First three innings
The game started as a good pitcher’s duel; especially good if you are a Rays fan. Smyly was about as sharp as we’ve seen him this year. He was pounding the zone, if pounding is the right verb for someone whose fastball seldom gets much about 90 mph. But it was effective. Although he allowed a first inning double to Francisco Lindor, no other Cleveland Indian got on base. At the end of three innings, Smyly had thrown just 36 pitches, and only seven of those were strikes.
Tomlin was also pretty sharp. Like Smyly, he doesn’t have a high velocity fastball, but his ability to move around the zone and change speeds keeps hitters off balance. But Tomlin’s defense made his task a bit harder; they committed two errors in those first three innings. One was a missed ground ball by second baseman Jason Kipnis, which put Brad Miller on second base in the top of the first inning. Evan Longoria followed with a scorched homerun that cleared the 19 foot wall in left field, and the Rays were up 2-0.
The Rays had other opportunities, but both the 2nd and 3rd innings ended on double play balls. One of those opportunities came at the expense of Mikie Mahtook, however. He was hit on the left hand by a pitch; an inning later he was replaced in right field by Taylor Motter. Xrays revealed a fractured hand, which can require extensive recovery and rehab time. Mahtook wasn’t exactly killing it since his call up, but it is nonetheless a shame to lose a fourth outfielder to injury.
Innings 4 - 6: Exchanging Runs
The Indians scored single runs in the fourth and fifth, each inning marked by good situational hitting and base running, with Indians hitters managing to poke singles the other way and adding a few stolen bases, too. It’s amazing that Rajai Davis, their center fielder, is leading the league in stolen bases at age 35.
But the Rays added runs as well. In the top of the fifth, Jennings tripled to right field. Jennings has had particular struggles this year against high velocity pitchers, so Tomlin, with reverse splits and a 90 mph fastball, seems to be a good match up for him. Jennings hit the ball well enough to have a clear double, but right fielder Michael Martinez did some interesting sort of jig around the ball the allowed Jennings to have an easy, stand-up triple. Martinez’s play seemed to provide endless amusement for Brian Anderson, who could barely stop giggling long enough to say that his play was “just not major league.” A grounder from Taylor Motter brought Jennings home.
In the top of the 6th Brad Miller tagged a ball for a long right field home run, giving the Rays a 4-2 lead.
By the bottom of the 6th Smyly had lost his sharpness. All four batters that inning hit him hard. Three hard hit balls were caught, including two caught at the wall by a leaping Corey Dickerson (who probably didn’t need to do quite so much leaping), one was caught in the infield, and the fourth was a Carlos Santana homerun over the center field wall. Smyly was falling behind on batters, taking forever between pitches, and had lost the edge he had the first time through the order.
At one point in the inning, Cash and the Rays’ trainer came to the mound to talk to Smyly, but it wasn’t clear whether they had seen something to suggest he was injured. Immediately after that visit Smyly yielded the Santana homerun.
The bitter end
After his shaky 6th, it was a bit of a surprise to see Smyly out again in the 7th. Sure, his pitch count remained low, but his body language and the sound of the Cleveland bats smacking the ball made it doubtful that he was going to get out of the inning unscathed. A quick double, a sac bunt followed by a shallow fly ball to Motter whose throw was a bit off line allowed Cleveland to tie the game.
Although Smyly managed to leave the game tied at the end of the 7th, there was a sense of foreboding. And for good reason. When once everyday Erasmo came on to protect the tie in the 8th, he quickly gave up a home run, a single, and another home run. By the time he was pulled for Sturdivant the Rays were trailing 7-4 and the game was essentially over. Ramirez may not be injured, but his recent performance suggests that he can not, at present, be relied on in close games.
As though this weren’t all depressing enough, Steve Pearce, running out a deep fly ball in the 9th, pulled up short and limped off the field. The speculation was that it could be anything from a cramp to a hamstring issue.
I usually try to identify a few promising developments even in losses.
But tonight, with a disappointing loss, a blown lead, a bullpen implosion and two players injured I can’t find much that is positive. Smyly was really good....until he wasn’t? Jennings got two hits and raised his batting average to .200? Sturdivant looked good getting his one out?
Close the book on this loss and go get ‘em tomorrow.