I wasn't supposed to be recapping this game. It was someone else's turn. But then schedules changed, and that person couldn't write it. I swapped in. And boy am I glad I did. You see, I paused my mlb.tv after the end of the sixth inning because a) the game sucked and b) my lovely and talented wife had just finished making dinner. If I hadn't had to write about it, I would almost certainly not have flipped this game back on. And that would have been a shame.
The Rays lost, but this was one of those 20 or so baseball games a season that are really worth watching. The MLB season is funny. If you could just pick out the 20 best games, you could have one a week, charge people a lot more money to see them, everyone in America would tune in, and we'd call it football.
But you can't just pick the best games. Instead, each baseball team plays 162 games, and most of them are a little bit boring. The season rewards people who make baseball a part of their life because those people get hypnotized and can no longer see how boring it is, and because every once in awhile, baseball wakes them up with a game like this.
I know no way to tell the story of this game other than in disconnected sections, so here goes.
Why would the Rays give Steve Geltz, a reliever who hadn't started a game since high school, the start tonight? It's actually a pretty straight forward idea.
The basic reason is that hitters do much better against a pitcher as they see him multiple times in the same game -- the first time through the lineup the pitcher has an advantage, the second time through it gets evened up, and by the third time, hitters know what all the stuff looks like, and they're out there hunting for their pitch to drive. A good starter with varied stuff -- like, say, Dan Haren -- can face a lineup multiple times, but what if you don't have a good starer?
Well, you pull your pitchers early, and with national league rules, you can gain an extra advantage by trying not to let your pitchers hit.
It's a fun idea, that should have made for a fun game. Kevin Cash was going to show off his managing, and the Rays were going to show off a number of pitchers we fans aren't so used to seeing yet. The first could have been anyone, but the Rays decided to make it Steve Geltz.
Geltz gave up a weak groundball up the middle for the first out of the game to the speedy Dee Gordon, who promptly stole second (the throw was actually pretty close, but Gordon did get in just ahead of the tag). Unfazed, Geltz kept pumping good pitches in to Christian Yelich until he was rewarded with a chopper back to the mound. He fielded it well, turned to second, and caught Gordon off the bag. Geltz fired behind the runner to second base, but the Athletic Gordon was able to stay in the run down long enough for Yelich to make it to second and replace him on the base paths.
That proved important as Yelich was able to advance to third on a ball in the dirt, and then come home when Michael Morse yanked a groundball single off a pretty good fastball on the outside corner to score the run (I bet that doesn't get through the infield if they're playing back with the runner not at third base).
Geltz struck out Martin Prado to end the first inning, and then pitched a clean second inning (working around a one-out walk). Geltz finished his day by striking out Dan Haren. What type of amateurs let their pitcher hit?
- I saw that both Stanton and Morse were actually swinging a little bit high on Geltz's fastball, which is unusual with all the rise it has. Seemed to me like they'd gotten the scouting report. I was happy Geltz would not have to face them a second time this game -- one of the perks of being a reliever.
Erasmo Ramirez took over for Geltz in the third inning. Had this game been in an American League park, Ramirez would probably have started and tried to go five or more innings. Instead, he was only asked to go for one or two. And boy did he fail.
I think we saw all of the downside of Ramirez today. He had absolutely no command of his pitches. As such, he was unable to establish his fastball in the zone, and that meant there was nothing for him to work his excellent changeup off of. A Ramirez changeup falling off the table below the zone is a really good pitch, but it's not worth anything if major league hitters know that that pitch in that location is the only thing they need to look for. They were not fooled. Mostly they spat on it. Sometimes they didn't and Rays fans wished they had.
Gordon started the carnage off by flipping a low and outside changeup into left field for a single. Next, Yelich walked on five pitches. For the final pitch, Rene Rivera was clearly looking for a fastball down, and instead he got on up and outside. Ramirez then loaded the bases by hitting Giancarlo Stanton in the leg with a 79 mph changeup.
The Rays did get out of the inning with minimal damage, as Ramirez got Michael Morse to ground into a double play (trading a run for two outs), and then got another groundout from Martin Prado.
