Fleming, Choi Help Lead Rays To Series Sweep Of Mets

Ji-Man Choi had three hits Sunday in his first game this season. (AP: Steve Nesius)

ST. PETERSBURG — Ji-Man Choi had three hits in his season debut, Josh Fleming threw five shutout innings and the Rays homered in three straight innings.

Indeed, it was a Sunday afternoon at Tropicana Field where little went wrong in a 7-1 win over the Mets.

The victory completed the Rays’ first sweep of the Mets (in 10 series) and gave them a four-game win streak to close a six-game New York/New York homestand.

The Rays have scored 31 runs on 42 hits during the win streak.

Choi was in the lineup for the first time after missing the season’s first 41 games while working his way back from right knee surgery performed at the end of March.

Batting third and playing at first, Choi wasted no time getting into the swing of things when he lined the first pitch he saw from the Mets’ Marcus Stroman into left field, and against the shift, for a single. He also singled in the fourth, drove home Austin Meadows with a double in the eighth and went 3-for-4 on the afternoon.

“Nice to have him back and he had a big day at the plate,” said Rays manager Kevin Cash. “(Having him back) allows us to find ways to use matchups that allow us to win games.”

The crowd — announced attendance was 7,355 — gave Choi a nice applause each time he came to the plate, something he acknowledged.

“First of all, I want to thank the fans,” he said. “They came out to support me and every time I stepped on the field they were cheering me. I felt like I saw the ball really well today. From the time I woke up everything felt good today.”

The Rays got two-run homers from Manny Margot in the fourth and Willy Adames in the fifth to take a 4-0 lead.

Meanwhile, Fleming threw 53 pitches (38 strikes) and allowed only two base runners in his five innings. Jeff McNeil led off the game with a single and Jonathan Villar reached on an error by third baseman Joey Wendle in the fourth. The left-hander struck out five and evened his record at 3-3.

“It is the best I have felt this season so far,” said Fleming. “It was just one of those days where everything seemed to be working for me. I had the defense behind me making great plays. Hats off to them.”

Wendle and Adames, in particular, showed off the leather in making life easier for Fleming and four relievers.

Diego Castillo, Ryan Thompson, Collin McHugh and Cody Reed each threw an inning in relief of Fleming.

Pat Mazeika’s home run with two out in the sixth off Castillo accounted for the Mets’ only run. It was the 27-year-old Mazeika’s first career hit.

Brandon Lowe answered in the bottom half of the inning with a leadoff homer to make it 5-1. The Rays added a pair of runs in the eighth.

In addition to Choi’s return, Francisco Mejia was reinstated Sunday and started behind the plate after being on the 10-day IL with left intercostal discomfort. Kevan Smith, who was 1-for-4 in three games, was designated for assignment.

Following a day off Monday, the Rays are in Baltimore for a three-game series against the Orioles. The road trip continues, albeit within Pinellas County, with four games in Dunedin against the Blue Jays starting Friday.

Tom Layberger is also a contributing writer for forbes.com

Tom Layberger has been a sports writer and editor since 1990. Among the companies he has worked for are Beckett Publishing, The Topps Company and Comcast. In addition to being a contributing writer for sportstalkflorida.com, Tom also writes for forbes.com and Tampa Bay Business & Wealth Magazine. A native of the Philadelphia suburbs and a University of South Florida grad, Tom is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and the National Football Foundation. He resides in Tampa.