ST PETERSBURG, FL - APRIL 30: Infielder Ben Zobrist #18 of the Tampa Bay Rays scores the game winning run against the Seattle Mariners at Tropicana Field on April 30, 2012 in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
Through the first nine innings the most eventful play didn't involve scoring a run, striking someone out or making a great defensive play. It looks routine in the box score: Longoria caught stealing, catcher to shortstop. It ended up being anything but. Longoria was lifted from the game with what the Rays are calling "left knee soreness" after sliding unsuccessfully into second. It looked like he hurt the knee just before descending into the slide. If Longoria is to miss any extended period of time it would be a huge loss but wouldn't sting as badly as it did last season when he missed a full month. The Rays offense was worse than it is now, depending on Felipe Lopez to help fill the void. They have a variety of options involving Jeff Keppinger and Elliot Johnson if a DL stint is required for Longoria. It would take away some of their positional flexibility but they're more equipped to handle something like that than most teams.
Now, on to what else happened on the field.
Jeremy Hellickson and Felix Hernandez were excellent. That's the basic summary. Hellickson went seven innings, allowed one run and struck out seven. Hernandez went eight innings, allowed one run and struck out nine. The weak hitting Mariner lineup had little chance against Hellickson. His changeup, thrown 30 times, generated 11 whiffs. He was especially unpleasant toward Brendan Ryan, striking him out three times. His most impressive feat, though it may not be considering the competition, was not walking a soul. Coming into the game he had a 1.17 strikeout to walk ratio. Striking out seven and walking none will help swing that in the right direction. He also came into the game with a ground ball rate north of 45 percent and continued the trend by inducing seven more grounders on the night. He pitched well enough to win, the only blemish coming off the bat of Miguel Olivo. Victory was denied to him by the opposing pitcher, Hernandez.
Much like Hellickson, King Felix kept the Rays off balance with his devastating changeup. He threw 17 of them and the Rays swung and missed at four. They had their chances, though, leaving a man in scoring position in the second, fifth and eighth innings. The most painful being Carlos Pena's ground-rule double in the fifth inning. Had that ball not skipped over the wall Ben Zobrist would have made it home easily. Instead, he was stranded at third as Johnson was called out after bunting foul for strike three. Although Johnson ended up being the big hero on the night, a lot of credit is due to B.J. Upton. It was his double in the second that put Brandon Allen into scoring position and his hit with two outs in the bottom of the ninth that tied the score and sent the game to extra innings. Thankfully League went away from the slider away, Upton's worst pitch, and left a fastball up in the zone that was able to be driven to right.
A big tip of the cap needs to be extended to the work of the bullpen. Four pitchers combined to throw five innings, allowing just one run with a five to one strikeout to walk ratio. Even the pitch that Wade Davis throw to Jesus Montero that temporarily put the Mariners ahead was in a good location that he was able to golf over the wall.
The Rays face Hector Noesi tonight. He's given up 10 runs with as many strikeouts to walks over just 6.1 innings pitched in his last two starts. Hopefully the Rays, sans Longoria, are able to beat him up as well.