Another week has come to pass. It has gotten to the point in the season when we’ll start seeing exciting things like magic numbers, yet the realization settled in for even the most optimistic of Rays fan ― barring some sort of miracle, it’s time to choose who you’ll be rooting for after October 4th. The Tampa Bay Rays certainly didn’t help themselves, finishing out their last chance, 10-game home stand with a 4-6 record. Instead of collecting at least seven wins over those 10 games, Tampa Bay dropped two consecutive series’ and split the other.
There are still a couple of things the Rays will be playing for in these final two weeks of play: pride, and the desire to end the season above .500. I’d be remiss if I didn’t also acknowledge the pre-Spring Training auditions for players like Mikie Mahtook and Richie Shaffer, who are trying to make an indelible mark on Rays skipper Kevin Cash before the 2016 season.
In any case the case, here’s your recap of the last seven days.
Erasmo Ramirez put together arguably the best start of his young career, holding the New York Yankees hitless into the eighth. However, with just six outs left to go, Carlos Beltran hit a rocket toward first that deflected off Richie Shaffer and into right-field for a hit. It was still Ramirez’s night, as he collected 7-2/3 excellent innings of one hit, six strikeout baseball. Yet two outs into the ninth, Brad Boxberger allowed an RBI double to Alex Rodriguez, tying the game game at one. Boxy intentionally walked Brian McCann, then literal soap opera character Slade Heathcott hit a three-run homer off a misplaced 90 mph fastball, and Tampa Bay lost a little bit later. The roof of the Trop deflated, and those of us who attended the game left feeling just as empty.
The Rays bounced back to beat the Yankees by a 6-3 margin Tuesday night. Jake Odorizzi battled through six innings against New York, and Nick Franklin hit a two-run homer in the sixth for the go ahead lead. The victory was the 70th of the season for Tampa Bay, and snapped a three-game losing streak.
The game was punctuated with an, ahem…creative decision by Kevin Cash, to have Brandon Gomes close out the game instead of Brad Boxberger. The split throwing Gomes quickly got the first two outs before pinch hitter Dustin Ackley hit a single to right. Jacoby Ellsbury then reached on a bad-hopped error to first that absolutely ate up James Loney. Nevertheless, the righty got Brett Gardner to fly out to left to end the game. Gomes earned his first save in the majors, and became the eighth different Rays pitcher to earn a save this season.
Prior to the game, it was announced that LHP Blake Snell won the Baseball America minor-league player of the year award. In doing so, he became the fourth Ray to win the award, joining Rocco Baldelli, Delmon Young and Jeremy Hellickson. Snell put together an incredible season, across three levels, where he led the minor leagues in ERA (1.41) and opponents batting average (.182), posted a ridiculous 31.3% K%, and ranked among the overall leaders with 15 wins (third) and 163 strikeouts (fourth). He becomes just the ninth pitcher in 35 years to claim the honor.
Chris Archer (12-12) gave up two runs, four hits, four walks and struck out seven over six innings of a 2-1 loss in the series finale with the Yankees. His fourth strikeout of the game, coming against Brett Gardner in the third, broke Scott Kazmir's single-season club mark of 239 set in 2007.
RHP Alex Colome allowed a three-run lead to evaporate in the eighth inning of Thursday night’s ballgame against the Baltimore Orioles. The rays took a 3-0 lead into the eighth when Colome allowed a trifecta of two-out singles to Steve Clevenger, Manny Machado, and Adam Jones, snapping a streak of 16 consecutive appearances (22 innings) without an earned run by the righty.
Carlos Pena retired as a Ray Friday night, and the Tampa Bay Rays honored the former first baseman by plating six runs in the fifth inning en route to an 8-6 win over the Baltimore Orioles. Mikie Mahtook tied a franchise record with a five-hit night, to highlight a 13-hit attack.
Pena signed an honorary contract with the Rays before Friday night’s game, and the 14-year veteran immediately announced his retirement from Major League Baseball.
