Rays vs. Dodgers: A Tragedy in Three Acts:
Act One, in which our heroes are challenged but rise to the occasion
The Rays chances to win this game seemed good at the outset. Dodgers pitcher Scott Kazmir had been hittable this year, and the Rays have generally hit left handed pitchers well. Dodgers hitters had been collectively slumping lately, and their match ups against Moore were not favorable.
And Matty stoked that optimism with a very sharp first inning. Eleven pitches, nine strikes. He struck out lead off hitter Hernandez with low strikes, and number two hitter Puig with high strikes.
The optimism continued as the Rays scored early. Brandon Guyer reached base -- stop me if you've heard this one -- on a HBP. This is his seventh in just one month of play, so clearly he will get hit some 40 times this year. Then Evan Longoria laced a line drive double to left, scoring Guyer. An early lead is as rare and precious to Rays fans a cool breeze on a muggy Florida afternoon, and we savored it.
But that lead was gone quickly. By the second inning Moore had lost some of that sharpness. He gave up a seeing eye ground ball single to Kendrick, which was completely not his fault because, you know, Howie Kendrick. But the pitch right over the plate to Trayce Thompson that was crushed for a home run? That's on him. 2-1. And the pitch to Joc Pederson that was crushed for a home run? On him, too. 3-1.
The Rays, however, showed that a two run deficit was not insurmountable. In the fourth inning, Tim Beckham reached on a single. With two outs, Curt Casali got ahead in the count, and then drove one into the left field seats. In the previous inning Casali had taken a mean looking foul ball to the throat (just writing that makes me wince) but apparently it was all he needed to unleash a crucial home run. 3-3 after four innings, Kazmir was clearly vulnerable, and the optimism had returned.
Act Two, in which the obstacles become even greater, yet there remains a glimmer of hope.
Moore, however, struggled, and neither his defense nor the luck dragons made his job easier. After getting ahead of lead off hitter Hernandez, Moore couldn't find the strike zone and walked him. Puig then hits a hard ball to third base, where Longo whiffed on its strange hop; Beckham tried and failed to recover the fumble. It was scored a hit, and properly so, but that doesn't mean it wasn't playable. Two on, no out.
Justin Turner walked to load the bases, and up came Kendrick. Now, Cash is relatively new to this team so he probably thought this wasn't a bad match up. We, however, knew that Howie Kendrick would kill us every time. Of course in this case he hit a ground ball just beyond a diving Forsythe and the tied score is now a two run deficit. Thompson followed with a ground ball single which somehow managed to score another two runs. 7-3. At this point, Cash replaced Moore with Geltz, who was able to get out of the inning.
In the Rays half of the fifth, Steve Pearce started to chip away at the Dodger lead with a solo home run. Pearce hits everything so hard, I was surprised to see that this was only his second dinger of the year. But he gave us a bit of hope that the Rays could get back into the game.
Act Three, in which all hope is lost
Alas, after the Pearce home run the Rays offense pretty much shut down (at least until the bottom of the 9th, with 2 outs, when they managed to bring in another run off old friend JP Howell on two walks, a single and a HPB). Indeed, the Rays 8th inning, against old World Series nemesis Joe Blanton, lasted just 6 pitches.
And alas, after effective stints by Geltz and Marinez, Cash went to what I think of as the "B-list" bullpen in the 8th. Eveland did a good job striking out Pederson to end the 8th, but gave up a single to Seager to start the 9th. Cash replaced him with Ryan Webb, who in theory did his job -- he induced a playable ground ball that should have been a double play, but that was uncharacteristically bobbled by Logan Forsythe.
This was really unfortunate, because it meant there were two men on base when Yasiel Puig let loose on a juicy pitch right into his swing plane, his three run bomb making the score a pretty decisive 10 - 4 in favor of the Dodgers.
Epilogue, or final thoughts:
- While Cash is often criticized for his quick hook, the four run fifth inning shows what happens when you wait a few batters too long to remove your pitcher. Moore after the first inning was too often behind, and when he got behind was coming into the zone with pitches that were too hittable. Indeed, Moore's performance reminded me just a bit of 2009 Scott Kazmir on a bad day: deep counts, long at bats, and a pitch count reaching 100 pitches sometime early in the fifth inning.
- Steven Souza Jr. needs to stop arguing strikes with the umpire. Although today's strike zone was nuts (see below), the pitch he argued appeared to be a strike. Even if it hadn't been, there is really no upside to a player who strikes out a lot and kvetches about it.
- Howie Kendrick, in addition to going 4 for 5 with two runs scored and two RBI, had two very nice defensive plays at 2nd base. I know Kendrick is a solid player, and his success against the Rays is not an Elliot Johnson moment, but it is bizarre that he hits SO well against the Rays, even as he's changed teams and the Rays have fielded entirely different pitching staffs.
- Robo umps, please! At least both teams were victims of this very postmodern strike zone, but why should pitchers and hitters have no idea what to expect?
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