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Rays vs. Yankees, game 2: Zoilo aside, it's small ball in the Bronx

Zoilo Almonte hit his first major league home run. Say his name a few times. You'll feel better.

The new (baby) face of NY? Probably not.
The new (baby) face of NY? Probably not.

David Phelps is an easy player to ignore, but he's really quite a solid young pitcher. He doesn't blow hitters away, but he has a broad arsenal of five useful pitches. His slightly high walk numbers (around 10%) are more a result of pitching to the corners than they are an indicator of poor command. He and Roberto Hernandez conspired to turn this into the type of game that would have been considered quite the offensive display in 1913, but in 2013 is just a rather boring loss from which it's difficult to draw any interesting conclusions.

The Yankees got on the board first in the bottom of the first inning when Brett Gardner lead off with a beautiful bunt down the third base line. Roberto Hernadez never really had a chance to field it and throw Gardner out. Then, with Gardner running, Ichiro Suzuki lined an elevated sinker into right field, allowing Gardner to reach third. A fly ball to center field from Robinson Cano brought Gardner home.

The Rays tied the game up in the top of the third inning in much the same way that the Yankees had taken the lead. Yunel Escobar singled, and was immediately put in motion. It was a good thing, as Matt Joyce might have hit into a 3-6-1 double play otherwise. Jennings knocked another grounder to the right side that moved Yunel to third base, and he came home when Cano couldn't quite come up with a hard hit Ben Zobrist grounder as he dove to his left.

The small-ball continued in the the bottom of the inning. Austin Romine knocked another elevated pitch for a double, and Gardner bunted again to move him to third. Hernandez threw Ichiro a changeup, and got him way out in front, but the pitch caught the very tip of Ichiro's bat, dribbling slowly down the line and staying fair for a swinging bunt RBI.

There was a pattern of puniness developing, and the Rays were loathe to break it. Loney collected a single with a line drive that glanced off the end of Cano's glove. Then, with Luke Scott batting, Loney allertly took advantage of a wild pitch that bounced too far forward off the Yankee catcher, Romine. When Scott slipped another grounder past Cano, Loney aggressively tested Ichiro's arm, and came home easily with a throw up the first base line.

The Rays loaded the bases with one out, but Matt Joyce and Desmond Jennings couldn't make anything of it. With what was to come in the bottom of the inning, it was a missed opportunity the Rays would come to regret.

Both Travis Hafner and Lyle Overbay singled on ground balls up the middle, and Zoilo Almonte loaded the bases with a single of his own squeezed through the hole by first. Roberto Hernandez did not give in. He busted Jayson Nix inside with fastball after fastball, along with the an occasional changeup, also inside. Nix had to battle just to stay alive, and was probably fortunate to ground a 1-2 fastball into a run scoring double play. Sure he didn't get the strikeout he wanted, but it looked like Hernandez would get out of the inning with minimal damage when he induced a soft grounder to third from David Adams. Evan Longoria charged, and barehanded (seemingly cleanly), but then threw too far into the baseline for James Loney to handle the throw as the runner bore down on him. Another run scored before yet another ground ball (this time to short) ended the inning. Six ground balls, none of them well struck, two runs. Replies showed that Longo had a bit more time than he probably thought, and should have collected himself to make a better throw.

Another run scored in the sixth inning when Almonte connected for his first major league home run.

The Yanks added another run against Cesar Ramos with a Cano ground ball, a stolen base, and other ground ball.

Some other notes:

  • Roberto Hernandez pitched okay. He only gave up two extra base hits, but he also only struck out four batters in seven innings.
  • Only Hernandez's changeup produced whiffs (6 out of 32 times he threw it, according to Brooks Baseball).
  • For those keeping track, Hernandez gave up one home run, and three other fly balls.Twenty-five percent.
  • The one, two, and four spots in the Rays lineup (Joyce, Jennings, and Longoria) combined to go zero for 14 with no walks and four strikeouts.
  • After the game, Josh Lueke was optioned back to Durham to make room for Alex Colome.