Going into the bottom of the fourth inning, the score was 2-1. It was still a manageable. Cash sent Ramirez back out to try to collect himself and get three more outs. It wasn't asking very much for a guy with some starting ability, but it went horribly awry. First, Marcel Ozuna grounded back over the pitchers mound. Logan Forsythe, who was shaded toward the middle, would have had it covered, but the ball glanced off Ramirez's leg and bounced back toward the first base side of the field, wrong-footing everyone. Ozuna advanced to second on a four-pitch walk to strikeout machine and catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
Adeiny Hechavarria reached for a slider on the outside edge of the plate and lined it into the left-center gap. It wasn't necessarily a bad pitch, but Ramirez should get no sympathy. He was at fault for the walk to Saltalamacchia, and Kevin Kiermaier cut the ball off well enough (despite even with a bobble), that Ozuna would likely not have scored from first.
Ramirez did get Dan Haren to ground to third for out number one, but he then loaded the bases by walking Gordon. Yelich saw a changeup well (because he didn't have to look for anything else), and lined it just over the glove of a leaping Forsythe to score two more runs. Stanton and Morse both hit sharp grounders to plate a few more runs.
By the time Ramirez finally got out of the inning, the score was 8-1.
- The pitch that Morse grounded into a double play on was a belt-high changeup on the inner third of the plate. In my Ramirez scouting report, I said that he had never once in his career thrown that pitch in that location, and that with the Rays, he would. This was instance number one, and for him to improve, he will need to continue. We know that Ramirez can work below the zone, but to succeed, he'll need to be able to command and mix pitches within the zone.
- I'm not sure if I've properly described how bad Ramirez was tonight. He was very bad. He had no control. It was frustrating. If he caused you to turn the game off, I'm sorry.
The Rally I
The game changed, though, when the Marlins lifted Haren and brought in David Phelps to mop things up. It started innocuously enough with an Asdrubal Cabrera single into right. Next up, Longoria, who has been getting under the ball to start the season, flew out to center field for the first out.
Desmond Jennings should have made out number two when he flipped a soft line drive into right field within range of a charging Giancarlo Stanton, but when Stanton slid to make the catch, the ball clanged off his knee rather than falling into his glove. Somehow the official scorer gave Jennings a hit, but this was very catchable ball.
Next up, Allan Dykstra loaded the bases by accepting a five pitch walk, and Forsythe forced home a run by doing the same. That brought the Marlins manager out of his dugout to switch out Phelps for the hard-throwing Sam Dyson.
Dyson quickly blew Rene Rivera away on three pitches, hitting 97 mph, to bring Brandon Guyer up to the plate with two outs. Guyer was able to maintain his discipline despite some very good pitches from Dyson, and walked home another run, bringing up Kevin Kiermaier. KK took two clear balls and then got the pitch he was looking for -- a 94 mph fastball over the heart of the plate -- and let loose his swing . . . resulting in a foul ball. He then showed good mental toughness to get back into the at bat and take two more balls, walking in yet another run.
With Matt Andriese due to bat and the bases loaded, manager Kevin Cash opted instead for David DeJesus, at which point Mike Redmond also made a pitching change. I assumed it was going to be for a lefty (to face DDJ), but to my surprise and delight, Redmond chose AJ Ramos, a righty who relies on a decent fastball-slider combo (which is an awful nice present for a split-heavy lefty like DDJ). DeJesus made the Marlins pay for their decision by flying a 3-1 fastball off the top of the wall in right for a bases-clearning double.
Up next, Cabrera smacked a grounder up the middle that a diving Dee Gordon couldn't quite keep on the infield, and DeJesus tied the game up from second base.
Kirby Yates pitched a scoreless seventh inning, and looked good doing it, so Kevin Cash sent him out again to start the eighth. He presented Donovan Solano with two changeups in a row well within the zone, and Solano grounded the second one up the middle for a single.
Cash brought in Jeff Beliveau to face the two Marlins lefties at the top of the order.
Gordon seemed determined to bunt, despite the fact that Longoria was playing way in on the infield. Maybe that influenced his bunt in the end, but he softened it too much, dropping it down the third base line but only a few feet in front of the plate. Rene Rivera got out of his crouch extremely quickly to pick up the bunt and gunned down the lead runner at second base.
While Beliveau eventually struck out Yelich, he wasn't able to stop Gordon from stealing second a second time (and once more, Rivera's throw was very close to getting him, but just a split-second late). That presented Cash the question of whether or not to pitch to Stanton in the eighth inning, with a base open, in a tied game. Cash chose to do so, opting for a double switch that replaced Rivera with pitcher Ernesto Frieri and Beliveau with catcher Bobby Wilson.
