NEW YORK — On Wednesday it was Sean Rodriguez’s turn to play the man of the hour, to drive the bus as Joe Maddon would say after the game.
Why not? Brandon Guyer and Kevin Kiermaier had big games on this road trip. Logan Forsythe had several.
Maddon said earlier this week his team will need contributions up and down the roster this season if they are to continue clawing their way back toward relevancy. So why wouldn’t Rodriguez, making his first start at shortstop in nearly a year, turn the game in the Rays’ favor with a mammoth home run to center field?
“That’s typically what you need for a championship team,” Rodriguez said. “It can’t be one, two, three guys. You have to do it collectively as a group.”
Rodriguez’s two-run homer in the sixth inning with the score tied at three propelled the Rays to a 6-3 victory against the Yankees on a steamy afternoon in the Bronx.
The victory completed the three-game sweep, only the second series the Rays have swept this season.
It was also a season-high fifth straight win for the Rays, who are now 6-1 on this 11-game road trip. The Rays have won 14 of their last 21 games and sit 9 ½ games behind first-place Toronto despite being 11 games under .500.
“As a team we’re starting to flow better,” Rodriguez said. “Guys are understanding each other better, whether it’s their role and things they can do and not trying to do more than that.”
What Rodriguez tried to do during just his second start on this trip was hit the ball hard. His sixth inning homer with Forsythe on first base sailed 445 feet according to ESPN and struck the wall in front of the center field stands to the left of Monument Park.
“My goodness. That’s out of the old stadium with regular dimensions in center field,” Maddon said. “That ball was tonked right there.”
The home run put the Rays ahead 5-3 and made a winner of Jake Odorizzi.
Odorizzi struggled with his command early, but he found his curveball during his final two innings and was able to toss a pair of shutdown innings before giving way to the bullpen.
Maddon went with Cesar Ramos, Juan Carlos Oviedo and Joel Peralta (who tied Esteban Yan’s franchise record for career appearances at 266) before turning the game over to Brad Boxberger in the ninth.
Boxberger, given his first chance at the ninth inning with a lead in Maddon’s closer-by-committee, retired the Yankees in order for his first save of the season.
You can add Boxberger’s name to the list of contributors, as well, since the quiet right-hander earned a win and a save during the sweep in the Bronx.
“I was thinking about the different bus drive theme. We’re getting a different bus driver on a daily basis,” Maddon said. “That’s kind of neat. That’s who we have to be. We’re not necessarily built around one guy. We are built as a group, and everybody has to do their job and that’s the concept I’m trying to promote among them.”
Rodriguez made his first start at shortstop since last July 11 because Odorizzi normally gets more fly balls than grounders and because Maddon wanted to give Zobrist a day off his feet and because the Yankees were starting left-hander Vidal Nuño.
Rodriguez singled home Forsythe in the fourth inning to tie the score at 2-2 with a ball that hit off the top of the right field wall. But Rodriguez was thrown out trying to stretch the hit into a double, one of four Rays thrown out on the bases during the game.
In the sixth, Rodriguez came to bat against righty Shawn Kelly.
Earlier in the season Maddon might have sent Matt Joyce up to pinch-hit.
“It was too early in the game, I thought. I did not want to put anybody else out at shortstop,” Maddon said. “He’s hit home runs here in the past. He normally hits the ball pretty well in this ballpark. Listen, I’m in no means intelligent or a genius. I just thought early in the game, I’ve seen him do it before. I wasn’t expecting that.”
So Rodriguez stepped in and hit his eighth home run of the season to send the Rays to another win. Rodriguez has just six hits in his last 36 at-bats, but he has seven RBI in his last seven games.
“We’re playing really well right now,” Odorizzi said. “Sean had the big hit, but it seems like one person a day is getting that big hit when we need it, and that’s what we were lacking early in the season, and now that it’s coming and we’re pitching well, it’s starting to match up.”