OAKLAND, Calif. — The Rays began play Wednesday as one of the poorest clutch-hitting teams in the major leagues. Their .220 batting average with the bases loaded ranked 26th out of 30 teams and next to last among AL squads, while their .243 average with runners in scoring position was 22nd and 12th in the AL.
“I don’t think anyone knew we were 26th in the league,” CF Desmond Jennings said. “We go up there trying to get the job done. Sometimes we do. Sometimes we don’t.”
Wednesday was one of those sometimes they do days.
The Rays had only three hits in 14 at-bats with RISP, but they helped break open a close game as they rolled to a 7-3 victory against the A’s.
RF Kevin Kiermaier hit a two-run homer in the fourth inning that broke open a 1-0 game and 3B Evan Longoria, Jennings and LF Ben Zobrist had hits with RISP. Jennings had one of those rare hits with the bases loaded to help the Rays avoid being swept by the team with the best record in the major leagues.
Slow down, son
Kiermaier’s ninth home run of the season came after C Jose Molina reached on an infield single — a slow roller up the third base line.
Kiermaier lifted the ball over the out-of-town scoreboard behind the right field fence. The ball bounced back on the field so Kiermaier wasn’t sure it was a home run until he neared second base ... and Molina.
Molina had slowed after he saw the ball clear the fence. Kiermaier nearly had to hit the brakes.
“I wasn’t about to stop and let him get some distance before I got going again, so I did the slowest trot ever the whole way home,” Kiermaier said.
“So it was unique. A very unique home run trot for me after second base.”
Kiermaier, who runs hard to first base after intentional walks, said his teammates teased him that they didn’t know he could run that slow.
“I can get down to that gear if I need to,” Kiermaier said. “If it goes over the fence I can do that anytime under those circumstances, but that might be the last time you see me in that gear right there.”
LHP Drew Smyly allowed three runs on seven hits in 51⁄3 innings Tuesday in his first start as a Ray. Some timely hitting by the offense might have altered the outcome of the night. Instead, Smyly took the loss in the A’s 3-0 victory.
Smyly’s welcome-to-Joe Maddon moment came in the fourth inning when Maddon ordered him to walk 1B Nate Freiman even though Freiman was batting with a 2-2 count. CF Sam Fuld and 3B Josh Donaldson had just pulled off a double steal to put runners at second and third with two outs.
Maddon called for the move because he felt Smyly matched up better with the left-handed RF Josh Reddick, who was on deck. Lefties were batting .176 against the left-handed Smyly prior to the game.
“That’s the manager’s call,” Smyly said. “He thought it would help, and it ended up being the right call.”
Smyly got Reddick to pop up to second base to end the inning.
The Rays pitching staff recorded the 1,000th strikeout of the season Tuesday night, reaching that plateau faster than any team in major league history. The Rays needed 113 games, while the previous record holder, the 2013 Tigers, needed 114. RHP Kirby Yates was the pitcher who placed the Rays in the record book with a pair of strikeouts to end the seventh inning.... 1B James Loney extended his streak of reaching base safely to 25 games. He also turned in his 37th multi-hit game this season, second to the Angels’ Albert Pujols among AL first basemen … RHP Joel Peralta pitched a perfect eighth inning to run his scoreless streak since returning from the DL to five … Expect RF Wil Myers (right wrist fracture) to begin his 20-day minor league rehab Monday. That way the Rays can keep him at Triple-A Durham until Sept. 1 when the rosters expand.