There were multiple moments Thursday when it looked like the Tampa Bay Rays' miraculous winning streak was over. But in the end, the team proved that resilience is its biggest strength in a 9-3 drubbing of the Boston Red Sox.
With the win, the Rays are 13-0 to open the 2023 MLB season. That sets a record for the longest winning streak in Rays history and ties the MLB record for the best start to a regular season. The 1982 Atlanta Braves and the 1987 Milwaukee Brewers both opened the regular season 13-0.
The final box score made Thursday's win over the Red Sox look like a blowout, but things didn't begin that way. The Rays found themselves in an unfamiliar position almost immediately, as Red Sox outfielder Rob Refsnyder smacked a solo home run in the top of the first inning to give Boston a 1-0 lead.
Kluber and Rays starter Jeffrey Springs settled in after giving up those early runs. Neither team scored in the second or third innings, keeping things tied.
The Rays, however, were once again tested in the top of the fourth. After getting a quick 0-2 count on Justin Turner to open the frame, Springs appeared uncomfortable on the mound. He looked down at his left hand as he was visited by manager Kevin Cash and an athletic trainer. After throwing one warmup pitch, Springs took himself out of the game. The Rays later announced that he left the contest due to left arm ulnar neuritis. The injury will reportedly cost Springs at least two months, per Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times.
The injury felt like the beginning of the end for the team's win streak. In his two previous starts, Springs looked like one of the best pitchers in baseball, throwing six no-hit innings against the Detroit Tigers his first time out and following that with seven shutout innings against the Oakland Athletics. Losing Springs against the Red Sox would, at the very least, affect team morale, it seemed.
At first, it appeared that was the case. Despite being down 0-2 in the count, Turner doubled. He was driven in by Enrique Hernández a few batters later, giving the Red Sox a 2-1 lead. Garrett Cleavinger, who came on in relief of Springs, gave up another run in the fifth, making it 3-1.
With their backs against the wall, the Rays came alive in the bottom of the fifth. Harold Ramirez doubled to lead off and was later driven in by Francisco Mejia to cut the Red Sox's lead. With two outs, Brandon Lowe and Randy Arozarena both added RBI singles to give the Rays a 4-3 lead. Two batters later, Manuel Margot dropped a bases-loaded bunt to score yet another run. With the bases still loaded, Ramirez, who started the team's rally, hit a bases-clearing double to extend the lead to 8-3.
Tampa Bay stabilized after that inning. The bullpen was flawless in the final four innings, limiting the Red Sox to no hits and one walk to finish things out. Lowe padded the score in the seventh, hitting a solo home run to give the Rays a 9-3 win.
Rays off to best regular-season start in more than 30 years
It's impossible to understate how much the Rays have dominated opponents to start the 2023 season. Following Thursday's game, the Rays have trailed at the end of just six innings, per MLB's Sarah Langs.
The team already has a +71 run differential, meaning they've outscored opponents by 71 runs to open the season. That figure is much higher than what the 1982 Braves and 1987 Brewers posted during their 13-0 starts.
— Nathaniel Rakich (@baseballot) April 13, 2023
Critics have pointed out that the Rays haven't exactly faced tough competition this season. The team opened the year with series against the Tigers, Washington Nationals and Oakland Athletics, all considered among the worst teams in baseball, before the Red Sox came to town.
At the same time, the team can't be faulted for feasting on bad competition. If the Rays are truly a great team, they should be dominating weaker opponents. That's exactly what they're doing, and no matter how bad their opponents wind up being, a +71 run differential is impossible to ignore.
The Rays will look to continue their streak Friday against the Toronto Blue Jays on the road. Rays starter Drew Rasmussen will take on Jays pitcher José Berríos with an MLB record on the line. Toronto has been among the best offensive teams in baseball to open the 2023 season, so improving to 14-0 should be tough.
Then again, as the Rays proved Thursday, when things get tough, they make it look easy.