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Rays 5 - ChiSox 4: Karns, Kiermaier, lead Rays to victory in rookie Shaffer's debut

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Nathan Karns was dominant, the bullpen made it interesting, Mikie Mahtook gave the Rays the lead in the ninth and KK sealed it on defense.

David Banks/Getty Images

After dropping two out of three to the Red Sox at Fenway, the Rays traveled to the other half of the laundry basket to take on the White Sox in Chicago. With the Rays losing Steven Souza Jr. to the DL with a broken hand and designating the struggling Matt Moore to Durham, rookie sensation Richie Shaffer got the call to make his much-anticipated MLB debut.

It's Shaffer Time!

Richie Shaffer's first major league at-bat went exactly like we've all dreamt it, a hit by pitch to get himself on base to load ‘em up. Wait, that's not how everyone dreams their first MLB at-bat going? Oh, ok, moving on . . .

All in all, Shaffer's premier was average. It wasn't bad by any stretch of the imagination, but it also wasn't anything that's going to get on ESPN or stand out in the papers.

Richie went 0-for-2 with two strike outs, a HBP, and an impressive walk. After falling behind 0-2, he battled back to get ahead and wisely laid off a pitch outside to take his base.

He was replaced by James Loney in the bottom of the seventh.

There's no doubt the kid has a powerful swing and I wouldn't be surprised if we saw him show it off over the next few games with some positive results, now that the adrenaline and rush of his first big league game is behind him.

Welcome to the show, Richie.

Karns & Captain Hook

How perfect does Nathan Karns have to be in order to earn the right to pitch deep into a ballgame?

Karns was dominant for the majority of his night. He had every pitch working and used them in impressive fashion. He was throwing darts with his fastball, locating every portion of the strike zone efficiently. His changeup was set up beautifully off of that fastball, and had some excellent late movement, baffling Chicago batters, especially the lefties. However, the most dominant pitch Karns featured was his curveball. It was masterful the way he used it, both ahead and behind in counts. He threw it well to both sides of the plate and equally well to lefties and righties.

Karns struck out seven over five innings and didn't allow his first hit until the fourth inning, and that was a long double to the dangerous first baseman/DH Jose Abreu. Kevin Kiermaier nearly ran it down in centerfield, but the carry was just too much for him to contend with. He was still pitching well into the sixth, when he gave up a tough luck single to Tyler Saladino. It was a good pitch that Saladino just did a better job of putting the bat to the ball.

The next hitter was Abreu and, after getting ahead of him, Karns missed low with a curveball, but Abreu still got every bit of it and hit it to deep centerfield. Again, Kiermaier made a valiant effort to try and rob the home run, but it carried inches past his glove, tying the game at two runs apiece.

So Karns got unlucky on one pitch and missed a location on another, seemingly his first missed location of the night, and paid for it, but had only thrown 79 pitches on the night; time to let a young pitcher show he's got what it takes to shake it off and move on, especially after being so dominant prior, right?

Wrong.

Captain Hook showed up, as expected, and yanked his young starter, reiterating the lesson to these young pitchers that they've been learning all season long: you have to be perfect to stay in these games.

No mistakes, no bad luck, just perfect; because if you're not, the game is in the hands of . . .

Steve Geltz

I heard the collective groan from our readership when it was Brandon Gomes trotting out to the mound to replace the apparently subpar Nathan Karns, who was visibly perturbed sitting in the dugout after being pulled. Luckily, as JRTW62 pointed out in the GDT, there was a little Christmas in July magic leftover, and Gomes got through 0.2 innings unscathed.

The same couldn't be said for Steve Geltz, who took over with one out in the seventh inning, and giftwrapped a double to Avisail Garcia, who took third when Geltz forgot he was supposed to hit the catcher's glove and earned himself a wild pitch.

Speaking of giftwrapping, if Garcia got a brand new bike for Christmas with that double, Carlos Sanchez got a damn N64 (oh, the ‘90s) on the fastball belt high that he smashed all the way to next Christmas. 4-3, South Side Sox, after seven.

The Rays needed some more Christmas magic of their own. They needed a Rudolph with a nose so bright. They needed . . .

Grady Sizemore

There must have been some magic in that old, banged up outfielder they found.

Sizemore entered the game as a pinch hitter in the top of the seventh, replacing Brandon Guyer as White Sox righty Jason Petricka took over on the mound after Abreu hit his homer that gave the Sox the lead. Grady smacked a line drive to the fence in right field and immediately dug for two. Garcia, seemingly lost in a Winter Wonderland of his own, couldn't field the ball cleanly off the bounce and his relay throw was off the mark, as Sizemore went dashing through the snow to third base. He would come in to score on an Evan Longoria double, giving the Rays the lead again.

His next at bat saw the Rays in another tough spot, down by one and down to their last four outs. White Sox reliever gave him another Christmas present of his own, inside and letter-high, and Sizemore put it into the stands and tied the game again.

Unlikely Heroes & Kiermaier's Revenge

Kevin Kiermaier had a tough couple of plays in centerfield tonight that no ordinary human being could be reasonably expected to make. He just barely couldn't run down that double by Abreu and just missed robbing the same Abreu of a home run that he crashed hard trying to earn.

He wouldn't let Abreu get to him a third time.  On a ball that was hit hard to the same part of the park, Kiermaier found another gear to get to it and make the catch to prevent the extra base hit.

With the game tied going into the top of the ninth, the Sox turned to veteran closer David Robertson to get them to the bottom half of the inning still on even ground.

After Longoria grounded out, Logan Forsythe, who had himself a 2-for-3 game with two RBIs, drew a one-out walk. Asdrubal Cabrera singled and Forsythe went all the way to third. James Loney struck out swinging and, with the Rays down to their final out in the ninth, it was up to Mikie Mahtook, owner of a sub-.200 average and two strikeouts on the night. On a two-strike count, Mahtook got a slider up and hit a hard liner into left for a single and an RBI, putting the Rays up 5-4!

In the bottom of the ninth, it was time for The Human Highlight Reel in center to make another huge play. After Alexei Ramirez singled and stole second base off of Rays' closer Brad Boxberger, Adam LaRoche hit a hard liner into centerfield for a base hit. Ramirez was waved home as Kiermaier came up firing. The throw was low but on a line, and Curt Casali made a great play to dig it out and get into position. The play beat Ramirez to the plate and, as he attempted to dive over Casali to tie the game, the Rays' catcher applied the tag.

In the words of Tiny Tim, "God bless us, every one!"

Boxberger struck out Garcia and got Sanchez to line out to right to end the game and secure the Rays' victory.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

The Tinsel and Trimmings

  • Hat tip to Mahtook on a diving catch in right in the first inning. Clearly taking notes from that Kiermaier guy.
  • Speaking of Kevin, it's good to see him get the start against a lefty. He's a game-changing type of player with his speed and defense, regardless of who's on the mound against him.
  • Man, that Christmas stuff really escalated quickly. It really got out of hand fast. If only all that rain outside was snow . . .
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