This was the sort of game that became a breath of fresh air, particularly as the Rays prepare for an grueling stretch of 32 games, including 29 against AL East opponents, with a three game series against Detroit mixed in. Before all of that, thankfully, is a four game series in Arlington.
The Texas Rangers may be the worst team in baseball this season, particularly if you're examining the pitching staff. Colby Lewis exemplified this against the Rays, who got to scoring in the second inning.
With two men on, Curt Casali started the frustrations for Colby Lewis by bunting to the mound, something that publicly aggravated the pitcher last month, leading to a Lewis throwing error at third and allowing the first run to score. Kevin Kiermaier struck out on a call off the plate, then Desmond Jennings followed with a bunt of his own for another squeeze. The runner, Yunel Escobar, would be declared out.
Here's the moment right before the tag:
Joe Maddon attempted to challenge the call at home, but crew chief Joe West (who else?) decided it would be an umpire review regarding whether the catcher had blocked the plate. The review confirmed that the catcher did not block the plate, and Joe West called the runner definitely out. Whether or not a proper review was held I am not sure, and you can watch video for yourself.
Fortunately, the Rays would score plenty more, thanks to a Ben Zobrist walk and a Matt Joyce barrel-on-the-ball single to the right side with bases loaded. The Rays tacked on a few more runs from there, with a Zorilla double to score Kiermaier (who'd tweaked his back while stealing second), RBI singles by Longoria and Jennings, then some nice hustle in the seventh. KK was removed from the game, and is considered day-to-day.
Drew Smyly, meanwhile, pitched masterfully, if changing velocity is your thing -- topping out at 93 and bottoming out at 75. His fastball was alive, notching five whiffs on its own, not counting the eight whiffs by everything breaking or off-speed. This was the guy you were looking for.
Smyly averaged just thirteen pitches per frame over the first six innings, then needed twenty in the seventh and finished the night with 116 thrown, 71 for strikes, 55 SNIPs (strike, not-in-play).
By the time Drew Smyly exceeded 100 pitches, it was clear that his control was escaping, pitching in the dirt on more than just his breaking balls. By this point we've reached the eighth inning, beginning with a line out, then a double allowed to Rougned Odor.
Getting wild, Smyly walked the left fielder Daniel Robertson. Joe Maddon left Smyly in, however, and despite more wild pitching, he was able to strike out Shin-Soo Choo on a foul tip.
Final line: 7.2 IP, 3 H, 3 BB, 9 K, 0 ER
Pitching to within four outs of the ballgame was crucial for Smyly, who theoretically removed much of the burden from the bullpen after the twelve inning affair in Chicago yesterday afternoon.
Kirby Yates was the man for relief, but unfortunately walked Elvis Andrus, leading to confusion on the field. Jim Hickey was out immediately to counsel his rookie reliever, and while discussions were ongoing, the Rangers opted to pinch hit with .200 batting Jim Aducci.
Once the pinch hitter was formally announced, Joe Maddon entered the field slowly, ready to make a pitching change to Joel Peralta for the proper match up, but wasting time and chatting up the umpire. Confused, Ron Washington took the field to discuss two coaching visits, leading to an on-field delay and playing right into Joe's hand. Properly warm, Peralta induced a tapper to short, and the Rays escaped the bases loaded jam. Grant Balfour followed with a heart attack ninth, but the Rays remained unscathed.
- I'd doubted the use of Cole Figueroa in this evening's line up, but he proved me wrong, starting the offense going with a walk prior to the Rays' offense's break out second inning, and concluding with a triple to score James Loney from first base.
- And might I say, James Loney was hustling in the ninth and a six run lead already in hand! He'd limped to first base on his single up the middle, but turned the jets on for Figgy's triple, scoring on a slide at home against the throw.
- Grant Balfour pitched the ninth inning, which is what his career in a Rays uniform has come to. Confidence building for player and staff with a seven run lead. He walked the second and third batters he faced on four and six pitches each. He followed with a meaty strikeout of Robinson Chirinos, then an easy fly to right against Rougned Odor, but there was a point where not even Jim Hickey could watch.
- Ben Zobrist hit his franchise leading 222nd double this evening, appearing on base three times this evening. He now has a .444 average and ten walks over the last sixteen games.
- Drew Smyly officially has his first win for the Rays, reaching career highs at 7 2/3 innings and 116 pitches.