The game before a doubleheader is extra important. It’s a chance to stretch out the opposing bullpen, to eliminate their margin for error the following day. With "Complete Game James" on the mound facing the much inferior Kyle Kendrick, the table was set for the die to be cast. It was time to win the series.
The Rays didn’t do half bad, but they didn’t do half good either. Today was the equivalent of helping an old lady across the street when you know that she’s already standing next to the clothing store she’s looking for. It was like sending UN peacekeepers to the Congo to protect and feed the perpetrators of the Rwandan Genocide while they reconsolidate power and continue their genocidal ways in the region surrounding the refugee camps. It was like doing a bunch of laundry but then letting it sit and wrinkle because you don’t have time to fold it before the Rays game starts and you have to write a recap. These are all the same thing. Use whichever metaphor best helps you to understand.
From the first inning, it was clear that Kyle Kendrick was someone the Rays hitters could get to. Yes, he did work a 1-2-3 first inning, but it was far from dominant. Kendrick throws all of his pitches – sinker, cutter, changeup, slider, curve – in the 80-90 mph range (the curve is in the high 70s, but who’s checking). Pena especially looked like he was seeing the ball well, as he worked the count to 3-1 in his favor before striking out on two pretty good changeups. Really, the changeup was the only pitch Kendrick had that posed a threat to most Rays hitters, and even it wasn’t that great. He is a pitcher they should be able to adjust to.
Shields, for his part, started off promisingly. After retiring Jimmy Rollins on a big fly to center field that Upton hauled in over his shoulder, Juan Pierre knocked a liner to second base that squirted just under a running Zobrist’s glove. After Pierre stole second, as he is wont to do, Shields went to work in a long at bat with Hunter Pence, the Phillies’ most dangerous hitter, striking him out in a full count with a fantastic changeup. He got Carlos Ruiz into an 0-2 count but then hit him on the elbow (Ruiz leaned into it), but was able to finish the inning by striking out poor Ty Wiggington on one of the worst swings you’ll ever see (on a changeup). It wasn’t the best of starts pitch-count wise, but you could tell who the better pitcher was.
In the second inning, it became even more apparent. After Matsui struck out (on a changeup), Zobrist lined a single over the shortstop’s head, Lobaton walked on four pitches, and Keppinger lined past third base to score two runs, advancing to third on the throw. Next, Elliot Johnson worked a walk to bring Shields up to bat with men on first and third and one out. This was the perfect time for a squeeze bunt, but the Phillies knew that too, and Shields couldn’t get it down. Instead, he hit a grounder up the middle that would have been a double play ball had Elliot Johnson not been running on the pitch. EJ was running, and fast, so the run scored and the Rays took a three run lead. Desmond Jennings, at the top of the order, could not keep the pressure on, striking out to end the inning.
I thought Pena could adjust to Kendrick’s changeup (because it was the only pitch he really needed to worry about), and in the second inning he did. How do I know this? He stayed back on an 87 mph cutter and lined it the other way over the shortstop. How many times have you seen Pena knock it the other way? I don’t mean bunting; I don’t mean a big lazy fly ball to the left fielder or a crushed fly ball to straight center, but an actual solid hit driven to left. I think you can count on one hand the number of times Pena has hit a ball like this, maybe in his career. I would be less surprised to see Juan Pierre hit a home run than I was to see Pena hit the ball like he did in this at bat. It came to naught, though, as the Rays threatened but couldn’t get the final hit.
In the bottom of the third inning, things started to go wrong for Shields. Were I managing the Phillies, I would have considered pinch hitting for Kendrick to lead off the inning (but then discarded the idea because of the impending double header), but Shields lost his command and walked him. In the next at bat, Rollins hit a home run just over the right field wall and inside the foul pole to narrow the Rays’ lead to one.
