The Rays returned home Friday night after a successful 5-2 road trip to face the Evil Empire for the first time this season. The New York Yankees look very different from the last time we saw them; Adam Warren was on the hill, beleaguered third basemen/designated hitter Alex Rodriguez was back and, most notably, there was a Derek Jeter shaped hole in the lineup and infield. Nate Karns looked to keep his momentum going after a strong outing in Toronto and the offense looked to continue producing at the clip it established while away from home.
Alex Rodriguez wasted little time reintroducing himself to the Rays after serving his year-long performance-enhancing drug suspension, as he crushed a leadoff home run in the second inning. The solo shot, his third of the season, gave the Yankees the 1-0 lead. Stephen Drew added to the lead in the fourth with a solo homer of his own. Karns left a fastball right over the heart of the plate and Drew knocked it over the right field wall.
The fourth inning saw the Rays answer in a big way. Evan Longoria hit a tough ground ball up the middle, which Derek Jeter's replacement Didi Gregorios fielded beautifully and fired to first. First baseman Mark Teixeira, whom we've seen make numerous Gold Glove caliber plays against the Rays over the years, mishandled the hop, and Longoria was safe on the play. The play didn't go as an error, but the Rays would make New York pay regardless. Following a walk to Desmond Jennings, Allan Dykstra hit a towering shot down the right field line. The dinger earned its name, ringing high off the foul pole, clearing the bases and putting the Rays in front 3-2. The offense didn't stop there, as the very next batter, Logan Forsythe, blasted a solo home run to the deepest part of the park in left center, making it 4-2. After getting two outs around a Bobby Wilson walk, Adam Warren's night was done. You can watch the back-to-back homers here.
Despite the two long balls, Karns pitched very well on the night. He worked five innings and still struck out seven Yankees, including three at the expense of third baseman Chase Headley. His power curveball was effective most of the way, as he mixed it in well, playing it off of his strong fastball beautifully. His location was solid, with the exception of the two mistakes that got left over the heart of the plate and deposited in the seats. Those were the only two hits he allowed, though he did allow four men to reach via the free pass. Overall, a night Karns can hang his hat on, especially against the team that has hit the third most home runs in the majors so far this season.
Ernesto Frieri, coming off a one-inning outing in Toronto in which he gave up a home run and struggled with command, came in to pitch the top half of the sixth. Unfortunately for Frieri and the Rays, the struggles would continue. He got Teixeira to fly out to right field, but he struggled to hit his spots, and you just had a feeling that out was way too difficult to get. His fastball missed its spots and he left a slider over the plate that Tex surprisingly didn't crush into next week. He continued to misfire, and walked catcher Brian McCann, bringing Rodriguez back to the plate. Frieri appeared to get his control back at the right time, drilling two fastballs over the outside corner to get ahead of A-Rod 1-2. But lo-and-behold, it was too good to be true, as he went back to the fastball, which Rays' catcher Wilson called for away, Frieri left it inside and belt-high. Rodriguez put it to the people for his second home run of the night, tying the game at four a piece and giving himself 658 career home runs, two behind Willie Mays on the all-time list.
CJ Riefenhauser, called up on Friday as Jeff Beliveau became the tenth Rays' player to hit the Disabled List, came on to work the seventh. After getting Gregorius out on a long fly ball to center and walking Jacoby Ellsbury, Headley hit a ground ball on the screws right to Rays' shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera. Cabrera made a brilliant stop on the hot shot, sliding and picking the ball right in front of his face. From his knees, he powered a back-handed throw to second baseman Tim Beckham who, because of the great pick-and-throw by Cabrera, had enough time to get the out at first to complete the inning-ending double play.
The Alex Rodriguez Show continued in the eighth. Carlos Beltran singled off of Rays' reliever Kevin Jepsen to get the inning started. Beltran was lifted for a pinch runner, being replaced by the speedy Brett Gardner. After Teixeira and McCann flew out, Rodriguez made his way to the box. Gardner stole second and, after falling behind 1-2 and then working the count full, A-Rod lined a low breaking ball into center just out of Kevin Kiermaier's reach. Gardner scored from second, putting the Yankees up 5-4 and giving Rodriguez his fourth RBI of the night. Stephen Drew grounded out to end the frame.
Steven Geltz came on to pitch in the top of the ninth. He worked a couple of long counts, but did set the Yankees down in order to give the Rays' bats one more chance to rally.
Logan Forsythe opened the home half with a lead-off single up the middle off of Yankees' closer Andrew Miller. Miller then struck out Tim Beckham on a fastball that was right over the heart of the plate, but enough to freeze the Rays' second baseman. Bobby Wilson struck out swinging, and Brandon Guyer stepped in to pinch hit for Kevin Kiermaier. Miller got Guyer to strike out on a check swing on a pitch in the dirt to end the night and earn the handshake.
Jepsen took the loss, but it wasn't his to wear. What would have happened if Kevin Cash went with Geltz (or anyone else for that matter) in the sixth instead of Frieri? Not only did Frieri give up the long ball to Rodriguez, he did so with a man on base. His control got him in trouble, gave A-Rod a runner to bring home, and couldn't put him away when he was ahead in the count. This loss belongs to Frieri, even though it won't show it on the box score.
My Two Cents:
- I was hoping, perhaps foolishly, that Frieri's command in his first few appearances were just early season jitters and the Rays were going to pull another Fernando Rodney out of their hat. Now, however, I'm officially concerned.
- Gregorius must have thought he was in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, as he threw a pretty good two-arm check along the wall. Unfortunately for him, that check was on his own teammate Headley, and it kept him from fielding a foul pop up. At least the Rangers know they have a good checker in the Bronx should they need him!
- It just was not Teixeira's night defensively.
- A-Rod must've been excited to return to the Trop. He has the most home runs of any visiting batter, and he added two more to give him 49 in his career at Tropicana Field.
- Steven Souza Jr. has been excellent out of the two-spot in the lineup. Works counts, gets on base, hits for power, steals bases. He's got the job description covered.
- Evan Longoria was in the lineup, as the Rays' DH, after some speculation he could miss time after getting beaned in the hip in Toronto. Tis only a flesh wound!
- Speaking of Longo, he worked another set of great at-bats, including drawing a walk after falling behind in the count.
- I think the Evan Longoria rubber duck (Sunday's giveaway) is scarier than the Zim-Bear
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