ST. PETERSBURG — Calling it a breakout might be a little much, but context can be everything. And after scoring four runs total in their previous five games, the Rays felt pretty good about the four runs they put up Thursday in taking down the Indians, 4-1.
As rough as it's been going, they would have been happy with anything positive as they won for just the second time on the week-long homestand, improving to 59-57 and moving back into a tie for the second American League wild card with the Mariners, just ahead of the Twins, Angels and Royals.
But it was how they scored the runs that seemed to matter most, a three-run homer with two outs in the eighth by All-Star Corey Dickerson, who had been mired in his own personal 0-for-21, that they are latching on to as a sign their somnolent slump is behind them, though we really won't know until tonight.
"To see it coming back you kind of wait for something to happen like that sometimes, when are we going to drive in a couple guys," Dickerson said. "The night before we hit a couple solo shots but that's still not that game-changing lead. And I think that really helped."
There was a lot more that went into it, of course, before a small Trop gathering of 9,533 (seventh smallest of the season, before you ask), including the busting of another long 0-fer and a couple of failed squeeze bunts.
But before we get back to the bats we'd be remiss to not mention the work of starter Blake Snell.
His demotion to Triple-A Durham re-routed due to Alex Cobb's DL stint, Snell stepped up and delivered one of his best outings of the season, working somewhat efficiently and extremely effectively into the seventh, holding the Indians to one run, allowing four hits and two walks, throwing 101 pitches.
"We had a chance to win that game simply because of Blake Snell's performance," manager Kevin Cash said.
Snell allowed his run after a game-starting double but kept it at one by shattering Edwin Encarnacion's bat on an inning-ending double play. And he was equally as impressive escaping a two-on, one out, then bases loaded, two outs jam in the fourth, getting former teammate Brandon Guyer looking at strike three. (That after bouncing off the mound when he thought the previous pitch was strike three.)
"Me and (catcher Jesus Sucre) had a good game plan," Snell said. "I just attacked it, attacked the zone. Anytime I felt like I was trying to pick, he did a good job of honing me back in and just attacking the strike zone."
Also imperative to the win was another dazzling outing by reliever Tommy Hunter, who logged five more big outs in posting the 19th scoreless appearance in his last 20 and lowering his ERA to 1.58.
Before the Rays could think about winning, they had to focus on scoring. Their streak of hitless at-bats with a runner in scoring position had stretched to a week, a mind-numbing 0-for-31 going back to the seventh inning on Aug. 3 in Houston, before Logan Morrison, who earlier snapped his own 0-for-11, singled in Lucas Duda in the fifth.
A one-out single in the eighth by Adeiny Hechavarria and then an errant throw by Indians catcher Yon Gomes that moved him around to third put them in position to take the lead.
With No. 8 hitter Mallex Smith up, Cash went to play small ball, but Smith, who considers himself an excellent bunter, popped up a one-strike pitch. That Indians third baseman Giovanny Urshela didn't catch it saved the Rays for the moment.
But Cash — perhaps showing the desperation to take the lead — made the unusual move to put the squeeze back on. And Smith popped it up again, which make it a strikeout, with another break as Carlos Santana didn't catch it.
"It's a gamble,' Cash said. "I'm sure I'll be told by my bosses that was stupid. That's okay, I can live with it. I've been called stupid plenty of times."
Sucre was then hit by a pitch, which brought up Dickerson — whose struggles manifested as he uncharacteristically took a called third strike earlier; just his sixth strikeout looking of the season.
"A little telling today was when Corey took the third-strike fastball,'' Cash said. "That's something you don't see him do is take a pitch. When he's going to go down, he goes down swinging.''
Dickerson came out swinging at the first pitch from Nick Goody, driving it just over the centerfield fence — and just beyond the reach of leaping centerfielder Bradley Zimmer —to end his slump and send his teammates home happy.
"It was kind of a relief," Dickerson said.
In many ways.
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @ TBTimes_Rays.