ST. PETERSBURG — Coming off the most lopsided loss in franchise history, the Rays’ confidence in their ability to bounce back was boosted even before they got to the field Wednesday.
That’s because it was Shane McClanahan’s day to start.
“How could it not? I mean, if you don’t know that Mac’s the man by now, you should,” outfielder/first baseman Luke Raley said. “I mean, he’s unbelievable. Every time he’s out there, we know we have a great chance of winning a baseball game. There’s not much to say about him. He’s incredible. He’s got to be one of the best pitchers in the game, and I’m really glad he’s my teammate.”
All the Rays are, as McClanahan delivered the dominant start they needed in a 7-3 rebound win over the Blue Jays. He retired the first 10 batters, allowed only four hits, struck out seven and walked none to become the first eight-game winner in the majors and lower his ERA to a second-best 1.97.
“He’s put himself in that category of being the guy that you can really lean on,” manager Kevin Cash said. “He’s given us plenty of reasons to lean on him, and (Wednesday) was no different.”
He got plenty of help, as Wander Franco and Jose Siri had big nights at the plate, Raley homered and reliever Kevin Kelly got a key ground ball that Taylor Walls turned into a pivotal double play when the Jays threatened in the eighth.
All of which pushed Tuesday’s 20-1 drubbing further into the past.
“That’s something that just happens in the game; it’s going to happen to us, it’s going to happen to any other team,” Siri said via team interpreter Manny Navarro.
“We just came in like any other day. We’re here playing cards. We know we can do everything on the field — we can pitch, we can play defense, and we can hit. We just stuck to that.”
They improved their majors-best record to 36-15. It all started with McClanahan, who relishes the chance to help.
“Absolutely,” he said. “I love righting the ship, you know what I mean? It’s one of those things where I always want to put us in the best possible situation I can. Whatever that is, whether that’s five (innings), four, seven, eight, whatever, doesn’t matter. That’s my ultimate job, to help this team win, and I love that opportunity to get us right where we need to be.”
Wednesday, it was seven innings, on an impressively efficient 82 pitches (60 strikes), especially against a potent Toronto team he was facing for the eighth time, matching his most against any opponent.
“That lineup knows him very well, and they’re a bunch of really good hitters, and he kept them pretty quiet,” Cash said. “That speaks to the stuff that he had, the execution that he had and (how he) just committed himself to the strike zone. When he does that, we’ve seen some special outings out of him. This was no different. I think it’s just the added that it’s in-division, that they know what he’s doing, and there wasn’t much that they could prevent.”
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McClanahan left after the seventh with a 5-1 lead, but reliever Jason Adam made things much too interesting. He allowed two quick runs (homer, triple, RBI groundout), then put two more runners on (single, walk). Cash turned to Kelly, the Rule 5 rookie, and he got dangerous Matt Chapman to ground a ball up the middle that Walls smoothly snared before touching second and firing to first.
“Good for Kevin Kelly. We’re gonna lean on KK to come in there and get some big outs for us,” Cash said. “Taylor, though, I mean, we want every ball hit to him — the way that he defends and footwork, hands, the confidence to go and turn the double play. You didn’t know which way that inning was going to go, but when it was hit to him, you started feeling a lot better about it.”
The Rays grabbed the lead with a run in the first on singles by Franco (who had three), Randy Arozarena and Isaac Paredes, then made it 3-0 in the second on homers by Raley and Siri. Having given up a grand slam to Vladimir Guerrero Jr. while pitching in the ninth inning Tuesday, Raley said, “Absolutely, it feels better to hit ‘em than watch them go over.”
For all of the Rays, Wednesday felt much better than Tuesday.
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