Rays get back to .500, open road trip with a win over Red Sox

BOSTON — As the Rays sputtered through most of the first quarter of the season, much of their trouble has been self-inflicted, with stretches of anemic offense, ineffective pitching and sloppy defense. But there also have been times where breaks and bounces haven’t gone their way.

Over the past 10 days, they notably have improved their level of play.

And maybe their fortune as well, as evidenced by a few key plays in Monday’s 5-3 win over the Red Sox.

There was a promising sign of that in the first inning, when they got two on with two out, and Amed Rosario laced a ball that Boston centerfielder Ceddanne Rafaela laid out to make a diving catch on. The ball instead hit off the tip of his glove and caromed away for a triple that scored two and set up another run for a 3-0 lead.

And again in the fourth, when Jose Caballero blooped a ball behind first base that landed just fair, and he hustled for a double, then came around to score, putting the Rays back ahead 4-3.

“This game is so hit or miss each time we go out there, and it felt like for the most part of the season, our balls haven’t been falling, but (for) us as pitchers, they have been falling,” starter Zach Eflin said “So it’s kind of starting to straighten out a little bit.

“I tell you guys all the time, it’s 162 games, you’re going to see some crazy, crazy stuff. So it’s nice for stuff to fall in our favor and to be able to get a win.”

That win was the seventh in the last 10 games, as the Rays extended the momentum of their 6-3 homestand at least to the opener of the seven-game trip against American League East foes Boston and Toronto.

To do so, they had to beat Kutter Crawford and the rest of what has been the best pitching staff in the majors.

They did it with some breaks, but also with good at-bats and aggressive baserunning.

Yandy Diaz played a big part, continuing his resurgence with three hits, his sixth multi-hit game in his last 10.

“Thank God with all the work that I’ve been doing and the routine that I’ve been doing, things are coming out how I want,” said Diaz, via team interpreter Manny Navarro. “And I think it’s bringing the confidence back.”

Rosario is also warming up again after a 3-for-27 skid that followed his hot start. Rosario tripled in the two runs in the first, then doubled in a key tack-on run in the eighth after Josh Lowe led off with a double.

“Big at-bats for him driving in runs,” manager Kevin Cash said. “Good for us that we got guys on in front of him. But he came through in a big way there at the beginning of the game, and certainly at the end of the game. Kutter Crawford’s thrown the ball as well as anybody in the American League coming into the start.”

And Caballero did as much with his bat as with what Cash now routinely refers to as “game-changing” speed, and the willingness to use it. He showed that in each part of the run-scoring sequence in the fourth — going all out to get to second on the blooper, getting a great break to steal third and going back to tag and score on Jose Siri’s liner to left.

“Like I always say, I’m trying to advance as many bases as possible,” Caballero said. “I knew I had to score from there, take advantage of my speed and score a run and give the team a lead.”

Eflin admittedly had a tough night and credited catcher Austin Jackson who guided him through five innings and kept him thinking positive. (Jackson did, however, strike out three more times to make it 13 in 17 at-bats since his call-up.)

“For the most part, I felt pretty off with everything,” Eflin said. “Location based, really wasn’t landing a lot of pitches. Kind of really one of those outings where you just had to dig deep and find a way.”

Kevin Kelly provided two strong innings of relief, and Garrett Cleavinger and Jason Adam finished as the Rays got back to .500 at 21-21.

The 7-3 run, and the way they’re getting there — including the good breaks — has them feeling much better about themselves since returning from the dismal 1-5 road trip.

“Simply put,” Diaz said, “I think it’s just our turn now.”

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