Rays vs. Athletics, game 1: Lady Luck actually can smile

Sean Rodriguez got some playing time and hit a timely single. - J. Meric

She'd seemed so dour lately.

The baseball season is long, and when you're on a streak of any type, it can be easy to forget that things can and will be any other way. Sometimes the opposing pitcher sprains his ankle in the first inning. Sometimes your two worst hitters smack singles at the best possible time. Sometimes, the other team is the one making baserunning gaffes. Sometimes, sequencing works in your favor.

The Athletics had 14 baserunners, including two doubles (Coco Crisp and Jed Lowrie) and a home run (Coco Crisp). The Rays had 14 baserunners including one double (Shelly Duncan) and a home run (Evan Longoria). But the Rays scored eight runs while the Athletics only scored three.

As the game started, it looked as if it would be a long night. Crisp hit a line drive double into right field on the first pitch of the game, and then advanced to third base on a John Jaso fly ball. Alex Cobb promptly walked Seth Smith on four pitches, and then Jed Lowrie lined a good, outside changeup up the middle to plate the run. Cobb threw the next batter, Brandon Moss, a quality backdoor curve that Moss slapped the other way into left field. And here's where things finally started to go the Rays' way. Kelly Johnson fielded the hit quickly and cleanly, and threw to third. Although Smith scored easily, Lowrie had no chance of making it to third, so he, quite logically, stopped at second. But Moss kept going, thinking "double" all the way. Probably, he'd have been gunned down at second, but with second base occupied, the Rays simply threw behind him and easily caught him in a rundown. A groundout ended the inning.

In the bottom of the frame, the game turned around, headed bay-ward, and never looked back. At the start of the Rays' half, they had a 30% chance to win, according to Fangraphs win expectancy, and by the end of it, they had flipped those odds to a 70% chance.

Desmond Jennings got it started right with a five pitch walk, and advanced to second on a Johnson groundout. Ben Zobrist brought him home when he reached down for a low, inside changeup, and flipped it over the infield and into center field. It was probably a ball, and probably a pitch that Zobrist usually takes, but he saw it well out of Brett Anderson's hand and had it timed perfectly—that's the difference between a disciplined hitter and a purely passive hitter. Longoria struck out, but Shelly Duncon reached base with a six pitch walk (in which he never swung the bat, despite two good pitches to hit—passive doesn't always mean bad, as Anderson sure looked to be a bit wild. Sean Rodriguez made the baserunners count with a hard hit grounder through the hole between third base and shortstop.

Ryan Roberts, S-Rod's partner in rarely-playing-middle-infield-righthanded-platooning, reached on an infield grounder to the shortstop that Brett Anderson made an awkward play for, possibly spraining his ankle (he was removed from the game at the start of the next inning). The injured Anderson served up a meatball (93 mph right down the middle) that Jose Lobaton plopped into short left field. It wasn't a great piece of hitting. It was a pitch that good hitters should crush. The pitch was an offering for glory, and Lobes only managed a soft (boredline bloop) single. And yet that single plated two runs and gave the Rays a lead they would never relinquish.

  • Was Alex Cobb good? The Tropicana Field faithful gave him a standing ovation after he was lifted one out into the eighth inning with a man on second base. He struck out three Athletics in his 7.1 innings of work, walking one and giving up ten hits. On a different day, those 13 baserunners would have meant more runs scored. Cobb's fastball was effective. He threw a fastball over 50% of the time, and threw it for a strike over 70% of the time. His secondary pitches were less effective, though. Last year, Cobb was at his best when he pounded the zone with his changeup and curve, racking up the strikes at a higher rate on each than with his fastball. Today, his changeup produced a strike 63% of the time, and his curve only 48% of the time (with no whiffs out of 29 tries). If this had been the first time I was scouting Cobb, I would have said that he was a pitcher with limited upside who would struggle in the long term against major league pitching. This is not the first time I'm seeing Cobb, though, so my takeaway is different. When your starter can pitch significantly worse than his usual self and still get you into the eighth inning while allowing only three runs, you have something special. Cobb may not have been good, but he is good.
  • Fernando Rodney came on with one out in the ninth and promptly walked the first two batters he faced. Worse, he wasn't particularly close to the zone with his misses. Yes, he's had very few "closer situations" so far this year, but I think that on account of his history, it's acceptable to be worried about Rodney's command right now.
  • Anderson's early departure forced Oakland to use four different pitchers, two for multiple innings. Tomorrow, the Rays face Jarrod Parker, who has averaged just six innings a game in his young career. It's a chance for the Rays to continue their hot but patient offense, drive up the pitch count, and get into the Oakland bullpen once again, not just helping them in game three but putting the competitive Athletics behind the eight ball for the next series as well.
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