Monday, 2 a.m.
Finally, he is the players the Rays traded for.
Finally, he is the player the Rays have waited for.
Finally, he is worth Wil Meyers and worth the strikeouts and worth the low average. Finally, he is Steven Souza, and if the rest of the baseball season works out like the first week, he will have arrived.
Souza continued to blister the ball Sunday, hitting a three-run homer to help spark the Rays to a 7-2 victory over the slumping Toronto Blue Jays. And by the end of the day, everyone was cheering his name this side of Troy Tulowitzki.
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There are a lot of reasons the Rays are a 5-2, the best start this franchise has ever had. The starting pitching has been good. The bullpen has been better. The defense has been sharp. Overall, the team seems faster, more athletic. But Souza, too, is part of the reason. He's swinging like a different
Yes, it's early. But after seven games, Souza is tied for third in the American League with a .417 average. He's on a six-game hitting streak, and he's drove in nine in the last three, and he's struck out only twice. After watching him hit .237 over two years with 303 strikeouts, yeah, it'll do.
“The dude's crushing the ball,” said teammate Kevin Kiermaier. “We need him. We need him to be like this the whole seaosn. I always tell people: When I played against him in in AAA in 2014, he was one of the best players I've played against in my whoe life. If he can keep doing what he's doing, he's going to be a dangerous player all season.”
Souza helped ignite both teams in one of those bench-clearing non-brawls when no one was really angry enough to do anything by the time they reached the field. Tulowitzki felt Souza came into second base late, and both teams spent a few minutes posing in mock anger. The two had a dust-up last September when Souza misheard catcher Russell Martin, and Tulowitzki misheard Souza.
“I'm not going to play every game and wonder if Tulo is going to get upset about it,” Souza said. “I'm playing hard, and if he thinks I'm trying to be malicious, he clearly doesn't know who I am. It's unfortunate that it turned into something like that, because it was just baseball, you know? Hopefully, we can just squash it and move on, because I'm really tired of having a feud with that.”
Of course, Souza wasn't the only impact outfielder from the Rays who had a battle against his temper Sunday. Kiermaier was thrown out in the eighth for the first time in his career.
“It's not really how I pictured my first ejection,” Kiermaier said. “I wish I would have gotten my money's worth. I definitely thought I had some low pitches.”
For the Rays, the win spurred them to their best-ever start at 5-2. The Rays won three out of four against the Jays and two out of three against the Yankees.
"It’s just a week,” Souza said. “We have 155 more games if my math is right. We have a game in New York; we’re still in the division. These are important games. More so, if I can help our team win on a daily basis so we can be in the World Series, that’s all that’s going to matter to me.”
Daniel Robertson and Jesus Sucre each had two hits to help the Rays. Sucre had a home run and a two-run single.
The starting pitching continues to be good for the Rays, as well. Jake Odorizzi started slowly Sunday, giving up two hits to the first four batters he faced and took a line drive off of his hamstring. But he settled down and retired 16 of the last 17 he faced.
“For a a second, it hurt pretty good,” Odorizzi said of beig hit. “I didn't sit down in the dugout. I was trying to stay up so it didn't get start getting tight. It was a little stinger, but I made the play and got the out. It just goes down like that.”
The Blue Jays fell to 1-5, tying their 2004 record for the worst start in the history of the franchise.
“We should feel good and we do feel good right now," manager Kevin Cash said. "We are going to go in New York and obviously it will be pretty intense as I believe it will be their Opening Day there. Enjoy the flight and get ready to play. It’s a quick turnaround 1:00 p.m. game, but we do feel good with how we are playing. Everybody is contributing.”