All seven inning, one run performances are not created equal. Seeing that line, and knowing who was pitching, one might expect that this was a sharp performance from Alex Cobb, but it wasn't anything like what we've come to expect from the Rays' ace.
At the start, Alex Cobb struggled with his command. He worked himself into a 3-0 count against the leadoff batter, Mookie Betts, before recording the out on a popup, and he then walked the punch-less Jemile Weeks, and started David Ortiz off with two strikes. His third pitch was a fastball in the zone that Ortiz will regret not putting in play (he fouled it off). His fourth pitch, though, was quality: an 88 mph sinker with good movement right on the bottom inside corner of the zone. It produced a weak grounder to the shortstop in the shift for an easy 6-5-3 double play to end the inning. This set the pattern for this entire game. Threat --> Double Play
By the next inning, though Cobb appeared to have settled in a bit. He more often found the bottom of the zone with his two-seam fastball, although he still missed high a few times as the game wore on, and he never seemed to get a feel for his curve, bouncing in an unusual number (43% strike rate). In the second, he had to record four outs thanks to an error by second baseman Nick Franklin, but Wil Myers got him out of trouble with a diving stop in the gap that probably saved a run. Had Myers made that play on September 11, it would have preserved a no-hitter I happened to be at. But sequencing matters, and not all of our dreams come true.
In the fourth inning, the Red Sox scored a run with two hits in a row that grazed the gloves of Rays defenders. First, Yoenis Cespedes bounced a curve down the first base line that deflected off the top of James Loney's outstretched glove. Loney tried to corral it in foul territory with a slide and flip, but he never quite got enough of a handle to make the throw. Next up, Daniel Nava extended his hands for a sinker on the bottom outside corner and powered it the other way toward the base of the Green Monster. Matt Joyce got there, just about, but the ball bounced off the top of his glove as he crashed into the (unpadded) wall of the scoreboard. I do wonder if that lack of padding gave him pause. I don't think Joyce went into the wall tentatively, but in a game of inches, any moment of doubt matters. The run scored.
In the bottom of the sixth inning, with a man on first and no outs, Cobb threw a fastball past Ortiz. Ortiz flipped his bat in disgust and let it fall to the dirt, stepped out of the box, and waited a few seconds. Then, when Cobb was about to throw his next pitch, Ortiz called for time and stepped out once more to pull on each of his knuckles. Riveting TV. Some pitchers would have taken offense, I'm sure. Don't really know if Cobb did or not, but he did something better. After being denied strike three by the umpire, he came back with a full-count splitter and induced a ground ball for the double play.
In the next inning, Cobb hit Nava. And no, not on purpose. Alex Cobb cares about winning games, this was the batter leading off the inning of a close game. Cobb was clearly upset at himself. No worries, though, Alex. There's always another double play to be had.
After being shut out for seven innings, the Rays offense finally came alive in the top of the eighth. Nick Franklin worked a walk on six pitches, and after Joyce struck out, Brandon Guyer was hit in the knee by a live, running two-seam fastball. Ryan Hanigan popped out. That brought up Zobrist. He got a sinker on the bottom outside corner, nearly identical to the one Nava had hit to drive in the Red Sox' first run. Zobrist did the same thing, flying it to the base of the Monster. This was a slightly easier play for Cespedes than the one Joyce had come up short on, but Cespedes did a worse job. Rather than crash into the wall, he stopped short and alligator armed it. Two runs scored. You know what catwalks don't do? Catwalks don't make left-fielders play tentatively by threatening to injure them. Only tradition can do that.
David DeJesus, who had given the Rays good bats all night, immediately singled Zobrist home, which brought Evan Longoria to the plate.
A Bit of Spice
Buchholz came up and in, brushing Longoria back, sending him diving to the ground. The next pitch was identical, also up and in, but this time it hit him (either in the back shoulder as he turned or in the hand -- I'm not sure which one). There's a way to read this sequence as retaliation for Cobb hitting Nava, which was retaliation for Ortiz's demeanor in the batter's box. The Rays dugout was certainly displeased, milling about, inching up the steps. Longoria took his base, and cool heads prevailed, though, and I'm pretty sure that was right. If Buchholz was throwing at Longoria, that's simply idiotic, and while I try to assume the worst about the Red Sox, this seems like poor command of the baseball, not poor command of the unwritten rules of baseball.
John Farrell seemed to agree, since with Loney up, he immediately pulled Buchholz for the left-hander Tommy Layne. Both runners advanced on a wild pitch, and Loney singled up the middle, plating both.
Matt Joyce kicked in the Rays final run with a home run to right in the ninth. And not to the cheesy, Sam Fuld part of right-field, either. It was real. Which raises the question of why has Matt Joyce only hit nine home runs this season, while every other aspect of his season at the plate has been good? And if he's making a trade off of more singles for fewer homers, are you happy with that?
The Double Plays
There were so many. If you consider the strange sequence I discuss in the notes as a double play, then the Red Sox grounded into four, and the Rays into two. And I thought that each team should have turned one more than they actually did.
I was so moved by the spectacle that I emailed my pal Merle Travis and asked him for a song. This is what he sent back.
Oh come on you young fellows, so hopeful and gay,
Seek not your fortune in dreary Fenway.
The hearts of the fans are as black as the coal,
And the rallies too often fall short of the goal.
Well it's dark as a dungeon, and damp as the dew,
Where the plays they are double, the pleasures are few.
Where the rain sometimes falls but the sun rarely stays.
It's dark as a dungeon, in dreary Fenway.
Some other notes:
- In the top of the first, DeJesus ran hard to break up a potential double play that Evan Longoria had hit into, so, gold star for him.
- Also in the gold-star department, Wil Myers is still hustling to first base, and he nearly beat Buchholz there on groundout.
- In the top of the third, with Yunel Escobar on second base, Ben Zobrist hit a line drive into left field. The Rays decided to run on Cespedes, who has perhaps the best outfield arm stationed in left these days. It was a costly decision, and not just because of the out. The throw beat the runner to the plate handily, and Escobar seemed like he got caught between running through the bag and sliding. He planted his feet awkwardly, and then collapsed while being tagged, spraining his left knee. He exited the game and was replaced by Brandon Guyer (moving Zobrist from center field to shortstop). If this marks the end of Escobar's season, it's a shame, as he was finishing the year strong.
- The bottom of the third ended in bizarre fashion. With a man on first, Mookie Betts grounded to shortstop for what should have been a 6-4-3 double play. Franklin air-mailed his throw over Loney's head. The throw did not go into the dugout, but bounced off the rail. Betts, after running down the line, gave the slightest flinch toward second, saw that he couldn't advance, and walked back to first. Meanwhile, Ryan Hanigan had hustled down to back up the throw, and he threw back to Loney at first, who touched the unsuspecting Betts to complete the 6-4-3-2-3 double play. Or maybe that's a 6-4 fielder's choice, with the runner out at first on the throw. I'm really not sure.
- Meaningless as this game may be in the playoff race, it seems to matter to Joe Maddon. With a four-run lead, he went to Brad Boxberger in the eighth. Of course, Boxy wasn't able to finish the inning, and Grant Balfour had to come in to clean up the mess, but it was still the process of a manager who wants to come out of Fenway with a series win.
- The Rays have now locked up the season series against Boston.
- Really good defensive game by Wil Myers. He made two fantastic catches, and he slickly barehanded a fly ball he couldn't get to that took a weird bounce away from his glove. Here, for your edification and enjoyment, is the other of Myers's nice catches.