Would you believe the Rays almost lost this game?
The Rays pitching has been absolutely spectacular for most of this series. Jake Odorizzi had a bad second inning in Game 1. Defensive errors were all it took to put Oakland on the board in Game 2.
In Game 3, the Rays nearly succumbed to the Mad Australian, but Sean Rodriguez pummeled a two-two slider, over the heart of the plate with two runners on, and wrapped it around the left field foul pole.
Rodriguez claimed the Rays first walk off win of the season, but the offense finally came alive earlier in the frame.
Evan Longoria led off the Rays share of the eleventh, and grounded a meatball of a slider through the left side for a lead off single, and the Rays nearly found the win when Wil Myers went to the wall in left field, but the long shot was caught, the second out. Then James Loney batted a single to put two on with two out for dry-spelt Desmond Jennings. He took a fastball high, fouled a fastball in, then took three balls for a full count and plenty of drama, and then against the odds whalloped a slider -- like Longoria's meatball, a groundball well struck.
Tie game, and five pitches later from the fresh reliever Luke Gregerson, and the Rays finally had a reason to celebrate.
First, let's rewind to when it went wrong.
Just plain Mad
Grant Balfour started the ninth inning with a one run lead and his first pitch, a 90 MPH fastball to Jon Jaso, was knocked to Wil Myers in right field, followed by a five-pitch walk to Josh Donaldson. He got the hot hitting Brandon Moss on a called strike, but then allowed an extra base hit to Yoenis Cespedes on a first pitch slider to tie the game 1-1.
Balfour intentionally walked Jed Lowrie to load the bases with one out, then worked a full count to Josh Reddick before earning a fly ball to left field. Matt Joyce charged well, fired to the cut-off man Longoria, and prevented the runner from scoring.
Two out, bases loaded and the game now tied, switch hitting Alberto Callaspo fouled a curve away, took a curve high, fouled a cutter off the top shelf, laid off a pitch in the dirt, then nearly knocked a curve up the left field line but the ball fell barely foul. The next pitch was a routine fly to Joyce on a cutter away.
Balfour let one score, and Juan Carlos Oviedo continued warming up in case of extra innings.
With Sonny Gray's day over at 8.0 innings, the A's brought in Fernando Abad, who struck James Loney out swinging, just the fourth Rays K on the afternoon. With one out, the slumping Desmond Jennings pulled the hands in to get a man on base, driving a fastball up-and-in to left field. Brandon Guyer was named the pinch hitter for Cole Figueroa, and the A's brought in Dan Otero.
Guyer made hard contact on a sinker left up in the zone, but Coco Crisp came ranging in, sliding in on one knee to make the grab in center field, the second out.
Yunel Escobar then did well to do nothing. Low away, high in, low in for a 3-0 count. The next pitch was a called strike low and away, but Jennings was off running. The throw from pinch-catcher Derek Norris was bang-bang, and Jennings was presumed safe, but the umps went to the headset and found him sort-of out.
Jennings was clearly out. #Rays pic.twitter.com/DfaUnkvUhI— Eric Sachs (@realericsachs) May 22, 2014
OK, fine. Clearly out.
Extra Innings: How we got here
JCLNO carried his frame well, with a six-pitch infield fly for the first out from the pathetic Eric Sogard, then worked effective changes and fastballs to get fly Crisp out to left field, and Derek Norris swinging over a third consecutive change to blank the 10th for Oakland.
The first out in the tenth was Yunel on a ground out, but he knocked in the only Rays run of the game, so mulligan. The second out was Jose Molina. Understandable, but the Rays had DeJesus and (maybe) Longoria at the top of Maddon's order to do some damage before the A's best came around the next inning. Nope, called strike on a sinker that sunk at the very top of the zone. Tricky pitch from Otero, but you have to foul that off.
The always improving Josh Lueke was trusted with the eleventh, and oh. First pitch fastball, extra base hit well in the bottom of the zone for Josh Donaldson. Next pitch, another fastball to Brandon Moss, fielder's choice. Donaldson moves to third, bringing up Cespedes.
The Rays opted for Lueke to pitch to 2012's exciting Cuban phenom, and after trying to brush him back, Cespedes hit a towering fly to the warning track , scoring the winning run. Lueke got a six pitch ground out to short from Jed Lowrie in the following at bat, the exact thing that might have been useful if Cespedes had been walked, but I seldom complain about pitching to anyone not named Barry Bonds.
Oakland now led 2-1, but the Rays would finally answer.
In his return to the mound ahead of schedule, Alex Cobb was quite impressive. Allotted 96 pitches, Cobber went 6.2 innings while striking out six batters, allowed five base runners (two hits, three walks), and kept the A's off the board. That included a bases loaded jam in the sixth inning, a pleasant performance from the could-be ace of the staff.
The Red Sox, on the other hand, got swept today by the Blue Jays, so the Rays aren't the only AL East team mired in suck. Tampa Bay welcomes the Boston Red Sox for a three game series tomorrow evening, then travel to Toronto and Boston.
These next nine games will matter more than any of us would like. A walk off homerun against baseball's best team, and a long night's rest on good feelings, should help.