OAKLAND — Rays center fielder Brett Phillips leaned in and spoke quietly when asked about teammate Manuel Margot, as if discussing a secret that he didn’t want to go public.
“I honestly think he’s the most underrated player in the league,” Phillips said. “I say that because night in and night out, he puts together unbelievable at-bats, plays unbelievable defense, runs the bases. Seeing this guy play baseball, it’s really cool to watch, and good teams have players like him.”
Margot was one of several Rays who did his part in the eighth inning of Wednesday afternoon’s 3-0 victory over the A’s at Oakland Coliseum, which capped a three-game sweep for Tampa Bay.
With the bases loaded and two outs, Margot lined a two-run single to right off reliever Zach Jackson that broke a scoreless tie and lifted the Rays to their eighth win in the past 11 games.
Think the A’s were happy to see Margot leave town? The Rays’ right fielder went 7-for-13 (.538) with four RBIs in the series, lifting his average to .306. On Tuesday, he had a run-scoring triple in the 10th inning of Tampa Bay’s 10-7 win.
After finishing their last homestand with two uninspiring losses to Minnesota, the Rays have flipped the script in the first leg of a 10-game road trip that will continue Thursday night in Seattle.
Margot has been front and center in the turnaround.
“He has a very contact-oriented approach,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “He can really work an at-bat. He puts a lot of pressure on the pitcher, and he covers a lot of pitches.”
Margot wasn’t happy with his previous plate appearance, when he grounded out to strand a runner at third in the sixth. That was still fresh in his mind when he came up in the eighth against Jackson.
“I know the previous at-bat, I had a chance to produce and I was unsuccessful,” Margot said through interpreter Manny Navarro. “But I knew there, I had to do something. I learned from my last at-bat, and that helped me be a little more relaxed for that one.”
It was the second game in a row that the Rays’ offense busted through in the late innings to beat the A’s. Mike Zunino hit a tying two-run homer in the ninth Tuesday.
In the series finale, the teams combined for just eight hits through seven scoreless innings. But Phillips got the winning rally started in the eighth, working a leadoff walk against Jackson. With two outs, Randy Arozarena walked and Brandon Lowe was hit by a pitch to load the bases for Margot.
Those patient at-bats were a hallmark of last season’s club that won the American League East by eight games.
“We have, for the most part, the same group of guys,” Phillips said. “And the guys who are new have embraced that.”
Rays starter Corey Kluber pitched six scoreless innings, holding the A’s to three hits and one walk with seven strikeouts.
After Kluber signed a one-year deal with the Rays in December, he talked in his introductory press conference about his impressions of the club when pitching against it.
Kluber mentioned that the Rays always seemed to hold a team-wide belief they could win under any circumstances.
Now that he’s a member of the Rays, Kluber was asked Wednesday if he holds the same view of the team.
“I think the last two days are a good example,” Kluber said. “Whether it’s trailing late or being in a tie game late, nobody’s trying to necessarily be the hero. They just move the line along as far as offense goes. And as a pitching staff, it’s having a belief we can get the job done.”