ST. PETERSBURG — Undefeated in their first 10 home games of the season, the Rays finally had to strike in the bottom of the ninth inning for the first time on Friday night. Then they did what they’ve been doing all season.
They homered and they won.
Trailing by two in the ninth, Christian Bethancourt cut the Rays’ deficit in half with a solo shot into right field from Reynaldo López. Then Brandon Lowe sent the Rays to a spectacular 8-7 win over the White Sox at Tropicana Field with a two-run right homer, his first career hit.
“It’s pretty awesome. It’s an amazing feeling,” Lowe said afterwards, still wearing a soaked jersey from the celebrations that followed. “I think this might be (the) first home run of my life, honestly. It’s always awesome.
The Rays improved to a perfect 11-0 home record that year, extended their season-opening home run streak to a record 20 games (tied with the 2019 Mariners), and became only the 13th team in the modern era (since 1901) to win at least 17 of their first 20 games. It’s the best start to a season for any Majors club since the Red Sox (also 17-3) in 2018.
“It was a really good win,” manager Kevin Cash said. “I don’t know if we can say we saw that one coming.”
Indeed, Friday’s game took a few twists and turns before the thrilling conclusion.
The Rays took a four-run lead against Michael Kopech on a two-run brace from Josh Lowe and a two-run homer to center by Harold Ramírez. But that track disappeared quickly, albeit in a weird way.
Right-hander Calvin Faucher, who hit a 13-pitch first inning in his second career start, allowed three runs in the second. Then came a completely unusual lack of command that would have cost Tampa Bay the game if not for its seemingly indomitable roster.
The Rays lost their lead as they delivered a franchise-record six walks during a three-run third in which nine White Sox came to the plate and none of them put a ball in play. left-hander Jalen Beeks batted out a career-high five batters while recording only two outs, then gave way to right-hander Cooper Criswell, who let loose a wild pitch before finally going out of the inning.
“That’s what makes this win nice is that, as good as (our pitchers) are, we were able to pick them up offensively,” Cash said. “They’ve certainly done it for us time and time again.”
With a relentless attitude and a sudden knack for going deep, this Rays lineup has proven capable of erasing deficits in a hurry.
They hit 45 home runs, the second-most in 20 games in AL/NL history behind only the 2,000 Cardinals (47), and the final two long balls turned the tide of Friday’s game.
Bethancourt took two pitches to get ahead in the count against López, went into swing mode, and hit a fastball just over the right field wall. He first stopped at second base, as the ball bounced off a fan and came back into play. But the umpires got together and ruled it a home run, which was confirmed after proofreading.
“We kept saying, ‘We have to play 27 outs,'” Bethancourt said. “We have to hold the line, go 27 out and things are going to happen, and we did.”
Yandy Díaz chose right to bring up Lowe, whose only prior appearance on the starting plate was a sacrificial fly on Sept. 6, 2020. “furious” that he sacrificed his typical swing to make contact.
When he returned to the dugout after that, Lowe said, he stuffed his helmet into his compartment “enough to vent the frustration.”
“Then he took it out on the ball,” Cash joked.
After putting up a two-count in the ninth, Lowe said he was content to move pinch runner Vidal Bruján but was determined not to make the same mistake he made earlier. Shortening his swing, Lowe swung a full-count slider and hoped for the best as he navigated the right-field seats.
“I didn’t do it perfectly, like I feel like when I hit home runs. It was one that I was sort of ready to release,” Lowe said. “I was praying it was okay.”