James Loney said it best on the Sun Sports broadcast in his post-game interview:
You want to say it was fun, but it kind of wasn't.
I'm certain that game was longer than the 18 inning affair the Rays played against the Orioles a nine days ago. I know it took more time off my life. The only way to understand an event of such terrible duration is to divide it into distinct eras. I chose six.
The Early Euphoria
David DeJesus was clearly pumped for the game. He hit the second pitch hard down the right-field line, with home run distance but foul. Normally a player just watches that type of hit go foul but not DDJ, and not today. He sprinted, not up the baseline but rather toward the dugout, to get a better view of the ball in an attempt to will it back fair. Eventually, DeJesus struck out in the at bat, but the rest of the Rays lineup did better.
Wil Myers, batting second, knocked a fly ball over the head of Kevin Pillar in left field, up against the wall for a double. James Loney then pulled a fastball over the right side of the infield for a line drive single, scoring Myers. Next, Todd Redmond gave Evan Longoria a pitch over the heart of the plate, and Longo did exactly what he's able to, and what makes him an offensive star in this league. He drove it the other way with power, the ball carrying well and bouncing just shy of the wall but well ahead of the backtracking Moises Sierra for a no-doubt RBI double.
Ben Zobrist grounded out, but the Rays were not done with Redmond. Delmon Young showed remarkable plate discipline, working a good sequence against the Toronto rookie. After Young whiffed on a changeup at the bottom of the zone, Redmond decided to throw another one, but this time Young had it figured out. He grounded the pitch up the middle for run number three. Matt Joyce walked, and John Gibbons had seen enough. He pulled Redmond in favor of Neil Wagner, and turned the game over to his bullpen.
It didn't seem to matter. Jose Lobaton smacked the first pitch, a 93 mph fastball, over the head of Anthony Gose to straight center field for a double. Yunel Escobar then connected with an elevated fastball for another hit, scoring Lobaton, but he was thrown out trying to advance to second after the initial throw went to the plate.
Consolidation of Gains
In the bottom of the first inning, Matt Moore gave a clinic on what not to do with a six-run lead. He walked Jose Reyes, and his fastballs were fluttering in at a paltry 90 mph. If you blurred out his face and the name on the back of his jersey, few fans would have been able to connect the flamethrower of the previous two years with the soft-tossing no-control lefty on display these days. Moore was helped along in the second at bat of the game by a slick play by James Loney. Gose hit a hard grounder down the first-base line but Loney was all over it, backhanding the ball, stepping on the bag, turning, and lofting a throw to second base over Jose Reyes, all in one slick motion. Reyes was caught in a rundown for the double play. Still, Matt Moore was not settled. He walked Brett Lawrie and Sierra, bringing pitching coach Jim Hickey to the mound. Next up, Mark DeRosa fouled a 91 mph fastball and bailed Moore out by swinging at a changeup in the dirt before finally striking out to end the inning on another changeup.
For as shaky as he looked in the first inning, Matt Moore got it together after that. Over the next four innings, he gave a clinic on how to pitch with a big lead. He went back to basics, leaning heavily on his powerful, moving four-seam fastball. During this time he walked no one, allowing two singles and striking out two Blue Jays. Meanwhile the Rays offense continued to work.
In the fourth inning, working against Luis Perez, Lobaton once again hit the ball a long way but Anthony Gose tracked it well and caught it at the edge of the warning track. Yunel Escobar, though, hit a ground ball up the middle for a single. DeJesus worked an eleven pitch at bat before being called out on a borderline pitch (not the first strikezone call that had left Rays players scratching their head bemusedly). That set up Wil Myers, and brought Gibbons out of the dugout to ask for a right-handed reliever (it would be Chad Jenkins).
Myers continued to prove that he is an every-day bat by tagging a slider high and deep to the wall in left field. Pillar drifted back on it, and appeared to have a play, but he did not have the measure of the wall. He backed into it a moment before the ball arrived and jarred himself enough to miss the catch. Escobar scored what would prove to be the deciding run.
