Tampa Bay Rays left-handed reliever Jake McGee came into the sixth inning last night having to bail out Jeff Niemann as he, once again, started to unfold after crossing the 75 pitch plateau.
McGee inherited a runner at second, in the form of former catcher John Jaso, and threw a first pitch in the dirt that allowed Jaso to move to third base. That was pitch number one. What would ensue next would be a beautiful 29 pitch sequence that would allow Jake McGee to hold on to a one-run lead and pitch his second longest outing in his young Major League career.
With Michael Saunders up in the count 1-0 McGee pumped a 96 mph fastball that screamed "CHALLENGE ME" right over the plate. Saunders fouled it off. Pitch three was a generous call just off the corner. McGee was up 1-2 now. Pitch four was further off the plate for a ball and pitch five was similar to the 96 mph challenge pitch he threw in the 1-0 count and resulted in another foul. Having thrown five fastballs and the count being 2-2, Saunders must have though a slider was coming next. Nope! Instead, he saw the blur of a 96 mph fastball on the outer half for a called strike three. McGee's masterful outing would not stop at this one hitter, though.
Manager Joe Maddon sent McGee out for the 7th inning to face the 9-1-2 hitters in the lineup, and why not? There were two left-handed hitters and one switch hitter. McGee made easy work of the hitters that inning despite the home plate umpire missing three easy calls in the lower quadrant of the zone:
That did not seem to bother McGee as he remained collected and calm. He would get a ground out, strike out, and pop out while pumping his fastball up to 97 mph in the 7th inning. With the 3-4-5 hitters coming up in the 8th, I was fairly certain McGee's night was done. Thankfully, I was wrong.
It's not as if the Seattle Mariners' 3-4-5 hitters were very dangerous but they had been swinging the bat well of late. They were Ichiro Suzuki (who had seven hits in the first three games of the series), Kyle Seager (who sure looked dangerous against James Shields, though), and John Jaso (who already had two doubles in the game).
McGee made easy work of these three hot hitters, getting Ichiro to ground out to shortstop, Seager to strike out swinging, and Jaso to ground out to third base. He threw his fastest pitch of the night in the 8th inning at 97.2 mph. I thought Maddon might have left him in for the 9th after that masterful outing.
McGee completed 2.1 perfect innings while striking out three, getting three groundball outs, and one pop out. McGee's WPA was for this single outing was .261 and his RE24 was 1.228 (according baseball-reference). McGee lowered his season ERA to 2.35, his FIP to 1.27, his xFIP to 2.34, and raised his groundball rate to 50% and now owns a 12.91 K/9 in a small sample size.
This was the first time McGee retired more than three batters in a game since September 18th of last season and only the third time in his career he has accomplished this. He saved the game for the Rays and allowed the bullpen arms to rest for one more day. These are the types of outings I thought McGee was destined for and hope we see more of them in the near future.