BALTIMORE — Joey Wendle hadn’t hit a home run since June 9, and that gap of 50 games and 180-plus at-bats created plenty of opportunity for manager Kevin Cash and other Rays to tease one of their most well-liked and mild-mannered teammates.
“I heard it a couple times from a couple people,” Wendle said. “It’s like a joke, and then it’s like, well, it’s kind of serious, too.”
Sunday, Wendle answered back, hitting two homers — a solo shot and a grand slam — as part of a career-best six-RBI day to lead the Rays to a 12-8 victory over the Orioles.
Even better, Wendle, who grew up and still lives in Pennsylvania, had a large group of family, including parents, brothers, aunts and uncles, in the Camden Yards stands celebrating loudly.
“I had a good crew here to watch, so that was fun,” Wendle said. “It was a good time.”
The Rays certainly have a good time against the lowly O’s, completing a season thrashing in which they won 18 of the 19 games (tying the major-league record for wins against a division opponent in a season), coming from behind 10 times, outscoring them by a staggering 150-71 overall.
“It shows a level of consistency that we talk about a lot that (the Rays players) come to the ballpark with, that they put out on the field and just stay at it,” Cash said. “Proud of the way our guys have gone about it — certainly against Baltimore — but throughout the entire season.”
That is the bigger point, and the Rays continue to better their overall position.
The win was their seventh straight and 11th in their past 12 games, improving their American League-best record to 82-48 (a franchise-tying 34 games over .500) and increasing their East Division lead to six games over the Yankees, with 32 to play.
The next 10 days will be interesting, as the Rays face the Red Sox seven times, giving them a chance to potentially knock their rabid rivals out of the division race or make it a three-way affair, with a four-game series starting tonight at Tropicana Field, then three next week in Boston. Tampa Bay has an eight-game lead over Boston.
“There’s definitely a lot of big games coming up,” said Austin Meadows, who Sunday hit his 22nd homer and pushed his RBI total to 91, fourth most in the majors. “We know that coming down the stretch, I think (the key) for us (is) just continue to focus on ourselves and not what anybody else is doing.
“The Red Sox, obviously, are a really good team. … Finishing off a good road series here today will kind of bring that momentum into the homestand and we’ll see where this thing goes. But we’re excited to continue to play good teams and continue to try to find ways to win.”
The Rays did that Sunday, giving an early lead to Chris Archer, who worked four innings in his second start back since an April 10 forearm issue, and adding on as the Orioles kept battling back.
The Rays turned a 3-2 lead into a 6-2 advantage in the sixth when Wander Franco singled, extending his on-base streak to 29 games, and Meadows and Wendle homered.
Then they expanded a 6-4 margin to 10-4 in the seventh, loading the bases against Paul Fry with a single and two walks, with Wendle delivering the big blow.
It was Wendle’s second grand slam this season and third of his career, giving the Rays an AL-most nine for the season.
“A great team win,” Wendle said, “and good to be a contributor.”
And that was nothing to tease about.
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