December 5, 2022

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Kitt's rebound sets stage for Mar-go-ahead

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ST. PETERSBURG — Reliever Andrew Kittredge quickly buried the memory of some games he’d like to forget. And hot-hitting Manuel Margot continued his May to remember.

Proper eighth-inning timing was everything for the Rays in Friday night’s 5-2 victory over the Blue Jays at Tropicana Field.

Kittredge, coming off two consecutive blown saves on the Rays’ West Coast trip, replaced Brooks Raley with two runners on after the tying run scored and escaped from the jam by striking out Bo Bichette and getting Vladimir Guerrero Jr. to hit into a double play, keeping the game tied at 2.

Margot, who has a 10-game hitting streak and is batting .471 in May, delivered the go-ahead run with a single to the left of a diving and drawn-in Bichette at shortstop, jump-starting a clinching three-run inning.

For Kittredge, who always seems to have the same in-game body language and postgame tone of voice regardless of the outcome, it was redemption after he surrendered late-inning game-tying home runs in each of his past two appearances.

“There’s nobody else you’d rather have on the mound than him [in Friday night’s eighth inning],’’ Rays catcher Mike Zunino said.

“First and second with Bichette and Guerrero … that’s not a good position to be in,’’ Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “Kitt will rise to the moment, but doesn’t get hyped up in it. He has a very short-term memory, and you’d like most relievers to have that. Kitt is about as dependable as they come.’’

Kittredge said he felt he made good pitches in his past two outings, but he surrendered a ninth-inning homer to Seattle’s Abraham Toro on Sunday, then an eighth-inning homer to the Angels’ Taylor Ward on Wednesday. By Friday night, those moments were history — ancient history.

“The mindset was the same, and thankfully, I got some good results because that can wear on you if you let too many get away,’’ said Kittredge, who got the victory. “Those are the situations you want to be in, the big, tough ones. You’ve got to attack them. If you nibble or try to be too fine, that’s when they get you. My approach was to attack them.’’

That was Margot’s approach as well, even though he wasn’t 100 percent due to lingering right hamstring tightness. He wasn’t ready to play the field, but Cash wanted Margot’s bat in the leadoff position, so he was the designated hitter.

Despite missing the past two games with his injury, Margot looked fine at the plate. Zunino led off the eighth and narrowly missed a home run, settling for a double off the top of the padding in right field. Taylor Walls got a single when his grounder found an opening in the shift after Bichette covered a lot of ground but couldn’t field it cleanly. That brought up Margot, whose RBI single finished off Blue Jays starter Kevin Gausman.

“You do everything you can to stay in your routine,’’ Margot said through Rays interpreter Manny Navarro. “When your confidence is up, you’re able to do more things than not.’’

“Timing is important when you’re hitting,’’ Cash said. “If you miss reps, that can have an effect. It’s very impressive that Manny sat for two games and you still felt like he was on everything tonight.’’

Rays starter Drew Rasmussen was mostly brilliant in 5 2/3 innings, primarily using his cutter to induce weak contact and getting 11 ground-ball outs. He was supported by five Rays relievers, including Kittredge, who kept the Blue Jays at bay.

“We have the best bullpen in the league,’’ Rasmussen said. “When they follow us up, with all the different arm angles and visuals, we have complete confidence.’’

Rasmussen had confidence in the defense as well. Wander Franco went deep in the hole, leaping for a Derek Jeter-like jump throw, to rob Teoscar Hernández of a second-inning hit. Randy Arozarena saved potential extra bases in the seventh when he went horizontal on Matt Chapman’s screaming liner to left field. Meanwhile, Walls was nimble at third base and started two key double plays.

“When you’re facing that Toronto team and it’s a 2-1 or 2-0 type of game, you know there’s some defense being played,’’ Cash said. “And there was.’’

Some shutdown relief pitching and clutch hitting showed up as well. For the Rays, timing was everything.

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