ST. PETERSBURG -- Four games into the 2016 season, and Steven Souza Jr. is making a difference.
On Wednesday afternoon, that difference came in the form of two home runs -- the last one a three-run blast in the eighth that gave the Rays a 5-3 come-from-behind win over the Blue Jays. He also went 4-for-4. All told, he is hitting .400 with three home runs and five RBIs.
He's looking more like the guy the Rays thought they acquired in the big three-team trade with the Padres and Nationals prior to last season.
"This second year there's going to be more comfort," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "I know there was during Spring Training. He was a little bit of a different person this spring. More familiar with his teammates, with the coaching staff, with everybody around. But we knew Souza was a good player, and we all picked apart his first season. But it was still a pretty solid season for a first-year Major League player."
Souza's solo homer in the sixth cut the Blue Jays' lead to 3-2. At first the ball didn't appear to have enough steam to get out, but Blue Jays center fielder Kevin Pillar drifted after it until he ran out of space and finally leaped at the wall to try and make the catch. The ball hit the top of the wall, then bounced over it.
"I didn't think I got it all," Souza said. "I knew I got through it pretty good. But in this ballpark, you have to really get it there. So I was a bit surprised it got out, but thankful."
Souza's blast stretched the Rays' streak of consecutive games with a home run to 18, setting a club record.
In the eighth, Souza came to the plate with one out and two on. Previous batter Desmond Jennings had knocked a hit-and-run single that pushed Evan Longoria to third, representing the potential tying run.
"Des' base-knock on that hit-and-run changed everything for me," Souza said. "I go from trying to maybe do too much to just trying to get the runner in. That really set me up."
Jennings' single chased Blue Jays right-hander Gavin Floyd. Arnold Leon came on to pitch to Souza, who jumped on a 3-1 slider and deposited the pitch deep over the center-field wall.
"That one, I got it pretty good," Souza said.
According to MLB Statcast™, Souza's second homer had an exit velocity of 107 mph.
The Rays' offense always seems to be under fire, so going toe to toe with the best offense in the American League was meaningful to Souza.
"That's one of the best offensive teams in the game, and we hung with them," he said. "That can speak a lot for the moves this front office did this offseason. And our pitching is just going to get better and better."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.