Sometimes a game starts off with an obvious story line. Tonight was a game like that, yet by the end, the story line seemed like a mostly forgotten side show in what became simply an excellent baseball game.
This was a matchup of the two reigning Cy Young award winners, both of whom have struggled a bit to start the season, and both of them with some questions to answer. With all the talk this week being about David Price and his fastball, whether he's using it enough and whether he's lost effectiveness because his lower velocity, it's a natural place to focus. Price put any worries about his fastball to rest. He threw 117 pitches, with 50 of them being fastballs (not counting cutters, which he threw 27 of). His four seamer averaged 95 mph and his two seamer averaged a bit above 94 mph. He got seven whiffs out of these fastballs, many for strikeouts. Overall, Price pitched for eight innings while giving up four runs (only two earned). He struck out eight batters while allowing seven hits and one walk. Price's curve took a definite back seat to his changeup, but I don't necessarily think that will be a pattern going forward, as Price altered his mix all through last year depending on the opponent and on how he felt that day.
R.A. Dickey was less impressive. There were times that his knuckleball darted around crazily and the Rays looked baffled, but there were other times that the Rays batters tagged him up pretty well, and he was wild. Dickey lasted only six innings and gave up five hits while striking out five and also walking five. Here's how the game went.
In the bottom of the first inning, Kelly Johnson pulled a line drive into the corner for a double. After Ben Zobrist struck out swinging, R.A. Dickey made Evan Longoria look absolutely silly for a few pitches before Longoria connected with one for a fly ball over Colby Rasmus's head in center to score Johnson. James Loney walked, and then Matt Joyce pulled a groundball into right field. Jose Bautista charged it well but Longoria was coming home all the way. Bautista's throw was a bit up the third base line, and Longoria leaped over the catcher's swipe tag. Probably, he was touched on the back leg, but the umpire couldn't see it and the run counted.
The Jays got on the board in the next inning when David Price hit the leadoff batter, Edwin Encarnacion, Encarnacion advanced to second on a grounder, and Brett Lawrie grounded a single up the middle and into center for the RBI.
With one out in the top of the third inning, Rajai Davis hit a chopper to third base, and Longoria's rushed throw was too high, pulling James Loney off the bag. Davis advanced to second on a groundout (would have been a double play but he was running). That brought up Jose Bautista with two outs. Price's first pitch was a low changeup for a called strike. He followed it up with a low backdoor cutter for another called strike. His third pitch was a 94 mph fastball, also down but over the plate, that Bautista stroked into left field for a game tying double. Price then shattered Edwin Encarnacion's bat with an inside fastball, but the ball blooped into short right field just out of the reach of Zobrist, giving the Blue Jays a 3-2 lead.
With one out in the bottom of the third, Ben Zobrist hit a flyball straight back and over Rasmus's head, and hustled for a triple. Longoria hit a very hard liner to third base but Brett Lawrie made a good reaction grab. Still, Zobrist would score when one of Dickey's knucklers darted up and in to Loney, and Henry Blanco could not corral it (ruled a hard-luck passed ball). The knuckle ball giveth and the knuckle ball taketh away.
In the top of the fourth inning, Price got into trouble again. After striking out Lawrie, Price walked Rasmus. Izturis flipped a changeup down the right field line to put runners at the corners with one out. Henry Blanco foul tipped a ball straight into the inside of Jose Molina's knee. Molina collapsed in obvious pain, and was attended to for a minute or so before deciding that he could continue to catch. It was a good thing he did. With Izturis heading for second, Price struck out Blanco on a high fastball. Molina rose before the fastball even arrived and caught it standing up, throwing Izturis out to end the inning. Often it doesn't show, but Jose Molina is a pretty good athlete and an impressive catch and throw defensive catcher.
In the top of the fifth inning, Rajai Davis hit a bloop just beyond second base, and then promptly stole second and third on back to back pitches. Price struck out Melky Cabrera, but Jose Bautista hit a fly ball to center to sacrifice Davis home and retake the lead.
To lead off the seventh inning, Henry Blanco lined a low fastball back up the middle for a single. Davis lined hard down the third base line, but Longoria made a good leaping grab. Longoria would make another good play to end the inning when he retreated on a chopper and then threw out the runner at second base.
The Rays lifted R.A. Dickey after six innings, and sent in Steve Delabar to start the seventh. Yunel Escobar lead off the inning by tagging the hard throwing righty for a game-tying home run to straight center field.
Even though Brandon Gomes had been warming up in the seventh, Joe Maddon left Price in to pitch the eighth. I didn't like the move, and Encarnacion hit a scary fly ball to the warning track in the first at bat, but Price was able to strikeout Mark DeRosa swinging on a low changeup and Matt Joyce tracked down Lawrie's fliner in the alley to end Price's night with equal parts stile and luck/good fielding.
Evan Longoria lead off the ninth inning with a single up the middle, and John Gibbons pulled Delabar for the lefty Darren Oliver (facing James Loney). Maddon took the bat out of Loney's hands, calling for the sacrafice bunt to get Longo to second, and then pinch hitting Ryan Roberts for Joyce. Roberts smacked liners foul to both sides before flying out into left field. Luke Scott was allowed to hit, and he singled on a grounder into left, but Bautista's strong accurate arm gunned down Longoria at the plate to end the inning.
Having read my piece on bullpen management earlier in the day, Maddon sent Fernando Rodney out to pitch in the tie game. Rodney made short work of Rasmus, Izturis, but hit J.P. Arencibia on the hand, and gave up a single to Rajai Davis, but then blew away Melky Cabrera with a a couple 100 mph fastballs. The Rays would go easily in the bottom of the inning to send the game into extras.
Maddon, not having read my piece on bullpen management earlier in the day, gave the bottom of the tenth inning to Kyle Farnsworth. Of course he was right, apparently. Farnsworth coaxed a soft grounder off the end of the bat from Bautista and a popup from Encarnacion, and then made a great play to rush in and barehand a Kawasaki Munenori bunt to end the inning.
Aaron Loup took over for Toronto in the bottom of the tenth, throwing with a loupy left-handed sidearm motion that coaxed a chopper from the lefty Johnson. Zobrist gave the ball a ride, but got just a bit too far underneath it. Longoria doubled into the alley to bring the winning run to the plate in the form of Loney, whom Gibbons gave an intentional walk to set up a Ryan Roberts-Brad Lincoln matchup. Roberts coaxed a walk to bring Luke Scott to the plate with the bases loaded.
Scott quickly went down 0-2, but then fouled off a pitch, took three straight balls (one of which Arrencibia made a great pick on to avoid a wild pitch), and then checked his swing to take ball four and walk in the winning walkoff run.
Some other notes:
- In the second inning, Longoria made a fantastic defensive play, laying out to his left and batting a grounder down, corralling it as he popped back up and got his feat set, and throwing to first in time.
- There were two plays where fly balls got over Colby Rasmus's head. One of them (Zobrist's triple) really didn't seem like it should have. Blue Jays fans, does Rasmus always play that shallow? Should he?
- In the sixth inning, Blanco dropped a fly popup near the railing. The most interesting thing about the play is that it was right in front of Rays season ticket holder Dick Vitale. Vitale did not make a play on the ball (he was on his cell phone, so he can maybe be excused).
- It was a weird day for James Loney. The major league AVG leader came to the plate in the eighth inning with the winning run on first and no outs, and was asked to bunt. I happen to think that was a fine call. Then in the tenth, he came to the plate with the winning run on second base, and was intentionally walked. The opposing manager treated him like an all-star. His manager used him like a platoon bat. Weird day.