A few days ago, Brett wrote a recap, where he lamented how difficult it is to write about this part of the season. Quoth Brett (and yes, I've removed all the fun parts from his writing and just left the thesis, so if you didn't read the original recap, do him a favor and click over, at least for the intro):
Towards the beginning of the season you’re free to wax poetic about the wonderful game that you’ve come to love . . . By the end of the season, you get those narratives . . . These are fun to write about. They’re easy to write about . . . These games? They’re impossible.
I haven't been able to quit thinking about his point, because it's both correct, and also something I want to vehemently disagree with. Yes, the bloom of early-season baseball has worn off. Yes, there's no real long-arching narrative that can be taken from this game. It just goes down in the season ledger as one more mark in the loss column. There are lots of other marks in that column, totally indistinguishable from this one, and we won't know if a single loss matters until long-after we've forgotten the particulars of this one. That's true, but so what?
The narrative of the season didn't used to mean anything. Before 2008, the only "narrative" to pay attention to on the win-loss scale was whether or not we'd make it to 70. And while I wasn't reading this site in 2007, I highly doubt y'all found the 70-win milestone very exciting.
Winning has changed all that. I imagine that before winning, we Rays fans watched baseball because we liked baseball, and that we would have been able to enjoy a twelve-inning battle that included one pitcher threatening a perfect game and the other threatening a no-hitter. We would have found the scoring chances exhilarating, even though they all came to nothing. We would shake our heads, but also come away smiling at the Houdini acts of Jepsen and Boxberger. We payed attention to what happened on the field, and didn't worry what it meant.
I know that this is probably bullshit. It sounds like how deluded nostalgists talk about a pre-industrial society when there was no pollution, small nuclear families lived and worked together, and regular people owned the means or production and felt their connection to the land.
Well, it turns out that families stayed small in this supposed utopia because everyone was busy starving to death. And while my memories are warm and fuzzy, I'm sure that pre-winning Rays fandom wasn't all fresh vegetables and Sunday school, either.
But for right now I'm going to pretend. I'm going to recap this entire game (that wasn't televised on Sun Sports) like it's 2007; like the accumulation of wins hasn't made us slaves to the narrative; like we care about what happened on the way to the "L."
Because rather a lot happened.
Highlights from the Starts
Nate Karns (innings one to six):
- Karns started off right by blowing away Jose Reyes. He first placed his fastball on the outside edge, then moved the fastball off the plate and was gifted strike two by the umpire. Finally, he broke out his plus-plus curve at the top of the zone to strikeout Reyes and send him back to the dugout shaking his head.
- For the second out of the game, Asdrubal Cabrera bare-handed a soft grounder to just barely get Josh Donaldson at first. It was an absurdly ridiculous play, and it's plays like that on which Cabrera has built his gaudy UZR numbers. The more of that I see, the more I believe them.
- Against Jose Bautista (and against many other Jays batters later in the game), Karns showed real quality with his front-door curve. He starts that pitch in on the hands and breaks it back over the plate. A number of them actually broke over the heart of the plate, which would seem like a bad pitch, but the movement is so sharp and the velocity is so hard that the curve breaking to the middle of the plate is actually really tough for batters to square up.
- He faced Edwin Encarnacion to lead off the second inning and walked him. Karns peppered the outer edge of the strike zone, and was probably given a strike that should have been called ball four on the fifth pitch of the at bat. That's why I can't get too upset over this, but the seventh pitch was strike three, right at the knees. Instead of being sent back to the dugout, though, Ben May gave Encaranacion first base, breaking up Karns's perfect game (and yes, I know he had only carried the perfect game through three batters, but it's more noteworthy in hindsight).
- Karns sort of dominated Dionner Navarro in his first at bat of the game. After missing with a changeup, Karns placed a fastball and a backdoor curve right on the outside edge. Then he came back in and froze Navi with a fastball on the inside edge. Good pitching.
- When I first looked at the play by play and saw that Russel Martin flied into a double play with Kevin Kiermaier making that catch and then doubling Encarnacion off second, I assumed that KK did something amazing. He must have made a catch no one thought he could make, or come up with a rocket throw from the wall, right? Nope. Just a routine fly to short center. Encarnacion forgot how many outs there were.
- Karns put Kevin Pillar away in the third with a nasty changeup down and in. The fact that he threw a changeup inside to a same-handed hitter is a really good indicator that Karns's confidence in the pitch is growing. This sequence, more than any other in Karns's quality afternoon, gives me real belief in his ability to continue as the quality starter the Rays need him to be.
