ST. PETERSBURG — It is no secret that Randy Arozarena likes the spotlight.
The Rays slugger went out and stole it from bigger-named stars this past spring in the World Baseball Classic in various forms: his celebrations, wearing cowboy boots to shag fly balls in pregame, and the obvious joy with which he plays.
So when the fans make a point to call him into it, the outfielder isn’t going to disappoint them.
Arozarena walked up to the plate in the sixth inning with the fans chanting his name, and the slugger responded by hammering a solo home run. He scored twice Monday night as the Rays beat the Blue Jays 6-4 in front of a season-low crowd of 8,857 at Tropicana Field.
“God had the perfect timing on that one…I think it was planned out. I heard them yelling and then going up to the plate, I told Isaac Paredes that he’s going to throw me a breaking ball,” Arozarena said through Rays interpreter Manny Navarro.
On a night that Kevin Kiermaier — the former face of the Rays — returned for the first time in the regular season, his replacement, Jose Siri, homered to match his career-high of seven on a season. Then Luke Raley hit his ninth home run, giving the Rays a major-league-leading 94 home runs this season.
“We have a team that can run, that can field, that can hit,” SIri said. “So it doesn’t matter what pitcher is up there, we feel confident in our ability to hit.”
The Rays (35-14) improved to 22-4 at home , which matches the best start to the season at home through 26 games in Major League Baseball since 1901. They also used the win to put a little more distance between them and the surprising Orioles, who were off Monday. The Rays hold a three-game lead in the American League East.
It all began with Arozarena on Monday night.
He beat out a throw from Kiermaier in the second inning for a replay-overturned double.
“I felt like I got there before the throw, even though it was a really good throw by KK,” Arozarena said of his former teammate, “but I knew 100% sure that I was safe.”
He then scored with two outs in the second when Vladimir Guerrero Jr. bobbled a flip to first.
The Rays kept it going.
Christian Bethancourt reached on Guerrero’s bobble and kept the inning alive to bring Siri to the plate. Siri, whom the Rays acquired last season as Kiermaier’s replacement when he was injured, hit his seventh home run of the season.
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Yandy Diaz led off the third with a walk and advanced on Guerrero’s second catching error of the game, and scored on Paredes’ single.
Arozarena led off the sixth and Jays right-handed starter Chris Bassitt threw him back-to-back sliders. After earlier hitting a slider for his double, he took this one 391 feet to the opposite field.
“What he’s doing all season long — he’s just hitting the ball hard, hitting the ball in the air. It doesn’t matter which way it goes,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “But you watch him take batting practice...it’s different now. It’s not the dead pull, pull, pull. I mean, there’s a lot of intent to kind of be that complete hitter, to hit balls in both gaps.”
Arozarena is now tied with Diaz and Josh Lowe for the team lead in home runs with 11.
And that’s fun.
“I just like to have as much fun as I can. I like to get the fans involved as much as they can and it looks like they’re having a good time and (I’m) just trying to have a good time out there,” Arozarena said.
Josh Fleming allowed two runs on five hits and two walks in six innings of work as the bulk pitcher.
Zack Littell gave up a home run to Daulton Varsho that reached the Ray tank in center field with one out in the ninth, then brought the tying run to the plate by allowing back-to-back singles, forcing the Rays to rush in Pete Fairbanks with a 6-3 lead.
Brandon Belt lined a two-out RBI-single off Fairbanks, who then walked George Springer to load the bases. Lakewood High alumnus Bo Bichette hit a harmless comebacker on the ground to end the Blue Jays’ threat.
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