ST. PETERSBURG -- In a span of two pitches in the late innings of Friday's opener with the Rays at Tropicana Field, Brewers shortstop Orlando Arcia cut down what would have been the game-tying run at the plate, and he then homered to double Milwaukee's lead. Along with hitting a triple that set him up to score Milwaukee's first run, Arcia helped secure Brandon Woodruff the 2-0 win in his Major League debut.
With the Rays down 1-0 in the seventh inning with a runner on first, Evan Longoria doubled down the left-field line against reliever Josh Hader. Ryan Braun threw to Arcia, who made a strong relay home to catch Corey Dickerson before he could score the tying run, ending the inning. Celebrating his 23rd birthday in style, Arcia then knocked the first pitch of the next half-inning into the left-field seats.
"He was the offense tonight, and he was the defense tonight, too," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said.
The Brewers won for the third time in their last four games to pull to within a half-game of the National League Central-leading Cubs, who fell to the Nationals earlier on Friday. The Rays started their nine-game homestand with a loss, but they stayed a half-game back of the Royals, who lost to the Mariners, for the second American League Wild Card spot.
"I feel like we're starting to play like we were playing before, and the atmosphere is back to how it was when we were in first place," Arcia said through translator Carlos Brizuela. "We're just trying to get back up there to first place again. Just having fun and going at it."
Take 2 on Woodruff's Major League debut was worth the wait for the Brewers. Nearly two months after he injured his right hamstring stretching before what was meant to be his first start, Woodruff threw 6 1/3 scoreless innings as he finally found a big league field.
The Rays pressured Woodruff early, as the right-hander's first two Major League innings consisted of him loading the bases. He escaped both times without allowing a run, coaxing ground balls from Brad Miller and Longoria to wriggle out of the threats.
"We couldn't get that big hit for whatever reason," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "But after that, it seemed to settle him in. He was tough. He kind of moved the fastball around, pitched at the top of the zone really well and took advantage of some of our aggressiveness and some spots that we don't handle very well."
Right-hander Jacob Faria bounced back from the shortest start of his young career by striking out nine Brewers over six innings of one-run ball.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Wood-ini: After the Rays left the bases loaded in each of the first two innings, they had runners on the corners with nobody out to start the third. But with two outs and another rally on the brink of fizzling, Steven Souza Jr. hoped to jump-start the Rays on a double steal, but he was foiled by Brewers catcher Manny Pina. Souza broke for second, stopped more than halfway when Pina threw down, and turned back for first. Logan Morrison did not try to advance home as Arcia chased down Souza.
"We're obviously trying to draw a throw there to second base so that [Morrison] can go to home, and [Pina] pump faked and then threw to second base, which you don't really ever see," Souza said. "Obviously I wasn't going 100 percent, and just kind of got caught in a rundown. Didn't work out in our favor."
Woodruff settled in after the baserunning miscue, allowing just two hits over the next 3 1/3 innings and picking off one of those runners.
"That was very huge in the third inning when that happened," Woodruff said. "That just got me going." More >
Birthday boy delivers: In his first at-bat as a 23-year-old, Arcia kicked off the third by lashing a belt-high fastball into the left-center-field gap for a triple. The three-bagger ended Milwaukee's 41-game run without a triple, the longest spell in franchise history by three games. Arcia came home to score the opening run when Eric Thames grounded an RBI single into right field. Arcia's homer in the eighth was his 10th, giving the Brewers eight players with double-digit home runs.
"Man, he's awesome," said Woodruff, who pitched the bulk of the Brewers' sixth shutout victory this season. "He can pick it really well, and seeing him hit that homer was pretty sweet, especially on his 23rd birthday. It's hard to believe he's just 23. He's really special for sure."
"I thought it was dead-on, the right call. In that situation, that late in the ballgame, force the issue a little bit. It took a perfect bounce off the wall to the left fielder, he made a perfect throw to the shortstop. We knew the shortstop Arcia has got a cannon for an arm, but you've got to challenge it. A lot of things have to go right, and credit them, [they] did. But no-brainer, I fully support that send. I even high-fived him afterwards." -- Cash on third base-coach Charlie Montoyo's decision to send Dickerson home on Longoria's double
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Woodruff became the fifth Brewer to deal a scoreless start in his Major League debut (joining Jim Slaton, Jeff D'Amico, Steve Woodard and Chris Saenz) and the 14th pitcher in Brewers history to win his big league debut as the starting pitcher. Half of the latter list is comprised of pitchers from the Miller Park era (since 2001), beginning with Nick Neugebauer that season and proceeding to Jorge Lopez in 2015 before Woodruff added his name on Friday.
Umpires confirmed the play at the plate that ended the seventh inning, confirming there was no violation by Dickerson of the home plate collision rule, and that Pina tagged him out.
WHAT'S NEXT Brewers: The Brewers mustered only two runs when Zach Davies last took the mound on Sunday against the Cubs, but that was the exception to the rule. He remains the Major League leader in run support entering Saturday's 5:10 p.m. CT start against the Rays, with 7.11 runs per nine innings. Boston's Drew Pomeranz is second among qualified MLB starters at 6.77 runs per nine innings.
Rays: Alex Cobb will try to rebound after getting roughed up for eight runs against Houston in his shortest outing of the season (three innings). It was only the second time in his career he did not strike out a batter in a start. First pitch is set for 6:10 p.m. ET at Tropicana Field.
Connor Mount is a reporter for MLB.com based in St. Petersburg.