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Rays win as sensation Curt Casali hits two more HRs

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For crushing Curt Casali, the markings of stardom were all around him. Who would have expected all of this from a guy who just got to the Tampa Bay Rays?

There was the standing ovation after his ninth-inning strikeout, followed by his first-ever curtain call, a tip of a cap from a guy who barely knew what he was doing.

There was his Gatorade bath, his second in two nights.

There were all the texts from all of his friends, including one from Detroit pitcher David Price that said “Nice job” with a couple of angry emojis.

There was the note in his locker, left there when former Ray Price snuck into the clubhouse and taped it there. “Nicely Done, Curtis Blow. #14” it said.

The moments, and the mementos, all flashed by Casali in a blur. He was never meant to be a star, never meant to have a week like this. But for the second straight night, Casali had hit two home runs.

Casali now has six homers in his last six games, an amazing feat for a 26-year-old catcher who was playing his 50th game in the big leagues. No Rays catcher, no matter how experienced, has ever hit more than five home runs in a month. Casali has done it in a week.

Facing Price, like Casali a former player at Vanderbilt, most might have figured that Casali would be overmatched. After all, Price is a five-time all-star, a former Ray who figured to be dominant in his return. But Casali hit two homers off him, and the Rays touched him for five runs in six innings and romped over the Tigers, 10-2.

“It was special,” Casali said. “That guy is one of my best friends. To do it off him with what he’s accomplished in his career was definitely special for me. He’s a classy guy.”

Well, maybe.

“He’s going to need someone else to play golf with in the off-season,” Price joked after the game. “ I told him not to hit any homers off me before the game, and he hit two. Good for Curt. He’s been swinging the bat extremely well this year. He works hard so I appreciate that.”

Price was not pleased with his return to Tropicana, however.

“I just didn’t execute. That’s probably the worst I’ve thrown the baseball in the last month-and-a-half or two months. Tonight was all on me. I didn’t do my job and I’ll take the blame.”

But Casali, who was inserted into the lineup instead of the light-hitting Rene Rivera, seems on his way. He’s hitting .300 now, not bad for a guy who no one knew how much offense he had in his bat when he came up the third week of June.

Casali and former Ray Greg Vaughn are the only Rays who have ever to homer twice in back-to-back games He’s the second rookie catcher in major league history to homer in back-to-back games along with Seattle’s Kenji Johjima.

Oh, Casali wasn’t the only star. Manager Kevin Cash suggested that his bat has spread throughout the lineup. Tim Beckham had four RBI on Tuesday night, Asdrubal Cabrerra and Cabrera had three hits and Steven Souza Jr. had two. After scoring four or fewer runs in 13 straight games, the Rays have now scored 15 over the last two nights and have had 23 hits.

“This might have been our best offensive output,” Cash said. “Not only this month, but all season.”

Jake Odorizzi, who evened his record at 6-6, outpitched Price. He allowed only one run over six innings and struck out eight.

But the star of the night was Casali, who hit only .203 as a minor leaguer. He tagged a change-up off Price in the fourth, then got his cutter in the seventh.

And Casali? At the end of the night, he stood on the top step of the dugout and tipped his cap to the crowd.

“Everybody told me to do that,” he said. “It was really cool. They had to push me up there.”

And his last curtain call?

“Never,” he said.

Gary Shelton is one of the most recognized and honored sportswriters in the history of the state. He has won the APSE's national columnist of the year twice and finished in the top 10 eight times. He was named the Florida Sportswriter of the Year six times. Gary joined SaintPetersBlog in the spring, helping to bring a sports presence to the website. Over his time in sports writing, Gary has covered 29 Super Bowls, 10 Olympics, Final Fours, Masters, Wimbledons and college national championships. He was there when the Bucs won a Super Bowl, when the Lightning won a Stanley Cup and when the Rays went to a World Series. He has seen Florida, FSU and Miami all win national championships, and he covered Bear Bryant, Bobby Bowden and Don Shula along the way. He and his wife Janet have four children: Eric, Kevin, K.C. and Tori. To contact, visit garysheltonsports@gmail.com.

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