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Brandon Lowe hits walk-off homer for Rays in historic win

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4:05 AM UTC

ST. PETERSBURG — Undefeated in their first 10 home games of the season, the Rays finally had to bat in the bottom of the ninth inning for the first time Friday night. They did then what they’ve been doing all season.

They hit home runs, and they won.

Down by two in the ninth, Christian Bethancourt cut the Rays’ deficit in half with a solo shot to right field off Reynaldo López. Then Brandon Lowe sent the Rays to a dramatic 8-7 victory over the White Sox at Tropicana Field with a two-run homer to right, his first career walk-off hit.

“It’s pretty great. It’s an awesome feeling,” Lowe said afterward, still wearing a jersey soaked from the ensuing celebrations. “I think this might be [the] first walk-off homer of my life, honestly. It’s always awesome.”

The Rays improved to a perfect 11-0 at home on the year, extended their season-opening home-run streak to a record-tying 20 games (tying the 2019 Mariners), and became just the 13th team in the modern era (since 1901) to win at least 17 of its first 20 games. It’s the best start to the season for any club in the Majors since the Red Sox (also 17-3) in 2018.

“That was a pretty good win,” manager Kevin Cash said. “I don’t know if we could say we saw that one coming.”

Indeed, Friday’s game took a few twists and turns before the thrilling conclusion.

The Rays jumped out to a four-run lead against Michael Kopech on a two-run double by Josh Lowe and a two-run homer to center by Harold Ramírez. But that lead disappeared quickly, albeit in a bizarre fashion.

Right-hander Calvin Faucher, who breezed through a 13-pitch first inning in his second career start, allowed three runs in the second. Then came a completely uncharacteristic lapse of command that would have cost Tampa Bay the game if not for its apparently indomitable lineup.

The Rays lost the lead while issuing a franchise-record six walks during a three-run third in which nine White Sox came to the plate and none of them put a ball in play. Left-hander Jalen Beeks walked a career-high five batters while recording only two outs then gave way to right-hander Cooper Criswell, who let loose a run-scoring wild pitch before eventually getting out of the inning.

“That’s what makes this win nice is that, as good as [our pitchers] are, we were able to kind of pick them up offensively,” Cash said. “They’ve certainly done that for us time and time again.”

With an unrelenting attitude and a sudden knack for going deep, this Rays lineup has proven capable of erasing deficits in a hurry.

They’ve hit 45 home runs, the second-most through 20 games in AL/NL history behind only the 2000 Cardinals (47), and the last two long balls turned the tide of Friday’s game.

Bethancourt took two pitches to get ahead in the count against López, went into swing mode and lashed a fastball just over the right-field wall. He initially stopped at second base, as the ball bounced off a fan and back into play. But the umpires convened and ruled it a home run, which was upheld after a replay review.

“We kept saying, ‘We’ve got to play 27 outs,’” Bethancourt said. “We’ve got to keep the line going, play 27 outs and things are going to happen, and we got it going.”

Yandy Díaz singled to right to bring up Lowe, whose only prior walk-off plate appearance was a sacrifice fly on Sept. 6, 2020. The slugging second baseman was coming off a frustrating at-bat in the seventh inning during which Lowe was admittedly “furious” that he’d sacrificed his typical swing for the sake of making contact.

When he returned to the dugout after that, Lowe said, he slammed his helmet into its cubby “enough to get some frustration out.”

“Then, he took it out on the ball,” Cash quipped.

After getting into a two-strike count in the ninth, Lowe said he was content to just move pinch-runner Vidal Bruján but determined to not make the same mistake he did earlier. Shortening his swing, Lowe swung at a full-count slider and hoped for the best as it sailed into the right-field seats.

“I didn’t square it up perfectly, like I feel like I do when I hit home runs. It was one of those I was kind of willing to go out,” Lowe said. “I was, like, praying that it was gonna go.”

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Brandon Lowe hits walk-off homer for Rays in historic win Reviewed by RP on April 22, 2023 Rating: 5

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