ST. PETERSBURG — So if this was a diary, the last few days would look like a tear-stained mess.
The staff ace, the guy who started on opening day, found out Friday that he’s likely heading toward surgery and will miss the rest of this season and beyond. And the team’s highest-paid pitcher had to leave a rehab appearance in Triple A on Sunday with hip pain.
The guy who leads the team in saves was traded to Seattle on Thursday. And the guys who are second and third are still on the injured list. Also, the guy who is tied for fourth in saves, joined them on the IL after twisting his knee Saturday.
The big-time trade acquisition, the guy with impeccable hitting credentials, is 3-for-18 with seven strikeouts since Tuesday.
On the other hand, the Rays swept the Red Sox.
They went from 2 1/2 games behind Boston on Thursday morning to 1 1/2 games ahead on Sunday night. The team that is seemingly filled with spare parts and held together with duct tape is once again sitting atop baseball’s richest and toughest division.
“The injuries can really sting a clubhouse,” manager Kevin Cash said. “The guys do a tremendous job of being good teammates, recognizing that it’s part of the game that stinks, but they know at 7 o’clock or 1 o’clock or whatever time the game is, it’s time to turn it on and get back to being a really good team.
“All good teams somehow find a way to weather tough storms. This last week has been a challenging one for us.”
Make no mistake, Sunday night’s 3-2 victory was a big game. We know this because the Red Sox said so.
After Boston blew an early lead and lost Saturday 9-5, shortstop Xander Bogaerts told reporters that the Red Sox needed to win the Sunday night ESPN game.
“I know it’s still two months of baseball left but, for us, it’s huge,” Bogaerts said Saturday. “We’re playing the guys that are neck and neck with us in the division.”
There’s obviously plenty of baseball still to go. The Rays have 56 games remaining, which practically matches the entire pandemic-shortened 2020 regular season.
And the big boys are coming for Tampa Bay. Do not lose sight of that. The Yankees picked up Joey Gallo and Anthony Rizzo and swept the Marlins this weekend. The Blue Jays picked up Jose Berrios and two relievers and swept the Royals.
But this was a statement of sorts for the Rays. Trading Diego Castillo, getting the bad news on Tyler Glasnow, seeing Jeffrey Springs wrench his knee, and hearing about Chris Archer in Durham, it would have been easy to adopt a woe-is-me mentality.
Heck, when the Seattle front office traded closer Kendall Graveman last week, the Mariners practically collapsed into a sobbing heap.
And yet the Rays ended up playing some of their best baseball of the season the past four days. After losing three consecutive close games to the Indians and Yankees, the Rays ripped off four wins in a row while outscoring the opposition 33-10.
“I think we can hang with (Boston) and hang with any other team,” rightfielder Manuel Margot said.
Particularly with a bullpen that is a marvel of who-was-that-guy efficiency.
There were eight relievers in Tampa Bay’s pen on Sunday night, and only two of them were around on opening day. Four of those pitchers have been acquired in trades in the past two months, and two others were signed as minor-league free agents back in February.
And yet, during this four-game winning streak, the relievers have thrown 14 innings and given up only one run.
Matt Wisler, who had a 6.05 ERA in 21 appearances with the Giants before being traded to the Rays in June, got his first save with the Rays on Sunday night and lowered his ERA in Tampa Bay to 1.93 in 20 appearances.
“I give (pitching coach) Kyle (Snyder) and (bullpen coach) Stan (Boroski) all the credit for that,” Cash said. “When (new) guys come in, we do everything we can to welcome them and get them comfortable, a couple of messages here and there, and then they do kind of tell them to be ready to pitch in any situation.
“We certainly value how challenging those (situations) are, but trust that if they’re here, they can help us win.”
On July 3, the Rays had lost five in a row and had fallen behind Boston by 4 1/2 games in the American League East.
Since then, the Rays have put six players on the injured list, traded starter Rich Hill and Castillo, gone 17-6, and moved 1 1/2 games ahead of Boston.
John Romano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @romano_tbtimes.
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