Rays indulge at homer buffet, beat O's
Offense blasts five dingers as Sonnanstine pitches well
ST. PETERSBURG -- Normally an off-day is something to cherish.
The Rays are off on Thursday, but whatever relaxation they derive from a day away from Tropicana Field will be offset by the anxiety of knowing they won't be playing again until Friday night. Hot teams want to play baseball and the Rays are in the midst of playing their best baseball of the summer.
On Wednesday night everything clicked in a 17-2 win over the Orioles in front of a crowd of 9,856 at Tropicana Field. The victory gave the Rays 10 wins in their last 13 games while also giving them their third consecutive series win.
"We're having fun right now, that game was a lot of fun," said the always smiling Carlos Pena, who paced the Rays' 22-hit attack with his 36th and 37th home runs of the season, establishing a new club record for RBIs in the process with seven. "...Maybe we should switch [the off-day] and move it up a day and take it off another time," said Pena.
Andy Sonnanstine started for the Rays and continued to do what he does best: attack the strike zone; as the outs followed.
Sonnanstine allowed two runs on nine hits while walking none and striking out six in six innings to win his third consecutive start and the fourth victory in his last five starts. The right-hander is a studious sort, prompting him to over-analyze his approach earlier in the season, resulting in him throwing everything but the fastball. Once the Rays convinced him he needed to throw his fastball more to set up his mixed bag of pitches, everything has been coming up roses.
"I don't throw 95 miles per hour, so throwing primarily fastballs to teams like the Yankees and Red Sox and even the Orioles, it's a tough thing to do, but I'm just having a little bit of success with it," Sonnanstine said. "And I'm more confident."
And while Sonnanstine took care of business on the mound, the Rays hitters continued to rake, handling everything Baltimore's four-pitcher parade threw across the plate.
The Rays got busy early on Wednesday night when B.J. Upton doubled home Akinori Iwamura in the first and Delmon Young grounded out to score another to put the Rays up 2-0.
O's starter Radhames Liz continued to struggle in the second when Iwamura had an RBI single and Pena added a sacrifice fly to put the Rays up 4-0.
Liz got chased with two outs in the third when Dioner Navarro's RBI single pushed the lead to 5-0.
In the fourth, Young hit a three-run homer off Liz's replacement, former Ray Rob Bell, and Brendan Harris followed Young with a homer to center field. For Harris, his ninth home run of the season ended a streak of 263 at-bats without a home run. "Felt like I just had a baby after waiting that long," said Harris, whose last home run came June 18 at Arizona.
Pena capped the fourth with a grand slam off Fernando Cabrera to put the Rays up 13-0; he added a two-run homer in the sixth to push his season RBI total to 105, making him the fourth player in Rays history to surpass 100 for a season. While Pena put on quite a display, the offense was fueled by more than Pena. Young had three hits and four RBIs, Carl Crawford, Harris, and Jonny Gomes each had three hits and Josh Wilson had the first four-hit night of his career. Gomes put an exclamation point on the offensive show with a 462-foot solo shot to left to account for the Rays' fifth and final home run of the game.
Since the O's lost 30-3 to Texas on Aug. 22, they are 2-13 and have a 9.91 ERA.
"We're trying to do the best we can," O's manager Dave Trembley said. "It's just not working. ... We're having trouble staying away from the big inning."
Tampa Bay's 17 runs and 22 hits are the most ever by the Rays in 799 all-time games at Tropicana Field. Only two other times have the Rays scored more runs than Wednesday night, only once have they had more hits in a game, and the 15-run margin of victory was the largest in team history.
So it's understandable why the team might prefer to play ball rather than have the day off.
"Since we can't [change the schedule] -- Major League Baseball won't allow it -- we're going to go out, enjoy our day off and pretty much rest and then come back Friday and keep on having fun," Pena said.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.