ST. PETERSBURG — Randy Arozarena knows how important it is to finish strong. The Rays slugger sees the final 10 games of the regular season as not only a chance to catch the division-leading Orioles in the American League East but also to set the tone for the postseason.
“It’s going to be very important to win these games,” Arozarena said via team interpreter Manny Navarro. “We know that last year after we clinched (a playoff spot), we weren’t able to win any games. We knew that it was tough against Cleveland (in the American League Wild Card Series) last year.
“This is a whole new team. It’s 2023, and we’ve been coming here a little bit more focused on a different way.”
Tuesday night, the Rays focused on finishing off the Angels with a four-run, eighth-inning rally that gave them a 6-2 win in front of 15,176 at Tropicana Field.
On the day ownership announced it is close to finalizing a stadium deal to keep the Rays (93-59) in Tampa Bay, the team snapped a two-game losing skid. The Rays have 10 games remaining to try to catch Baltimore, which maintained its 2½-game lead with a 9-5 win at Houston.
But Arozarena is still pushing.
“We’re playing for the division,” the leftfielder said. “We’ve already qualified for the playoffs, which is fine, but the 10 games from here on out, they’re going to be very important for us in order to win that division.”
The Rays have two games remaining against the Angels (68-83), who are without injured superstars Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout and have lost 13 of their past 17. Tampa Bay then finishes the season with six games against Toronto, which is fighting for a wild-card spot, and two against Boston.
“We need to play really well,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “We’re at the point now where we’re probably going to need some help with some other clubs (to catch the Orioles). We had our opportunity and fell just a little bit short, but this team has shown resiliency all season long.
“We’ll find a way to rebound and put some pressure on them.”
Tuesday, the Rays rebounded in the bottom of the eighth after losing a one-run lead in the top of the inning.
Rookie infielder Osleivis Basabe sparked the rally. With the bases loaded, he lined a two-run double over the head of centerfielder and Seminole native Brett Phillips to break a 2-2 tie. It was the first time in Basabe’s career he had a go-ahead RBI in the seventh inning or later.
“I was a little anxious going into that at-bat, especially after having a couple of strikeouts earlier in the day,” Basabe said through Navarro. “(Reliever Aaron Loup) was getting me with those change-ups earlier, and good thing he was able to leave one up so that I could connect on it.”
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Rene Pinto followed with a two-run single to put the game away.
Arozarena hammered a two-run home run in the first inning, but Angels starter Patrick Sandoval and two relievers quieted the Rays’ bats until the eighth.
Rays starter Taj Bradley allowed just one run on a career best-tying three hits over five innings. He struck out six and walked one. It was his 13th game this season with six or more strikeouts.
The Angels’ only run off the rookie right-hander came on Logan O’Hoppe’s two-out, 387-foot home run in the fourth inning. It was the 20th home run Bradley has allowed in 20 starts this season.
Bradley was looking for his first win in 11 starts and first since June 21 against Baltimore, but that was spoiled when reliever Robert Stephenson gave up a rare run. Stephenson had his 15-game, 13-inning scoreless streak snapped in the eighth, when Zach Neto crushed a hanging slider for a game-tying home run. It was the first run — and first home run — Stephenson had allowed since Aug. 9 against the Cardinals.
But as they have all season, the Rays again showed a remarkable ability to pull games out late. They’ve learned to finish strong in 2023, hoping it will make a difference in the postseason.
“We need to play well,” Cash said. “It was exciting what was accomplished two days ago to be able to clinch and get in. These guys have worked hard for that. Incredibly proud of them. Last year, I don’t think we did that great of a job of creating momentum getting into the postseason. If we can do a little bit better job, I think we’ll be better for it.”
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