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Rays vs. Orioles, game one recap: Comedy/tragedy on the basepaths

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Orioles homers in the outfield stands.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

I prefer that the Rays win on opening day. It's really much better that way.

We've been without baseball for so long that we've lost all perspective. If this were game 75, it'd just be another game where some things went right, but more things went wrong; where guys didn't play as well as they'd like to. Midway through a 162 game season it would be unexceptional.

But this was not game 75. It was opening day. So like a duckling trying to figure out who our mother is, we seize on the first baseball we see. Right now I'm pretty sure this team will go 0-162, will make 324 baserunning blunders, will suffer so many injuries that Adrian Rondon will get pressed into major league service, and will give up homers like it's 2010.

Probably I should quit, but instead I'll try to write a decent recap. I will separate the bad from the good, and you can project those out to 162 games for yourself.

The Bad

Chris Archer started off the game well, with a fastball on the bottom edge of the zone to Alejandro De Aza for called strike one. He then followed that up with what I thought was a changeup, also low in the zone. I was just sitting down for that pitch so I didn't get a good look, and it looks like gameday was broken right then, so it's not easy to check what it was, and really probably it was a slider. Anyway, the point is that it was a good pitch in a good location, and the result was a weakly dribbled ground ball up the first base line but easily playable for the pitcher.

Archer was having none of that "easily playable" crap, though, and he tossed it well over James Loney's head to put the leadoff runner on base. He then proceeded to walk the next batter (his only walk of the game, to go with five strikeouts) to move the runner into scoring position. A fly ball to center advanced the runner third, and a low fastball slapped the other way and just out of the reach of the shifted shortstop brought De Aza home for the Orioles' first run.

Then, to lead off the Rays portion of the first inning, leadoff hitter John Jaso worked a five-pitch walk. A Steven Souza Jr. strikeout brought Asdrubal Cabrera to the plate. With the Orioles shifting him to pull and giving him the third base line, Cabrera tried multiple times to bunt for a hit, but was unable to get one down in fair territory.

On one of Cabrera's bunt attempts, Jaso attempted to advance to second on a curve in the dirt but was thrown out sliding head first into second while Ryan Flaherty blocked the bag with his leg (the ball didn't get very far away from the catcher, and Jaso should probably have been staying put). Jaso was clearly shaken up on the play, and left the game. The immediate concern was for his multiply-concussed brain, but we learned later that it was only a left wrist contusion (he was sent for X-Rays, which were negative).

Putting aside the injury, I don't understand why obstruction is legal (or if not legal, "allowed") at second base. Flaherty covered the entire front of the bag with his leg, leaving nowhere for Jaso to reach. Moreover, if Jaso had slid feet first, it would have been Flaherty who was at risk for serious injury. I'm pretty sure that's what it's going to take for baseball to decide to enforce the obstruction rule in situations like that.

The Rays had a chance to get a rally going with the heart of their order up in the fourth inning. Souza worked a full count and then sent a grounder deep in the hole to shortstop. I thought it would be a close play, but Souza surprised me with his speed, getting down the line in a hurry and beating the throw by several paces. The throw bounced past first base but never got far away from Caleb Joseph who was backing up the play. Souza noticed the confusion among the Orioles fielders, but seemed unsure what had actually happened. He took a few tiny steps toward the second base side of the line, at which point he and Joseph realized that he was off the bag and sunk. Souza elected to go for it and try to wriggle his way out of a rundown. He was not able, but he did succeed in tweaking something, walking off the field gingerly after being tagged (he returned and showed no ill-effects later).

Then, in the top of the fifth inning, Joseph smacked a liner into the gap for a double. As the Orioles lineup turned over, Alejandro De Aza worked a great at bat, spoiling off nine pitches, many of them in good locations. With the tenth pitch, he got a changeup straight down the middle, and he blasted the Orioles to a three-run lead.