- Karns jammed Josh Donaldson in the fourth inning and got a weak grounder out of it. He bravely/foolishly tried to do the same thing to Bautista, who was ready for it. The Jays slugger pulled his hands in and lined hard to left field, but fortunately for the Rays, right at David DeJesus.
- In the sixth inning, Kevin Pillar ripped a middle-in fastball through the left side of the infield for the first hit of the game against Nathan Karns. With Ryan Goins up to bat, the Jays had the hit-and-run on and that helped Karns get to two strikes. He then put Goins away with a good back-door curve. Against Reyes, the Jays dispensed with the over-managing and simply had Pillar steal second and third base while Karns issued a walk (I actually think Casali fell asleep a bit while receiving ball four). Karns also lost Donaldson to load the bases for Jose Bautista.
- Jose Bautista who? Karns dominated him with a high fastball that he couldn't catch up to, and then a curve dropped onto the exact same spot that Bautista swung awkwardly on, popping up to end the inning.
Marco Estrada (innings one to seven):
- Estrada reminds me of Jeremy Hellickson, and today we happened to get early-career Helly, when he had top-prospect hype and pinpoint control of his rising fastball, straight changeup, and big curve, and would fearlessly attack batters by throwing all three of them to all parts of the zone. Writing that sentence still makes me sad.
- Estrada has a pretty nifty straight changeup. It doesn't really go anywhere, but the velocity separation between it and his fastball is very good, and he sells it well with the arm action. Estrada really pulled the string against Evan Longoria in the first.
- In the second inning, Estrada struck out both Logan Forsythe and Asdrubal Cabrera with high fastballs. It seems like a player shouldn't be able to do that throwing nothing but high-80s heat (he threw one curve to Cabrera, nothing soft to Forsythe), but Estrada was moving the ball around very well. It was a good illustration both of the importance of fastball command and of the advantage a pitcher has first time through the lineup.
- In the third inning, Estrada struck out both Jake Elmore and Curt Casali. Elmore expanded his zone against outside fastballs, and deserved to strikeout for his bad approach. But the sequence to Casali had me chuckling. Strikes one and two were curves perfectly paced on the bottom-outside corner. Casali took them for strikes, but there was nothing he could have done with them. A righty can't throw another righty any better pitch. Pitch three was another curve, but this one in the dirt. Pitch four was a fastball at the top-inside corner of the strike zone. No chance whatsoever.
- Jose Reyes made a very fine defensive play ranging to his right and throwing on the run to get Joey Butler out at first in the fourth inning. Defensive metrics haven't liked his shortstop defense for awhile, but I imagine that has something to do with his persistent injury problems. It's a shame, since he's a fun player to watch.
- In the fifth inning, Logan Forsythe popped out on the infield. Easy out, but I think he just missed one there. Mistake pitch (2-0 fastball right over the heart of the plate), aggressive swing. I think he'd like that one back.
- In the sixth inning, Jake Elmore did work a twelve pitch at bat, fouling off strike after strike. Eventually he gave a curve ball at the knees a ride out to the right-center warning track, but Pillar was shaded that way and had no trouble tracking it down.
- Kevin Kiermaier worked the count full to lead off the seventh inning, but was baited into swinging at a changeup right over the heart of the plate. His eyes grew big as his bat flashed through the zone. If that was a fastball like KK thought it was? Game over. But a changeup? Nope.
- As the game wore on, Estrada leaned on his very deceptive changeup more and more. His fastball command was good enough that he was able to hide the pitch early, but by the eighth inning he was cutting loose with the whole repertoire. In addition to Kiermaier, Joey Butler also fell victim to a tantalizing change in a hittable.
Breaking up a perfect game gets it's own subtitle (innings eight-nine):
- Leading off the eighth inning, David DeJesus sent a fly ball down the third base line and into the third row of seats in foul territory. But Josh Donaldson did this.
- Wow. Kudos to him. And kudos to the Blue Jays fans who stayed out of the way and let him do it. Take that as a lesson, occasional front-row Rays fans who interfere with their own players.
- One batter later, Logan Forsythe chopped to third base. Josh Donaldson did everything he could, but he had to wait for it to bounce twice. He bare-handed it cleanly and fired on a line to first, all in one motion, but Forsythe was busting it down the line, and his hustle broke up the perfect game.
- Asdrubal Cabrera pounded a grooved changeup with plenty of distance, but hooked it just foul of the two-run homer. He hit the next pitch decently, and Brandon Guyer, batting after him, also made reasonable contact, but each of them got under it just a little bit which turned hard swings into high outs.
