Mariners keep Rays in spiral
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- When Nelson Cruz gets hot, it’s the kind of record-setting hot that is measured in ridiculous distances.
Cruz launched a 482-foot home run in the ninth inning Friday, the longest ever recorded at Tropicana Field, punctuating the Seattle Mariners’ 7-1 win over the slumping Tampa Bay Rays.
“It’s great when he gets hot, because they’re not just singles, they’re doubles and home runs,” Seattle manager Scott Servais said after Cruz hit not only his 30th home run of the season but two doubles as well. “The ones he hit in Minnesota last year were pretty far too. He’s just seeing the ball really good right now, in a rhythm at the plate. We certainly need him.”
A return home did little to slow down Tampa Bay’s recent slump.
Mariners starter Erasmo Ramirez (5-4) faced the team that traded him away last month and held them to one run on three hits. Seattle (62-61) stayed in the American League wild-card chase while the Rays (60-64) dropped to a season-high four games under .500, having lost 11 of their last 14 overall and eight of their last 10 at home.
“We knew the guy on the mound pretty well,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “He’s done it multiple times for us, and it stings probably a little more when you have it done to you. He was sharp and he was good.”
Tampa Bay starter Austin Pruitt (6-4) found himself down 3-0 in a 33-pitch first inning, but helped the bullpen by lasting seven innings. He threw 107 pitches, 77 for strikes. Those strikes too often turned into Mariners hits -- they had 11, four more than Pruitt had allowed in any previous start. That included six doubles, with two each from Cruz and Mike Zunino.
“It’s huge,” Cruz said of starting a 12-game road trip with a win. “Every time, it starts with the pitching. Erasmo and the bullpen did the job today.”
The Rays, blanked five times in their previous eight home games, managed to avoid the shutout, thanks to Lucas Duda’s sacrifice fly in the sixth inning. They have scored a total of 24 runs in their 3-11 slide, less than two runs per game. Catcher Wilson Ramos had three of Tampa Bay’s four hits on Friday.
A day after the Rays left 14 runners on base, they didn’t have many opportunities to strand anyone. Two walks and a single loaded the bases with one out in the second inning, but Adeiny Hechavarria could only pop out to shallow center -- not deep enough to send the runner at third -- and Daniel Robertson popped out to right field to end the inning.
Former Rays pitcher Ramirez, acquired by the Mariners last month, followed with three straight 1-2-3 innings before Kevin Kiermaier doubled to lead off the sixth.
Seattle’s bats had no such trouble, however, as they tagged Pruitt for three runs in the first inning. Cruz stroked an RBI double past Rays center fielder Kiermaier -- back for the first time in more than two months. Kyle Seager followed with an RBI groundout and Danny Valencia made it 3-0 with an infield single.
The Mariners added two more runs in the fourth. Ben Gamel walked, Guillermo Heredia doubled and Zunino brought both in with a two-run double for a 5-0 lead.
Gamel added another run in the fifth with an RBI single.
“All that matters is to win ballgames right now, and we didn‘t, so that’s the main storyline tonight,” Kiermaier said. “I felt good out there. I felt good in the box, defensively and on the bases.”
NOTES: Before the game, the Rays activated OF Kevin Kiermaier from the 60-day disabled list. He’d been sidelined since June 9 with a fractured hip, and the Rays optioned Mallex Smith to Triple-A Durham to make room. ... RHP Matt Andriese, making a rehab start in Class A Charlotte as he recovers from a hip injury, took a comebacker off his ankle in the first inning and left the game. ... Seattle not only came in at 61-61, but is 30-30 since starting the season 31-31. They went into the Rays series with an 8-8-2 record in road series. ... Friday’s game kicks off a 14-day, 12-game road trip, Seattle’s longest of the season and longest since 2010.