Malaise and Decline
Sabermetricians are obsessed with the context-neutral. It doesn't matter when you do something—you have no control over the timing of your opportunity. It only matters what you do with it. If there was a hero in this game for Toronto, it was reliever Jeremy Jeffress, pitching only his 46th and 47th major league innings (innings five and six). Jeffress has what can understatedly be called a live arm.
That's what he threw today (it, and all other graphs in this article are from Brooks Baseball). His running sinker averaged over 98 mph, and topped out over 100 mph. His horizontal curve swept in at 80 mph. There are valid questions, based on his previous major and minor league record, about his control, but there were no questions today. When he entered the game, the Rays were on a roll, and looked poised to continue tagging on runs against the soft underbelly of the Toronto bullpen. After his two-inning dazzling display, they looked ready to go home.
That brings me to the crowd at the Rogers center. The announced attendance for the last game of the season was 44, 551, and they were in full voice. I've never been to Toronto, but I've heard plenty of games there through my TV. They're quick to cheer and quick to boo, but they're always loud. I consider them the best fans in baseball, and they obviously appreciated the efforts of the young righty Jeffress.
They also appreciated what came next. In the top of the sixth, Brett Lawrie grounded a fastball sharply up the middle, and Moises Sierra hit a backdoor curve the other way for a single of his own. Loney might have been able to field it, but he was holding Lawrie on first, so it found its way into left field. Moore continued to throw strikes, but now they were being hit. DeRosa lined a spotted fastball at his knees and over the plate into left center to score two runs, and Ryan Langerhans followed it up with a line drive single of his own. Joe Maddon asked Lobaton to go to the mound for a chat, purely for the purpose of wasting time until Jake McGee was ready, and after a minute Maddon went out himself to make the pitching change. DeRosa scored on a sacrifice fly (run charged to Moore), but McGee worked his way out of the inning having only thrown three pitches.
In the top of the seventh inning, there was a moment that was unexpected (for Rays fans at least), organic, and cool. Darren Oliver came on to pitch in his final major league game, and struck out both Myers and Longoria. Although overshadowed by a certain other better-known retiring reliever, the 42 year old has had a remarkable major league career that spanned 20 seasons. Once a starter, the veteran lefty did his best work after being converted to the bullpen in his second decade of play. He retires with a career 4.51 ERA but a 3.97 SIERA, and with 22 fWAR. The Rogers Center gave him a standing ovation, and he was deservedly applauded by both dugouts.
Managers, relievers, and fans like clearly defined roles. Bring a good reliever in with a clean set of bases at the beginning of the inning, and he'll almost always reward you with a clean outing. But alert Rays fans could see that in this game the math wasn't quite lining up. Joe Maddon trusts three relievers above the rest of his 'pen: Jake McGee, Joel Peralta, and Fernando Rodney. But McGee came in to straighten out Moore's mess in the sixth inning, meaning that there were more innings to cover than preferred arms on normal outings to cover them.
McGee returned to start the seventh, and coaxed a quick and easy groundout from Pillar. Reyes showed off his superior bat speed by working a ten pitch at bat (fouling off four two-strike pitches) in a row before grounding a single just wide of the mitt of a diving Longoria. It was a good battle that needn't have lead to anything, but Gose walked on eight pitches (after being down in the count 1-2), and Brett Lawrie caught up well with a fastball to line it into the corner, score one run, and bring the tying run to the plate. That meant that McGee's night was done and it was time for Joe Maddon's iceman, Joel Peralta.
Peralta immediately missed with two curves before having a fastball fouled off. His fourth pitch of the at bat was called a ball, bringing the count to 3-1, although it sure looked like a good pitch.
Pitch number five was a ball to complete the walk and load the bases. That wasn't the first close call go against the Rays. Here, from Brooks Baseball, are the strikezone maps of the game. Squares are pitches thrown by Tronoto pitchers, triangles are pitches thrown by Rays. Joe Maddon trotted to the mound "to talk it over" "with Peralta."
Against left-handed batters:
Against right-handed batters:
Home plate umpire Paul Schreiber clearly wasn't having a great day, but his unpredictability was benefiting Toronto more than Tampa Bay. Outside pitches to Rays lefties were all being called strikes, while a Blue Jay batter got a ball in much the same spot, and Jays righties were given balls all around the edge of the zone from pitches that should have been strikes.
