ANAHEIM, Calif. – Playing .500 ball is obviously no goal, and the Rays certainly know that.
But given where they came from, that terrible 1-8 start that oozed into 3-12 and 4-13, climbing back to the respectability of .500 would be an accomplishment.
Having been close a couple times, they finally got there Saturday night at 22-22 with a 5-3 victory over the Angels, the sixth straight in their latest streak as they've gone 18-9.
"We don't want to be .500, we want to be better than that,'' manager Kevin Cash said. "But you've got to get to .500 before you can become better.''
The win provided validation, collectively, for their latest unusual pitching plan, as reliever Sergio Romo and struck out all three batters in the first, then starter Ryan Yarbrough relieved and worked six-plus innings.
"Try not to read too much into it, but it did go really, really well with Romo's performance,'' Cash said.
So well, in fact, the Rays will double down on their unorthodoxy and start Romo again Sunday, with lefty Anthony Banda and several righthanded relievers at the ready.
And satisfaction, individually, for shortstop Daniel Robertson, the southern California native who continued to enjoy his homecoming weekend, launching his first career grand slam in the second, thrilling the 200 or so friends and relatives spread across three sections at Angel Stadium.
"I've never hit a grand slam (at any level),'' Robertson said. "To do it in a ballpark that I came to growing up watching games in front of hundreds of family and friends is pretty incredible.
"When I hit the (homer Friday), I kind of honestly just blacked out. I don't really remember rounding the bases. I've dreamed of hitting a home run in this stadium. To hit the grand slam today, I was honestly laughing around the bases. It was too good to be true, almost. I was laughing like, you can't make this stuff up. It's crazy.''
The Rays felt pretty good about what Romo, a 35-year-old veteran in his 11th big-league season, could do, assuming he could simulate the intensity and adrenaline from usual late-inning work in the opening frame.
The key to the plan would be how well, and how long, Yarbrough would pitch after replacing him in the second, and that worked out pretty well, too, as Yarbrough got them into the eighth and Chaz Roe got then out of it with a big double-play grounder.
Yarbrough was in a bit of a tough spot, without knowing if he'd come in for the start of the second, part way through, or the third. He was starting his warm up when Robertson hit the grand slam with two outs in the second to give them a 4-0 lead, but Cash – with an eye on getting Romo out so he would be fresh for Sunday – called down to see if he could be ready to start the second.
Yarbrough did that and more, allowing one run and only four hits over 6 1/3, navigating effectively and efficiently. That included handling several of those potent right-handed hitters the dreaded third time through the order, striking out Albert Pujols and getting Andrelton Simmons to pop out to end the seventh.
Cash said they appreciated how the rookie lefty responded.
"As much versatility as it requires of Sergio, it's probably (similar) on Yarbs' part, too,'' Cash said. "He's come out of the bullpen this season, but to know we're going to be looking for a lot of length, it's something different.''
Yarbrough said he didn't mind the hurry-up drill.
"It was kind of a nice feeling where there's no thinking involved, it's just get ready and go out there,'' he said. "You're not really over-thinking things, having so much time out there.''
Cash didn't do as well in picking his ninth inning pitcher, as he brought on just called back up Ryne Stanek with a 5-1 lead, the Rays tacking on a run thanks primarily to the hustle of DH for a day catcher Wilson Ramos, who beat the relay to prevent an inning-ending double play.
Stanek quickly gave up a single and then a homer to Mike Trout, narrowing the gap to 5-3, but closer Alex Colome took it from there.
The Rays had a lot to look back on after Saturday's game.
And, they say, a lot to look forward to, talking about resiliency and camaraderie.
"To get back square to .500 is awesome for us,'' Robertson said. "It's a good starting point to build off of. We're not done. We want to come out and keep winning ballgames and keep competing.''
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Rays