ST. PETERSBURG — Manuel Margot had been using the same black Victus bat since early August. Before the elbow surgery that sidelined him for a month but got his swing back in order. Through his Triple-A rehab assignment. And since rejoining the Rays last weekend.
But he was fine seeing it die a good death on Thursday.
Margot flared a ball softly into rightfield with two outs in the ninth inning, scoring the decisive run in a dramatic 5-4 victory over the Angels that kept the Rays — for now — in the race to win the American League East.
“I don’t break too many bats,” Margot said. “If they’re breaking like that, it’s good.”
The Rays were down 4-3 going to the ninth, in danger of losing a second straight game to the struggling Angels and, pending the Orioles’ later result, dropping to the fringe of the division race.
Instead, they pieced together an impressive rally, with seven hitters coming to the plate as they scored the tying and winning runs to improve to 94-60. And their day got better, as the Orioles lost to the Guardians 5-2, allowing the Rays to get back within 1-1/2 games of the division lead. The Orioles (95-58) do hold the tiebreaker.
“We’re trying to win games and obviously win the division, so it doesn’t matter if it’s the Angels or if it’s somebody over 40 games over .500,” Rays starter Zach Eflin said. “Any win at this point in the year is big for us. It was nice to come back to the ninth inning and show that spark that we’ve had all year, coming in and playing hard late in games. So, it was a great win for us.”
“A great, no-quit win,” added second baseman Brandon Lowe.
It was a team effort, as the Rays put a good ending on what could have been a second straight disappointing day. They lost 8-3 Wednesday knowing the Orioles had lost and not taking advantage. Thursday, they let a 1-0 lead get away, then saw Eflin work only five innings (and get hit by a batted ball, though with no issues) and reliever Shawn Armstrong have a rare bad outing, allowing a two-run homer that put them down 4-2.
“We’ve got to create some momentum here,” manager Kevin Cash said. “(Wednesday) night was tough. For eight innings, (Thursday) was tough. I’m glad we had the ninth.”
Harold Ramirez, the Rays’ pinch-hitter extraordinaire (11-for-20 this season, 20-for-39 over the last two), got them started with a single off Carlos Estevez. Yandy Diaz followed with another. Curtis Mead, who stepped in when Lowe left with a sore and swollen right knee, flied out to right, moving Osleivis Basabe (pinch-running for Ramirez) to third.
“I think all we’re trying to do is just trying to salvage that game for ourselves, looking for a pitch to hit, help us connect on something good,” Diaz said via team interpreter Manny Navarro. “And I think that’s what we did.”
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Isaac Paredes, the Rays’ top run producer, was next, getting down 1-2 in the count before punching a high fastball to left, the 71 mph hit scoring the tying run on his 92nd RBI of the season.
“I think in that at-bat, he just thinks like me — ‘I’ve got to put the ball in play, because we’ve got to tie this game,’” Ramirez said. “Good job for him, because he got the base hit.”
After Randy Arozarena struck out on some ferocious swings, Josh Lowe drew a walk to load the bases and move the winning run to third. Margot, who earlier had the day’s hardest hit ball at 110.1 mph on a line out to third baseman Michael Stefanic, was down 1-2 when he blooped a slider into shallow right at all of 58.8 mph.
“You’ve got to give a lot of credit to guys like Harold, Yandy and J. Lowe, they knew they probably weren’t going to get pitches to hit,” Margot said via Navarro. “And right there, I was just trying to find something good to hit.”
The Rays raced onto the field to celebrate what was their 10th walkoff win of the season, matching the most in the majors, and arguably — at least through Thursday — their most important.
“Sometimes you need that,” Cash said. “Manny, to his credit, he’s knocked the cover off the ball. He smoked the ball right down the line (that) the guy made a diving play on, tremendous play. So I’m glad he got rewarded with that hit. Sometimes you need that to happen. It provided quite the jolt. We were setting up for another very, very frustrating day, but the guys stayed at it. So I give them a lot of credit.”
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