DETROIT — For eight innings Sunday afternoon at Comerica Park, Tigers pitching ran through the Rays lineup with ease. But in the ninth, Tampa Bay walked all over Detroit’s All-Star closer.
The Rays had managed only four singles and three walks when Tigers’ lefty Gregory Soto took the mound to pitch the ninth inning. But a two-out, walk-filled rally turned a scoreless tie into a laugher, and the Rays rode their biggest inning of the season to a 7-0 win over the Tigers.
It was the Rays’ highest-scoring inning since a seven-run ninth against the Red Sox last Aug. 11, and the win secured their first series victory since the All-Star break.
“It really did show the resiliency in the hitters to get to the ninth inning and face an All-Star closer and just kind of go about it and be like, ‘All right, this guy’s going to be the guy we get our runs off ,’” Brandon Lowe said.
On Friday, the Rays set a franchise record with 13 walks in their 5-3 win over the Tigers. They made more history Sunday, establishing a club record for most walks in a series with 27. And the last three played a huge part in winning Sunday’s series finale.
With Isaac Paredes on first and two outs in the ninth, Francisco Mejía hit a double off Soto. Up came Jose Siri, who had struck out in his first three at-bats on Sunday and in 12 of his first 18 since joining the Rays before the Trade Deadline, with two runners in scoring position.
Rather than trying to swing his way out of a slump, Siri took six straight pitches and walked to load the bases.
“It showed a lot of maturity in his aspect, to be able to not swing out of his shoes trying to find a way to get a hit, to be that guy to get the winning run,” Lowe said. “He took his pitches. He knew what his strike zone was. He didn’t try to do too much, and I think that showed a lot about him.”
Up next, Yu Chang displayed similar discipline, working a full count then taking a down-and-in sinker to draw a run-scoring, tie-breaking walk. Up came Yandy Díaz, mired in an 0-for-20 slump. The patient infielder watched five straight pitches and walked to first, having put the Rays up, 2-0.
“We all can’t get a hit all the time. That’s part of the game,” Díaz said through interpreter Manny Navarro. “You have to try something else, and so I make sure I can still have a good eye and a good at-bat.”
The hits came easier after that. Lowe’s two-run single off Jason Foley made it a four-run game. Randy Arozarena ripped a two-run double to right. Roman Quinn, batting for the second time in the inning, hit an RBI single of his own.
Once again, their patience was rewarded.
“We might still leave some guys on here and there, but … I think we’re taking better at-bats with guys on base,” Lowe said. “I think we’re really starting to play some really good Rays baseball.”
Before that, the Rays were running the risk of wasting a dominant — albeit somewhat unconventional — pitching performance.
Tampa Bay had initially listed Sunday’s starter as “TBD,” indicating a potential bullpen game, before slotting in Drew Rasmussen. It turned out to be a bullpen game started by Rasmussen. Some pitchers even jokingly called him the club’s “opener” after he breezed through three hitless innings on 33 pitches.
Manager Kevin Cash said that had been the Rays’ plan all along. With scheduled off-days Monday and Thursday, they didn’t want to push their starters back any further and risk giving them too much time between outings. And they are being mindful of Rasmussen’s workload. He’s thrown 91 1/3 innings this season, his highest total since working 106 innings for Oregon State in 2015, and called this shortened start “a chance to catch my breath a little bit.”
“The irony is that he was so efficient, but we’ll take it,” Cash said. “He’ll be that much fresher whenever he comes back around.”
“You put up nine zeros, you did something right,” Rasmussen said. “That’s not easy, by any means, in this league.”