CLEVELAND — The Rays had a lot to be excited about Friday, with prized acquisition Nelson Cruz joining the team with a bang. So letting an early four-run lead get away was going to kind of kill the mood.
No problem, at least not this night. Though the script was flipped from their usual dramatics of coming from behind — and 30 times at that, second most in the majors — the end result was the same, as the Rays scored six runs in the ninth and celebrated a 10-5 win over Cleveland.
Joey Wendle delivered the go-ahead run with a pinch-hit single. Ji-Man Choi provided the needed cushion with a three-run homer. And they tacked on two more just to be sure.
“I think you hit on it right there, especially lately, it’s just that confidence,’' Wendle said. “Confidence like, this is not foreign territory to us where it’s a close game, we’re tied or we’re down late.
“I think it just kind of feeds into everybody’s approach, everybody’s plate appearances and we’re able to get it done again.’'
The win improved the Rays to 59-39 and kept them within one game of the American League East-leading Red Sox, who rallied to beat the Yankees again.
The Rays took a 3-0 lead because Cleveland All-Star third baseman Jose Ramirez made two errors on the same second-inning play, as Randy Arozarena’s ground-ball single up the middle with two on turned into a Little League home run.
Yandy Diaz scored from second on the hit, then Wander Franco when Ramirez booted the throw, then Arozarena when Ramirez retrieved the ball and threw errantly to the plate. Toss in an assist to third-base coach Rodney Linares with good advice to Arozarena.
“Credit the baserunning, credit Rodney not assuming anything,’' manager Kevin Cash said. “And the guys are ready to go. The ball caromed off Ramirez’s foot or glove or something, and everybody kind of put pressure on the defense. And then we were fortunate to pick up three runs.’'
Arozarena said he just stayed focused. “All I was trying to do was keep my head up, concentrate and try to score if I could,’' he said via team interpreter Manny Navarro.
The Rays made it 4-0 in the fourth when Cruz took a moment to introduce himself, homering to right. It was his 20th home run of the season, and the 437th of his career, one behind Andre Dawson for 45th place all time.
But Ramirez made amends. He hit a three-run homer in the third off Josh Fleming, who gave the Rays only four innings when they could have used more with a bullpen day planned for Saturday following Friday’s trade of Rich Hill to the Mets. Relievers Andrew Kittredge, Matt Wisler and Pete Fairbanks took it from there.
Ramirez struck again in the seventh, slashing a triple to right off Wisler to score the tying run.
But the Rays came battling back.
Arozarena opened the ninth off Nick Wittgren with a single, and Kevin Kiermaier was hit by a pitch, setting up Wendle to deliver the go-ahead run. An out later, Choi followed with the three-run blast to right.
“That was a big inning,’' Cash said, “Everything kind of came together. Joey’s always ready, comes up and laces a ball to left to pick up one run. And then Ji-Man, just missed a couple balls today, it’s good to see him get ahold of one.’'
The Rays have won four straight and six of eight since the All-Star break, reaching a season-high 20 games over .500, and now with Cruz aboard, they feel even better about things.
“The objective for this team is always to win and like I’ve said before, it’s a very united team,’' Arozarena said. “Regardless if we’re struggling or if we’re doing well, we keep each other’s backs, we support each other, and we’re out there to try and win.
“Doesn’t matter who it is that day. It could be one person one day, the next person next day, but we’re just here to support each other. And that gives us and each other the confidence to continue on.’'
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