Homecomings happen all the time with a team like the Rays that rarely pays players to stick around for their whole career. Carl Crawford left and returned, but it's difficult to see past a Red Sox uniform. David Price and James Shields were traded and have both pitched at The Trop, but a pitcher stays in the camera long enough that the novelty wears off. But Ben Zobrist is the perfect combination of a gracious exit and not much exposure, and that made his return surreal.
We knew it was going to happen, we knew The Zobrists were coming back to The Trop, but it was still odd to hear Juliana singing over the speakers and to see Ben stepping into the batters box. The crowd gave him a nice ovation, and honestly, my unconscious brain was unable to figure out that he was wearing the wrong uniform. Everything felt the same; what does the shade of blue matter?
Zobrist grounded to short stop and produced a ridiculous barehanded play from Asdrubal Cabrera, but replay showed that Zo had beaten it out and after a short review (during which time Zobrist and Loney had a good-natured debate), the call was overturned.
Erasmo Ramirez got out of the inning, though, with the help of a full-count changeup to Eric Hosmer in the most perfect spot, right at the knees and sinking. Hosmer took it and thought he had walked to load the bases, but the ump got this one right and called him out.
In the real Rays half of the inning, Grady Sizemore lead off with a walk, and Daniel Nava grounded up the middle. Edinson Volquez—whose changeup is every bit as good as Erasmo's—put Longoria away with a nasty change on the back foot. Then, with John Jaso batting, both runners tried to advance on a ball in the dirt, but one thing about Salvador Perez's game that is beyond reproach is his arm. He got the ball to second base in time to catch Nava. The tag may not have been made, and the Rays challenged, but there was no replay angle even remotely showing the important part of the play, so the second out counted, and a grounder ended the inning.
Nava clearly thought he hadn't been tagged, so I don't have a problem with this challenge, but it did come back to haunt the Rays later in the game.
In the second inning, Salvador Perez went and got an outside fastball and singled it the other way through the right side. He advanced to second when Erasmo yanked a slider almost but not quite into the dirt and Rene Rivera couldn't figure out in time which way he needed to turn his glove to get there. He almost stopped it, but it entered the glove and came back out the side. That was important, as Paulo Orlando also singled through the right side, scoring the run.
The Rays got the run back in the bottom of the inning when, with one out, Asdrubal Cabrera squared up a pitch and lined it back through the middle for a single. James Loney was presented with a backdoor breaking ball that came way too far back over the plate, and he lined it into the corner in right. Cabrera chugged all the way home from first, and Loney cruised into second.
The inning ended with some bad baserunning, though, when Loney misread a line drive into right-center and tried to take an early jump to score himself. It hung up for Orlando, though, and he was easily doubled off.
Zobrist lead off the third with a line-drive double to the wall in right, and Lorenzo Cain followed that up with a walk. The Rays were able to remove Cain from the basepaths with a double play, which was a very good thing, as Kendrys Morales hit a towering home run to straight-center that hit the C-ring and dropped back onto the field. There as a lengthy review, but it was clear from the start that it was a home run, because Kevin Kiermaier had begun to literally climb the wall before it dropped 20 feet away from him in play.
In the bottom of the third inning, the roof struck again. With two outs and men on first and second, John Jaso hit a high fly ball just outside of the infield in left, but Orlando misjudged and overran the easy play, eventually having it bounce off his glove. One run scored, and runners were at second and third.
Next, Logan Forsythe grounded to shortstop, but Alcides Escobar was a little bit lax with his charge, putting too much faith in his strong arm. Forsythe beat the throw, but for the second time this game, Brian O'Nura, the first-base umpire got the call wrong, which ended the inning. With no challenges left, all that Kevin Cash could do was yell a bit and get ejected. The game should have been tied, but it was not.
That's how things stood after nine as well.
Some other notes:
- When Perez came to the plate for the first time, he had an unusually long conversation with Rene Rivera. I assume it was about catching stuff. I'd sort of really like to hear what they said.
- Brian Anderson and Dewayne Staats are through with the replay officials.
- So we all know that Ben Zobrist is a pretty good baseball player. But through 390 plate appearances, he's having his best season since 2012, and it's pretty interesting. He's striking out only 9.7% of the time. That's the lowest of his career, ever.
- Kendrys Morales isn't posting his lowest strikeout rate ever, but he's brought that rate down to 15%, the lowest of the past four years. It's interesting what's going on in KC, because like Zobrist, he hasn't sacrificed either power or walk rate.
- Erasmo Ramirez's night ended early, as he was pulled before making it out of the fifth. I didn't have a problem with the hook. He was missing a bit, and I thought he was tiring, and truth be told, the Royals worked him over pretty good.
- Lorenzo Cain, the pride of one of my alma maters, Tallahassee Community College, is one hell of an athlete, and he's one of those guys whose athleticism looks like it transfers to his swing. Also, and stop me if you've heard this one before, he's striking out less than he ever has in the past. What's going on in KC?
- Andriese pitched very well tonight in relief.
- When you throw a fastball near Brandon Guyer's leg, he is simply never going to move that leg out of the way. In the seventh inning, he took one in the shin to tie Sean Rodriguez for the team record in hit-by-pitches.
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