ST. PETERSBURG — Having won only two of their first eight games after the All-Star break and with their offense again slumping miserably, the Rays were in need of some good vibes.
They got them as soon as they walked in the door Saturday morning, as most of the Rays players and some staff pulled on the Brett Phillips basketball jersey that was being given away to fans, and they started talking hoops and trading barbs before heading onto the field.
Who would be their starting five? Who could dunk? Who looked the best — and worst — in the tank top-style shirts?
Add in the scheduling coincidence that had them wearing their Devil Rays throwback jerseys for the third of five home games this season, and they had plenty to feel good about.
Even moreso by the end of the afternoon, with a 6-4 win over the Guardians in front of a near sellout crowd at least temporarily halting their recent skid, and the trade acquisition of veteran outfielder David Peralta increasing their confidence going forward as they improved to 54-47.
“Everyone loosened up,” second baseman Brandon Lowe said. “It’s been a pretty tight clubhouse. We haven’t been playing our greatest baseball, think it kind of lined up perfectly. The (basketball) jerseys come in, everybody gets to wear the jerseys out there (for pre-game drills). Play in the (Devil Rays) jersey, have some fun, loosen up. And we started playing some pretty good baseball.”
That they did, jumping to an early lead when Lowe hit a two-run homer with two outs in the first inning, then extending it to 5-1 by the fifth. Rene Pinto doubled in Taylor Walls in the second, and Yandy Diaz hit a two-run homer in the fifth against his former Cleveland mates.
“The energy (Saturday) felt a lot better,” Lowe said, “and I just wanted to keep that rolling.”
The Guardians closed to 5-4 in the sixth when starter Corey Kluber made his only mistake, allowing a three-run homer to All-Star Andres Gimenez. Then Phillips made a dramatic contribution on his day, a two-out single in the eighth delivering an insurance run.
Manager Kevin Cash, who shook up the lineup a bit by moving Diaz and Lowe down to the Nos. 3 and 4 spots, welcomed all the help given that they had scored one run in their previous 18 innings and 16 total in seven games.
“We’ll take all the contributions right now that we can get,” he said.
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Kluber did well against his former mates, spinning his best breaking ball of the season — tweaked noticeably during a between-starts session with pitching coach Kyle Snyder — to strike out a season-high 10 (reaching double digits for the second time in four seasons), and with no walks over six innings.
Cash said Kluber pitched much better than his box score line showed, with four runs and eight hits allowed.
Lowe said there was no question.
“That was a lot of fun to watch,” he said. “I was almost right behind him (in the shift) seeing all these pitches and the whole time I was like, ‘I couldn’t hit that either; I don’t blame you guys.’ It’s always fun to go out there and play behind him and see how he works and just how good he is at his job.”
The Rays bullpen took it from there, Jason Adam to Colin Poche to Pete Fairbanks, who made it interesting in the ninth. Fairbanks allowed a couple hits and needed an athletic play by Walls on a slightly wide throw to second base to get the second out (thanks to a replay reversal), then struck out mighty Jose Ramirez to end it.
Kluber called it “a good team win” and a model of the kind of “complete games” they need to play given how every game seemingly impacts their pursuit of a wild-card playoff berth.
Also, he said, it was “a win I think we needed pretty bad.”
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