A day after losing a game they should have won, the Rays evened the series with the Angels.
Chris Archer came out strong right from the start, peppering the bottom of the zone with his high-90s fastball and his slider, which was unusually hard, even for him. Archer was rewarded with three ground balls, but Albert Pujols's grounder found a hole in the infield. Archer seemed to lose his concentration for a batter, as he walked Raul Ibanez badly, but he reset himself and struck out Howie Kendrick swinging on a filthy 91 mph slider to end the danger.
All the way through the fifth inning, Archer was locked in. He didn't throw a single changeup, but this was one of the games where it really seemed like he didn't need to. Through the first four innings, he struck out four Angels while walking two and only giving up a single hit.
It was good thing that Archer was on his game, because those same four innings, Jered Weaver totally befuddled the Rays lineup. Hard contact was rare.The Rays mounted a small threat when Yunel Escobar flipped a soft liner into left for a single and Ryan Hanigan walked, but Weaver got Desmond Jennings and David DeJesus to fly out harmlessly.
The game changed in the fifth inning. First off, there was this. Yunel Escobar grabbed hold of an outside pitch and took it for a ride to left-center field to put the Rays up. Then, after getting two quick outs, Archer got into trouble. He walked the aged number nine hitter, John McDonald, who then stole second by a hair. With the lineup turned over, Erik Aybar worked his eyes and won another walk off of Archer to bring up Mike Trout, who Archer pitched very carefully, walking him on five pitches to load the bases for Pujols.
Archer missed low and away with his fastball, before sticking an 87 mph slider in the heart of the zone. Pujols swung over it, chopping it up the third base line, just fair, for an easy play by Longoria and an end to the danger.
Archer worked two outs into the sixth inning before being pulled for Juan Carlos Oviedo. Oviedo threw exactly one pitch a low two-seam fastball to Hank Conger that Conger grounded to the right side. The shift was on, but the Escobar couldn't make the play going to his left. Logan Forsythe ranged far to his right and threw against his body to first, getting Conger by a foot. It was a really excellent play by Forsythe, who I think has looked pretty good in the field these past couple games.
McGee made his own trouble in the seventh with two outs when he gave up a single to Erik Aybar, and then walked Mike Trout on five pitches, once more setting the table for Pujols. But once more, Pujols didn't come through, flying out to right field on an elevated fastball.
Joel Peralta worked a clean eighth inning in which he may have gotten four outs. A play at first base was too close to overturn, and upon a challenge, Howie Kendrick's one-out single stood (was neither reversed nor confirmed).
Grant Balfour, who blew the game yesterday, returned to the exact same situation as last night: three run lead, eighth, nine, and first spot in the lineup due up. He threw fourteen pitches, twelve of them fastballs. His fastball reached 93 mph. He popped the first two batters up and then struck out Aybar looking. This is the Balfour that the Rays will need if they are to make a run, and this is why Maddon is not going to demote him any time soon, even if he continues to struggle. Maddon's job right now is to get Grant Balfour pitching well. That's where the most potential success lies, not in a triple-A arm or a closer controversy.
Although the bullpen ensured that they didn't need them, the Rays actually scored two more runs. In the top of the seventh, Evan Longoria walked and James Loney singled him home. In the Eighth, Desmond Jennings and Wil Myers walked, and Longoria singled Jennings home.
Some other notes:
- As he stares in to get the sign, Jered Weaver settles into a half crouch. He looks like a spider.
- In the fourth inning, Raul Ibanez hit one hard, back through the middle. Chris Archer had a ridiculously quick reaction to the pitch, diving to his left to snag it. I haven't played NBA Jam with all of the possible combinations yet, but I think that Archer and Jake Odorizzi probably make the most athletic tandem of young starting pitchers in baseball.
- There was a Jake McGee curveball sighting. On an 0-1 pitch to Collin Cowgill, he plopped 77 mph into the dirt two feet in front of the plate. Cowgill was not tempted.
- Cole Figueroa got into the game as a replacement for Logan Forsythe in the top of the eighth inning. He took three pitches before popping out to shortstop. He also fielded a ground ball, extremely deep in a shift and threw to first to end the bottom of the eighth inning.