Evan Longoria got it started early in this AL East match up -- firing a home run a few rows past the center field wall.
David Price did the opposite, seemingly missing spots to high contact areas against the Orioles, and pitching into deep counts. He had two three-ball counts in the first inning, and there would be more to come... more on that shortly.
The Rays had pushed Chris Tillman to 51 pitches to end the second inning, battling with no consequence but driving the pitch count higher than Price's.
In the bottom of the second, after a fly out from Wieters, J.J. Hardy did well to reach out an hit his own single on the reach, and Markakis hit the first pitch he saw, a fastball low, outside, and in the zone for another single. With two men on for the aggressive Danny Valencia (7-for-10 vs David), Price fed change in, change out, cutter away, change in, cutter out, and a full count fastball. The final pitch made him pay, scoring a run on a double.
One out, two RISP, and Steve Pearce worked a decent at-bat to six pitches and knocked a fly to left, but Joyce advanced on the quickly dropping ball, snagging the ball low out of the air. Brian Roberts returned to pop out on his first pitch, and Price escaped what could have been much worse.
Ben Zobrist swang late at a 92 mph outside for Tillman's second K, then Longoria and Myers grounded out to give Tillman breathing room over nine pitches.
Machado led the bottom half with an eight pitch single on a pitch well below the zone, bring Chris Davis to the plate. Price pitched around him in the first, but put fastballs into the zone with a man on base, earning a three pitch strikeout looking. With confidence, Price went 94 MPH away and inside for two strikes. After a change well outside, he tried the change again and hit the zone, but it the pitch was an easy offering. Jones singles Machado around to third base.
Runners on the corners again, and Matt Weiters drove a missed pitch to the center field wall. Desmond Jennings, in his first game back from injury, lost the ball and leaped at the wall. The ball came down near his glove, but hit the fence, ricocheted into his chest and was almost snagged between Jennings's glove and knee. Jennings came up with the ball easily, and he sent it to the infield to limit the runners to one score, when two would have done so easily on an easier read.
With the score level at 2-2, Price used his cutter to strike out Hardy, and Markakis fouled out to Jose Molina quickly. That's two jams.
The game was rolling now. Loney was called out on strikes, but Escobar waited outa five-pitch walk, and Joyce hit a blast toward the warehouse in deep right field, connecting on a first pitch fastball sitting at 92 just outside the zone.
Price then allowed tow first pitch singles to Valencia (cutter) and Pearce (fastball) to put men on. Brian Roberts flew out to move Valencia to the corner. The backdoor cutter fell Machado swinging for the second out, but brought up Chris Davis. This time Price went above and inside for two balls, came in for three foul balls, sent a four-seamer outside to bring the count full, and Price almost jammed Davis hard inside. The bat cracked on the hard swing, the ball trailed back past the netting, and Price had a decision to make.
Do you stay outside the zone? Davis has seen everything you have over seven pitches, and is in his third at bat against you with runners on base. Dangerous. Price trusted the process, went middle inside like pitch before. Both the pitcher and batter were screaming after Davis whiffed hard on a beautiful change up.
Price escaped his third jam, 71 pitches through four.
Jennings called on strikes, Zobrist popped out to second, and after some big cuts, Longoria flew out to deep right field.
Escobar nabbed a line drive for the first out, but Weiters hit a shoulder high pitch to the right field corner. Wil Myers limited what should have been a double, but J.J. Hardy followed with a first pitch double on the change. Two runners in scoring position, one out.
A fourth jam.
Markakis went for a sac-fly, but the flyball fell too shallow in center field, and the runners held, bringing up Danny Valencia and his 9-for-12 record against the reigning Cy Young. The normally solid umpire Andy Fletcher missed badly on a 2-1 pitch in the bottom of the zone, but Price came back with a hard fastball for a whiff, and then got a foul out of Valencia, which kept him alive. Then the back door cutter betrayed David, staying outside for a walk.
With the bases loaded, Hickey was out to the mound to advise on facing Steve Pearce while Maddon raised Jamey Wright in the bullpen. On his 99th pitch, Price earned a sharp groundball to Escobar to end the threat.
In spite of Jose Molina's framing, Price was missing his locations all evening and sometimes throwing meekly, but you cannot discredit his stamina. Pitching out of four jams is some remarkable fortitude.
The Rays drove Tillman to his 107th pitch, but that's all there is to it.
Jamey Wright took over for Price, and his curveball in the corner was sent to the warning track by Brian Roberts. Joyce tracked it all the way, running toward the outfield wall, and made a casual over the shoulder basket catch for the first out of the sixth.
Jamey walked the next batter Machado on four pitches, but brought it back together and found two ground outs to end the inning.
Troy Patton took over for Tillman and had Joyce grounding out, but Molina finally got the Rays back on base -- in what had been nine batters since the Matt Joyce home run -- lining to the right field wall and sliding safely into second for his ninth double on the season. Patton got Johnson to fly out, but Buck Showalter pulled the plug there, opting for the recently groin-injured Franciso Rodriguez (K-Rod).
Jennings walked easily on a blocked wild pitch, and another wild pitch allowed the runners to advance. With a 2-2 count to Zobrist, K-Rod got him swinging way in front at a change up to strand Molina and Jennings.
