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Rays vs. Orioles, game 1: Bats explode, Hellickson and bullpen keep it interesting.

The Rays scored 12 runs. They needed almost all of them.

Thank you.
Thank you.

There are some of you who, over the past few years, have argued on this blog that previous incarnations of the Rays were unwatchable. You said that while a team may be able to win games and even make the playoffs with great pitching, great defense, and a low scoring offense, that type of team was no fun. Let me ask you now: Are you happy? Is this team fun to watch?

In the top of the first inning, Matt Joyce, batting second, reached out to poke an elevated Jason Hammel fastball just past the diving shortstop for a single. Ben Zobrist then doubled on a groundball through the first base hole that was opened up because Chris Davis was holding on Joyce. Evan Longoria took an inside out swing on another elevated fastball to knock a fly ball into right field and sacrifice in the run.

The Orioles took the lead right back in the bottom of the inning, has Jeremy Hellickson struggled to get a feel for his pitches, particularly his curve. While a struggling Hellickson usually means walks, Hellickson's curves to start out the game actually were pretty much all right down the middle, and they were hit. The Orioles got a single from Nate McLouth, a double from Manny Machado, and then a single from Chris Davis to take the lead. In the following inning, J.J. Hardy lead off with a home run to left off a 2-0 grooved fastball.

Jeremy Hellickson recovered later in the game and found the feel for his curve ball, though. Jason Hammel never did. The only pitch that consistently worked for Hammel tonight was his good slider. His curve was all over the place, rarely being close enough to the plate for Rays' hitters to have to seriously consider whether or not to swing. And his fastball and sinker, which he can usually pound the bottom of the zone with to generate ground balls, were chronically up.

If I can recognize a pattern like that from my couch, the Rays hitters should be able to do so as well, and they did. For awhile, the Rays were swinging under Hammel's high fastballs, but by the second time through the order (in the third inning) they had adjusted, and began to take the pitches that were too high to hit and to clobber the ones within their reach. Matt Joyce lead off the inning with a towering fly ball that fell on the warning track in the deepest part of the field. Ben Zobrist lined a single into right field and Evan Longoria followed it up with a single of his own that advanced Longoria to third. Loney sacrificed Zobrist home with a fly ball, but the Rays would not be limited to small ball. Scott walked (taking several pitches high), and Kelly Johnson blasted an elevated fastball onto the right field dugout for the proverbial three run homer (Was it proverbial? How is one to tell? I think that if one of the runs that scores is a slow player who walked, that makes the three run homer proverbial.).

The Rays got back to work against Hammel in the top of the fifth inning. After Evan Longoria struck out, Loney lined a single into right field, and Scott walked on four pitches. Kelly Johnson hit a well struck fly ball off the left field wall. Johnson thought he had a double all the way, and showed good hustle, but Markakis played the hard carom perfectly and threw him out at second base. Still, Hammel's day was done, and he was lifted in favor of Alex Burnett.

Burnett could do no better against the Rays bats, however. He walked Jose Lobaton on four pitches, and then gave up a hard fly to Yunel Escobar ball straight back and over Adam Jones's head that bounced over the wall for a ground rule double (preventing one run from scoring). It was a moot point, though, as Desmond Jennings singled home two runs to stretch the lead to six. The point was made even more moot when everything the Rays hit against Troy Patton in the sixth inning found holes, stretching the lead to 12-4.

From the seventh inning on, the game was just about the pitching and defense not being horribly inept, Hellickson being efficient and saving the Rays bullpen some work, and the offense grinding out at bats to tire out the Oriole's bullpen and give the Rays a possible leg up in the series. In these pursuits, Hellickson was only partially successful. He cruised until the eighth inning, and might have gotten out of it with a slightly different bounce or a less speedy Baltimore runner than Adam Jones (who was almost doubled up), but as it played, he was unable to prevent a mini-rally with two outs and Joe Maddon lifted him with three runs scored in the inning and and two men on base.

Seems like the perfect situation to help bolster Farnsy's confidence, right? Wrong. Farnsworth gave up a hard hit single to Hardy, and then an absolutely crushed home run to Chris Dickerson. After a long battle with Navarro that included wild pitches and missed locations, Farnsworth finally coaxed a very soft ground ball that Longoria didn't even have a chanced to make a play on. With no outs recorded by Farnsworth and the tying run at the plate, Maddon was forced to go to the back of his bullpen. Joel Peralta threw two balls to Nate McLouth but then got him to fly out harmlessly to left field.

Peralta came back out to pitch the ninth inning, with Fernando Rodney warming in the bullpen. He coaxed a bad swing from Machado with a low splitter for a popup, and then threw the same pitch with the same result to Markakis. With Chris Davis looming on deck, Peralta threw Adam Jones a breaking ball that looked like a strike but was called a ball. Then Jones tried to bunt for a hit down the third base line and would have had Longoria beaten if his bunt hadn't rolled foul. Eventually the count ran full before Jones hit a fastball to mid center field to end the game.

Joel Peralta is great. I don't know where we would be without him. Thank God, thank the Dominican Republic, thank whoever you want.

This game feels a lot less good than it might have.

Source: FanGraphs

Still, season's are not judged solely on good feelings. Wins matter too, so good job, Rays.

Some other notes:

  • In the top of the fourth inning, Ben Zobrist hit a ground ball up the third base line. Manny Machado showed very good range as he took a few steps back and toward the line to scoop it, and then fired a very long, very accurate, and very strong throw. When he eventually gets to play shortstop, he'll be a good one.
  • In the top of the fifth inning, Yunel Escobar took a pitch inside, dropped his bat, jerked his hand back and made a pained face like he had just been hit. He had not been hit. The umpire called it a ball, Escobar did not contend in the slightest that he had been hit with the pitch. He just picked up the bat and got back in the box. I wondered if he hurt his wrist, but he proceeded to hit a hard fly ball. It was weird.
  • Compare how well Markakis played Johnson's fly ball to what Matt Joyce did to a Yamaico Navarro fly ball in the fifth. Both hits were off the right field wall, and neither right fielder had a chance to make it back in time. Markakis waited 15-20 feet back from the wall and calmly caught the carom. Joyce ran at full speed toward the wall so that the carom bounced over and well past him, and Navarro jogged into a stand-up triple. That cost the Rays a run, as Navarro scored on a slowly tapped ground ball. Maybe Joyce had visions of another basket catch, but it was not his best moment.
  • Desmond Jennings also misplayed a ball into a triple, but his was a lot less bad of a play. He laid out for a sinking, slicing line drive after running a mile. That run also scored on a ground ball.
  • It wasn't all bad for the Rays defense. With a runner on first base, Longoria made a play on a hard hit ball down the foul line and showed unbelieveable hands. He gave a strong throw to second base, but Jones just barely beat out the double play. Jones's speed directly resulted in the eighth inning rally.
  • Farnsworth has not looked good. These might be the type of struggles that get worked out in triple-A, if at all.