Gut-Check Time. Finding switches. Accountability. NOW.
Anyone with their radios tuned in or their TVs turned on heard these phrases repeated ad nauseum over the 48 hours between the atrocious loss at the hands of the lowly Phillies on Wednesday and the first pitch against the similarly-slumping division rival Baltimore Orioles on Friday. Much ado was made about the glaring mistakes made on all fronts by the Rays over the past two series and about how important the off day on Thursday was.
Who would step up?
Where is the leadership?
Can this team rebound?
Where do we go from here?
Those questions began to be answered on Friday night, with the focus placed in particular on three important figures:
Chris Archer, the flame-throwing, catalytic ace of the Rays' rotation took the mound looking to light up the Rays' bench the same way he does the radar gun.
Kevin Cash, the rookie manager who has been aggressive with his bullpen use, could see his club go from fringe contender to seller in a matter of days if the wins don't start rolling in.
Evan Longoria, the undisputed captain of the team and the target of much criticism in the wake of the Rays' recent struggles, looked to quiet the naysayers and prove his continued worth to the club on both sides of the ball.
Chris Archer did everything he could for this team except pick up a bat and drive in runs himself. He was a live wire from the very first pitch, hitting 97MPH in the first inning and striking out the side around allowing a single and a walk. It took him 27 pitches to get through the first, but that comes with the territory for a high strikeout pitcher. He K'd five through two innings and nine by the time he left after pitching six innings.
Sure enough, Archer was throwing gas the entire outing, hitting 98 consistently before departing. He was fired up and energetic, as we've come to expect from him (oh, if only that could translate to the rest of the team . . .).
His only blemish came in the fourth on a sharply hit ball by Chris Davis, who launched a rocket on a slashing swing right at Rays first basemen James Loney, who was playing the line in a defensive shift. The ball got through Loney and allowed Manny Machado to score all the way from first.
After the number of times I've called out Kevin Cash for his pitching and bullpen management, I thought he did everything correctly tonight. He let his ace and workhorse throw through the sixth and over 100 pitches while he was settled in, then went to the consistent Xavier Cedeno and allowed him to work an entire inning, and followed it up with a resurging Alex Colome' in the eighth and Jake McGee for the save in the ninth. Archer pitched great and the bullpen was solid. Praise DeJesus for that off day.
Photo credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Then, in Evan's case, not much was done to improve his standing among the local talking-heads and fans alike. Sure, he doubled to the opposite field for his only solid hit of the game (he got a bloop single on a broken bat flare to center, but hey, even a blind squirrel finds nuts from time to time), but it wasn't exactly a powerful shot to right field and there seemed to be a notable lack of hustle on the base paths.
Perhaps he has a lot on his mind. This morning, Marc Topkin reported on the mental lapses Longoria has been feeling at the plate, and Grantland recently profiled his decline over the last two season with great detail.
The most glaring demerit against Longoria, however, came in the top of the seventh inning. With Xavier Cedeno taking over for the departed Archer, O's backup catcher Caleb Joseph hit a chopper to third. With the fielding error of Wednesday still fresh in mind, Longoria lined up the bounce and . . . let it bound past him, wide of his glove. The error put two men on for Baltimore with only one out.
Luckily, Cedeno put the incident behind him and navigated the Rays masterfully out of trouble. But the defensive miscue by Longoria, his second in as many games, was egregious.
Frustration came easily. It's a chopper, weakly hit, right to him! He fields tougher plays in pregame warmups! It's in the damn fundamentals. He had plenty of time to square up to the ball, keep it in front of him, and make the play. Instead, he tried to pick it off to the side, took his eye off the play, and it uncharacteristically cost him. Thankfully it did not cost the Rays.
The Rays got the game back even and took the lead in the eighth, after Kevin Kiermaier drew an all-important leadoff walk and stole second base. After a highly questionable called strike three against Steven Souza Jr., John Jaso hit a line drive single to center, scoring Kiermaier from the stolen second to tie the game at one apiece.
Next up, Longoria muscled a broken bat flare into no-man's land in shallow left-center field, moving Jaso to third. Following in the order, Loney was walked by side-armed Darren O'Day to load the bases,, bringing up Tim Beckham with two outs.
Would you believe Beckham did exactly what he needed to do? On a 0-2 count, he shortened his swing and shot a ground ball to center field by ricocheting the ball off the mound, scoring Jaso and Longoria (before Loney was thrown out at third base), giving the Rays a 3-1 lead headed into the ninth.
McGee came on to slam the door for the save in the ninth, giving up a lead-off single before getting two ground outs and a strikeout to put the game in the win column.
My Two Cents:
- Can someone please tell Brian Anderson to quit being so damn apologetic for Longoria? It's almost as embarrassing as that play. "That ball had so much top spin, when it hit the clay, it dove away from his glove." Give me a break. He miss played it. Evan Longoria, the Gold Glove third baseman, committed an error on a play that AA fielders make without issue. Brian, just call a spade a spade and move on.
- After the final out was recorded, the questions the Rays were faced with coming into this home-stand began to get answered. This was one game and the result was favorable. The offense needs to remind itself there are seven other innings to score in before the eighth rolls around. The baserunners need to keep their wits about them in certain high-leverage situations.
- Bonus two cents from the editor: after Manny Machado was hit by a pitch, the young star of the Orioles attempted a take out slide of Jake Elmore, who was manning short stop this evening. The play was despicable, and he lost a significant amount of respect in my eyes for it. Retaliation for a HBP is reasonable in the sport, but direct attempts at injury (as take out slides traditionally are) is a different matter entirely. - DR
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