For the first six innings of tonight's game, the Rays found themselves in a pitchers' duel against a pitcher who really isn't very good. And no, he didn't have a special Cy Perez night against them—he looked every bit as bad as his stats say he is, and yet for six frustrating innings the Rays did not score.
Here's the deal on Williams Perez. He's not going to strike you out very much (he didn't—his first strikeout came against Evan Longoria in the sixth inning), he's going to walk you some (he did, four batters), and he's going to get you to put the ball on the ground and bet that Andrelton SImmons and Co. will do the rest. That's a decent bet, but it's not like the Rays weren't putting the ball in play with some authority. They just never did it at the right time.
The two times that a batter walked with less than two outs, they were immediately doubled off. And when the Rays put some air under the ball, it was with warning track power.
Then came Kevin Kiermaier. In the seventh inning, after Asdrubal Cabrera got on base with an infield hit, Kiermaier stepped in, injured thumb and all. On the first pitch, he was fooled badly, swinging way out in front of a changeup. Two fastballs later he got that changeup again, and this time he recognized it all the way, pulling it on a line over the right-field wall. Good job, Outlaw.
Now protecting a lead in the eighth inning, Kevin Cash got the bullpen running, with Brandon Gomes and Xavier Cedeno both up and warming. The first batter dribbled a grounder off an 0-1 slider up the middle and out of the reach of Asdrubal Cabrera, and every Rays fan who's been following this team closely knew what was about to happen. With two righties up, it was Gomes time.
Of course, those Rays fans will also know that it wasn't going to work out that neatly. Gomes struck out Simmons and produced a possible double-play grounder from Eury Perez, but when Perez beat out the throw to first, Cash left Gomes in to face the lefty Michael Bourn (with righty Cameron Maybin up next). Bourn gave the ball a ride to the warning track in right, but Daniel Nava tracked it down.
Gomes then stayed in to start the ninth inning against Maybin, and coaxed a popup with his slider, turning the ball over to Cedeno to close out the game.
Cedeno went up 0-2 on Markakis, but then caught too much plate with his curve, and Markakis slapped it hard past a diving Longoria for a single. No harm was done, though, as a diet of fastballs on the outer corner got A.J. Pierzynski to ground into a game-ending 3-6-3 double play.
The process made me nervous, but Kevin Cash succeeded in closing out the game while giving both Jake McGee and Brad Boxberger an extra day of much-needed rest.
Having criticized Perez for hard contact that found gloves. Erasmo Ramirez was perfect, either. Through the first couple innings, he too was hit hard and he too benefited from some good defense. But Ramirez settled in as the game wore on, and was able to attack the bottom and both sides of the zone without giving up hard contact. He was ultra-efficient. His final statline was seven innings pitched, no runs, five hits, and four strikeouts. He threw just seventy pitches.
Some other notes:
- There was immediate action, as with one out in the top of the first, Cameron Maybin singled up the middle. Nick Markakis followed that up by lacing a double into the right field corner, and the speedy Maybin tried to score from first. Nava had to run a ways to get there, but he fielded the ball off the wall well, and hit Logan Forsythe for the relay. Frosty fired a strike to home plate. Had Maybin slid straight for the front of the plate he might have beaten the tag but he elected to try be evasive, sliding to the outside, hopping up, jumping, and then reaching back for the plate from the other side. Maybin's acrobatics almost worked, but Curt Casali got just the slightest swipe on Maybin's jersey, and Fredi Gonzalez did not challenge the out call.
- In his first at bat of the game, John Jaso hit a towering home run/foul ball to right field. It was called a foul ball, but it was truly immense, which made it one of the toughest foul calls I've seen. It was equidistant between stalagmite foul pole and the stalactite foul pole. By the top one it looked fair. By the bottom it looked foul. It was called foul on the field, and then the play stood on review. Jaso eventually walked, but was doubled up on a slick double play by the Braves' middle infield duo.
- In the bottom of the second inning, with one out, Forsythe grounded a single through the hole, and then Asdrubal Cabrera pounced on the first pitch and whipping it into the corner where it one-hopped the foul wall. That was a real shame, as Forsythe would have scored easily if the ball had stayed in play. Daniel Nava flied out to short left (Forsythe could not score), and Kevin Kiermaier flied out to right to end the inning.
- Kiermaier had a nice catch to start off the top of the third inning, tracking a ball straight back and over his head.
- Cabrera gave it a long ride to the wall in right-center field on a pitch so far outside he had no business being able to pull for power. Maybin made the leaping grab as he crashed into the wall, though, so just a loud out. Really surprisingly loud, though, given the location.
- In the next half-inning, Cabrera made a ridiculous play ranging into the hole and then firing an accurate throw across his body to get his counterpart, Simmons.
- Strange situation for the third out in the top of the fifth. Eury Perez swung over the ball, tapping it just a few feet in front of home plate. Ramirez fielded, but rushed his throw and bounced it to first, and James Loney couldn't come up with the scoop. The home plate umpire called Perez out, though, for running inside the baseline and interfering with Loney's ability to make the play.
- Todd Kalas, who was in the comment booth today, said, "Erasmo Ramirez, now that David DeJesus is with the Angels, undoubtedly the happiest guy in the clubhouse." I thought liked DDJ, but I didn't know he was keeping Erasmo down like that.
- In all seriousness, what Kalas was trying to segue into was a story about Erasmo dancing with the mascots at Raymond's birthday. Idea: the Rays already have multiple mascots, so can we make an Erasmo Ramirez mascot that will just look like him but with a larger head?
- Jaso also smoked a pitch in the eighth, but Perez caught the line drive over his shoulder in right.
- In his postgame interview, Kiermaier said it felt good to "finally backspin the ball for the first time in about three months." He says he doesn't care when he's not hitting, and that he knows he still helps the team on defense, but it was good to see this one fly out, because saying that you don't get down when you aren't hitting is protesting too much.