Rays have reasons to be excited, post big win over Angels

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ST. PETERSBURG — There was a long list of big hits and a lot for the Rays to be excited about Saturday as they rolled to their fourth straight win, drubbing the Angels 13-3.

Ji-Man Choi has a career-high four. Randy Arozarena had three and scored three times. Brett Phillips had the most impactful of the team’s 15, a two-run triple in the pivotal fourth inning. Manuel Margot homered. So did Mike Zunino, posting his 16th, most among all big-league catchers. And all before a season-high crowd of 16,699 at the Trop.

“It’s like … waking up on Christmas morning as a kid, seeing all the presents. Your birthday. All the exciting things that you can imagine when you score a lot of runs like that,’' Phillips said.

“Everyone is excited and happy. That’s what it’s like. Really good energy across the board, from the fans down to the dugout.’'

But it was a quiet conversation in the dugout that might have been the most significant moment of the day.

Rookie starter Shane McClanahan had just (barely) completed a vexing 36-pitch third inning, giving up three runs and a 2-0 lead, without many hard hits. And with no good breaks.

A ball Shohei Ohtani bounced over the head of Choi at first was an RBI double — the 29 mph exit velocity the lowest for an extra-base hit since Statcast has been used in 2015. Then an Anthony Rendon blooper — at 65.9 mph — dropped just inside the rightfield line scored two.

McClanahan was fortunate just to finish the inning, as the Rays had the bullpen ready. He is competitive and emotional anyway, and when he finally headed off the mound, having thrown 59 pitches total, it was obvious to his bosses that he was frustrated.

Pitching coach Kyle Snyder gave him some simple guidance. He reminded McClanahan he was doing his job of getting weak contact. Told him he couldn’t control where the balls were going, how they were finding holes. Encouraged him to keep doing what he was doing.

The 24-year-old lefty out of USF took it in.

“That kind of gave me the ability to reset and understand if I keep making pitches, good things will happen more than not,’' he said. “So just kind of reset my mind and kept attacking.’'

That he did, ripping through the next three innings, setting down all nine Angels he saw on 28 pitches total, turning what could have been an abbreviated outing into a solid six innings with seven strikeouts. And getting his first win in a month.

“Personally, I’m so impressed with Mac and the way he went about it,’' manager Kevin Cash said. “That was a very frustrating inning when they scored the three runs. It’s baseball. They didn’t hit a ton of balls hard, but we’ll take runs that way as well.

“For a young pitcher, I thought he did a tremendous job of keeping his composure, frustrated after the inning but was able to kind of reset his mind and give us three innings after that.’'

It also helped McClanahan that his mates picked him up, retaking the lead with a four-run fourth, Phillips delivering the two-run triple, then scoring on a wild pitch by former Ray Alex Cobb, who had a tough four-inning outing.

Saturday was redemptive for Phillips also, as he was 0-for-his-last-15 and 2-for-29 going into that fourth inning at-bat, though he said he had no idea until asked about it postgame by Bally Sports Sun reporter Tricia Whitaker.

“My mindset is all the same,’' he said. “Every time I’m walking up to the plate, I’m 0-for-0 and I’m here to help the team.’'

With their seven-game losing streak becoming a distant memory, Saturday’s showing gave the Rays more reason to be happy, improving to 47-31 and maintaining their hold on first place in the American League East.

“It felt great,’' Choi said via interpreter Steve Nam. “We had great atmosphere going in the dugout.’'

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