Rays steal seven to win series against Blue Jays

ST. PETERSBURG — One look at third baseman Taylor Walls’ dirty uniform told you all about how the Rays defeated the Blue Jays at Tropicana Field on Thursday afternoon.

Tampa Bay is on pace for more than 300 home runs this season, but its 6-3 victory featured less hitting and more dashing. Hustle, aggressive base running and a perfect 7-on-7 line in stolen bases were the recipe for success.

“You’re going to have to find ways to win ball games without hitting once in a while,” Walls said. “Today we had guys on base, we had good chances to take advantage of what we had. Situations were telling us pretty much when [run] and we just trusted him and went.

Walls recorded two of those seven steals, matching a season high Tampa Bay set on May 17 against the Mets and is one shy of the franchise record. No other MLB team has stolen more than six bases in a game this season, and the last club to grab that many bases without getting caught was the 2017 Nationals.

According to Walls, the Rays “felt like they had something” about Blue Jays starter Alek Manoah once they got to base. Although credit was given to first base coach Chris Prieto’s scouting report, no state secrets were leaked. Either way, the club repeatedly took advantage of this vulnerability, as seen in the third set.

It was then that Walls stole second after a walk, then double-stealed with first baseman Luke Raley as the runner. Blue Jays catcher Alejandro Kirk’s third base throw was low and swept away from third baseman Matt Chapman, allowing Walls to head home while Raley gained another 90 feet. Manuel Margot made Toronto pay for that error with a cue shot at first base that was enough to bring Raley in and extend Tampa Bay’s lead.

“Sometimes you have to push a bit, and I think the guys did that,” manager Kevin Cash said. “There was a lot of basic one-on-one play. Lots of flights, go second. Walls’ flight in third was huge.

Shortstop Wander Franco also stole two sacks, earning him a team-high 17 interceptions. After recording 10 interceptions in his first two seasons, Franco is on course to become the first Ray to pass all 50 stolen bases since outfielder Carl Crawford did so in 2009.

Tampa Bay leads the Majors in steals (62) and attempts (78), but its baseline brilliance extends to specific hustle plays that won’t feature in any statistical rankings.

For example, after Randy Arozarena tied it at 1-1 with an RBI single, Brandon Lowe snorted on a pitch in the dirt that should have been second out of bounds. But instead of giving up, Lowe took off for the first time as the ball veered away from Kirk.

The commotion paid off, with the ball returning to the first baseline. Once Kirk lined him up along the chalk, his throw into the bag was overdue and Lowe was ruled safe after review. Then, Harold Ramírez’s clean throw at second could have been a late-inning double play, but the ball was missed by Cavan Biggio, and Ramírez kicked the pitch first, allowing Arozarena to head home on the choice of a defender.

“It’s easy to assume that when you swing and miss you don’t stand a chance, but Brandon recognized it and turned it on,” Cash said. “Harold, he always does such a good job getting down the baseline.”

Entering the fourth inning, the Rays held a 5-1 lead, knocking Manoah out of the game and cruising behind starter Zach Eflin, who scattered six hits and walked two in seven innings. The right-hander said he wasn’t feeling well when he woke up this morning, and he knew it would be a ‘difficult day’ for him. Although Eflin failed to register a strikeout, his tricks allowed him to get 12 strikeouts, including two double plays against the speedy Kevin Kiermaier.

Eflin became the first Rays starting pitcher since Mark Hendrickson in 2004 to go at least seven innings without a strikeout.

“I think it’s honestly pretty impressive, going seven innings with zero [strikeouts]”, Eflin said. “I think that’s harder to do than seven innings and 10 strikeouts. they make contact early.

Next up for the Rays is a three-game home series against the Dodgers, starting Friday. The two powerhouses haven’t met since the 2020 World Series, when Los Angeles won in six games.

Cash said he has many fond memories of that Fall Classic, despite the loss. Arozarena, in his freshman year, had one of the best playoff performances in MLB history. When asked Wednesday what he remembers most about that magical race, he said defeat always stings.

“What I remember is we lost to them,” Arozarena said via interpreter Manny Navarro. “It’s a very different team. I’m looking forward to this weekend. … 2020 was 2020, and that’s in the past.

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