ST. PETERSBURG — As if the smile on Shane McClanahan’s face wasn’t telling enough, the Rays Margaritaville straw hat he was wearing for the postgame celebration of the 8-2 win over Baltimore made it clear Saturday had been a better day.
Life since McClanahan earned the All-Star start with a 10-3, 1.71 record had been tough — three frustrating outings, three team losses and a series of questions about his drop in strikeouts, quality of work, health and 0-2, 5.60 record.
Working through six solid innings against a feisty Orioles squad Saturday, allowing just two runs thanks in part to some dazzling defense, taking advantage of his team’s resurgent offense, all added up to the bottom line result he had been striving for.
“I didn’t have my best stuff again (Saturday), and those guys (on defense) picked me up and offense picked me up, and I battled my butt off,” McClanahan said.
“That’s the rewarding part about this game. Some nights you’re going to have everything going for you and cruise and it might not feel as special as a night like (Saturday) where you face a good team, good offense, good approaches, good swings and you’ve just got to battle your way through it. So it was very good night for all of us.”
That it was. The win snapped the Rays’ three-game losing streak, improved their record to 59-53, moved them back ahead of the Orioles (59-54) for the third American League wild-card spot (pending the Twins’ late result), as well as third place in the AL East.
And it evened the season series with the Orioles at 9-9 heading into Sunday’s finale, which has the added significance of being the first tiebreaker if they finish with the same record and a playoff berth is in play.
McClanahan had plenty of help. The Rays, taking advantage of debuting Orioles prospect DL Hall, scored their most runs in more than a month.
Yu Chang, taking an unexpected turn in the leadoff spot, had two RBIs, as did Isaac Paredes, who made several key plays. Taylor Walls had a two-run homer, played his usual strong defense and provided TV commentary, mic’d up by Bally Sports Sun. Jose Siri had three hits and showed his impact on the bases, stealing second and third to set up a run.
The bullpen also provided three scoreless innings and some excitement. Pete Fairbanks yelled at Baltimore’s Robinson Chirinos (an ex-Ray) for calling a late timeout during his at-bat with two outs in the eighth. Chirinos yelled back and suddenly both benches and bullpens emptied, but it calmed quickly.
“There was a late time call, I took offense,” Fairbanks explained. “Apparently I misunderstood who had called time, where it came from. Apparently it was the umpire, not Chirinos. I, as you guys know, can be a little fiery. So I think that that might have caused some things (Saturday).”
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McClanahan didn’t have it easy as the Orioles were doing a good job of putting the ball in play, softly at times, but leading to hits, including five in their two-run second.
“That’s kind of the story, I feel like, my last couple starts where balls necessarily haven’t been leaving the park, but they’ve been finding holes,” McClanahan said.
Also problematic has been the new reality of teams changing their approach against him, which is why his strikeouts are down. After fanning 154 over 117 2/3innings in his first 19 starts, McClanahan has just 11 Ks over 16 2/3 innings in his last three, including four Saturday.
“I think teams have recognized from what we’ve seen coming out of the break that you’re better off trying to get him early in the at-bat,” manager Kevin Cash said. “They’re not waiting around because his stuff is so good.”
McClanahan was curious enough to ask pitching coach Kyle Snyder about it. “Teams are kind of not letting me get to two strikes,” he said. “They’re trying to put the ball in play early, and kudos to them. They’re doing a great job. They have a game plan. They’re sticking to it. And it’s up to me to make the adjustment.”
Saturday seemed liked a good first step. Just watch out for the pop-top.
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