ST. PETERSBURG — It takes a lot of energy to come from behind and win games. After two nights of dramatic rallies, the Rays scored early Sunday and held on for a relatively boring 6-3 win over the Mariners in front of 18,230 at Tropicana Field.
“This is very important for us,” Harold Ramirez said of the normal win. “Because (of) the energy it takes coming back, so to go up early and win, that’s what we needed today.”
The Rays (88-56) improved to a season-high 32 games above .500 and won three out of the four games in the series against the Mariners (79-64), who are vying for an American League wild-card spot. The Rays have won 11 of their last 13 series.
The Rays will need that energy this week, when they face two division leaders, including four games against the American League East-leading Orioles. They begin the road trip Monday against the AL Central’s top team, the Twins.
“It’s a team (Minnesota) we haven’t seen in quite some time. Obviously, they’ve done a lot of good things and have been in first place for the bulk of the year,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “We just want to go out and play well, not worry about the next series until we get there. Know that we have plenty of challenges ahead but, I mean, we’ve got to feel good about the way we’ve played.”
Friday night it was Harold Ramirez and Rene Pinto providing the late-inning power to win it. Saturday it was Yandy Diaz walking it off with his first game-ending home run. Sunday it was Josh Lowe and Ramirez delivering early.
Diaz, who had the walk-off home run on Saturday night, picked right up where he left off Sunday afternoon. The first baseman led off with a single, and he and Brandon Lowe scored on Harold Ramirez’s double in the first. Josh Lowe doubled in Ramirez to give Zach Eflin a three-run lead to work with.
Josh Lowe, who had been five for his last 28 at-bats going into Sunday, matched a career-high three hits, including two doubles (also a career high) and an RBI.
Ramirez had one hit, but it was the two-run double off Seattle starter Bryce Miller that broke things open. Since Aug. 13, in 20 games, Ramirez is batting .333 and has driven in 18 runs.
“That’s everything for us. I think our pitchers are the best in the league, the starters and the bullpen, and for us to give them an early lead and let them do the rest for the rest of the game is huge,” Josh Lowe said. “And I think other teams kind of feel that, too. If we get ahead of them, they feel the pressure that they need to try and score. They might try and do too much, so did a good job of getting the lead earlier today and keeping it.”
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In the third, Josh Lowe led off with a double, and he and Jose Siri scored on Luke Raley’s double. Christian Bethancourt had his first hit in his last four games with an RBI single in the sixth, scoring Osleivis Basabe, who had doubled.
The early offense was a huge help to Eflin, who felt his command was “spotty.”
“Without a doubt,” Eflin said. “Harold’s hit in the first, it kind of sparked everything. Like I always tell you guys, (an early lead) just gives you a little bit more motivation to go ahead and go after guys and get some early contact. It was huge.”
Eflin, who is approaching his career high in innings pitch, worked around a leadoff double in the first and cruised into the fourth. He then gave up hits to six of the last 10 batters he faced, allowing the Mariners to cut the Rays’ lead to 5-3.
Eflin, who picked up his 14th win of the season and the 50th of his career, went five innings, allowing just three runs on seven hits and two walks. He struck out six.
“He probably didn’t command the ball like he (wanted), but he sets the bar really, really high,” Cash said. “He was still really good. I think their lineup did a nice job of making some adjustments that second time through. I felt like they put pressure on us quite a bit and certainly him, but when he needed to make big pitches to make sure that we kept the lead, Zach did that.”
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