ST. PETERSBURG - The home run by Luke Scott in the fifth inning seemed to wake everyone up. If anything, it put the Rays back in the game Saturday against the visiting Astros.
From there, the Rays used their legs and a little bit of cunning, because the biggest hit in their 4-3 victory traveled less than 90 feet.
It was a bunt. Yes, a bunt.
It came in the fifth inning from Desmond Jennings and scored Yunel Escobar, who doubled with two outs and stole third base.
“Brilliant play by Desmond,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
That made it a 3-3 game. It became 4-3 an inning later when Wil Myers singled with two out, stole second and scored on a hit by Scott.
“They’re little things that mount up in the course of the game,” Scott said of the stolen bases and the bunt by Jennings.
The Rays evened this three-game series with the Astros at one with their 13th victory in 15 games. The Rays are 8-1 on this 10-game homestand that concludes this afternoon and ushers in the All-Star break.
Roberto Hernandez (5-10) pitched himself out of a 3-0 first-inning hole with his fourth straight quality start to earn his fifth win of the season — his first since June 11 when he beat the Red Sox.
He did so with help from the bullpen. Jake McGee, Joel Peralta and Fernando Rodney combined to retire the final nine Astros. Rodney converted his 13th straight save opportunity to record his 22nd save, sending the Tropicana Field crowd of 20,409 dancing into the KC & the Sunshine Band concert that followed on Disco Night.
And Hernandez received a little support from his offense, though it took a while for the Rays bats to perk up against Astros lefty Dallas Keuchel.
The Rays had two hits through four innings. Both were singles.
Myers singled to start the fifth inning and Scott followed with his eighth home run of the season. That trimmed the Astros’ lead to 3-2. It also extended Scott’s season-long hitting streak to nine games.
Keuchel retired the next two batters before allowing a two-out double to Escobar.
With the count 2-0 on Jennings, Escobar broke for third base and easily stole the bag.
Speaking through bench coach Dave Martinez, who served as the interpreter, Escobar said he noticed Keuchel was looking back just once before throwing home, so he took off as soon as Keuchel lifted his leg.
Maddon said he will risk making the third out at third base, because it put the tying run only 90 feet from home plate where Escobar could score on a wild pitch, a passed ball or a bunt.
Jennings did just that, pushing the ball up the first-base line on a 3-1 count for his first bunt single of the season.
Maddon said both moves — the stolen base and the bunt — were decisions made by Escobar and Jennings.
“That was the players playing baseball,” Maddon said.
Escobar said Jennings did not indicate to him that he was going to bunt, but Escobar said he was prepared for the play.
Scott said he loved Jennings’ bunt.
“For him that’s a free RBI. He did a good job. Tip your hat to D.J. for playing that card,” Scott said. “I’ve seen Adam Jones do that in my time in Baltimore. That’s a big play. It tied the game.”
Just as Escobar’s stolen base changed the complexion of Jennings’ at-bat, so too did Myers’ steal in the sixth inning change things for Scott, who was facing right-hander Lucas Harrell.
“It’s going to affect a lot,” Scott said. “First of all it’s going to affect the way the pitcher is going to throw. It’s going to affect pitch selection. It’s going to affect location. I figure in a situation like that, bases open, they’re going to try and make a perfect pitch or ball off the plate. I was fortunate to get a changeup that was in a good spot.”