Pena spoke at a pre game news conference in which he said,
After 17 years of living my childhood dream, I am honored to walk away from the game I love, with the team that I most cherished. The Tampa Bay Rays will forever hold a very special place in my heart. It felt like home. It felt like family. …This is just a dream come true to end my career in such a way. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. The Rays, it was the most fun I ever had playing baseball — including Little League, I must say. And it’s something I repeat often. … I’m floored (by getting to retire as a Ray). Words cannot really express how grateful I am and how indebted I am to this organization and the people of Tampa Bay.
Matt Silverman, who signed Pena to the honorary contract was complimentary of the former first baseman,
Carlos played such a key role during the transformation of our franchise to the Rays. His contributions both as a player and a person can still be felt today. The respect he has for our organization and the connection he feels to Tampa Bay and our fans is heartwarming. It is with great pride that we welcome him back to the Rays organization.
Pena took to the field wearing his familiar number 23 jersey to throw out the ceremonial first pitch to his father after a video tribute played on the scoreboard.
Mikie Mahtook became one of eight Rays to go 5-for-5 in a game. That list also includes BJ Upton, Tomás Perez, Carl Crawford, and Jeff Keppinger. Mahtook ended the night with two doubles, three base hits, and a run.
Erasmo Ramirez took a 2-1 hard-luck loss Saturday night. In his seven innings of work, Ramirez scattered nine hits to go with four strikeouts, yet he surrendered just single tallies in the first and sixth innings, thanks to good command and solid defense behind him ― of Erasmo’s 86 pitches, 65 went for strikes (76%), while he walked none. On most days that would be good enough for a win. Then again, this wasn’t most days. Ramirez has now gone seven innings or more six times this season. Chris Archer leads with 13 such starts.
With the game being another close one, Marc Topkin (Tampa Bay Times) wrote of the Rays inability to win tight games:
Because of the way they are built, focused on pitching and defense and lacking artillery on offense, the Rays are predisposed to play tight games. And that is exactly what happened this season, a majors-most 84 of their first 147 decided by one or two runs. But they weren’t good enough at it, going 41-43 in those games and 24-27 in one-run games. Even worse, of course, was their performance when working overtime as they are a majors-worst 2-13 in extra innings (scoring only four runs in those frames) and losing a record-threatening 11 straight. Also, they have 12 walk off losses vs. one* walkoff win.
The Rays capped their home stand with a walk-off win off one of the best closers in the game, Zach Britton. It became the first time Britton allowed two extra base hits in relief, and it all began with a first pitch, game tying pinch-hit homer off the bat of Brandon Guyer. Britton has allowed just three home runs in 60 games, and this one proved costly for the lefty.
That's the first time Britton has allowed 2 XBH in relief. @BrandonGuyer started it! WATCH: http://t.co/duv7rysRI7 pic.twitter.com/8V1R8BS2ky — Tampa Bay Rays (@RaysBaseball) September 20, 2015
Evan Longoria followed with a one-out, opposite field triple, while Britton allowed back-to-back walks of Logan Forsythe (intentional), and Richie Shaffer. After Joey Butler went down swinging ― as he is wont to do ― Kevin Kiermaier beat out an 0-2 tapper to the right side, plating the winning run for Tampa Bay! It was the second walk-off win of the season for Tampa Bay, and the first since April. It was also the first game winning walk-off hit of Kiermaier’s MLB career.
Forsythe deserves another shoutout, as he crushed an errant splitter for his 17th homer of the season. The three run homer put the Rays up by one in the fifth.
The lead was short lived, however Jake Odorizzi gave up the lead in the following inning. Odorizzi was visibly upset after he was pulled two outs into the sixth. Every time I see someone like Jake leave the game after relinquishing the lead, I’m reminded of this saying by James Shields. "If you don’t like it, pitch better." After all, Odorizzi needed to execute just one quality pitch to escape the sixth with the lead intact.
Before the game, Topkin noted that Jake McGee will accompany the team on their upcoming road trip through Boston and Toronto. The plan is now for the lefty to return to the roster during the series with the Red Sox, after a reevaluation of his knee on Monday, and maybe another bullpen session (or simulated game): "I felt really good, a lot better than last time."
The Rays ready themselves for four games against the Red Sox and three against the Blue Jays before they return to the Trop to finish out the season.
*That total changed after the walk-off win on Sunday.