There have been many defining moments of the Rays seasons thus far, but this one....this one I think takes the cake. Let's set the scene real quick.
Top of the eighth, score tied 2-2. The Rays and Yanks have been battling back and forth in this game, with the Rays refusing to give up and tying the game late thanks to two home runs from Kelly Shoppach and Sean Rodriguez. News has already broken that the Red Sox lost to the Orioles, so if the Rays were to win, they'd move to within a 1.5 games of the Sox with a chance to make it one game tomorrow.
Jeremy Hellickson and C.C. Sabathia neatly matched each other over seven innings of play, but Sabathia opened up the eighth by showing some signs of tiring. He got one quick out on a flyball by Shoppach, but then he allowed a single to Desmond Jennings and a freak single to B.J. Upton on a liner that bounced off his glove. Evan Longoria fell behind in the count 0-2, but fought back and refused to bite on a number of close pitches, eventually drawing a walk to load the bases.
So here we are. Top 8, tie ballgame, one out, bases loaded, and huge stakes on the line. The Yankees bring in David Robertson to relieve Sabathia, and up to the plate walks Ben Zobrist. It was now or never for the Rays; these sort of opportunities don't come by all too often against the Yanks, and you could just feel that if the Rays didn't score here, that was it - game over. The game and the season hung in the balance.
And on the first pitch, Ben Zobrist hits into an inning-ending double play. The Yankees would score two runs in the bottom of the eighth, and just like that, the Rays are 2.5 games back of Boston and they've lost the last three games in a row.
I'm not saying this loss is Zobrist's fault; even though he did have a horrible night at the plate, the Rays' offense in general was pretty pathetic. They also couldn't get in a run in the second inning, when they had runners on first and second with one out, and their 3-5 hitters went 0-10 on the evening. The Rays just struggled. They couldn't get the timely hit, and they weren't quite good enough in the end.
So it goes.
Simply put, Thursday's game is now a must-win for the Rays. To help give them the best shot possible, Joe Maddon has flopped the rotation around; Matt Moore will get his first major league start Thursday, while Jeff Niemann will start Saturday instead. Supposedly this is because Niemann is battling some soreness, but what player isn't sore at this point in the season? I'm going to call a bluff on this one.