Watching your team's offense face R.A. Dickey is like playing slot machines. Really, he's just a random pitch generator and if the pitches come out good, the offense has no chance. On the other hand, when they come out bad, it's difficult for the offense to fail. In the first inning, the Rays stepped up to the machine and received one of those small payouts that keeps you mentally sustained just enough to keep pulling the lever.
After John Jaso grounded out on the first pitch, Sizemore showed good discipline to hold his bat while knuckleballs knuckled down and away and he got himself into a 3-1 count. That brought a fastball in the zone from Dickey, which he punished for a line drive into the right-center gap for a double. Up next, Longoria jumped on a knuckleball that fluttered over the heart of the plate. He lined in into left field to put runners on first and third. Logan Forsythe was hit in the shoulder (at 75 mph) to load the bases.
And then a knuckleball dove below the mitt of Russel Martin for a wild pitch which scored the first run. Asdrubal Cabrera muscled another knuckleball into center field for a sacrifice fly to put the Rays up 2-0.
Of course, the problem with the slot machine is that, unless you happen to actually hit the real jackpot, you're losing money. The minor payouts you get aren't enough to make up for the much longer stretches where you put a coin in and get nothing in return. And that was Dickey for innings two through seven.
For that period, Dickey kept himself ahead in the count, no longer needing to throw fastballs when the hitters were looking for it, and he changed speeds consistently. It was a masterful performance. Dickey only struck out two batters, but he gave up no walks, and only two hits after the two he allowed in the first inning (that's four total, in my book).
Meanwhile, the Blue Jays offense did their thing, and Jake Odorizzi simply wasn't good enough tonight to shut them down. After some clutch pitching (and clutch fielder positioning) to work his way out of the a leadoff triple without giving up any runs in the first, Odorizzi never seemed to be able to effectively work the bottom of the zone. Most of what he threw was up, and, particularly when it was away, the Blue Jays did a very good job of shooting it with power to the opposite field. Odorizzi doesn't have a single overpowering pitch, so when he's good it's because he's able to mix all of his pitches and work them off each other throughout the whole zone. Tonight he wasn't able to do that.
The Blue Jays scored their first run in the bottom of the second inning. With two outs in the inning Kevin Pillar flew a fastball hard the other way into the gap. Brandon Guyer covered a lot of ground to make a play on it, but he couldn't quite get there, and it bounced over the wall for a ground rule double. Pillar then stole third, and was brought home when Cliff Pennington hit a sinking liner into left that hung up enough for Sizemore to charge and dive for, but in the end bounced off his glove.
In the third inning, Odorizzi tried to work the outside of the plate, but a fastball at the belt caught too much of it, and Josh Donaldson connected, showcasing his huge power. His fly ball to center field got out in a hurry for his 40th home run of the season. That homer may have caused Odorizzi to pitch away from contact, and he quickly walked both Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. Hickey visited, and apparently told Odorizzi to work the bottom of the zone, which he did well, as he struck out both Russel Martin and Ryan Goins to preserve the tie at two.
The renaissance was short-lived, though, as Kevin Pillar homered to straight center leading off the bottom of the fourth to put the Blue Jays ahead, and that was followed up by a ground-rule double and some small-ball to run the lead to 4-2.
Both sides got solo home runs -- the Jays from Bautista off a hanging slider from Kirby Yates and the Rays from J.P. Arencibia off Mark Lowe (the fans booed Arencibia) -- but the Rays never mounted a real threat and the game ended at 5-3.
Some other notes:
- The broadcast talked about how when Troy Tulowitzki gets back, he'll make the Blue Jays a better defensive team, whether or not his timing is there at the plate. That's only partway right. Tulowitzki is an excellent defensive shortstop, and an upgrade on Jose Reyes, but he's backed up in Toronto by a few guys who are either as good or close. Neither Ryan Goins nor Cliff Pennington can hit a lick, but they're both excellent fielders, and tonight Goins put on a show with a series of rocket throws to first on routine plays.
- Josh Donaldson hit a really long foul ball. It was reviewed, and still called a foul, after which Odorizzi brushed Donaldson back off the plate. The crowd did not like it.
- Enny Romero, pitching in the eighth inning, was totally wild for a spell, also against Donaldson. He walked him, forcing Donaldson to jump out of the way on both of the last two pitches. The crowd was incensed. Then Romero missed badly, up and away to Bautista. A hit batsman here really could have turned the series ugly, but J.P. Arencibia went out to talk to his young pitcher, and told him to stop overthrowing and trust his stuff, I presume. Romero immediately started to hit his spots again and struck Bautista out looking.
- Roberto Osuna is really, really good. Also only 20 years old.
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