It was apparently unseasonably warm in Anaheim today, but not so back east here in New York. The temperature has dropped into the sixties, there's a charged wind blowing, and perhaps most importantly, Oktoberfest beers have begun to appear on the shelves and in the taps of my neighborhood. I had my first one last night (a Sam Adams). It may still be August, but that beautiful dark-red mix of yeasty aroma and caramel malty finish means that the long summer slog is over. Baseball is a game of tension. Playoff baseball is just around the corner, but playoff-level tension has already arrived.
The Rays got on the board first through a combination of their own hitting and some out-of-character Zack Greinke wildness. Back-to-back Sean Rodriguez and Ryan Roberts singles followed by a five-pitch walk by Jose Molina loaded the bases for Elliot Johnson. Greinke, who's been arguably better than any of the AL Cy Young contenders this year, hit Johnson on the first pitch. Jennings, somewhat maddeningly, swung on the first pitch of his at bat, popping it up on the infield, but B.J. Upton showed good patience with the struggling pitcher and worked a walk on seven pitches to plate another run. Matt Joyce followed it up with a single into right field to score two more and stretch the lead to four.
In the bottom of the fourth, Mike Trout illustrated just how good it must be to be Mike Trout, and hit an opposite field home run straight down the line in right. That's pretty serious power. The Rays came back in the top of the inning though, when Ryan Roberts made the case that he's not just here to hit lefties and belted a homer of his own into the bullpen in left.
Things get tense, plus some other notes, below the jump.
The fifth inning was an illustration of how even a 6-1 game can still hang in the balance. After Matt Moore got two easy outs, Erick Aybar bounced a grounder up the middle. EJ ranged far to his left, picking the ball off the bounce, pirouetting, and then firing a laser over the glove of a leaping Carlos Pena. I don’t fault him for the throw (it was scored a hit); he had no time to take, and it would have been an amazing play were the throw online. Good effort, two outs, man on first, five run lead, no problem. But then Vernon Wells hit a line drive into the corner in left field. Jennings played it well enough to hold Aybar at third. This is where things began to get weird.
Bobby Wilson is not a very good hitter. There is a reason he was batting ninth. Nevertheless, Moore threw two balls to him before coming to his senses and attacking with a 97 mph fastball right down the middle. Another fastball evened the count, but a high curve that didn’t quite drop in made it full. Moore came back with a fastball that got Wilson to pop the ball up into foul territory just outside the first baseline. Molina threw away his mask and initially couldn’t find the ball, but he soon got his bearings and moved a few steps up the line and to his right to get under it. Pena, for his part, came streaking down the line with his eyes trained on the ball the whole way, narrowly avoiding stepping on Wilson’s discarded bat (I don’t think he knew it was there). Just as the ball fell to glove level, Pena arrived and not only crashed into Molina, but also planted his elbow firmly in Molina’s temple. The ball fell between them, and Molina was very slow to get back up. Pena was charged with an error, although he did appear to be calling for it, so I’m not sure if that decision is quite fair. Regardless, the at bat was extended and Wilson walked to load the bases on the much delayed next pitch.
The Fangraphs win expectancy graph will tell you that the Angels only had a 7.7% chance of winning at this point, but there are some things it doesn’t know. It doesn’t know that a lefty was pitching, and struggling with his command. It doesn’t know that Mike Trout (who had already homered in the game) was due up, followed by two more excellent right handed hitters in Torii Hunter and Albert Pujols. It doesn’t know the sinking feeling I had in the pit of my stomach (at least as important as the other factors). This game could have gotten interesting in the worst sense real quick, but it didn’t. Trout took the first two pitches for balls before harmlessly flying out to center field.
The Angels would not seriously threaten again. Some bullets:
- Albert Pujols homered in the sixth. It's somewhat crazy that the best hitter of his generation is flying under the radar on account of young talents like Trout and Trumbo, and yet the Angels are still laboring in the back of the wild card chase right now.
- In the top of the ninth, Pena hit a strange double. With one out and Upton and Fuld on third and second base, the Angels infield was drawn in. Pena hit a chopper up the first base line that bounced clean over Pujols and into the outfield, scoring two. I figured that he advanced to second on a throw home, but the play was scored a double.
- Matt Moore's final line of 6.1 innings pitched and two earned runs on five hits, two walks, and five strikeouts looks good, but he was actually a bit shaky. Moore had real trouble getting his pitches down today. That can work when you have a vicious 98 mph fastball, but it's not ideal, and it wasn't just the fastball that was sailing on him. He left a number of curves up out of the zone, and I'm not sure it would have been a good thing for all of those to have dropped in against this dangerous Angels lineup. When he did get his curve down, however, he made hitters look silly.
- Even with a commanding lead, Maddon was taking no chances, pulling Moore with 87 pitches in the seventh inning. His decisions were rather interesting. In the seventh inning, Moore walked Alberto Callaspo on five pitches. He came back and got Aybar reaching on a changeup, but somehow the ball still carried all the way to the wall in center field. Maddon had seen enough, and he substituted one hard-throwing lefty for another by sending in Jake McGee. McGee got (righties) Wells and Wilson to end the inning. This is where it gets interesting. Maddon left McGee in to face (righty) Trout to lead off the eighth, but then pulled him for Joel Peralta to work the rest of the inning (Hunter, Pujols, and Trumbo, all righties). What was different about Trout that made him think McGee was a better matchup?
- Molina stole another base! This one was actually (not just sarcastically) graceful, and he was quite easily safe.
The Rays will have no rest, as they come home to host Will Smith and the suddenly hot Kansas City Royals tomorrow.