ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays can manage without Yandy Diaz. They’ve done it already this season.
Friday night, however, it was obvious things are easier when the first baseman is leading off their lineup. After missing three games due to a family issue, Diaz returned in style. He homered and doubled twice as the Rays beat the Dodgers 9-3 in front of a crowd of 19,715 at Tropicana Field.
“You take him out of our lineup, we’ve got a lot of good hitters,” manager Kevin Cash said, “but I think Yandy is a guy that we want to get as many at-bats as possible in any game.”
The Rays improved to 38-15, a season-high 23 games over .500. They became one of just 10 teams in MLB history and the first since the 1998 Yankees to open the season 25-5 at home. They improved to 12-4 in interleague play.
Los Angeles dropped to 31-21, having lost six of their last 10 games.
It was the first meeting between the teams since the 2020 World Series, when the Dodgers took the championship in the playoff bubble in Arlington, Texas, in six games.
Friday provided a more satisfying outcome for the Rays.
Diaz hit his team-leading 12th home run in the fourth inning. He doubled in the first, scoring the Rays’ first run, and doubled again in the eighth. Diaz, who leads the majors in OPS, matched a career high for the third time with three extra-base hits. His first double also extended his on-base streak to 20 games, two shy of his career high. He has reached base safely in 30 of his last 31 games since April 15.
“He always has a good at-bat. It’s always a productive at-bat. He’s got a knack for hitting the ball hard,” Cash said. “I mean, look, the home runs are nice. Before this year, it wasn’t quite like that. So, he’s just elevated his game. So, as good of a hitter he was and how complete he was and seeing pitches, getting walks, now he’s just added another element with the power.”
Diaz wasn’t interested in talking about his own performance.
The 31-year-old preferred to talk about how the Rays threw everything at the Dodgers — much as they do every night. Friday, Tampa Bay got two home runs, manufactured runs, and stole four bases. It played solid defense, turning two double plays, and used eight pitchers.
Jose Siri had a two-run homer in the eighth, his ninth of the season, and has hit safely in nine of his last 11 games. His home run was the Rays’ major league-leading 99th of the season.
“Everyone’s just doing their part,” Diaz said through interpreter Manny Navarro. “Everyone’s just doing the little things, and then when everyone’s doing the little things, it turns into something big.”
Taylor Walls went 1-for-4 and stole second and third base in the third inning, becoming one of just six players with two or more multiple-steal games this season. He also started a seventh-inning double play. Christian Bethancourt matched a career high with three hits, including a career high-tying two doubles. Wander Franco went 2-for-4 with two runs scored.
“I’ve always said that this team is capable of doing anything,” Siri said. “We have the home runs. We can run. We play defense. We’re able to do everything.”
On the night before they get ace Tyler Glasnow back from the injured list, the Rays’ pieced-together pitching held on. Jalen Beeks allowed one run in 1⅔ innings of work, and Cooper Criswell picked up his first big-league win, allowing a run over four innings.
It wasn’t that simple, however, as the Rays had to go to Colin Poche with two on and two out in the seventh after Kevin Kelly got in trouble. In the eighth, they again had to dip into the bullpen after Calvin Faucher gave up a two-out RBI double to Chris Taylor. Jason Adam got them out of the inning.
“They did a nice job. They needed to,” Cash said. “LA got plenty of guys on base. Felt like when we needed a big pitch made, it seemed to happen for us pretty frequently. Poche, his outing, and Jason Adam’s were big kind of momentum-killers right there. The rest of the guys competed really well.”