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Sometimes playing it safe is the way to go.
At the time of the season where every game matters and a chance at the postseason can hinge on one inning, Joe Maddon had no intention of playing around. When Matt Moore allowed a walk, double, and an RBI single to begin the game, Maddon wasted no time in ordering a mass reliever exodus to the bullpen. When Maddon was in Tampa-land: let my pitchers go. Moore would allow another run on a sac-fly and escape any more trouble... for the time being.
Meanwhile, in the bottom half of the inning, Desmond Jennings got things started with a single to left off of Jays starter Brandon Morrow. Y'all remember Morrow, right? The guy who K'd 17 and was thisclose to no-hitting the Rays in 2010. Who wasn't? Well as Morgan Freeman said in The Shawshank Redemption, "You either get busy livin', or get busy dyin'." Brandon Morrow opted for the latter tonight. Jennings would come around to score after walks to B.J. Upton, Ben Zobrist, and Ben Francisco. The Rays had Morrow on the ropes with the bases loaded, but Matt Joyce popped out to end the inning. And so I figured we were in for another night of vintage 2012 Rays baseball.
But, I was wrong, Baby Birds. Oh, how wrong I was!
With one out in the second, Jose Molina "got busy livin'" when he ended a nine-pitch at-bat with a single to left. Jennings followed with walk and Upton with a foul out to first before Longo stepped to the plate. In the first inning, amidst all of Morrow's walks, Longo popped out to center on a 2-0 fastball that he just missed, but in the second, it would be Morrow who missed (location) when Longo turned on a elevated, inner-half heater and sent a towering shot off a light on the C-Ring to give the Rays a lead they would not relinquish.
But, it's not as if they didn't try.
Matt Moore worked a solid second, but ran into trouble in the third when he allowed a soft single to the speedy Rajai Davis. Moore then went after Edwin Encarnacion and Davis stole second uncontested on a 1-2 count. Now, with first base open and one out, Maddon opted to intentionally walk E5. This would be a fairly normal move except that he was in a 2-2 count. Not every day you see the catcher hold his fist out when a hitter has two strikes against him. But, like the Backstreet Boys, Maddon wanted no games to be played with his heart, and there was no "see if he'll chase one" or "unintentional intentional walk" just the ol' "Barry Bonds Treatment."
Moore went to work next on lefty Adam Lind who hit a frozen rope to straightaway center, but Upton tracked it down with an over-the-shoulder catch. That was all Maddon had patience for, however, as he trotted to the mound and yanked Moore in favor of Burke Badenhop.
The gambit worked and Badenhop got his grounder to get out of the inning. He'd work a 1-2-3 fourth for good measure. Moore finished the night with a "blah" line: 2.2 IP, 2 ER, 3 H, 2 BB, 2K in 50 pitches.
- Jake McGee made things interesting in the fifth when he allowed two runs to score off a sinking liner from Adam Lind. Unlike Maddon tonight, Desmond Jennings went "balls to the wall" and tried to make a diving/sliding catch and missed the ball by an inch. The ball rolled all the way to the wall and Lind found himself standing on third with a two RBI triple.
- Thankfully, Jennings also "balled out" at the plate tonight. The Lost Stallion went 3-for-3 with two walks, a solo-homer, and four runs scored. As you can probably tell by the score the entire offense went off tonight. In the fifth inning, this happened:
- The Roberts single was a duck fart squirted into shallow right, and Molina followed right up by stroking a 3-1 inside fastball (that was supposed to be outside) out to left. Jennings must have liked Roberts approach because he deposited an almost identical feathered stinker to right, and then B.J. joined in the fun by belting his 25th homer of the year. Bloop-blast, bloop-blast. I've heard of these things before, but not often in association with the Rays offense.
- There were thirteen pitchers used between the two teams.
- Even with a large lead, Maddon wasn't taking any chances. Joel Peralta pitched the eighth inning and Fernando Rodney closed out the ninth in a very-non-save situation. Yes, both guys hadn't pitched in a while (especially Rodney), but with the overabundance of caution that Maddon exhibited earlier in the game, I'd like to think "getting some work in" wasn't the only reason the set-up man and closer pitched tonight.
- Maddon also exhibited a desire to win the game by not freeing Vogt.
- The win brings the Rays 3.5 games back of the A's in the second wild card spot, after they lost a shocker to the Yankees in extras. Then again, the Orioles won again in extras today so... whatever. The players should just be happy to be here and hope they can help the ballclub. This is a very simple game. You throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains.
Think about that for a while.