HOUSTON – To eke out a series victory on Sunday, the Rays’ offense chipped away against the Astros.
Pinch-hitter Jerry Sands twice saw fragments flitter off the end of his bat onto the grass while battling Jerome Williams in the top of the eighth inning with the game tied and two runners on base. Finally, with his third different bat of the at-bat in hand, Sands muscled a base hit to left field, breaking his third bat in the process, to bring home Matt Joyce for what proved to be the winning run as Tampa Bay (27-43) beat Houston 4-3 in front of an announced crowd of 25,526 at Minute Maid Park.
“We had to dig deep (into the bat rack), it was pretty crazy, I don’t think I’ve broken two in an at-bat, but three on three straight swings is pretty crazy,’’ said Sands, who improved to 2-for-5 as a pinch-hitter this season. “He jammed me at 3-2, but I didn’t mind I was just trying to get a pitch up. But it was big for this team, trying to get on a roll so it was good to win the series and good to get a big hit.’’
David Price (5-6) worked eight innings to overcome a rough start and finished with 10 strikeouts, his major-league leading sixth double-digit strikeout game of the season and the 20th of his career to break the club record originally set by James Shields.
Jake McGee came on to pitch a scoreless ninth to record his first save of the season while Yunel Escobar drove in two on a pair of hits and scored another.
Tampa Bay won two of three on the weekend to capture its first series victory since sweeping Boston on May 23-25, despite leaving 12 runners on base.
“It’s great to do that, we need to star winning series, and we did,’’ manager Joe Maddon said. “But we have got to play a better game of baseball, and today I’m happy we won and won two out of three, but things have got to get better.’’
Tampa Bay started off in a hole early when Price served up a lead off home run to Dexter Fowler – the first lead-off home run Price has allowed in his career – and another to Matt Dominguez in the first, which marked the first time he has allowed two first-inning home runs in his career as well.
But Price settled into the game after that, only allowing a run-scoring single to Jesus Guzman in the third and ended the game retiring the final 11 batters he faced as he pitched at least eight innings for the second consecutive start and sixth time this season, tied for most in the majors.
“I gave up those two solo homers in the first, and we just hung around, battled and I was able to keep us in the game,’’ Price said.
The offense came through for Price, with Escobar drawing a bases loaded walk in the second and then doubling in David DeJesus in the fourth. An overturned call at first base allowed the Rays to tie the game in the sixth when Desmond Jennings, originally called out on an inning-ending double play, was ruled safe after a review of one minute, 52 seconds, allowing Escobar to come home to tie the game 3-3 and set up Sands for his first career go-ahead RBI.
“I like Sandsy on righties, ‘’ Maddon said. “He gets jammed a little bit but he’s strong enough to carry it over the infield.’’
Secured with the lead, Price went out for the eighth and punctuated his night by striking out George Springer for career strikeout 997 before handing it over to McGee for his second career save.
“It’s huge (to win the series), it’s been a while,’’ Price said. “It’s been rough, so that was big and hopefully it can get us going in the right direction.’’