CHICAGO — Randy Arozarena made the biggest in a series of dazzling defensive plays by his Rays in the eighth inning Friday night when he raced back to the leftfield wall and leapt high enough to rob Jake Burger of a home run that would have put the White Sox back ahead.
As Arozarena did his now trademark crossed arms pose with centerfielder Jose Siri, his other Rays mates were fired up. Especially Isaac Paredes, who strode to the plate moments later to open the ninth and drove the second pitch from Kendall Graveman over the leftfield wall, leading the Rays to an eventful 3-2 win.
“(The catch) gives us a lot of hope,” said Paredes, via team interpreter Manny Navarro. “We knew that was a big home run; it would have broken the tie for them. It gives me a lot of motivation to come up to the plate and do something for the team.”
There was more drama in the ninth, as Rays closer Pete Fairbanks got two quick outs, then put two on (hit batter, walk) before leaving due to a recurrence of Raynaud’s syndrome, which in cold weather affects the feeling in his fingers. Rookie Kevin Kelly came on to finish it, as the Rays improved their majors-best record to 22-5 and beat the Sox for the fifth time in the past eight days.
Arozarena had a big night, as he made a daring dash to second that set up the Rays’ first run, had two hits and received a personalized Mexican-style wrestling mask from a fan that he was quite excited about.
But the catch was what he liked best.
“That play changed the game a little bit,” said Arozarena, via Navarro. “That could have easily been a home run and we go into the ninth and we’re losing and it makes the situation a lot more difficult. So I think that play was a lot better.”
The first-inning baserunning play turned out to be pretty key also — and led to Arozarena have a bloody forehead that required some quick between-innings medical treatment.
The Rays had Yandy Diaz on third after a leadoff double and Arozarena, who followed with a one-out single, on first.
Brandon Lowe lofted a pop-up into shallow right that second baseman Lenyn Sosa ran down. Arozarena, noting that the Sox left second base uncovered, went back to tag first and broke quickly for second. He slid in head first, with his helmet flying off, then bouncing back and cutting his forehead.
“I saw the base was open so that’s why I decided to go back take a look‚” Arozarena said. “I knew I was going to be there after the middle infielders took off. ... I knew I was able to beat (first baseman Andrew Vaughn) to the base.”
When Sosa threw the ball to Vaughn, a surprised Diaz broke for home and slid in safely head-first, though he irritated his previously sore left shoulder and had to leave the game in the fourth inning.
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“Pretty much my mindset was that after they caught the ball, if they threw it to second I was going to try and make a move and that’s exactly what happened,” he said, via Navarro.
Did Diaz expect Arozarena to take off for second?
“He always surprises me,” Diaz said. “That play was just a pop-up to the second baseman so I didn’t expect it. But that’s what he does.”
The Sox quickly got even when Vaughn homered with one out, and when Rays starter Zach Eflin hit Luis Robert in the back with his next pitch, the umpires gathered and issued warnings to both teams. That drew some animated reactions in the Chicago dugout and a charge onto the field by manager Pedro Grifol, who was ejected for a second straight day.
Grifol said his issue was with the rule: “I don’t agree with they hit our guy and we get warnings.” But when asked about whether Eflin hit Robert on purpose, he said, “I don’t know about the intent. They’re the only ones who can answer that.” Eflin said it definitely wasn’t on purpose, as he was having trouble gripping the ball in the cold weather and had issues throughout his five-inning stint with sinker command.
The Sox went ahead when Burger led off the second inning with a homer. The Rays tied it in the fourth when Paredes, who had five RBIs on Thursday, doubled with one out off Sox starter Lucas Giolito and Manuel Margot singled with two outs.
They kept it close with a series of strong defensive plays led by infielders Wander Franco, Taylor Walls, Paredes, and, of course, Arozarena.
“We’re going to have a lot of tight ballgames,” manager Kevin Cash said. “It’s good to see us come out on top. We had to do a lot of things right, and we did (Friday).”
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