With Wieters, Hardy, and Markakis due in the middle of the line up, Maddon turned to Joel Peralta earlier that I expected. I would have been hoping for McGee to face three in the middle of the line up, PEralta on the tail end, and Torres as a safety net, but there's always a reason.
Peralta got ahead on Wieters with some splitters in the zone, but his third attempt was punished to the right field stands.
Loney snagged a roller up the first base chalk line that never failed to go foul for the first out, then Markakis drove another splitter in the same location as Wieters, but Myers jumped in the air himself and came down with the liner on the warning track.
Valencia got on base singling off a fastball outside, and advanced on a flare by Pearce that tucked right past Zobrist ranging backwards. Zorilla had been lined up behind the second base bag in the shift, and it nearly paid off.
With runners on the corners, Joe turned to McGee, and a first pitch ground ball off the end of Brian Roberts bat ended the frame at second base on the force out.
Longoria dropped a single into right field be stretching for an easy-heat 90 MPH fastball low and outside from K-Rod, who waited a while on the bench to return to face the Rays best hitters, and Myers batted a change up down the middle for a single.
James Loney took a strike and fouled two pitches before driving a fastball outside even lower and up the middle, with K-Rod hitting the deck to avoid the liner. Bases loaded with no outs, Escobar flexed some patience to find a 3-1 count and got some pitches to hit. On the seventh pitch of the at bat, he lined sharply out to first base, and Chris Davis turned it to second base where Myers was leading for a painful double play.
Jason Bourgeois was then trusted with pinch hitting for Matt Joyce after Buck Showalter changed relievers to Brian Matusz, but his meek groundball was run out by Brian Roberts and gunned to first base for the third out. The move by Maddon was somewhat surprising, considering Joyce's rather productive day at the plate. I'd take the hot hand over a pinch hitter most every time.
With the Rays lead still only one run, McGee returned and worked a foul out from Manny Machado and to reach Chris Davis. Lefty on lefty, McGee started with lower 90's and began ramping his fastball speed higher. The fourth pitch earned a 97 MPH swinging strike, then on a full count, Chris Davis reached for 96 on the outside corner. The ball kept cutting and went in and out of Bourgeois's glove in left field, a snowcone that melted.
McGee followed with a strike out of Adam Jones and made it look easy over three pitches. Jones was swinging late, and Jake capitalized. To hold the score, McGee entered into a sparring match with Matt Wieters, including wild pitches and heaters in the zone. Wieters fouled plenty along the way, but a well placed fastball caught him swinging outside, another oriole late.
After a Molina fly out to center, Maddon pinch hit Sean Rodguez for KJ, and Showalter took his turn and lifted Matusz for Tommy Hunter. S-Rod went for the first pitch, and his groundball effort up the middle was fielded cleanly by Hardy.
Desmond Jennings should have been caught himself on a ground ball, but the normally ace Machado attempted his own Jose-Iglesia-diving-barehand in the grass beside the mound, airmailing the ball and letting Jennings advance to second.
It would be a last squandered opportunity. For the fifth time of the evening, Zobrist failed to get on base, this time chopping the ball to the pitcher and was out at first.
Maddon turned to Rondey in the ninth, with Hardy, Markakis, and Valencia due.
Fernando had control to start Hardy in the zone with upper 90's heat, but the short stop hit a hard chopper that snuck between the ranging Zobrist and Loney in the right side. In the following at bat, pinch runner Alexi Casilla attempted a swipe of second base, but Molina rose to meet a fastball above the zone and got his throw off perfectly, nailing the glove of Zobrist and finding the sliding Casilla's arm well in front of second base.
Back to Markakis, Rodney got a full count with the right fielder looking at a change up went low and away with the heater for a fouled pitch, and then walked the batter by pitching too far inside -- an area of the zone that had been called a ball all night -- missing Molina's call for the pitch to be inside the zone.
Man on base. The red hot Valencia then came to the plate, but on an 0-2 count, he fell prey to Rodney's change up. The closer mirrored his fastball form perfectly and fooled Valencia into swinging.
The hopes of the Orioles came down to Mat McLouth, who hit a sharp grounder into shallow right field, but Zobrist was deep in the shift and ranged over to the ball headed toward the right field line. He snagged the grounder and got the ball to first base for the final out.
- Price stranded ten base runners in five innings, seven of which were in scoring position. Beast.
- Molina legged out a double in the seventh, and was safe on the slide, then advanced to third on a wild pitch before the runners were stranded. How 'bout them wheels?
- With that win, the Rays are even closer to taking back the AL East, and hold a 1.5 game lead in the win column over Boston, despite a differential in the rankings.
- For the record, the inconsistency in this strikezone was a decent dose of human element, and made things entertaining for the folks with stikezones open on their apps at home:
- Oh, and you can thank me for any Rays of sunshine coming your way from a Mr. Sternfan over the next 24 hours:
"Here's my prediction, a #Rays loss tonight and they get swept. Bets?" - @Sternfan10
@sternfan10 I'll take it. You lose, you can only say positive things about the Rays for 24-hours. You win, I'll spend a day complaining.— Danny Russell (@d_russ) August 20, 2013