BOSTON — For a day framed initially by pain and frustration, the Rays were happy to be laughing and joking by the end.
A two-run Little League homer by bulky Yandy Diaz — who bounced a ball to rightfield and circled the bases as the sloppy Red Sox made two bad throws — provided most of the entertainment during and after Sunday’s 6-2 win.
“It was a crazy play,” Diaz said, via team interpreter Manny Navarro. “I think I needed oxygen. …. Even right now my legs are really tired.”
Just fielding a team of nine somewhat healthy players was the first challenge for the Rays, evidenced by the three different lineup cards manager Kevin Cash filled out.
“There was a lot of stuff right there at the end that came down,” Cash said. “It was a little hectic.”
Wander Franco was being held out to further rest his sore left hamstring. Jose Siri (right shoulder) and then Brandon Lowe (back) were scratched within an hour of first pitch.
To make it work, Manuel Margot, whose ribs were wrapped after a scary and painful collision with the centerfield wall Saturday, had to step in for Siri. Harold Ramirez, who was supposed to be off, did the same for Lowe. Diaz, slated for a DH day, instead made his first start of the year at third base.
Plus, Luke Raley had to take swings and run on a treadmill in the morning to be sure he was okay after spending part of Saturday in an MRI tube, diagnosed with a mild right intercostal strain.
Then mix in another cold (first pitch temperature 52 degrees) and wet (intermittent light rain) day, and what they did was even more impressive in improving their majors-best record to 42-19.
“It kind of matches par I think with the team,” Raley said. “That’s what we do. We’re kind of a group of grinders. We play for one another. Sometimes people are dinged up and you know you’ve got to go out there with no bench and you’ve got to play through it. So it is what it is.”
And part of what that is, Lowe said, is unselfishness.
“There were guys that were supposed to have off days and kind of got that thrown out the window with 20 or 30 minutes before the game,” Lowe said. “For them to be able to turn it on and go out there and grind out at-bats on what was another just brutal day to play baseball, it’s really hats off to those guys.”
Once they started playing, the Rays had a pretty good time, taking the early lead, creating some cushion by scoring in four straight innings, getting another strong start from rookie Taj Bradley, and solid work from a trio of recently added veteran relievers — Robert Stephenson, Jake Diekman and Shawn Armstrong.
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Margot was involved in the two biggest sequences.
In the fourth, batting with the bases loaded, he laced a ball to left that scored two as Sox leftfielder Masataka Yoshida made an errant throw, turning a 1-1 tie into a 3-1 lead.
In the sixth, Margot was running hard from first when Diaz bounced what was scored a single into rightfield and kept going all the way home, third base coach Brady Williams noting the “slow-developing play” — that would quickly turn sloppy — and waving him in.
“The situation, the play and where the ball was, I was surprised the third base coach was sending me until I looked back and saw that it was a bad throw,” Margot said, via Navarro.
The first bad throws were from rightfielder Alex Verdugo to second baseman Enmanuel Valdez to home. The next was from catcher Conner Wong to, well, centerfield, as he not only didn’t get Diaz out at second, but gave him the chance to keep going home, expanding their lead to 6-2.
“When I didn’t see anybody in centerfield and they threw the ball over there, that’s when I knew I was going to score,” Diaz said.
And his Rays’ mates quite enjoyed it.
Cash joked they should “get him water and oxygen.” Raley pointed out “that’s what leadoff hitters do.”
Bradley may have had the best perspective:
“It’s funny just seeing him run around the bases like that, just how fast he’s moving around. He’s coming around third with a smile on his face, like he can’t believe it just happened. So that’s just one of those funny things in baseball. It reminds you it’s a kid sport. Just seeing somebody happy about something like that was just cool.”
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