In their half of the fifth inning, the Rays had more baserunning adventures go against them. Loney led off the inning with a walk, and advanced to second with a one-out swinging bunt by Rene Rivera. Up next, Logan Forsythe flipped a liner over the second baseman into short right field. Loney tried to score, but was thrown out by about four inches. Manager Kevin Cash asked for a review, questioning whether the Orioles catcher had blocked the plate, but the call was upheld and the inning was over.

The most important thing to see for Rays fans, though, was Chris Archer's changeup. It exists. It is real.

To start the sixth, Archer missed his location a bit, and gave Steve Pearce a fastball middle in, which Pearce deposited in the left-field seats to stretch the lead to 4-0. Archer remained composed, and got the next two batters (he blew Delmon Young away on three pitches), but Cash elected to pull him in favor of the bullpen at only 85 pitches.

I'm not really sure why Archer was yanked, especially with the current lack of depth in the Rays starting pitching. Mistake pitches aside, Archer seemed well in control of his game, and there may be long days for the bullpen ahead.

Anyway, things continued to go south/weird on the basepaths in the eighth inning. With two outs, Ernesto Frieri walked Steve Pearce, and was pulled in favor of the lefty Jeff Beliveau. Snider smacked a liner to the wall in right, but Souza quickly got off a strong and accurate throw to the cutoff man, Logan Forsythe, who uncorked a quick relay to home, where the Rays had Pearce dead to rights. Really, Pearce might have considered trying to go back to third and get into a rundown. Instead he trotted toward home, and at the last second sped up and slid through the legs of Rene Rivera.

The umpire called him out, because really, it would be ridiculous to call this play any other way, but Buck Showalter asked for a review, and sure enough, Pearce had gotten in/through.

There was one more homer in the top of the ninth off Kirby Yates that's barely worth talking about.

The Good

That's nearly a thousand words of bad, but it wasn't all bad. The Rays did some things well.

For instance, I was very impressed by Rene Rivera's receiving skills, especially on low pitches. It's generally thought that catchers buy their pitchers strikes by catching the ball far forward, near the plate (before it has a chance to drop below the knees), and by having a still mitt -- "sticking" the catch. Rivera did that nearly every time, freezing for a second to allow the umpire to make the call.

There weren't very many balls in the dirt for him to block, but he looked agile and technically sound when he needed to. And in the eighth inning, with Adam Jones leading off first, Rivera made a very strong snap through to nail the runner after a low curve.

The most important thing to see for Rays fans, though, was Chris Archer's changeup. It exists. It is real. And aside from the one he hung to De Aza, it was good. Here's what I saw:

  • As I've said, I thought the second pitch of the game was a low changeup, following a low fastball, and it produced a weak grounder.
  • With Flaherty leading off the second inning, Archer dotted the bottom outside corner of the zone with a changeup for another weak grounder.
  • In the third inning, Archer started off Steve Pearce with a changeup inside (Pearce whiffed). A changeup inside to a same-handed batter in a fastball count? That's proof that he's adopting the "Rays Way."
  • Starting off the fourth, archer threw two consecutive changeups to Snider, both of them for whiffs.
  • All in all (not counting the first inning, which it has no data for), the gameday algorithm thinks Archer threw seven changeups, five of them for strikes (two swinging, one a mistake). Not bad for a previously absent pitch
Steve Geltz was impressive in relief, facing four batters and striking all of them out (three of them looking on beautifully located low pitches).

Thanks to Archer, Geltz, and Frieri, the Rays struck out ten batters. Kanes Furniture makes the best pizza.

Longoria hit his first home run of the year when he lowered the boom on a frontdoor breaking ball.

Some other notes:

  • Silverman looks and sounds more nervous than Friedman ever did. To my knowledge, there is no correlation between a soothing voice and general management ability.
  • Brian Auld does have a nice positive voice, even when he's saying the party line. It's a little bit too peppy for me to call it "comforting," but it's pleasant. So maybe record him for your alarm clock, rather than hiring him to read your kids bedtime stories.
  • Kevin Cash does not want to talk to the TV when he's got a baseball game to manage.
  • Rocco Baldelli is taller than Kevin Cash. I have no information as to whether or not he enjoys doing in-game interviews.