Rays win 12th straight, approach history as rookie Taj Bradley K’s 8 in debut start

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St. PETERSBURG, Fla. – As if the pressure of making his major league debut at age 22 wasn’t enough, Taj Bradley took the mound Wednesday night at Tropicana Field knowing the Tampa Bay Rays were somehow 11-0, with a chance to to finish the night with the longest winning streak to start a season by any team since 1987.

“Today was amazing,” a smiling Bradley said after a 9-7 win over the Red Sox, striking out eight batters, one shy of the Rays record in a debut. “A little nervous, a little emotional, happy, nervous, all the emotions coming at once except anger. I was just excited that the day came.”

Even after making the playoffs four straight years, the Rays are the surprise of baseball’s first two weeks, not only winning 12 straight, but 10 of those wins by four runs or more. If they can complete a four-game sweep of Boston on Thursday afternoon, they will match the 1982 Braves and 1987 Brewers for the best start by any team since the 19th century.

“Any time we do something that’s a franchise record it’s pretty significant, shocking,” manager Kevin Cash said. “The boys should be proud of that.”

Bradley, ranked by MLB.com as the Rays’ No. 1 prospect, issued a full-count walk to the first Boston batter he faced, then retired the next nine batters in order and struck out five d ‘they. His nerves were quickly settled, helped by a three-run home run by Randy Arozarena in the bottom of the first — the Rays’ 30th this season, the third-most by any team after 12 games.

By the fourth inning, he had a 6-1 lead, and while the Red Sox tacked on a run late, relievers Jason Adam and Pete Fairbanks closed out the game with scoreless innings to seal the win.

Randy Arozarena HITS a three-run home run to give the Rays an early 3-0 lead over the Red Sox.

Randy Arozarena HITS a three-run home run to give the Rays an early 3-0 lead over the Red Sox.

Bradley said part of being able to stay calm in high-pressure circumstances was that he shut out all the outside noise Tuesday once he realized he was joining a team that had yet to lose this season.

“I just turned off Instagram, every notification, I didn’t look unless it was family or friends texting me. Other than that, I needed to keep it in my head,” said Bradley, whose mother, Ana Mosley. drove down from Atlanta with his father, brother and sister to watch his debut on his birthday.

Bradley couldn’t sleep Tuesday night, having learned of his promotion after a game that afternoon with the Triple-A Durham Bulls. Manager Michael Johns sternly gathered his team in the clubhouse after a loss, but he was only preparing for the best news a minor league manager can deliver.

“You’re thinking, ‘OK, he’s going to chase us.’ That was part of his MO, his delivery,” Bradley said. “He said, ‘But it’s always good to tell somebody they’re getting the call.’ I’m sitting there, like we don’t know who it is. He starts listing ‘He was drafted in 2018’ and I’m like, ‘That’s me.’ . I started thinking ‘I’m the only person (here) in the class of 2018.’ He said, ‘I was 17 when he was drafted,’ and I said, ‘That’s me too.'” He used to pitch 90-92,” and I did! All you say is me! He said, ‘Taj Bradley, you’re pitching in the big leagues tomorrow.’ arise until I called my mother.”

Even getting from North Carolina to Florida was a rush, with an hour to pack and Uber to the airport, making it to her flight five minutes before the gate closed. The Rays told him to switch to first class and they would refund him, but there were no seats available, so his ride to the bigs was in the back of the plane.

“Go back to the toilets,” he said with a laugh. “I had a window seat with no windows, nothing to look at. There was an empty seat and I tried to get up and go over, but ‘You can’t do that.’ So I went back to my corner and I go all the way.”

He got the best view of the best team in baseball on Wednesday. The Rays’ dominance has been almost unbelievable, losing just five of the 108 innings they’ve played, stringing three straight shutouts over the weekend. They easily have the most home runs in baseball, and their pitchers have also given up the fewest (four) of any team. The 12-game winning streak marks the longest hitting streak at any time in any season in the team’s 25-year history.

The Rays have made it easy for their pitchers with great support. In addition to Arozarena’s home run, they got three hits off shortstop Wander Franco, who was now batting .340 and tied for the major league lead with 11 extra-base hits. Bradley is a prime example of Tampa Bay’s incredible pitching depth: When starter Zach Eflin joined Tyler Glasnow on the disabled list, they were confident of turning to Bradley, who had made just 14 starts in Triple-A before the promotion

Every part of the lineup has contributed for the Rays, whose 7-8-9 hitters — Taylor Walls, Christian Bethancourt and Vidal Brujan — combined to go 5-for-9 with five runs in Wednesday’s win. Bethancourt went 2-for-19 on the season and had two key hits, keeping his rookie pitcher calm and in control in his first major league game.

“We’re not thinking about our record, we’re thinking we’ve got to be aggressive, we’ve got to hustle, we’ve got to be the best version of ourselves and we can’t be selfish,” Bethancourt said. “That’s a big part of our success. Hopefully we can continue and get to where we want to go, which is the World Series.”

Greg Auman is the NFC South reporter for FOX Sports, covering the Buccaneers, Falcons, Panthers and Saints. He is in his 10th season covering the Bucs and the NFL full-time, having spent time at the Tampa Bay Times and The Athletic. You can follow him on Twitter at @gregauman.

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