The top of the fourth was the time when the Rays should have finished of Kendrick and gotten into that bullpen. They almost did, but like in the rest of this game, they came up just a bit short. Keppinger continued his excellent return with a liner into right and EJ worked the count full but then flew out. Shields followed with liner towards third that Polanco managed to deflect into foul territory. Keppinger, running on the play, assumed that third base was uncovered with Polanco tracking down the deflection and tried to take the extra base. Somehow he missed the fact that not one but two Phillies (Kendrick and Ruiz) were in position to cover the bag, and he got himself into a rundown, gifting the struggling Phillies’ pitcher with an out. Shields showed some impressive heads up baserunning though, and slid into second while Keppinger hung out in the rundown (like the bad kids in the 50s used to). Next Jennings walked to bring Pena back up to bat.
Pena got himself up in the count 2-1 before whiffing on what was probably his best pitch to hit. He took the next pitch, a changeup down and in, for a ball to bring the count full. The leverage index on FanGraphs won’t show it, but this was one of the deciding moments of the game. The Rays had two men on and their locked in slugger up against a pitcher he can handle. This was the deciding pitch. I knew it would be a changeup, that Kendrick would go to the only weapon that had worked for him all night, but Pena saw it as a fastball out of Kendrick’s hand, and swung in front of a very hittable pitch up in the zone that he might have crushed.
In the bottom of the inning, Shields quickly struck out the first two batters before getting into trouble. The trouble started when the Charlie Manuel pinch hit for his pitcher after only four innings (yay!) and the pinch hitter singled into right (boo!). The trouble ended when Pierre added insult to the previous insult (walking the pitcher and watching him score) and launched a three run homer on a hanging changeup.
Some sloppy defense in the seventh allowed the Phillies to tack on another run, but hey, we’re used to sloppy defense. I don’t even know why I mention it.
In the eighth inning, Charlie Manual made an interesting decision by allowing his lefty, Antonio Bastardo to pitch to six straight right handed batters (yes, I know three of them were switch hitters) including lefty mashers Jeff Keppinger and Sean Rodriguez. The important results were an S-Rod RBI, a Brooks Conrad pinch hit strikeout (in a full count after a good at bat), a Desmond Jennings strikeout (a bad at bat), and Manuel looking smart when the lefty Pena came up with Bastardo still in the game and two outs. Pena hit a high fly ball to right center, but not deep enough, and the inning was over.
The game might have ended there, with the until-today-perfect-on-the-season Jonathon Papelbon coming in to close it out, but strangely, it didn’t. Hideki Matsui, who had played pretty badly up until this point, knocked a single up the middle, and Lobaton walked with two outs to put the tying run on base. Maddon lifted Lobaton and sent in the fleet, young Chris Archer to run for him (maybe he’s faster than Rhymes (?!?), but probably Maddon wanted to save his hitters for potential extra innings pinch hit appearances). Keppinger continued his glorious reintroduction with a line drive single to score one run, and Brooks Conrad made an introduction of his own by lining a single into right as well to tie things up, before Papelbon finally struck out S-Rod and exited the game to a chorus of boos.
Our elation was short lived as Jim Thome came on as a pinch hitter in the bottom of the inning and promptly started doing Jim Thome things, working the count full until Jake McGee needed to come back over the plate, and then crushing a fastball for his 609th career home run.
- The Phillies used four different relief pitchers and threw 105 relief pitches. The Rays used three relief pitchers and threw 48 relief pitches. The Phillies have aces Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels going tomorrow against aces David Price and TBD. The Phillies won today. Advantage Phillies.
- Raul Valdez was immense for the Philadelphia in relief, throwing two sharp innings in which he struck out four, allowed one hit, and walked no one.
- When Pierre first got on, Shields went to work on the aggressive runner with a laughably bad pickoff throw to first. I’ve seen him do this before. After a bad pickoff move, you can bet that the good one is coming next, and he very nearly got Pierre with it. I assume the whole league, including the NL, knows Shields's real move by now, but I guess it’s still worth trying.
- With Lobaton up to bat, Dewayne Staats described what sure sounded like hit f/x systems in minor league parts. He talked about how since Lobaton’s DL trip, the "ball had been coming of [his] bat with greater velocity," so they called him up. I didn’t know those systems were in the minors, but that’s cool.
- Aside from his baserunning blunder, Keppinger played a fantastic game. He provided steady defense at third base while going 5-5, including a double. Welcome back, Kepp.