ST. PETERSBURG - SEPTEMBER 05: Pinch runner Ichiro Suzuki #31 of the New York Yankees scores as catcher Jose Lobaton #21 of the Tampa Bay Rays looks on during the game at Tropicana Field on September 5, 2012 in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
The Rays fell to the Yankees by the score of 6-4 tonight, ending a four game win streak and dropping them back to two and a half out of the division. There's plenty to talk about in tonight's game but all anyone's going to be interested in is the disaster that was Elliot Johnson.
A bad season got worse as the night progressed for Johnson. With one out and men on second and third Johnson laid down a bunt that was fielded easily by Hiroki Kuroda for the out at first base. The infield was in and the not-so-speedy Jeff Keppinger was at third. I don't know if the bunt was called by Maddon or if Johnson decided to do it on his own, in any case it was horrible execution. If you're looking to squeeze in that situation you need the ball to be dragged up the first base line, not directly in front of the pitcher. The Rays ended up not scoring that inning, two runs they'd sorely need.
In the third inning he dropped a Derek Jeter pop up behind second base. Nick Swisher flew out to right field for what would have been out number two. Matt Moore walked Robinson Cano to make it first and second with just one out. That's a vastly different situation than having two outs and a man on first. Alex Rodriguez and Russell Martin hit back to back doubles to give the Yankees a 3-1 lead. You can't say for sure that Moore would have gotten out of the inning without allowing a run, but the dropped pop up changed the whole complexion of the inning.
The icing on the disgusting cake was his play in the seventh inning. With men on second and third and one out, Derek Jeter tapped a grounder to second base. Ichiro Suzuki broke for home immediately but the ball reached Johnson in plenty of time. He had plenty of time and even double clutched the ball before throwing it wide ride of Jose Lobaton, allowing both runners to score and Jeter to advance to second. The Rays wouldn't score again.
That's three misplays this game that cost the Rays. If he plays perfect defense tonight do the Rays win? Maybe, but the errors (I'm calling that dropped pop up an error, official scorer be damned) doomed them. That begs the question, why is Elliot Johnson still playing when better options exist? I understand that Maddon wanted to give Ryan Roberts the day off but Reid Brignac would have been a better option in all honesty. Kuroda is a ground ball pitcher and in their careers Brignac has a .303 wOBA against ground ballers while Johnson is at .273. That doesn't take into account the defensive advantage Brignac has. Other than a few good weeks in May Johnson has contributed little. His season line of .243/.306/.344 leaves much to be desired. With the expanded rosters there's even less use for Johnson on the roster. He's a nice guy and I feel bad for him personally but the Rays can't keep putting him out there in the middle of a pennant race.
Matt Moore had a good but not great outing, going 6.1 innings and allowing four runs while striking out nine and walking just one. Like Shields and Cobb, Moore used his changeup less than usual, throwing it just 12 times. The curveball became his secondary pitch of choice and he used it effectively all evening, save for the home run by Russell Martin. Of the 17(!) whiffs he generated on the night eight came off the curve. After the sixth inning ESPN's Steve Berthiaume tweeted that Moore was tipping his pitches and that John Kruk was calling every single one of them correctly before he threw them. If he was doing it all game then it's a testament to Moore's stuff that the Yankees couldn't do more with the pitches. After the report the next two Yankee hitters singled on the first pitch they saw. Hopefully if this is an issue the Rays can correct it before his next outing.
As for the offense, every starter besides Johnson had a hit. Longoria got the Rays an early lead with an RBI single in the first. Ben Zobrist's triple scored two to tie the game in the fifth and Luke Scott's solo homer tied the game again in the sixth, but that would be it for the night.
It was a successful series but this game was entirely winnable and some misplays let it get away.