The Rays faced James Paxton, in his first major league start. Paxton is an intriguing prospect. He can throw 98 mph, he has a knee buckling curve, and he rounds his repertoire out with a changeup and a cutter. On the other hand, he's alleged to have terrible difficulty maintaining his mechanics, leading to massive velocity fluctuations and poor control. Having seen the Rays on this recent stretch, which version of James Paxton did you figure we'd get to see last night?
The Rays wasted no time getting back to their losing ways. With no outs in the bottom of the first inning, Brad Miller hit a hot shot ground ball straight to James Loney, but it dribbled off of/out of /around Loney's glove and behind him for an error. Abraham Almonte bunted Miller over to first base, Kyle Seager moved him to third with a swinging bunt, and he came home on a Kendry Morales single up the middle.
In the bottom of the second, Justin Smoak, failed prospect, muscled an elevated outside 94 mph fastball the other way over the distant Safeco left field wall.
In the bottom of the third, the Rays finally caught a break. Unfortunately, it was the type of break that meant only giving up one run. Chris Archer walked Almonte on five pitches (getting Alex Torres up in the bullpen). In a 1-2 count, Almonte stole second. Jose Lobaton's throw might have made it a close, but it was to the wrong side of the base. Archer managed to strike out Seager. Against Morales, one of Archer's pitches popped out of Lobaton's glove, and Almonte tried to take third. The ball hadn't rolled far, though, and Lobes corralled it quickly and threw him out. It was good he did, because Morales promptly blasted a handing slider for his 19th home fun of the season.
Alex Torres came on in relief in the top of the fifth, and gave up a fly ball straight back over Desmond Jennings's head for a Nick Franklin double. Franklin was bunted over to third, and came home on a 3-1 security squeeze bunt, bringing the Mariners lead to 4-0. Something seemed weird to me about the play. It didn't seem to be hit that hard. Maybe DJ should not have been playing quite so shallow.
The Rays mounted the beginnings of a comeback in the top of the sixth when Ben Zobrist grounded down the third base line. Seager had time to make a play, but his throw was a bit wide of the bag, going down as an E5. Longoria wasted no time to make the Mariners pay, jumping all over a down and in fastball (still over the plate) and bouncing it off of the scoreboard in the upper deck. Would this be the hit that would start a Rays run?
Torres came back out in the bottom of the sixth, and was a mess. He walked Raul Ibanez, and while he struck out Smoak in a full count, he went 2-0 to Michael Saunders. Jim Hickey came out to talk, and the result was a foul, a foul bunt, and a double into the left-center gap. Jamey Wright came on and did no better.
Some other notes:
- The Rays did threaten one more time. They lead off the top of the seventh with two walks, and the runners advanced to second and third with no one out on a wild pitch. But three flies meant that no one scored (a long one from Zobrist for the final out, the first two too short to run on).
- Note the location of Evan Longoria's homer. It was a fastball from a lefty, down and on the inside corner of the plate. That's a location that he wasn't swinging at enough during his slump. That's why he should be swinging at it.
The Rays are now only one game up in the second wild card, on both Cleveland and Baltimore. They play at 4:10 today, and then get to enjoy their last off day tomorrow. On Tuesday, they'll host the Boston Red Sox at 7:10, a normal time. I know of no better moment to turn a late-season slide around.