"That's the point of this game: to go home."
- Dawayne Staats
After travelling to Oakland, Chicago, and Arlington, the Rays returned home for the first of 29 AL East match ups, spread over the next 32 games through mid-September.
Backing a strong outing by Alex Cobb, the Rays loaded the bases in the first and seventh innings, and the Rays reached .500 before a raucous Tropicana Field.
This game felt good from the start, with newly crowned ace Alex Cobb dealing, including a strike out of Brett Gardner and Derek Jeter right out of the gate. The offense backed him in the first inning, but fell silent until the seventh. Cobb did not lose his poise, and churned through the Yankees line up with five more K's and just five base runners until the Rays scored again.
Furthermore, Alex Cobb did not walk a batter until the eighth inning, and even that was a borderline fastball. With two on and one out, Joe Maddon lifted Cobb at his second highest pitch count on the season, and turned to the trusted Brad Boxberger, four run leads be damned. More on that shortly.
Cobb's final line: 7.1 IP, 6 H, 1 BB, 8 K, 0 ER, 116 pitches, 71 strikes, 58 SNIP's
The Rays would answer the energy of Alex Cobb and the electric dome quickly, starting with a Jennings single/steal, a Zorilla sharply hit single to right, and a Matt Joyce walk to load 'em up -- all with none out in the first.
I'd like to say fireworks followed, but the Rays at least brought men home.
Evan Longoria and James Loney each hit into a force out at second base to bring in a run each, before a Logan Forsythe strikeout on a curve he should have offered toward. Any way you slice it: 2-0 Rays
Logan Forsythe broke the scoring back open in the seventh, however, reaching on an error by Chase Headly, and moving into scoring position on a sac bunt by Yunel Escobar. Curt Casali singled the opposite way, slow rolling a chin-high change to Martin Prado in right field, allowing Forsythe to score before the throw reached the cutoff man. 3-0 Rays
Kiermaier and Jennings followed on bloop singles to left and right field to load the bases with one out, and Esmil Rogers replaced the pitcher, who works an excellent slider. After a miscue at Mark Teixeira's glove, Ben Zobrist was the lone out at first base, scoring one more run before Matt Joyce tapped weakly on a slider himself to finish the seventh. 4-0 Rays
Brad Boxberger worked two called strikes on Derek Jeter with fastballs, and tried a third but missed his spot. Jeter popped it opposite way but it fell quickly. The runners refused to move in front of Kiermaier, so it was bases loaded with one out.
Facing Jacoby Ellsbury, Box put his game face on. Change looking, cutter looking, 95 MPH whiff -- similar to the cutter out of the hand, but with none of the dip and all of the velocity.
Next up Mark Teixeira: Change looking, cutter high, fastball away, Tex not fooled. Let's try this again: Change up away, and he offered for strike two. Cutter dropping in to the center of the plate, Tex fooled badly. Tropicana field erupted and Boxberger escaped the bases loaded jam.
In a simple bottom of the eighth, where the rest of the Rays went meekly, James Loney straight up crushed a Rogers fastball that fell dead center in the zone. I'm talking a stand-back-and-admire longball that dove down the Section 146 steps, completed by a bat flip from the otherwise austere first baseman. 5-0 Rays
To finish things out, Joe Maddon gave Joel Peralta his 53rd appearance on the season, opting for the veteran over Jake McGee, who'd closed last night's win in Texas. Peralta worked a lineout to Kiermaier, earned a foul-tip strike out on the splitter, and closing the game out with a caught-looking fastball inside to silence Carlos Beltran, Chase Headley, and Stephen Drew.
An excellent Rays win.
- James Loney would get booed by a few Yankee fans during his post-game interview on the field with Todd Kalas. It caught him off guard, but he smiled and waved at the fans, then apologized to Kalas -- who then encouraged Loney, "You can boo a Yankee fan anytime during our interview."
- Yunel Escobar made an incredible diving stop, crossing from the second base position while playing out of the shift in the second inning, and flipping the ball to Longoria for the force at second. He laughed, the Trop played the Sports Center music, he laughed some more. It was a great play.
- Alex Cobb rolled his ankle in the sixth inning fielding a shot back to the mount, piling on Cobb's poor luck when standing in the line of fire for the Rays. He got the throw to first, stayed in the game, and continued to dominate like the bad ass he is.
- With that victory, the Rays reach .500 on the season once again. Having watched this team play such incredible baseball since the All-Star break, it's amazing that it took this long to climb to what feels like average, but settling in at 61-61 has never felt so good.