ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays were having some issues late in Saturday’s game.
Yandy Diaz, one of their top hitters, walked off the field during warmups for the eighth inning and had to leave due to dehydration. A few moments and four pitches later, Jason Adam, one of their top relievers, gave up a homer to Chicago’s Gavin Sheets that erased their lead.
But this has been a special season so far for the Rays, and as the game moved into the 10th, the White Sox did them something of a favor.
With one out and speedy Vidal Brujan replacing Francisco Mejia as the runner at second, the Sox opted to intentionally walk Wander Franco, the multi-talented star-in-the-making. That would seem like sound strategy, except the next hitter was red-hot Randy Arozarena, who already had homered and singled in a run and looked to be extremely locked in.
“I kind of was in my mind like, ‘Are you sure?’ ” Rays starter Shane McClanahan said. “ ‘You sure you want to do this?’ ”
White Sox manager Pedro Grifol would say later he was sure, that in addition to setting up a potential inning-ending double play, they “liked the matchup” of Arozarena facing right-hander Jimmy Lambert.
And it took only one pitch for Arozarena to make that look like a bad move, as he slapped a single to rightfield, scoring Brujan to give the Rays a 4-3 victory that was their second straight walkoff win over the White Sox. Brujan got a great jump, and first-year big-league third-base coach Brady Williams made a good read and send.
“I was happy I was in that situation,” said Arozarena, via team interpreter Manny Navarro. “I really hadn’t been in a walkoff situation like that before (in the majors). It was my first time, but thank God I was able to get that hit.”
Manager Kevin Cash had given Arozarena a heads up that the Sox might walk Franco, so Arozarena knew he would have a chance to deliver and jumped on the first pitch.
“I was just trying to make contact,” Arozarena said. “I wasn’t sure if I was trying to just get a hit or hit a home run, but I was just trying to take care of the situation.”
Cash praised Arozarena’s approach. “He just went up there almost like he had slider in the back of his mind or (an) off-speed (pitch) and did not try to hit it to Randy Land (a seating area beyond the leftfield fence),” Cash said. “He just tried to hit it somewhere on the turf.”
Cash had plenty to be pleased with as the Rays improved to an MLB-leading 18-3, matching the second-best 21-game start in modern era history. Only three teams started better: the 1984 Tigers, 1955 Dodgers and 1911 Tigers, who all were 19-2. The Rays joined six other teams at 18-3: The 2003 Yankees, 1987 Brewers, 1981 A’s, 1946 Red Sox, 1938 Giants and 1918 Giants.
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McClanahan had another strong start, striking out a season-high 10 and allowing only three hits (though two were solo homers). He also posted a team-record 32 misses in 49 swings, a whiff rate of 65.3 that, per mlb.com, is the highest in a game since the pitch-tracking started in 2008.
Adam quickly shut the Sox down after the Sheets homer on a pitch that was neck high. Garrett Cleavinger had a key 1-2-3 top of the 10th to keep the Sox from scoring.
“A lot of things are continuing to go well for us,” Cash said.
The Rays piled up some more records as well.
When Arozarena went deep with Diaz aboard in the first, that extended the Rays’ streak of homers to all 21 games, surpassing the season-starting record of 20 by the 2019 Mariners. Going back to the final game of last season, the Rays also set a franchise record by going deep in 22 straight.
The win was their 12th in 12 home games this season, matching the franchise record for consecutive home wins at any point.
And when Pete Fairbanks got through the ninth unscathed, he broke J.P. Howell’s long-standing team record for consecutive scoreless innings with 28. Howell had 27 1/3 in 2012.
“It’s a fun little accomplishment,” Fairbanks said. “But we won (Saturday), and we had a lot of guys put together good at-bats and good innings to get us there. I think that that takes precedent for me.”
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