For much of 2013, the Tampa Bay Rays season has been felt alien. The team that has for years been built on a foundation of pitching, defense and just enough offense has to this point played some very un-Rays-like baseball. Sunday, we saw a return to the type of game the Tropicana faithful has come to expect: pitching, defense, and the timely hit as the Rays downed the San Diego Padres 4-2 and completed the three game sweep.
Roberto Hernandez threw six innings of two-run ball, limiting the Padres' offense to two one-run innings and giving his suddenly potent offense a chance to stay in the game. Hernandez threw just 95 pitches on the day, working primarily off his sinker which generated seven ground outs, while striking out four and walking two. At times he dealt with a tight strike zone but was able to keep runners off base and work out of jams when they did reach. He also received some dazzling defensive work from his teammates as Sam Fuld made a terrific leaping catch at the wall in the first inning and, later, Yunel Escobar made a diving stop out of the shift to save a run. Matt Joyce got in on the fun in the ninth inning with a running over the shoulder grab near the wall that saved at least a double.
The Rays offense was held relatively in check by Padres starter Eric Stults. Stults found himself in a bases-loaded jam in the second inning after walks to Evan Longoria and Yunel Escobar sandwiched a James Loney single, but was able to escape after surrendering just one run on a Jose Molina sacrifice fly. In the fifth inning, a lead-off triple from Sam Fuld went by the wayside as Stults got Ryan Roberts to line out to left and Ben Zobrist to ground into a double play following a walk to Kelly Johnson. The missed opportunity fortunately did not come back to bite the Rays as they were able to rally in the next frame.
Longoria lead off with a double and moved to third on a fly ball from James Loney. Sean Rodriguez, making the start in right-field, worked the count to 3-1 before lining a soft single into center field to plate the tying run. Yunel Escobar then doubled off the wall in right field and sent Rodriguez home, giving the Rays a lead they would not relinquish. James Loney added an insurance home run in the bottom of the eighth inning.
The much maligned bullpen executed their roles perfectly on this mothers day, as Jake McGee, Joel Peralta, and plantain-wielding Fernando Rodney closed out the contest with relative ease. Rodney surrendered just a two-out walk but struck out two, including the final batter, Alexi Amarista, to finish the game and shoot the moon. After a rough start to the year, Rodney appears to have regained his swagger along with his velocity and is looking more like his 2012 form.
The Rays are now 19-18, over .500 for the first time this season. They remain in fourth place in the American League East, four games behind the division leading New York Yankees. Desmond Jennings missed his third straight game with a groin injury but should be in line to return after the off day this Tuesday when the Rays host the Boston Red Sox for three at Tropicana Field.
Don't forget to call your mothers, everyone.