Rays vs. Red Sox, game one recap: Cole Figueroa walks it off

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Chris Archer pitches a new career high.

When two moveable objects collide, the obvious result is a pitchers' duel carried into the ninth inning and a walk-off hit from a rookie.

In the third inning, Chris Archer struck out the side (never mind the five-pitch walk to Dustin Pedroia). His sequence against David Ortiz was a perfect example of why Archer can succeed as a two-pitch guy -- his fastball is just that good. Archer first pummeled Ortiz with two fastballs on opposite sides of the zone, both of which Ortiz could do nothing but foul off. His third pitch was another 96 mph fastball that Archer moved further off the zone for a whiff. Q.E.D.

If the third inning was an example of how and why Chris Archer can succeed, the first four innings, taken as a whole, were also a perfect example how he still needs to improve and mature as a pitcher. Not a single one of them was clean, and in innings one, two, and four, Archer gave up baserunners with two outs (three singles and three walks in total). The result was that Archer entered inning number five having already thrown 84 pitches, and when Brock Holt lead off the inning with a double down the first-base line, he seemed unlikely to be allowed to pitch much longer.

It took Archer seven pitches to strike out Xander Bogaerts (looking at a fastball at the knees), and only four pitches to get Dustin Pedroia (swinging at a slider over the heart of the zone). With 97 pitches thrown, David Ortiz up to bat, and Brad Boxberger warming up, it seemed like Archer's night was almost done, and Maddon called for the intentional walk. My regressed matchup projections peg David Ortiz for a .388 wOBA against Archer, and Mike Napoli for a .303 wOBA. After you take the run environment in this game (John Lackey was pitching very well), I think this is an intentional walk that makes sense. Napoli reached for the second pitch he saw -- a low, outside fastball -- and pulled it on a low line, but Yunel Escobar was able to take one step and snag it to end the inning.

I imagine everyone watching tonight thought that Napoli would be Archer's last hitter, but Joe Maddon sent him back out for the sixth inning at 103 pitches, keeping Boxberger warm in the bullpen. Archer responded with his first clean frame. AJ Pierzynski worked a full count before Archer wiped him out with a backdoor slider at the bottom of the zone for his tenth strikeout. He fell behind Shane Victorino 3-0 before popping him up, and the he finished his night emphatically by striking Grady Sizemore on three pitches. His final line stood at no runs allowed on four hits and four walks with eleven strikeouts. He threw a career-high 119 pitches: 84 fastballs, 28 sliders, and three changeups.

While he recorded fewer strikeouts, John Lackey was just as effective, inducing a ton of weak contact and pitching a shutout into the eighth inning. Archer's ability to pitch the sixth inning proved crucial, because Maddon, with no room for error, was able to turn the game over to the back end of the Rays bullpen, bringing Jake McGee in to pitch the seventh, Joel Peralta in for the eighth, and Juan Carlos Oviedo for the ninth. They each responded, with McGee working and Peralta working 1-2-3 innings, and Oviedo pitching around a leadoff single. That set the stage for the heroics in the bottom of the ninth.

While Joe Maddon had made sure to get his best relievers into the action, John Farrell played the long game instead. He left Andrew Miller in to start the ninth inning, which seemed reasonable, as he had only thrown four pitches in the eighth. Miller issued a one-out walk to Desmond Jennings though, so with Rays home run leader Sean Rodriguez up to bat, Farrell opted for Burke Badenhop instead. Maddon switched Rodriguez for rookie lefty Cole Figueroa.

I've got S-Rod projected for a .257 wOBA against The Hopper, and Figueroa for a .270 wOBA (with a 10% pinch hit penalty included, so the switch seemed obvious. The Red Sox were very concerned with DJ's speed, and they were right to worry. He stole second embarrassingly easily on a pitch out. Two pitches later Badenhop challenged Figueroa with a fastball over the heart of the plate, and Figgy smacked it into the right-center alley, sparking a scrum at second, a gatorade bath, and a cream-filled towel to the face.

In the postgame interview with Todd Kalas, Figueroa said that Evan Longoria had told him before the at bat that if Badenhop got to 0-2 he might try to sneak a fastball in on him, so he was looking for the pitch. Good job Longo, good job Figueroa, good job Maddon, good job Archer, good job bullpen. Go Rays.

Some other notes:

  • Alex Cobb, being interviewed during the game, made a joke about there being no TV broadcast for his start yesterday. I thought it was pretty funny.
  • Alex Cobb gave major props to Cesar Ramos, and called Erik Bedard "one of the best pitchers in baseball right now."
  • In the seventh inning, Jake McGee recorded a weak groundball out on his curve.
  • Excellent play by Sean Rodriguez to lead off the top of the eighth inning, fielding a Dustin Pedroia grounder on the shortstop side of second base and throwing across his body to get the out at first.
  • In the ninth inning, with the relatively slow-footed AJ Pierzynski on first, Shane Victorino laid a pretty nice bunt down the third base line. Longoria knew it was coming though, and fielded it quickly and threw to second to get the lead runner.
  • Victorino appeared to tweak his hamstring running to first base, and was pulled for a pinch runner.
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