As our hometown Tampa Bay Lightning get ready to battle the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final tonight, our other Boys in Blue looked to dish out a Chi-Town beat down of their own against the South Side Sox.
The scoring started in the first for both sides. Alexei Ramirez reached on a 3-1 single and advanced to second on a Chris Archer wild pitch before coming home on Jose Abreu's single.
Tampa Bay came out swinging early against the recently beleaguered Jeff Samardzjia, having given up a combined 15 earned runs over his past two starts and earning an 11+ ERA in the first inning this season. Kevin Kiermaier smoked a triple to the gap in right field and made it to third base standing. It wasn't even close.
What WAS close was Evan Longoria's mishap on the base paths.
Evan grooved a base hit to left-centerfield, scoring Kiermaier with ease. He tried to stretch the hit to a double, however, and was called out at second. Longo immediately called for the challenge and Kevin Cash obliged his team's leader.
Now I've watched a lot of sports in my life and seen more than my fair share of close call instant replays. This was arguably among the closest calls I've seen; certainly, not in magnitude or importance, but in terms of actually being too close to call. The frame by frame rollback shows Longoria, who over-slid the bag, retag the base at the exact same time as Ramirez's tag on Longo's chest. The call, as has often been the case for the Rays in 2015, stood.
So much for "Tie goes to the runner. . ."
The Rays took the lead in the bottom of the third after Samardzjia plunked Kiermaier then gave up a ground-rule double to Joey Butler with one out. Longoria, again, drove Kiermaier home on a fielder's choice.
The lead didn't last long, as Archer gave up back-to-back singles to Abreu and Adam LaRoche. Avisail Garcia hit into a fielder's choice, advancing Abreu to third, before Melky Cabrera lined a first-pitch changeup into left to score Abreu, tying the game, 2-2.
The score stayed that way until the bottom of the seventh, when Nick Franklin hit a long fly ball to deep right-center. It bounced on the top of the padding, below the home run stripe, and hung up there for a moment before falling back to Garcia in right. Franklin got on his horse and slid into third for a one-out triple.
Logan Forsythe pinch-hit for Curt Casali in the nine-hole and grounded to shortstop, with the infield playing in. Franklin ran on contact and should have been out by a mile, but Ramirez couldn't play the ball out of his glove cleanly and had to settle for the out at first, allowing Franklin to put the Rays up 3-2.
Once again, though, that lead evaporated quickly. After Archer walked Adam Eaton, and Boxberger took the hill, Connor Gillaspie came on to pinch-hit. Boxberger got ahead 0-2 before giving Gillaspie a meatball, belt-high, middle-in, which he blasted over the wall in right. 4-3, Chicago.
It wasn't another historic outing for Chris Archer. No double digit strikeouts. A couple of runs crossed the plate. But he was strong on the hill for the Rays. He threw efficiently, tossing seven innings before allowing his first walk. He overthrew a fastball and a slider and Cash decided to go to Brad Boxberger.
His fastball was up around 96MPH and his slider showed the great, late bite that we've come to expect from the Rays' new ace. He had two tough innings, the first and the fourth, in which his stuff was a little less crisp, and his control wasn't quite on point. But each time he came back out the next frame and was effective once more.
Sure wish Cash would've let him stay in there. . .
The Eighth Inning
As they say, hindsight's 20/20.
Kevin Cash was in an unenviable spot. Your offense had just earned a hard fought run to break a tie in the previous inning. Your ace pitcher, under 100 pitches on the day, was throwing effectively, but just walked his first batter. Is he fatigued? Did he just lose the handle on a couple pitches? You have a strong bullpen ready to shut the door over the last two innings.
So what do you do?
Cash decided to trust his ‘pen and let his starter take a deserved rest and hat tip to the home crowd. On comes Boxberger and there goes the lead. And the confidence of the Rays' defense. And most of the air from the Trop.
Souza couldn't make a diving play on a tough shallow fly ball. Elmore couldn't coral a tough grounder up the line. But luckily, Boxberger was able to bounce back, collecting two strikeouts and a fielder's choice, but the damage was done.
Many of us on this site, myself included, have questioned (chastised, hounded, and any other adjective) Cash's decisions when it comes to pitching changes. This one's a tough one to call, though. I can't say I would've necessarily done anything different if I was the one in the Rays pullover sitting on the dugout steps. But I'm not; I'm sitting on my couch; from where I'm both undefeated and unpaid to make such decisions.
Still, could Archer have gone one more. . .
Then there was the comeback.
DeJesus and Souza keyed a huge swing in momentum and the scoreboard. DeJesus's single and later steal of second, combined with Souza's nine-pitch RBI single put some air back into the crowd and the Rays' dugout alike.
Then the Rays got their overturned call avenged, as Souza stole second and got in under the tag. The umpire called Souza out, who immediately jumped up protesting the call. After a prolonged review, he was deemed safe and the inning continued.
After a ChiSox pitching change, Jake Elmore hit a hard grounder up the middle. Ramirez made a sliding stop and a backhanded throw that went wide. The error allowed Souza to score from second, putting the Rays up 5-4!
*Stops typing, catches breath*
Jake McGee finally came on and earned the handshake!
My Two Cents:
- Really cool to see the great support the Rays show for the Lightning.
- The Red Sox lost again, which makes me smile.
- Finally, LET'S GO LIGHTNING