ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — When catcher Tom Murphy was acquired by the Mariners in an early season trade, he was determined to create an opportunity for himself. He revamped his swing. He meshed into the clubhouse culture. He did what was asked.
The trade has paid off handsomely.
Murphy had two home runs and four RBI on Monday night as the resurgent Mariners again made themselves at home. They scored early and often to flatten the Tampa Bay Rays 9-3 at Tropicana Field.
“It has been a lot of work,’’ said Murphy, who has hit safely in his last seven games while batting .480 with five homers during that stretch. “But it has been a collective team effort. We’re hitting, pitching and playing defense. That’s why we’re winning.’’
On the final stop of a three-city tour, the Mariners moved to 5-2 on the trip after posting series wins against the Tigers and Blue Jays. Murphy, 3 for 3 while reaching base four times, was the biggest catalyst.
“He’s on some kind of a hot streak and it’s fun to watch,’’ said Mariners manager Scott Servais of Murphy, who arrived from the Giants on March 29 for minor-league pitcher Jesus Ozoria. “He’s making it look easy. I said (in the dugout), ‘If he hits a third one (homer), I’m going to do a cartwheel in the dugout.’ ’’
Murphy actually did execute cartwheels — and got so-so reviews from his daughter, who is in gymnastics — during a two-homer game on Aug. 13 when the road trip began at Detroit.
There was no replay Monday night, but no one has forgotten the original performance.
“He’s intense and I love it,’’ said Mariners starter Marco Gonzales (13-10), who won for the first time since July 27. “He could break somebody in half, then he’ll do a cartwheel in the dugout. He keeps us on our toes.’’
Murphy, who has 15 homers and 33 RBI in 52 games, put his power on display against the Rays, who currently hold the American League’s second wild-card playoff spot.
Utilizing a three-run homer from Murphy in the first inning and a two-run shot from first baseman Austin Nola in the second, the Mariners raced to a 7-1 advantage.
Gonzales didn’t have his best stuff, allowing three runs while lasting just five innings in a 94-pitch outing. But before he threw a pitch, Gonzales was staked to a 3-0 lead.
“It’s a beautiful thing,’’ Gonzales said. “Our guys were swinging it.’’
“Probably not Marco’s A-game tonight,’’ Servais said. “But there are plenty of nights when he had his A-game and we haven’t scored him enough runs. It was nice to pay back for him tonight.’’
Rays rookie left-hander Brendan McKay (2-3), who was optioned to Class AAA Durham immediately after the game, definitely didn’t have his A-game. McKay issued one-out walks to J.P. Crawford and Nola. After getting Kyle Seager on a deep fly out, McKay was one strike away from an escape. But his 2-2 offering to Murphy was cranked into the left-field bleachers.
Nola homered for the third straight game with his second-inning two-run blow. Murphy led off the fifth with a solo homer, extending the Mariners’ lead to 9-1.
Right fielder Mallex Smith (0 for 4) returned to the starting lineup after being benched for two games by Servais for repeated mental mistakes in the field and on the bases.
“He’ll be ready to go,’’ Servais said before the game. “The other stuff? I’ve already talked about where we’re at. I’ve had conversations with him. He wants to get out there and do his thing.’ “
Smith, who batted .296 in 2018, his second season with the Rays, was glad to be back at his old ballpark. He also had 10 family members and friends in the stands from his native Tallahassee, located in Florida’s Panhandle.
“It feels good to be back in the lineup,’’ Smith said. “I’m going to keep playing hard.’’ Asked if the benching was water under the bridge, Smith’s eyes widened and he said, “Oh, it’s definitely water. It’s definitely water.’’
The Mariners have won 13 of their last 17 games at Tropicana Field.
Attendance was 9,152, the smallest crowd for a Mariners’ game this season.
Gonzales tied his career-high mark of 13 wins, set last season.
The Mariners have 201 homers this season. It’s the club’s seventh 200-homer season.
A high-and-tight eighth-inning fastball from Rays reliever Diego Castillo nearly hit the face of Mariners center fielder Keon Broxton, but caromed off the bill of his batting helmet. Broxton, who grew up an hour away in Lakeland, looked skyward and cupped his hands in prayerful thanks.
The Mariners faced seven Rays pitchers, including infielder Mike Brosseau, who retired the side in order during a ninth-inning mop-up assignment.