ST. PETERSBURG — When Brett Phillips drives in runs, good things happen for the Rays.
Phillips was 2-for-3 with two RBIs to account for both of the Rays’ runs in a 2-1 win over the Mariners on Thursday afternoon at Tropicana Field.
Phillips’ go-ahead hit was a two-out comebacker in the seventh inning that deflected off pitcher Chris Flexen’s foot, allowing Harold Ramirez to score from third. Flexen, clearly frustrated, screamed into his glove.
“Second at-bat with two strikes, I’m just trying to put the ball in play,” Phillips said. “It would have been interesting if he let that ball go, but that’s the human element of the game. He was trying to be competitive and knock it down.”
Rays manager Kevin Cash said getting pitchers to stay away from comebackers is being taught more. In this case, he wasn’t sure if there was much Flexen could have done.
“It’s something that we work on in Spring Training — letting it go,” Cash said. “But I’m not sure if he could have let that one go. I think it hit him more on the leg, and he was trying to get out of the way.”
The Rays are 23-4 in the regular season — plus 1-0 in the postseason — when Phillips gets an RBI.
“The strategy is always to hit the ball,” Phillips said. “Planned [deflection]? No. But always try to hit the ball.”
The fortunate break allowed the Rays to get a rare series win against the Mariners. Seattle went 6-1 against Tampa Bay last season, including a four-game sweep at T-Mobile Park that included three walk-off wins. The Rays will travel to Seattle for a four-game series starting next Thursday.
“They’re a talented team,” Cash said. “They play really hard, and they have played us extremely tough for a couple of years now, certainly last year. We know we’ve got to play good baseball.”
Phillips’ RBI hits both came with two outs. In the second inning, he fought off Flexen’s cutter thrown a little inside and lined it to right field to score Ramirez and tie the game, 1-1.
After getting it done at the plate, it only made sense for Phillips to cap his game with a fine play in the field. With one out in the ninth and J.P. Crawford on first, reliever Colin Poche induced a popup from Julio Rodríguez into short right field. The ball bounced off second baseman Brandon Lowe’s glove, but Phillips retrieved it and threw a strike to Wander Franco to force Crawford at second base.
“That’s a tough play; it’s a blooper, and I was charging in hard just in case that were to happen,” Phillips said. “I’m glad it worked out the way it did. All around, it was a good baseball play.”
The Rays got 6 1/3 scoreless innings from relievers Jason Adam, Jalen Beeks, J.P. Feyereisen, Poche and Ryan Thompson. Opener Jeffrey Springs got into trouble in the first inning and yielded an RBI triple to Eugenio Suárez, but he struck out three in 2 2/3 innings.
“Bullpen days can get a little tricky at times, but everybody did a really nice job of being efficient, attacking the strike zone,” Cash said. “[Springs] I thought set the tone. I know he gave up the run, but his strike-to-ball ratio [31 to 12] was tremendous.”