- Having lost the perfect game and the no-hitter, Estrada stayed out to pitch the ninth inning. He earned his tenth strikeout against pinch-hitting Steven Souza Jr. on a fastball right at the top of the zone
- Kevin Kiermaier lined a single into right-center field, but like he often does, he went ahead and turned it into a double. Kevin Pillar knew what was coming, cut the ball off well, and threw a hard strike to second immediately. But still KK beat it.That brought about the end of Estrada's excellent night, as Roberto Osuna came on to clean up the threat (which he did, getting Butler to ground out to short with some help by a pretty good play from Jose Reyes).
The Real Game Begins
Jepsen Gets Karns off the Hook
Leading off the seventh inning, Encarnacion swung hard on a ball in on his hands and made poor contact. Because this is Edwin Encarnacion (a very strong man), this fly ball was far enough to be out of the reach of the second baseman sprinting back into right-center field. Because this is Edwin Encarnacion (a very strong man), Kevin Kiermaier was playing deep, ready to react to hard-hit line drives, and couldn't come in fast enough to prevent the bloop from falling. Maybe trying to pitch around the leadoff runner, or maybe simply tiring as the game wore on, Karns danced around the strikezone to Navarro, before leaving a very hittable curve that got ripped through the right side of the infield to put runners on the corners with no outs.
That prompted a pitching change, and Kevin Cash called in fireman Kevin Jepsen to put out the flames.
The first pitch to Martin was a hard fastball that just barely missed the inside corner. The second pitch was a curve in the dirt. Pitch three was a fastball directed perfectly to the bottom-outside edge, and flied to foul territory. Brandon Guyer might have been able to make a diving play on it, but knowing that if he made the catch he'd be in no position to throw home and that the go-ahead run was standing on third waiting to tag up, he let the ball drop in without an attempt. That proved to be the correct call, as Jepsen's next two pitches were beautiful: fastball at the top of the zone fouled; fastball at the bottom of the zone taken for strike three.
There was much less drama for the second out of the inning, with Chris Colabello batting. Jepsen tied him up with a fastball in on the hands, got him to swing on a curve in the dirt, and then put him away swinging with a 93 mph fastball at the top of the zone.
A very similar sequence to Pillar played out differently, but no worse for the Rays, with Pillar popping out to shortstop on a high fastball.
(Meanwhile, Estrada continued to work on his perfect game.)
Jake McGee is Once More the Real Deal
Nothing to see here, really. McGee was his usual, dominating self. He pulled a chopped grounder from Ryan Goins on his first pitch, and then struck out Jose Reyes by running a fastball up and in onto his hands. He did actually throw one pretty decent curve to Reyes, but it was taken for a ball just below the strike zone.
Josh Donaldson made better contact, and his grounder found the hole. But here's a perfect example of how dominant McGee's fastball is. Jose Bautista is a great hitter. I wouldn't have thought he was afraid of any fastball. But on the 1-1 pitch he swung awkwardly and in front of the 95 mph heater. That means that he was trying to cheat. He thought he needed to get started early. McGee read that awkward swing and challenged him again over the heart of the plate, putting it past him again for strike three.
(Estrada continues to pitch, but he's about to lose his perfect game, sucker.)
Brad Boxberger is Once More an Adventure
Boxy came on, and with his second pitch (a changeup) he tagged Encarnacion in the small of the back. The Jays immediately pinch ran with Ezequiel Carrera. He was running on the 2-1 pitch, which saved the Toronto from a sure-thing double play when Navarro grounded sharply but right at Forsythe. Frosty wanted to go to second, but he correctly decided that the runner had him beat, and he took the out at first.
Against Russel Martin, Boxberger yanked a pitch into the dirt and Carrera advanced to third with one out. Casali blocked a second ball in the dirt before Boxberger missed low with ball four, walking Martin to put runners on the corners, and to bring Jim Hickey out of the dugout for a consultation.
The first two pitches to Colabello were both changeups, and they both missed badly, but three straight fastballs in the zone -- one taken, one fouled, and one whiffed at -- bought Boxberger the important second out of the inning. That allowed the Rays infielders to back up, which was crucial, as Pillar smoked a groundball to third base that a drawn-in Longoria would surely have struggled with. But because he was positioned normally, he was able to calmly collect and end the inning.
(Yup. Estrada's still going at it.)
Steve Geltz is not Impressed by Nearly-Perfect Games
It took Geltz just eleven pitches to grab outs 29, 30, and 31 in his scoreless streak. The exclamation on the inning was catching Donaldson looking for strike three after working around every edge of the strike zone to find himself in a full count.
