ARLINGTON, Texas — Alex Speas knocked out his first three batters in his big league debut for the Texas Rangers and scored on his first two outs when All-Star catcher Jonah Heim threw out a runner attempting second base to steal.
That relief from Speas, a second-round draft pick in 2016, came before Heim’s big three-run home run in the eighth inning as the AL West frontrunner started his winning streak with a 5-1 win over the ailing Tampa Bay Rays six games stretched on Wednesday.
The Rays (60-39) are 3-11 in July and are not alone at the top of the AL East for the first time since the tie after winning in a 13-0 start on Opening Day. Baltimore (58-37) is ahead on percentage after an 8-5 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Texas coach Bruce Bochy was looking for a soft landing spot for the debut of 25-year-old Speas, who coached youth baseball last year. It didn’t quite work out, but the detacher still looked quite comfortable.
Speas had endured Tommy John’s surgery, the birth of his daughter and the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season without games before retiring from the pros.
“To be honest, sometimes fighting mental health isn’t easy. There are some long nights, there are some long days and it’s an uphill struggle to get through it all,” he said. “But I’m glad we made it here. And I thank the organization for trusting me and giving me the opportunity to come back and do this.”
The Rays, who host Baltimore in a four-game streak beginning Thursday, had 10 hits. But they had their only run on Jose Siri’s 19th home run, with an out on the ninth.
“We just couldn’t get anything going, and sometimes it does, but it feels like the total is piling up quite a bit,” said Rays manager Kevin Cash. “We’re not creating the opportunities that we’re capable of and the things that we do well probably don’t show up to the extent that we’d like.”
Texas (58-39) ended its second three-game winning streak since the All-Star break and has its longest winning streak since six straight wins in 2019. Leody Taveras hit his 11th home run on the first pitch of the third inning against Zack Littell (0-2), and in the seventh he added an RBI single.
Brock Burke (4-2) threw three strikeouts in two scoreless innings, replacing starter Jon Gray, who went out with an out in the fifth inning after bruising his left shin after a hit by a comebacker. Gray said he is doing well and plans to make his next start.
Speas took over with an out in the seventh round that ended with pinch hitter Wander Franco slamming in the same square where Manuel Margot was knocked out trying to steal him. Speas then threw a perfect eighth with two more strikeouts — from leadoff hitter Yandy Díaz, who fell to the ground after one of the fastballs, and Randy Arozarena, who didn’t seem comfortable in the batter’s box.
“I can’t say enough about what he did. “This boy really showed a great attitude and handled the situation really well,” Bochy said.
Speas returned to the Rangers organization in spring training, posting two saves and a 1.00 ERA in 28 assists in a 4-0 record at Triple-A Round Rock and Double-A Frisco. He had 59 strikeouts over 36 innings.
All-Star right fielder Adolis García got his MLB-leading 11th outfield assist when Josh Lowe tried to score on Margot’s double from first base to end the second inning. García made a powerful throw from the warning lane at second baseman Marcus Semien to send the relay to catcher Heim.
García left with a bruise on his left arm after being hit by a throw in the eighth.
Arozarena, also an All-Star, came on as a pinch hitter in the fifth round and stayed in left field. In the seventh round, he hit the wall with a run-jump-catch. As he sat on the floor, he gave a thumbs-up sign that he was fine.
Rays: A showdown between the top teams in the AL East. “It’s a big series. i won’t lie “It’s a great series, they played incredibly well,” said Cash before the final in Texas.
Rangers: Texas opens a three-game series against the Dodgers on Friday night. Los Angeles has not been at Globe Life Field since winning the World Series there — in six games against the Rays. The NL Division Series and NL Championship Series were also there at the end of the pandemic-hit 2020 season.
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