If the Rays are going to go on a run to the wild card, it's going to be with games like this. The pitching will be dominant, the offense will score 2-4 runs with just a bit of hitting, good baserunning, and luck, and the bullpen will slam the door. There will be platoon players, and there will be defensive substitutions. This is not the preferred way. This is the Rays way.
Desmond Jennings got things off on the right foot by jumping on the first pitch he saw (as he is relatively wont to do) and lining it into center field for a double. B.J. Upton singled him over to third, and then Ben Zobrist knocked a fly ball out to deep enough center for Jennings to trot home. Matt Moore continued the good start by striking out the side (allowing one ground ball single) in the bottom of the inning.
In the second, Sean Rodriguez drew a walk and then quickly stole second base. When the throw went into center field, he also took third. Matt Joyce sent a high fly ball toward the shortstop, but the usually competent Maicer Izturis had it bounce off the tip of his glove and into left. S-Rod alertly came home on the play to stretch the lead to two. In the bottom of the inning, Matt Moore walked Alberto Callaspo, struck out Vernon Wells, and got two groundball outs.
In the third inning, Ben Zobrist, hit his 12th homer to year out to right center. Mike Trout showed off his impressive ups on the play, but couldn't bring the homer back. Moore continued to cruise through the game until the fifth inning, when things got interesting. It started out innocently enough with an Izturis groundout to second. Next, Bobby Wilson doubled into left to bring up Trout. Trout sent a grounder to the Rays' Ryan Roberts at third base. Roberts bobbled his pickup slightly, but collected the ball quickly and threw to first. With Trout, though, one bobble is enough, and the throw was late by at least a full step. Moore compounded the error by walking Torii Hunter to load the bases for Albert Pujols.
Facing the best hitter of a generation in a high leverage spot, Moore rose to the occasion. He got ahead in the count, and then challenged him with an excellent high fastball, inducing an infield fly rule popup to get to two outs. With Mark Trumbo up to bat, though, Moore lost his release point. He threw one fastball into the dirt, but Jose Molina did a good job covering it up. Then he thew another fastball into the dirt that Molina couldn't corral. With Wilson trying to score from third, Molina got after the wild pitch quickly, and Moore covered home just as quickly. And although it appeared on replays that he didn't actually get the tag, the ball beat the runner to home and the ump gave Moore the benefit of the doubt. The Angels would not truly threaten again (neither would the Rays).
A few notes below the jump.
- In the top of the fourth inning, Moore hit Pujols in the ribs (or stomach). It was accidental, but it looked incredibly painful. Maybe the Angels would have liked to retaliate by hitting the Rays' first baseman, but they couldn't, as we weren't playing a first baseman. Keppinger played first against the tough lefty C.J. Wilson, and Pena only came on late as a defensive substitution.
- Moore's pitch selection was very balanced. He threw 60 fastballs, 21 changeups, and 22 curves. All three pitches were very effective, with the fastball getting over 15% whiffs, the curve over 18%, and the changeup over 28%.
- In the bottom of the eighth inning, with Joel Peralta pitching, there was an interesting defensive sequence. With a man on first and no outs, Pujols hit a decently hard grounder toward the normal shortstop position. The Rays infield was shifted toward the first base side just enough for Ryan Roberts at third to make a play on it. The second baseman was too far away to cover, and Rodriguez at shortstop took two or three steps toward the ball before realizing that Roberts had it. With no one covering second in a timely manner, Roberts made the smart play and just took the out at first. I only bring up this particular play as an example of the negative side effects of playing shifts. The positioning was perfect, but the players didn't know on an instinctual level where they were supposed to go.
The Rays will go for the series win tomorrow when Jeremy Hellickson faces Zack Greinke. Greinke will be tough to score runs against, but if Helly has the command he showed in his past few games, another shutout is absolutely possible.