, to break a scoreless tie in the ninth inning or later by scoring seven or more runs with two outs.
“(Sunday) was a big game,” manager Kevin Cash said. “We lost (Saturday) night, but when you win the first two you want to think that you can win the series, and we did.”
The winning rally proved something else, as well.
“It really did show the resiliency in the hitters,” said Brandon Lowe, who delivered a two-run single. “To get to the ninth inning and face an All-Star closer and just kind of go about and be like, ‘All right, this guy’s going to be the guy we get our runs off,’ and kind of roll with that.”
More impressive was how they did it, after ex-Tiger Isaac Paredes reached on a one-out single and Francisco Mejia had a two-out double to start the ninth.
Siri, the 27-year-old free swinger acquired last week from Houston, had struck out his first three times up Sunday and in 12 of his first 18 at-bats as a Ray. But he resisted the temptation to be the star, taking six straight pitches to draw a bases-loaded walk.
“We’re all human. We’re professional athletes. We want to be the best in our field at all times,” Lowe said. “To say frustrations don’t arise — I’ve been there in that situation where I’ve had the three strikeouts. You’re frustrated as crap at the plate, and you want to do whatever you can to get that hit. A hit’s going to fix it, or something like that.
“It showed a lot of maturity in his aspect to be able to not swing out of his shoes trying to find a way to get a hit, to be that guy to get the winning run. He took his pitches. He knew what his strike zone was. He didn’t try to do too much, and I think that showed a lot about him.”
Chang was next, and he, too, impressed with his discipline after fouling off a 3-1 pitch and taking ball four to put the Rays ahead.
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“Yu’s at-bat there in the ninth was incredible. Works a walk, gets us our first run,” Rasmussen said. “Then after that it seemed like things started rolling pretty good.”
Diaz, hitless in his last 20 at-bats, showed similar patience, taking a strike and then four balls to make it 2-0.
“We all can’t get a hit all the time; that’s part of the game,” Diaz said via team interpreter Manny Navarro. “With that, you have to try something else, and so I make sure I can still have a good eye and a good at-bat.”
From there, Lowe said, the Rays relaxed.
He singled in two runs, Arozarena doubled in two, and Roman Quinn singled in one more. Two days after drawing a team-record 13 walks, they won because they drew three straight.
“I don’t think we can say enough for the at-bats that came before,” Lowe said. “My at-bat was easy after we got two runs. A lot less pressure when we had the lead.”
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