Losing is not as much fun as winning. Some would say it is no fun, (which would render my upcoming question inapplicable). I wonder though, if it is more fun to lose when the team plays poorly, the manager manages uncleverly, and there are obvious scapegoats; or is it a better time to watch your team play okay, have good things to say about them and no particular gripes, and yet still watch the game slip away. I do not have an answer.
The game got interesting in the bottom of the second inning when Adam Dunn worked a good at bat to bring the count full and then hit a grounder between first and second base that rolled to the wall for a double. Think about that sentence for a second. One of the perks of being a ground ball pitcher like Roberto Hernandez is that even though a grounder is more apt to turn into a base hit than is a fly ball, it is much less apt to go for extra bases. When it does, it's usually because it's hit right down the line, perhaps with the outfield shifted the other way, and finds its way into the corner. That was not the case here. Matt Joyce was played either straight up or to pull. He didn't take a noticeably bad route. It just rolled past him and to the wall in routine fashion. Adam Dunn breaks baseball.
The very next pitch to Paul Konerko was a low and away sinker that Jose Molina misjudged. He barely moved to get it and saw it bounce off the tip of his glove for a passed ball that advanced Dunn to third with no outs. This was the perfect opportunity for Hernandez's old habits of frustration leading to a meatball to come to the surface, but they did not. He kept the ball low and kept working his pitches. Konerko hit a soft liner into short right field and Dunn elected not to run on Matt Joyce's arm. Joyce's throw was good, but Molina let it bounce off his glove in much the same way that the passed ball had just done. Initially both Molina and Hernandez (who was backing up the play ) started to head for the ball, then both started to head for the base, and then finally Hernandez cut towards the ball and recovered it. It was funny to see the big pitcher shimmy like that, but he wasn't the least bit unathletic looking. Hernandez, budding infielder, finished out the inning with ease to strand Dunn at third.
The Rays got on the board in the top of the third inning when Matt Joyce reached out over the plate and hooked an outside pitch on a line for a home run just inside of the foul pole. Evan Longoria did much the same in the fourth inning, also reaching out across the plate, and flicking it the other way off the end of his bat. The ball just kept carrying until it came to rest five feet beyond the right field wall. The Rays got another run in the inning off of a James Loney double, a Sean Rodriguez sacrifice bunt, and a Kelly Johnson line drive single.
In the bottom of the fourth inning, Tyler Greene dribbled a grounder up the middle between Rays infielders for a single. Alex Rios followed it up with another grounder that was fielded well but hit too softly for the Rays to turn a double play. These two poorly hit grounders set the table for some elevated pitches from Roberto Hernandez that turned into line drive singles from Dunn and Konerko and a visit from Jim Hickey. Hickey must have said the right thing, as the result was a three pitch strikeout and a soft groundout to shortstop.
In the bottom of the fifth inning, Hector Gimenez hit a home run off an elevated slider. Alejandro De Aza bounced a single softly up the middle, and Tyler Greene sent a first pitch elevated sinker over the center field wall. In the sixth inning, Hernandez induced an easy grounder to third from Konerko before getting up 0-2 to Conor Gillaspie. His third pitch was an elevated sinker right over the center of the plate (so was his first pitch of the at bat) that Gillaspie crushed, exactly as he should on a bad pitch that he's just seen. Hernandez collected himself and got out of the inning, and the Rays bullpen was solid in relief. For analysis of what went wrong, presented in an entirely self-centered manner, see the last bullet.
In the top of the ninth, against Addison Reed, Jose Molina improbably hit a deep fly ball that bounced off the top of the wall and sent the umpires to the replay screen to make sure it wasn't a home run. With two outs, Joyce lined a single and Molina hustled around the diamond to bring the score to one. Maddon immediately inserted Desmond Jennings into the game to pinch run for Matt Joyce, and let Ryan Roberts bat (there was no other real choice, suboptimal as the Reed-Roberts matchup may have been). Perhaps the presence of Jennings's running threat bothered Reed, as he went to a slide step and immediately lost the zone, walking Roberts on five pitches and bringing Zobrist to the plate with the tying run on second base.
The first pitch was Zorilla's pitch to hit, a fastball over the plate, thigh high, but he took it. The second pitch was a change of pace, a little bit lower, and Zobrist took it for a strike, probably smartly. Th third pitch was a fastball inside that Ben swung at and barely got a piece of. Pitch number four was a low slider that Zobrist could not quite check his swing on. The tense at bat and the game were over.
Some additional notes:
- People are always talking here about how Joyce is a bad fielder. They should stop. In the bottom of the third inning, Joyce got a great read on a hard hit liner, showed good wheels, and made a running, reaching snag. It was a great play, and one could easily see how Joyce might have been thought of as a potential center fielder in his youth. He may be only an average fielder now, which is worse than what we Rays fans are used to seeing, but he's not bad.
- Longoria and Loney provide interesting contrast. Longoria's homer was not a great looking swing. He was reaching, it was toward the end of his bat, and it was going to opposite field. Yet his fly balls have a ton of backspin and Longoria is so strong, it just carried and carried until it was a home run. By contrast, earlier in the game, Loney turned on a pitch beautifully and hit it about as hard as he could to the same part of the field. It was a line drive rocket that for most first basemen would be an assumed home run. Never assume the home run with Loney. His liner hit off the top of the wall and fell for a double. There's a reason Longoria hits for power and Loney hits for average. Very different swings.
- Brandon Gomes continues to look really good. Tonight he struck out Dunn and Konerko back to back in his one inning of work. I think he's in the majors to stay.
- Earlier in the week I wrote an article about Roberto Hernandez. I noted that this year with the Rays he's upped his changeup usage dramatically, that his changeup is actually an excellent pitch, and that his changeup may be the pitch he has best control over. I observed that even with it's increased role, Hernadez's changeup still appears underused, and that there are still certain predictabilities to his sequencing. I posited that he should eliminate these predictabilities by throwing his changeup even more. Tonight he did. He threw it 32% of the time. It got fewer whiffs than in his other games this year, and it went for a strike less often than his sinker did. Still, I do not admit to being wrong. Not a single hit against Hernandez actually came on one of his 29 changeups. The problem was elevation of his sinker and slider, not overexposure of his changeup. The good thing about baseball is that I'll get to watch him again in less than a week. We'll check in on the changeup usage then, too.