This series was a very frustrating one. A batted ball or two one way, or a pitch or two another way, and the Rays could have easily won both of the first two games of this series. Today, they did not leave anything up to chance as they dominated the Rangers 8-4 on a hot night in Arlington in an excellent team effort.
Coming into the game, Maddon stacked the lineup with eight right-handed hitters and with good reason. Matt Harrison has been one of the most dominant pitchers against left-handed batters this season as he had allowed just 42 total bases to lefties in 167 plate appearances while holding that group to a .186/.216/.261 slash line. In each of the previous 1-0 losses this month, the offense has bounced back to score at least four runs and win the game and tonight was no exception as the offense pounced on Harrison early and often for six runs through the first two frames.
Only Ryan Robert was unable to contribute positively in the box score tonight as the Rays piled up 16 hits in the contest, three more than they had produced in the past two games. Each of the first five spots in the lineup had multi-hit games and you would have to go back to September 26th, 2008 to find the last time the franchise was able to pull that feat off.
Desmond Jennings had the kind of game out of the lead-off spot that everyone had hoped to see plenty of this season drawing a walk, collecting two base hits, scoring twice, and seeing 22 pitches in five plate appearances. Upton drove in three more runs to give him 22 runs driven in for the month of August while Ben Zobrist was both hot at the plate and ended this game with a fantastic defensive play to get Ian Kinsler out on a batted ball up the middle. Evan Longoria broke out his boom stick twice hitting home runs to center field and inflated his triple slash line to .293/.372/.516 in the process. In all, the top five spots of the lineup were 13 for 24 but the key hit of the night came from one of the coolest bats in the lineup.
Elliot Johnson only saw six pitches in four plate appearances tonight. On one pitch, he laid down a beautiful bunt that Adrian Beltre turned into an out and showed why he is the best defensive third baseman in baseball. On another one, he deposited a Harrison fastball into the bleachers. The home run was his first extra base hit of the month and just his third one since the all-star break. The home run gave the Rays a three-run cushion after a Josh Hamilton home run off Alex Cobb had closed the gap to 6-4 in the fifth inning.
Cobb was not sharp tonight as he threw first pitch strikes to just 13 of the 23 batters he faced before Maddon pulled him with two outs in the fifth inning. He threw strikes on 63 of 92 pitches but he allowed eight base hits, a walk, and gave up two home runs. Like James Shields last night, Cobb went with a heavy dose of off-speed pitches as 59 of his 93 pitches were either curveballs or change-ups and he collected eight whiffs from those pitches. He threw 23 of his 33 fastballs for strikes but was rather elevated in the strike zone tonight allowing Rangers hitters to put a lot of balls in play.
The hero of the night was the bullpen who once again came in and provided outstanding relief as they did two nights ago. Burke Badenhop, Jake McGee, Kyle Farnsworth, Joel Peralta, and Fernando Rodney allowed just one hit, no walks, and struck out five in just over four innings of work. For the series, the bullpen did not permit a run and allowed just two hits in just over nine innings of work. The entire bullpen deserves kudos but there was one particular plate appearance that was a thing of beauty to watch.
Kyle Farnsworth came in for the seventh inning and was able to for Ian Kinsler to ground out and strike out Elvis Andrus to bring Josh Hamilton to the plate with the bases empty and two out. Farnsworth started him out with a 94 mph fast ball at the bottom of the zone for a ball before snapping off two sliders low and inside that Hamilton could only foul off. Farnsworth's slider has been his moneymaker this season and tonight was no different. After pounding Hamilton inside with those pitches, he went outside the zone with a 96 mph heater that Hamiton flailed at for strike three as he has done quite often this summer to the dismay of Rangers fans.
It is tough to not get a little pissed off at the fact the Rays outpitched the Rangers in this series and still won just one of the three contests. The good news is the losing streak is over, the Orioles and Yankees both lost tonight, and the Rays are off to Toronto for a four-game set where they have historically done well and are 9-2 against the Jays this season.