I bet this game would have been fun if the Rays were in a playoff race. I imagine I would have delighted in the closeness of it, if the result had mattered. Watching both Jeremy Hellickson and Bud Norris work into trouble, and then be let of the hook, relatively speaking, would have been excruciating in the way people use the word when they really mean "really exciting because I'm forced to wait for a resolution that I care about." As it was, this game was simply painful.
Desmond Jennings started off the game with a good piece of hitting, going down to get a low fastball and pulling it down the line for a hustle double. A groundout to second from Ben Zobrist advanced Jennings, and a reasonably deep fly ball from Matt Joyce brought him home. Up next, Evan Longoria pulled a belt-high middle-away fastball over the left field fence to bring the score to 2-0. He apparently rattled Norris, as the big righty lost his already suspect command. James Loney singled, Wil Myers walked, and then an inside fastball hit Yunel Escobar on the hand to load the bases. Unfortunately for the Rays, they now had two outs, and Jose Molina was up to end the inning.
The Rays would regret not taking advantage of the shaky Norris early, especially since Jeremy Hellickson and some poor defense immediately gave the two runs back in the bottom of the first. Helly grooved Steve Pearce a straight changeup that didn't fool him one bit, and Pearce yanked it over the left-field wall and a few rows deeper than Longoria's shot. Next up, Adam Jones -- who is exceptionally good at adjusting to the downward trajectory of pitches -- followed a curve to the bottom of the zone and yanked it through the infield for a single. He ran hard on a Nelson Cruz groundball up the middle to make it to third base and set up the next play.
With Chris Davis batting, Nelson Cruz took off stealing second. He didn't get a good jump, and Jose Molina's throw beat him by enough to for Cruz to stop and get himself into a run down. When he did, Jones broke for home. Escobar turned and threw home, but his throw was a little bit late, making it into a closer play than it needed to be. It also sailed on him just a bit, forcing Molina to reach for it while preparing to make a quick tag. It found the webbing of Molina's glove, but he never controlled the ball as he started with his tag, and it fell out in front of home plate, allowing the run to score.
Fast-forward to the fifth inning. In the Rays half, with one out, Zobrist singled, and Joyce followed that up with a single of his own that pushed Zo to third base. Longoria brought one run home with a sacrifice fly, and then James Loney plated another one with a slapped grounder down the left-field line. The entire Orioles defense was shifted slightly for him to pull, so it took the left fielder a long time to get over to the corner and make the pickup, and by that time Joyce had chugged all the way home from first base.
Once more, though, the Rays immediately gave back their lead. The first thing I noticed as the inning began was that Hellickson was sweating profusely. It's a hot night in NY, so I assume it was hot in Baltimore as well, and his perspiration may have been perfectly normal, but I took it as a bad sign for the inning and I was not disappointed (I was disappointed). Nick Markakis lead off with a single through the infield, and Pearce walked. Jones once more followed his pitch (a changeup) down through the zone, and lined it into center field, but Markakis got a poor read off the bat and wasn't able to come home, even against Jennings's weak arm.
Jeremy Hellickson remained in the game to face Nelson Cruz, who crushed a line drive straight at Escobar for the first out of the inning and the last at bat of Helly's night. Jeff Beliveau took over to face the lefty Davis, and when he induced a ground ball to first base, it seemed as if the Rays had caught a break. Loney, playing deep, gave a perfect feed throw to Escobar just as the shortstop reached second base. He stepped on the base and lept off it, throwing as he lept in an attempt to find Beliveau covering first and complete the double play, but his throw was far too high and not on target. Admittedly, it was a very difficult throw for Escobar to make, and it would be unfair to expect the double play, but by missing high, Escobar allowed a second run to score, which tied the game.
The Orioles scored the winning run on a bloop single that not even Kevin Kiermaier could reach.
Some other notes:
- Yunel Escobar was hit in the hand in the first inning by a 94 mph fastball. He shook it off, and seemed fine, but I wonder if it continued to bother him, because throughout the rest of the game an unusual number of his throws were awful.
- The West Indian Day Parade is this Monday, and the revelry has already started in my neighborhood and will continue nonstop through Monday night. I usually like the general excitement, but this game has turned me into a colossal grouch. Thanks, Rays.