BALTIMORE — Austin Meadows presents a bit of a conundrum.
He insists he’s not trying to hit home runs for the Rays, but he also isn’t surprised that he does.
Quite a few actually, a team-leading and career-most 23 to this point, with more than a month to play.
And that includes the first grand slam of his career, the big blow in a seven-run second inning Friday that gave the Rays a rare easy win, 7-1 over the Orioles, and gave them sole possession of the top AL wild-card spot at 76-54, a half-game ahead of idle Oakland and a season-best 22 games over .500.
“I’m not trying to hit the ball out of the park, it’s just going out of the park, so it’s been good for me lately,’’ Meadows said.
“Being able to stay healthy this year and be on the field, I knew I’d be able to produce numbers, and 23 is a pretty big number for me. The thing is to continue to keep it going and see where I end up.’’
The rest of the Rays are curious, too, as Meadows, a product of the Chris Archer trade to Pittsburgh last year, along with pitcher Tyler Glasnow and prospect Shane Baz, continues to pay off.
Meadows also leads the Rays with 67 RBIs and 51 extra-base hits.
Meadows has hit eight homers in his past 20 games and with his 23 total, he’s only two behind Archer, who has allowed 25 in his rough 3-9, 5.19 season in Pittsburgh.
“He’s pretty special when he’s got a bat in his hand,’’ manager Kevin Cash said of Meadows. “He sees the ball so well. You never see him really take an out-of-sorts swing, and that’s a sign of a good hitter. It seems like everything, even his mishits, he might swing and miss, but it seems like he’s on time at the plate very, very consistently.
“He’s strong. … He’s s got plenty of power. He can beat you any way.’’
Meadows said he hadn’t really thought about not hitting a grand slam, until he launched the 2-0 Ty Blach pitch to right-center. That expanded a 3-0 Rays lead, thanks to run-scoring hits by Kevin Kiermaier and Mike Zunino, to 7-0 and matched their biggest inning of the year.
“I hit it and I was like, ‘That was a grand slam,’ so that was pretty cool,’’ Meadows said.
Cooler, his dad, Kenny, had made a last-minute decision to come up from Georgia for the weekend. “Him being able to witness it, me being able to do it while he was here, it’s pretty special,’’ Meadows said.
The Rays were playing on the road but wearing white, which was a little odd, and given their struggles at the Trop not necessarily good. But the home team had the choice for Players Weekend, and the Orioles wanted to be the men in black.
The uniforms were certainly quite different than the norm, and the monochromatic white-and-black looks made it hard to tell who was who if you didn’t already know.
Trevor Richards, the other pitcher acquired July 31 from the Marlins along with Nick Anderson, improved his standing with an encouraging performance.
Richards went six shutout innings in his second Rays outing, allowing only two hits and a walk while striking out five, mixing in a cutter and sharpening his changeup, throwing an economical 83 pitches and never really losing command or control. Getting the seven runs in the second also helped.
“He was awesome,’’ Cash said. “Saw some encouraging things in his last outing and was hoping to see some more, and we did.’’
That was important Friday and going forward as the Rays continue to try to cover for injured starters Glasnow, Blake Snell and Yonny Chirinos.
“Right now it’s all hands on deck,’’ Cash said. “We’re going to need strong performances for anybody who takes the ball, and he certainly gave us one today. Hopefully he looks at this as a confidence boost for him to get in here and compete, when his spot gets called upon, he comes in and does similar stuff.’’
Richards said he welcomes every opportunity.
“I’m going to compete,’ he said.
Plus he made a play you’ll likely see on the highlight shows, a behind-his-back grab of Chris Davis’ grounder up the middle.
“I saw it coming back at me, and I didn’t think I had time to get myself around because I was kind of turned toward first base, so I figured I’d just take a stab at it behind the back and it was it was in my glove,’’ he said.
The Rays were impressed that pitching coach Kyle Snyder got the ball to present to Richards to commemorate the play, though the right-hander casually informed them he had made a similar one previously.
Aaron Slegers finished for his first big-league save but was optioned to Triple A after the game to make room for Austin Pruitt, who will work bulk innings Saturday behind Jose Alvarado, who will take a turn as the opener. The Rays also sent down outfielder Guillermo Heredia to make room for Avisail Garcia to come off the injured list.
Tommy Pham came out out of game after aggravating his sore right wrist and hand on a swing when jammed by a pitch, but is not expected to miss any additional time.
Contact Marc Topkin at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.