The Tampa Bay Rays limped into the biggest week of their season—Rays Week—looking like a MASH unit. Second baseman Brandon Lowe? Out. Outfielder Manny Margot? Injured. Catcher Mike Zunino? On the IL. Don’t even ask about the bullpen. Joining the walking wounded are Wander Franco and Kevin Kiermaier, both of whom will need surgery and won’t be with the club “for some time.” The Defector Theme Week Curse is, unfortunately, very real.
With a motley crew of back-ups, call-ups, and acquisitions, the Rays shuffled home after a brutal sweep at the hands of the miserable Reds to welcome the Red Sox to town for a crucial four-game series. The wild card race is tightening up, with the red-hot Mariners and Orioles (yes, the Orioles) crashing the formerly AL East–only party, and Tampa’s playoff hopes looking thinner than they have all year. It’s a make-or-break week.
“We’re going to have to lean on these guys,” manager Kevin Cash said. “We’re going to have to lean on some of our depth. We’re going to have to lean on some of the guys that we’ve acquired lately. That’s who we are right now.”
For a roster like this to take the first game of the series by a 10-5 score, everyone had to contribute. That meant big hits and RBIs from rookies Jonathan Aranda and Josh Lowe, and from utilityman Yu Chang, selected off waivers from the Pirates just last week. That meant three strong innings of relief from 31-year-old career minor-leaguer Luke Bard. It meant this breathtaking catch from Brett Phillips.
But more than anything else, it meant Yandy Diaz. The veteran third baseman has been hot as the sun lately, putting up 10 multi-hit games in his last 15, and hitting .500 over that span. He added three more hits Monday night, with three RBIs and three runs scored. He was right in the middle of every Rays rally. He’s always been a get-on-base guy—Diaz’s walk-to-strikeout ratio is the majors’ best—but now he’s adding in a little bit of gap power, including a pair of hard-hit doubles in this one.
“A lot of times in this game you hit the ball hard and you get nothing to show for it,” Diaz said. “Now I’m hitting balls that are falling in for hits.” That is indeed the eternal mystery of the hot streak, though Diaz half-jokingly said he knows what’s got him locked in and lucky: some yellow physio tape on his shoulder. “It’s been giving me some energy.”
Whatever it is, his manager is thankful. “He’s one of [our] few veterans that have some reps and experience, and he’s as hot as I can recall,” Cash said, before adding, “Let’s tape a couple other guys.”
With the win, the Rays move just half a game back of Boston for second in the division and first in the wild card. Maybe this team is plucky enough to overcome the Theme Week Curse. Just no one tell them what it did to Eugene Melnyk.