After starting the season with back-to-back 5-3 losses at the hands of the defending AL East champion Blue Jays, the Rays turned to Jake Odorizzi to try and tame the beast that is the potent Toronto line up. Was he up to the task?
Jake Odorizzi was about as good as you can be against the top-to-bottom talent that the Blue Jays' lineup sports. He went 5.2 innings, striking out 10 Toronto batsmen against only two walks, four hits, and allowing only one earned run.
He worked all parts of the strike zone and both sides of the plate to lefties and righties alike. His fastball ticked the low-to-mid 90s consistently and he had a decent breaking ball, considering it was his first start of the season, though his changeup looked a tad like it was the first week of April.
His most effective pitch was that fastball. He located it with precision, particularly up in the zone, and just off the outside black of the plate to righties, namely reigning AL MVP Josh Donaldson. Odorizzi turned the hat trick on the Toronto third baseman, K'ing him up three times before Kevin Cash went to the ‘pen.
Chris Archer struck out 12 Blue Jays on Sunday, so we knew it could be done, but to do so while ringing up Donaldson three times and keeping the heart of the Toronto order a combined 1-for-9 is a hat-tip-worthy feat.
If only he could get some run support . . .
Missed Chances . . .
The Rays had a great opportunity to break through the scoreless tie in the bottom of the third. With one out, Hank Conger beat the extreme shift for the second time this series, dropping a single into right field right in between right fielder Jose Bautista and second baseman Ryan Goins. The Rays' leadoff man Logan Forsythe followed up immediately with a hard sinking liner to center. The Blue Jays' answer to Kevin Kiermaier, the speedy Kevin Pillar, nearly made a play on the ball, but it tipped off the side of his glove, allowing Conger to advance to third and Forsythe to pull into second with his first double of 2016.
With two men in scoring position and only one man out, Logan Morrison stepped to the plate with a great opportunity to pick up his first hit of the new season. I mean, what better way to kick-start an early rally? You have the lead and insurance runs on base, one out, and a pitcher whose splits break heavily in a left-handed hitter's favor. Instead, LoMo hacked at the first pitch he saw, a chest-high breaking ball that he dribbled to Sanchez for the second out, holding the runners in place.
Evan Longoria would follow up with a swinging strikeout to strand the baserunners and you couldn't help but feel the frustrations from the 2015 Rays' offense begin to seep in.
In the ultimate form of contrast, where the Rays could not capitalize on an opportunity with runners on base, the vaunted Jays lineup did just that. Bautista took a full-count fastball deep to right field and, in mirroring Pillar from the inning prior, Steven Souza Jr. dove for a ball that he was an easy four feet shy of catching, allowing the Jays' right fielder to reach third base. Edwin Encarnacion stepped in next and also swung at the first pitch he saw. Again, in a mirror play from the Rays' previous frame, it too dribbled to the pitcher. This time, Odorizzi tried to make the play at the plate, and had Bautista dead to rights, but he yanked the off balance throw, allowing Bautista to score and, instead of trading the run for the out, allowed Encarnacion to reach second base. Troy Tulowitzki singled up the middle, putting runners at the corners with no one out.
Jake Odorizzi took matters into his own hands at this point. Odorizzi K'd Toronto first baseman Justin Smoak before Michael Saunders slapped a base hit against the shift into left field to plate Encarnacion, 2-0 Blue Jays. He came back to strike out Russell Martin and Goins, each swinging, to stem the tide.
Corey Dickerson breathed the life back into the Tropicana Field crowd, and the Rays' dugout, with a leadoff home run in the bottom half of the fourth.
I'm sorry, did I say home run? I meant moon shot.
Dickerson made a great adjustment from his first at-bat, in which the same pitch, a middle-in fastball, ate him up twice. This time, he made Aaron Sanchez pay.
Off the bat, this thing was a no-doubter. Dickerson put it to the foot of the score board in right and took his second trot around the bases of the year.
It was just a beautiful home run, one of those homers that you see on MLB Network highlight packages. The sound it made, the follow through of the swing, the towering arc as it flew over the stands, it was a thing of beauty.
It's The Little Things
In the end, it was the little nuances that nearly cost the Rays the W on Tuesday night.
The missed diving play by Souza Jr., and the subsequent throwing error by Odorizzi in the fourth is what allowed the Blue Jays to put up the two runs they needed in this ball game.
On the offensive side, it's the at-bats like Morrison's in the third, with runners on and only one gone, when a bit of plate discipline could go a mile in terms of productivity and, potentially, the final outcome of the contest.
It is still only game three out of 162, so no Panic-Button-Mashing is necessary, but baseball truly is a game of inches and adjustments and it will be crucial for the Rays to make those adjustments in order for them to be successful.
FROSTY IN THE CLUTCH!
After Kiermaier took one for the team on a curveball that just wouldn't curve for Toronto reliever Brett Cecil by leaving his elbow out for the free base, Forsythe stepped in with one on and one out.
Cecil went to the curve again and, once again, it just wouldn't break for him, as he hung it to the Rays' second baseman, and Frosty capitalized.
Forsythe put a charge into it, sending it on a high line to the opposite field and over the wall in right for a two-run shot, catapulting the Rays to a 3-2 lead.
It lacked the beauty of the Dickerson home run, but it looked a lot nicer on the scorecard!
Revenge of the Review
A night after the Rays were cost two game-changing plays at the hands of the video review, they got one back in a big way.
After Alex Colome' loaded the bases with two outs, Encarnacion hit a hard ground ball to Longoria at third. Evan fielded it on two hops and made a clean turn to Forsythe covering second.
On Forsythe's throw to first, which skipped just wide of Steve Pierce (who admittedly should have picked the play), Jose Bautista slid into second and stretched out his arm and caught Frosty's right foot on the throw's follow through. The tying and go-ahead runs would score, but Kevin Cash immediately called for a review.
After the play went to review, the officials called Bautista out under the new slide rule, implemented this past winter.
Thanks to the new rule, the Rays have their first W of the season and we're not having another "James Loney Would Have Made That Play" conversation (for now).
The end was dramatic enough to make a person forget that there was a game leading up to the replay. This is a recap of the game, for those that don't find it extraneous. But oh what an end. Here it is.
My Two Cents:
- Hell of an effort from Frosty on both sides of the ball. He had to cover about a mile to chase down a tough fly ball early in the night, but he made it just fine. Top that with a 3-for-4 night, including the go-ahead 2-run blast in the eighth, and you've got yourself the Rays' MVP from 2015!
- Looking at the slide play a few more times, it was definitely a ticky-tack call, though it was definitely the right call. It wasn't the spikes high, legs outstretched to force contact play MLB was trying to eliminate with this rule, but it was surely intentional contact with the fielder. With this being one of the first plays to fall under the new rule, I'm one to think the league wanted to send a message to teams early with a call like that. Baserunners, you are on notice!
- Kevin Kiermaier truly took one for the team in the home half of the eighth. Facing the lefty reliever Brett Cecil, KK stayed in and took a curveball that just didn't curve off the elbow pad to give the Rays a much-needed baserunner.
- Kevin Cash was 2-for-2 on challenges tonight, which I'm pretty sure gives him more successful challenges than he had all season last year (insert sarcasm here).
- The Yankees are winless to start the year, so a fun night was had by all!
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