ST. PETERSBURG — The first nine wins turned out to be somewhat easy, as the Rays opened the season beating the Tigers, Nationals and A’s by at least four runs in each game.
The Rays were in for a different kind of test Monday night, a typically tense and tight battle with American League East rival Boston.
“Definitely felt like a Rays-Red Sox game,” manager Kevin Cash said.
Brandon Lowe — in what he called one of the best at-bats of his stellar career — swatted an eighth-inning homer to deliver a 1-0 victory that extended the Rays’ franchise-best, MLB-leading record to 10-0.
“It was weird,” Lowe said. “Looking up at the scoreboard — obviously the Red Sox are a good team — it was just a little strange. Usually (by the) seventh inning, we’re going on six at-bats or whatnot. So that was definitely a little bit of a change.
“But it’s something that it was nice for us to have. We’re not going to win every game 10-0. We’re going to play 1-0 games and stuff like that. So it was good. Good to get this out of the way. And good to play these games again.”
The Rays are the first big-league team to win their first 10 since the 1987 Brewers who, along with the 1982 Braves, share the major-league record at 13.
Only four other teams have started a season winning as many: The 1981 Oakland A’s won 11 while the 1966 Indians, 1962 Pirates and 1955 Dodgers also won 10.
Lowe’s homer followed reliever Colin Poche’s dramatic escape from a top-of-the-eighth, bases-loaded mess he made by allowing two walks around a single, striking out dangerous Rafael Devers, who looked at a Strike 3 fastball, to drop to 0-for-8 vs. the Rays lefty. Poche’s reaction was emotional before the loud 13,470 fans at Tropicana Field.
“The guy works himself out of there, especially with the crowd that we had, it invigorates anybody. It really gets everyone going,” Lowe said. “I think it definitely carried into that bottom half of the inning.”
Batting with one out, Lowe battled through nine pitches from Chris Martin, including one he painfully fouled off his right leg, before driving the ball over the right-centerfield fence.
“Honestly, it hurt,” Lowe said. “I don’t know how I can perfectly place it in between two protective guards, but that’s great. (It) hurt at the moment, but I think getting right back into it and having to take a swing really kind of took my mind off it.”
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Swing he did, crushing the full-count fastball 404 feet over the fence, marking his third straight game with a homer and the first off a Red Sox reliever this season.
“Definitely one of the best at-bats I think I’ve ever had,” said Lowe. “It was a really good at-bat. He had some really good stuff up out there on the mound. Really, a few pitches in, I just kind of told myself, ‘You don’t need to hit a double. You don’t need to hit a homer. You’ve got Randy (Arozarena) and Wander (Franco) and other guys behind you.’
“Just find a barrel, take a good at bat and things will take care of itself. And it turned out pretty well.”
That was the case all around the clubhouse. The Rays pieced together an impressive and historic outing on the mound — a third straight shutout for the first time in their 26 seasons — with the work of five pitchers.
Opener Jalen Beeks worked the first two innings. Josh Fleming made amends for his rough April 4 outing in Washington with four dominant innings (one hit, five Ks). Garrett Cleavinger worked one. Poche got himself into and out of trouble. And Pete Fairbanks, having been teased by teammates for his lack of work given all the easy wins, converted his first save opportunity of the season.
“Yeah, a lot of people have been saying he’s been on vacation and started calling him ‘Pete Rarebanks,’ ” Poche said. “But he looked pretty damn good out there.”
The win ended the Rays’ streak of winning by at least four runs at nine games, second only to the 1884 St. Louis Maroons. The Rays did improve their run differential to plus-58, best through 10 games in the modern era (since 1901), trailing the Maroons and 1884 New York Gothams.
More relevant, they extended their remarkable start.
“It’s not gotten lost on anybody, but it’s not adding any pressure on anybody,” Lowe said. “We’ve done this before (winning 11 straight in May 2021). It’s just pretty cool to do it when we’re doing it and how we’re doing it.”
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