Unlike Brian Anderson, I have no qualms with pitching to Stanton. I think it's the right call. The numbers say that it's almost never correct to put a man on base intentionally, except for when the run he represents really doesn't matter. In the eighth inning of a ball game, the second run does still matter, even if it can be easy to overlook.
There are ways to finesse the situation beyond the intentional walk, though, and this is where I do have a problem with how thing shook out. First Frieri threw a on the outer third for strike one. The movement of the pitch meant that it started outside and came back in. Good pitch. Tricky. The second pitch missed it's spot and came into the heart of the zone, but Stanton popped it foul and out of play. It wasn't a good pitch, but the Rays got away with it to run the count to 0-2.
At 0-2, with a great hitter at the plate and the go-ahead run in scoring position, it's time to try to expand the zone, and this is why I really don't understand what happened next.
Bobby Wilson set up with his glove high and in the middle of the zone, and Frieri placed a fastball exactly where Wilson was asking for it. Really?!? In an 0-2 count, this was all you could come up with? The same pitch, in the same location to what you've just thrown? What about a slider on the outside? What about a changeup down? What about a fastball somewhere else -- anywhere else really?
I don't get . Stanton was on the pitch, and grounded it up the middle to put the Marlins back up one.
The Rally II
The one run lead brought out Steve Cishek, a weird submariner, to try to close the game out in the ninth. Brandon Guyer had other ideas, as he reached for an outside breaking ball and flared it up the first base line and into the corner for a leadoff double. Kevin Kiermaier struck out, which brought up Bobby Wilson.
If you were keeping track of the lineup card, you'd have known that Wilson was coming, but I didn't. I was shocked and dismayed. I mean, I've read the season preview, so I know what to expect from Bobby Wilson. Outs. Lots of outs. I went on this whole little rant to myself about what good is a double switch, if the fielder that you're bringing into the game hits just about as well as a pitcher. I was not happy with Wilson, and I was not happy with Cash.
Maybe I owe them both an apology, because Bobby Wilson came through. He too waited on a pitch and flared it to the right side, this one just off the very tip of the glove of a diving Dee Gordon. Guyer couldn't score on the play, since he had to make sure Gordon didn't make the play, but he did move over to third base, and Asdrubal Cabrera did the rest, tapping a soft grounder to third base and then beating out the double play.
After tying the game back up at nine in the ninth, the Rays failed to push across the winning run in the tenth. Their only pitchers left were Kevin Jepsen and Brad Boxberger, but there are worse situations to be in -- both of those guys are pretty good.
Boxberger took over in the tenth and he looked like himself, but sometimes good pitchers get hit. I suppose it's fair. Cishek is pretty good, and the Rays pushed across the tying run on him while making solid contact only once. Well, after failing to get a bunt down -- despite the fact that Longoria was well-positioned to field the bunt -- Dee Gordon once more sparked the Mariners offense by grounding a good, low Boxy changeup up the first base line for a double. Then Yelich got on top of a high fastball in a 1-2 count and his groundball found the hole between shortstop and third base for a walk-off single.
Rats. It was still a damn good game. I'm glad I stayed up.
Some other notes:
- Whenever I picture Atlas holding the earth on his shoulders, Atlas looks like Michael Morse (minus the Marlins jersey, since that would be weird).
- The TV returned to the top of the second inning with one out and Desmond Jennings up to bat. I have no idea what happened in Longo's at bat (I could look it up, but that would spoil the mystery). Pace of play changes doing work.
- Mikie Mahtook's family all look exactly like him.
- I'm pretty sure I saw a Marlin eating a child who had just gotten a foul ball, but the camera cut away before things got too graphic.
- He only got to work one inning because of the game situation, but I thought Matt Andriese looked pretty sharp. His slider were sliding and his sinkers were sinking, and both were hitting their spots. Also, he works very fast.
- In the tenth inning, Dykstra was called out after taking a fastball that was really very clearly low and away. Might have been some rookie treatment.
- It's 2:00 and I do not have the energy to proof read this. I'm very sorry if you happen to be awake still and read this before I get back to it in the morning.