Rays rediscover home run in shelling Baltimore

by Gary Shelton on September 8, 2018 · 0 comments

in general, Tampa Bay Rays

Nick Ciuffo's first at-bat in his home stadium was a home run./JEFFREY S. KING

Saturday, 3 a.m.

When the Baltimore Orioles came to town, they evidently brought along the ghost of Earl Weaver with them.

Ciuffo had a big night in the Rays' win./JEFFREY S. KING

You remember Weaver. He was a guy who made his career off of the three-run homer. Over his Hall of Fame career, the Orioles hit 259 such homers, and in those games, they had a record of 213-46. 

In other words, Weaver won 82 percent of the games in which his team hit a three-run shot. In his other games, Weaver won 55 percent of the time.

Um, the problem for Weaver’s ghost?

It was the wrong team hitting them.

The normally small-ball Tampa Bay Rays — who came into the game with 73 fewer home runs than in their first 139 last year — jacked four home runs Friday night in a 14-2 clobbering of the Orioles.

Ciuffo had four RBI in the win over Baltimore./JEFFREY S. KING

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Kevin Kiermaier had a three-run homer and a bunt single./JEFFREY S. KING

Ji-Man Choi hit a grand slam for the Rays. Kevin Kiermaier hit a three-run shot. Nick Ciuffo, in his first ever at-bat at the Trop , hit a three run shot. And Tommy Pham hit a solo homer as the Rays scored their first 11 runs on the long ball.

Snell won his 18th game for the Rays./JEFFREY S. KING

Almost hidden in the assault was Blake Snell’s 18th win of the season. Snell lasted only 5 1/3 innings, but he struck out nine and allowed runs only on Joey Rickard’s two-run homer.

“He’s performed like an ace this year,” Rays’ manager Kevin Cash said. “It’s tough to argue that he hasn’t. It’s pretty remarkable the turnaround. We talk about it a lot and I guess we’ll continue talking about it. I guess when the day comes that we aren’t talking about it, it becomes a normal fifth day for him. 

“If that’s the case, he becomes a really special pitcher, which he’s been all year this year.”

Choi had a grand slam for Tampa Bay./JEFFREY S. KING

Snell wasn’t disappointed even though he came out quickly.

“I felt like I was around the zone for the most part,” Snell said. “I felt like I threw the fastball where I wanted to except for maybe 4 or 5 pitches arm-side, which was frustrating, but corrected it quick and was happy about that. 

“I’m just focused on my next start and what I need to do to get deeper in the game. They were just knicking and knacking a lot of things. I think I threw 70 percent  strikes so I was in the zone a lot, but their fighting made it tough today.”

Still, the story of the night was the Rays’ power. For most of the season, they’ve been a team that hit fewer homers and struck out fewer times. But the Rays — who had 10 hits and 11 walks — had plenty of pop Friday night.

Tommy Pham jumps on the plate after a solo homer./JEFFREY S. KING

Ciuffo drove a pitch over the right-field wall in the second inning for his blast.

“I think the off day helped me a lot,” Ciuffo said, “because I kind of got away from it for a day and had a chance to relax and I felt a lot more calm at the plate and behind the plate, so I got a good pitch to hit and I didn’t miss it.”

Ciuffo, too, was impressed with Snell.

“He’s got four competitive pitches,” Ciuffo said. “So if one pitch isn’t one hundred percent on that night he can use the curveball. If the curveball isn’t on he uses the slider. If the slider isn’t on he’s got the changeup. And the

Kevin Cash sees his team 12 games over .500./JEFFREY S. KING

reason he’s so successful is because there’s going to be very few nights where he doesn’t have a pitch that he can do damage with or strike guys out with.”

It had to be easier on Cash than most games.

“Three-run homers are tough to overcome,” Cash said. “We know that. We kind of piled up there. Really cool for Nick Ciuffo and his family in the stands and friends. I guess his best buddy had a full Rays uniform on, which was pretty unique. KK remains hot, getting the home run and then Ji- Man with the grand slam there at the end.”

The Rays, 12 games above .500, finally took a lead on the series season with the last-place Orioles. They are 9-8 heading into tonight’s game. Diego Castillo will pitch against David Hess at 6:10 p.m.

Velaxquez slides in safe at home for Tampa Bay./JEFFREY S. KING

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