Can the Rays Get Back to Defense and BASERUNNING Please?
The really great thing about Kevin Kiermaier's double in the ninth inning was that it forced John Gibbons to use his best reliever, Roberto Osuna, to get out of the dangerous spot. Apparently he didn't want Osuna to have to warm up again, because he brought in Bo Schultz, a fastball-slider pitcher the Jays pulled off waivers from Arizona.
Evan Longoria got on base with a bouncing ground ball into the hole that stayed down and under Donaldson's glove. Schultz caught DeJesus looking, but Logan Forsythe was able to realize that Schultz was a bit wild, and he maintained his patience and took a walk to put two on for Asdrubal Cabrera.
And here is where Longoria messed up. Cabrera hit a hard line drive, straight into the body of the pitcher, that Schultz was able to come up with cleanly. Schultz had a chance to double up the Rays at either first or second, and luckily for the Rays, he chose to try it at first. Lucky I say, because Logan Forsythe was alert to the play and was madly scrambling back to the bag like a fiddler crab to it's hole on the beach. His slide bothered the feet of Colabello at first base, and Schultz's throw went past first and into foul territory.
This all happened so fast that there was no one in position to back up the throw to first, and eventually Schultz himself had to run all the way from the mound to retrieve his own throw.
Meanwhile, Longoria's mind was somewhere else. Had he frozen on the play he would have been able to tag up and score the walkoff run, but instead he ran a few steps towards third, then slowed and jogged the rest of the way. Finally he realized his error, sprinted back to second, slid into the bag, and then sprinted to third just ahead of the long throw from Schultz. But there's no getting around it. With better baserunning, the game would have been over. Brandon Guyer sliced a liner that Bautista was able to grab right on the edge of foul territory to end the Rays best threat.
"You Geltz No Review" -Joe West
Ezequiel Carrera wasn't really supposed to play in this game. I mean, he's not good, at least not at the plate. He's in Toronto to run and to play good defense in the outfield. So of course, after Geltz struck out Jose Bautista by challenging him with three straight fastballs that the slugger couldn't touch, it was the pinch-runner Cabrera who ended the perfect streak at 32 batters.
Geltz then struck out Navarro, and Carrera tried to steal, but Rivera was behind the plate (because Casali had been pinch-hit for earlier), and teams should know by now not to run on Rivera. Forsythe applied the tag on Carrera's side, and I believe the umpire was right to call the runner out, but replays showed it to be close. John Gibbons waited a bit before asking for a review. He had already used his review earlier in the game, so the umpires were under no obligation to give him a second one.
And Cowboy Joe West decided that he would not. Honestly, that's kind of weird. I'm not sure why an umpire would decide not to review a close play in extra-innings of a tie game. Maybe Gibbons didn't come out to ask in time?
Bunting: Not a Piece of Cake?
Brett Cecil came in to pitch the bottom of the eleventh inning, and promptly walked Jake Elmore on four pitches. Rivera was up to bat, and the Rays asked him to bunt. He could not. Twice. Then the Rays asked him to bunt a third time with two outs. And once more it went foul.
I get that the Rays are trying to stay out of the double play, but I really hate bunting with two strikes. That can't possibly be the right percentage play.
Kiermaier blooped a single to put runners at first and second, and a changeup bounced through Navarro's legs to advance both runners (oh, what might have happened if Rivera had gotten the bunt down!) and put the game on the bat of Joey Butler. Butts brought it to a full count before swinging wildly on ball four, a curve that bounced in front of the plate.
That lead to an intentional walk for Evan Longoria, and for DeJesus getting only his fourth at bat this season against left-handed pitching. He actually hit the ball well, but right at Reyes, who was shaded up the middle.
colaBELLOW if you Hear Me
The bullpen options for Kevin Cash were starting to run out. The top four pitchers had given him five scoreless innings, but there is a pretty real dropoff in quality after Geltz. The twelfth inning didn't seem like the time that the 'pen would falter, though, because the next man up was Brandon Gomes, and the Jays had a slate of three righties set to face him in Martin, Colabello, and Pillar.
Nothing comes easy in the major leagues, though, and Colabello grabbed a low fastball on the outer edge and dropped it over the left-center wall. That's actually a pretty good piece of hitting. Tip your cap.
The Rays went quietly in the bottom of the inning against Steve Delabar.
One other note:
- Said the Blue Jays announcer, "If fastball location doesn't teach you something watching this game, you don't know anything."
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