Maddon had nothing to say to Peralta, but he waited on the mound until Schreiber came to break up the conference, and then turned to him in full conspiracy theory mode. "WHAT THE F**** IS GOING ON?!?! WHAT THE F**** IS GOING ON?!?!" And with that he was tossed.
When a manager has made all the correct moves, and his team is still in the woods, he has only one recourse, only one way to make a statement, both for his team and to the umps. It's fair to say that tonight Maddon pulled out all the stops.
After Maddon left the field, Adam Lind came on as a pinch hitter, representing the go-ahead run. Peralta's first pitch was a curve ball at the bottom of the zone that Lind grounded to shortstop, well back of second base. Escobar waited on it and the sprinted to second, stepped on the bag, firing as hard as he could to first but low and a bit offline. I wouldn't have thought that it was possible for a first baseman to dive and still keep his foot on the bag, but that's exactly what James Loney did. He laid out and completed the double play. If he had missed it, two runs would have scored.
As the Rays were still behind in the innings to trusted relievers comparison, and Peralta had only thrown six pitches in the seventh, he came back on for the eighth. He walked his first batter on six pitches, but got the pinch-hitting Munenori Kawasaki to pop out to second base, and then struck out Ryan Goins with a 92 mph fastball down and away. That's as hard as Peralta has thrown all season. Peralta next got Pillar swinging ahead of a curve at the bottom of the zone, but the ball dribbled softly up the middle for a single, once more bringing the tying run to the plate. Davey Martinez came up and out of the dugout to call for Rodney and a four out save.
Jose Reyes took a 2-1 fastball the other way for an RBI single to bring the score to 7-5. Anthony Gose looked horribly outmatched swinging way ahead of an 85 mph changeup, and then looked outmatched again swinging way behind a 99 mph fastball. The third pitch he saw, though, was a changeup inside, and he looked quite a bit better, pulling a sharp liner into right field to score another run and bring the tying run to third base. He walked Lawrie on four fastballs to load the bases.
Now we all know that there's nothing inherently special about a closer. Pretty much any good reliever can be a closer. Yes, you have to be mentally tough, in addition to being good, but it's safe to assume that a reliever who's reached the top of the MLB food chain is mentally tough. None of this is to say that there isn't something unique about the positions closers are put in. When McGee was in trouble, he got to turn it over to Peralta. When Peralta crafted himself a rock and a hard place and then wedged himself between the two, he could hand his humble abode over to Rodney. There was no such option for Rodney. He was either going to blow the Rays' season or save it. Confronted with those two options, with Moises Sierra at the plate, here is what Rodney did:
- 98 mph sinker on the outside edge, lined up the first base line foul
- 99 mph, also on the outside, also fouled
- 100 mph down and away, fouled
- 98 mph, elevated and fouled
- 89 mph changeup elevated and whiffed at, SHOOT DEM ARROWS, NO WAIT WHY IS THIS GAME NOT OVER YET, MY HEART CAN'T TAKE ANY MORE
Yes, that was only the eighth inning. Rodney threw 16 pitches before escaping the jam. The Rays did not score, so Adam Lind came on to start Jays half of the ninth inning with the lead 7-6. He made soft contact with a 99 mph sinker at the bottom of zone and rolled it slowly up the middle just out of the reach of Ben Zobrist. Rodney set Langerhans up with a high fastball, and then induced a soft chopper toward first with a changeup. There was no chance of a double play, but Loney came off the base well and retired the lead runner. Rodney was not in a merciful mood, and he attacked the Jays' backup catcher with sinker after sinker, touching 100 mph before blowing an elevated 99 past him for a strikeout. Out number two.
I stopped taking notes at this point. I may have blacked out, but the internet tells me that Ryan Goins lined out to left fielder David DeJesus. The internet also tells me that Indians and Rangers both won, so it's off to Texas tomorrow, where David Price will face Martin Perez.
Some other notes:
- In the top of the sixth inning, Jeremy Jefferess, lost hold of a breaking ball, sending it at Yunel Escobar's head and sending Escobar to his rear. The Toronto crowd liked that.