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Rays vs. Jays, game 1 recap: Smylys all around

All night long.

Tom Szczerbowski

Before coming to the Rays, he had never recorded an out in the eighth inning. Two starts ago he set his own major league career record by finishing seven and two thirds, and now Smyly's bested that with a complete game shutout in which he only allowed two hits, both singles, while walking no one. His four strikeouts don't sound overpowering, but I think that underplays just how off-balance he had the Blue Jays tonight. He spotted his fastball both at the top and at the bottom of the zone. When it was up, it almost always resulted in a lazy fly ball.

Meanwhile, his curve ball and cutter (and maybe changeup) consistently got the Jays hitters out onto their front foot where they pounded the ball into the dirt for easy to play grounders. Smyly is a fascinating pitcher, both because of the uniqueness of his stuff, which Brian Anderson is doing a good job discussing on the telecast, and because of the way it combines. The overall ball-in-play numbers make him out to be a fly ball pitcher, but there's hidden complexity beneath those numbers. His fastball is an extreme fly-ball pitch, while his cutter is a very strong ground-ball producer. Both types of extremes are good for the pitcher.

I'm going to make a prediction. As his career with the Rays continues, we're going to like Smyly's FIP (fielding independent pitching), but we're also going to come to regard him as a possible, or even probably FIP-beater (a guy who consistently records a better ERA than his peripherals would suggest). I'm calling my shot.

As the game wore on, King Smyly let more of his pitches get away from him, yanking a couple into the dirt and sailing one high, but he never seemed flustered. Rather, he was calmly annoyed at himself, and he was always able to come back with a good pitch. He deserves this complete game.

The Offense

Marcus Stroman is an interesting young pitcher. He probably has a very bright future, and he undoubtedly has a great arm. In the minor leagues and in his short time in the majors this season, he's shown good control and and a high strikeout rate. Tonight though, he looked like a rookie. He came into the game throwing four-seam fastballs belt-high over the middle of the plate, and while he touched 95 mph, and worked his fantastic sinker off of it low in the zone as the inning went on, he had given the Rays something to look for.

Leading off the second inning, Evan Longoria found it. Stroman tried to come up and in on Longo's hands. Once upon a time that was a mistake, but too often this season it's worked. Not this time. Longoria turned on the pitch in vintage fashion, cranking it well over the left-field wall to score the first run of the night.

In the fourth inning, Wil Myers walked and then stole second with a horrible, Molina-esque slide. He then advanced to third when a curve ball in the dirt bounced of Dionner Navarro's knee. Later on in the inning, with two outs, Kevin Kiermaier grounded a ball up the middle to easily score the run on a single. Everyone knew it was a single. Everyone included Colby Rasmus in center field. Everyone did not include Kiermaier himself, who rounded first without breaking stride and made it to second in front of Rasmus's panicked throw. Amazing hustle.

In the top of the fifth, Matt Joyce smoked a hanging curve over the head of Jose Bautista for a double. Stroman pitched very carefully to Longoria, walking him on four pitches. Next up, James Loney chopped to third base for what should have been a double play, but Danny Valencia had some trouble getting the ball out of his glove, which gave Longoria enough time to make the turn uncomfortable for Scott Tolleson, who bounced the throw to first. Encarnacion butchered the routine scoop, and Joyce rounded third to score the third run of the game.

The Rays continued to pile on in the sixth. Curt Casali lined down the right-field line but the carom held him to a single. A grounder from Kiermaier found the hole in right side of the infield, and Desmond Jennings plated a run by smacking an elevated fastball for another line drive into center field to put runners on the corners and to end Stroman's night.

But the Rays were not done. Ben Zobrist, facing Aaron Loup, also found that hole on the right side of the infield opened up by the runner on first base. Next up, Joyce chopped up the middle, giving Zobrist just enough time to make it into second ahead of Tolleson's throw to load the bases for Longoria. Loup worked him away, and then, in a hitter's count, tried to come low and inside with a fastball. Longo easily dropped the bat head on it and pulled a line drive into the left-field corner to drive in two more runs with a double. The Rays would load the bases once more, but Loup finally got out of the jam with a double play ground ball from Yunel Escobar.

Wil Myers rounded out the scoring with a solo home run.

Some other notes:

  • In the bottom of the first inning, I clearly heard someone from the crowd yell, rhythmically, "We want a pitcher, not a belly itcher." Canadians are so cute.
  • For the first out of the third inning, a fly ball came down near the first-base wall. Loney slid to make the catch, but a Jays fan reached over and snagged it before it reached Loney. The umpire called fan interference and the man out.
  • During an interview with Alex Cobb in the third inning, Brian Anderson asked Alex Cobb whether he varies the movement on his splitter to sometimes keep it in the zone, rather than have it drop below the zone. Cobb gave an interesting answer:

There's times when it's just not as good -- it's moving more horizontally than vertical -- and that's fine with me. I'm not going to get the tons of swings and misses that I normally get when it's vertical. It's an adjustment that I'm learning to make quicker, as I get more repetitions at it. I'm learning to not lose confidence in it when it's not as sharp as it can be, because, when I do throw it in the zone with that split grip -- as confident as I can and as aggressive as I can -- I'm still able to get some really good two-seam movement on it, and more often than not I'm going to get some ground balls with it. So, it really just turns into a heavy two-seamer when it's not on completely, which is good for me because I don't have to feel like I need to groove a fastball in there or, you know, a get-me-over curve ball. I can still throw that changeup with conviction in the zone and it'll be a decent two-seamer more often than not

I obviously prefer it to be moving down out of the zone, but you work with what you got when you have it, and you make the adjustments in between innings.

  • BA on Wil Myers shoes: "Looks like he's getting ready to go to prom . . . either that or he took it from some senior citizen the other day . . . Canadian coffee is outstanding."
  • In the seventh, Kiermaier came up with yet another hustle double, blooping a fly ball between shortstop and center fielder, and cruising into second when it took an awkward bounce away from Reyes to prevent him from playing it cleanly. It's odd, but only a perfect bare-handed grab could have kept KK from a bloop double.
  • Myers's home run was his first hit since returning to the majors. BA: "I don't want to say it's the shoes, but it could be the shoes."