After a 12-run outburst to close out the series in the Bronx, the Rays returned home on Monday night to take on a familiar face in Wil Myers and the San Diego Padres. After being traded to the Padres in 2014, Monday marked the first time he'd faced his former team.
Along with the return of an old face, the Trop was graced with a new one as well. New Rays' shortstop Matt Duffy, acquired at the trade deadline from San Francisco in exchange for Matt Moore, made his St. Petersburg debut after going 4-for-14 in the series against the Yankees.
Tampa Bay also welcomed back Logan Morrison from the DL.
Drew Smyly took the hill for the Rays and found himself in a position to be very successful against the young Padres lineup. Being an American League pitcher his entire career, six out of nine Padres' batters had never seen Smyly.
Of course, one man in the San Diego lineup had seen Smyly quite a bit as a former AL Central rival. Alexei Ramirez, former shortstop for the White Sox, served as the Padres' DH on Monday and took Smyly deep in the first inning to give his team the 1-0 lead.
Instead of seeing the game unravel, though, as we've seen before; rather, Smyly locked the place down after giving up the Ramirez long ball. That home run would be the only hit Smyly would allow and one of only three baserunners he would surrender. Derek Norris drew two walks against the Rays' starter, but that was it.
Smyly needed only 86 pitches to get through seven innings of work. He racked up only four K's but was efficient in pitching to his defense. He did give up 11 fly balls, but only the one got out and the majority were easily playable by the Rays' fielders.
The Rays' offense responded quickly to Ramirez's opening salvo.
After a single and a stolen base by Kevin Kiermaier, the Rays loaded the bases for the newly returned LoMo. As if trying to remind him of the DL he just returned from, Padres' starter Luis Perdomo plunked him in the left leg, driving in the tying run in the bottom of the first.
The very next inning, Corey Dickerson did a great job of going with a 2-seam fastball on the outside part of the plate, against the shift for a double. Enter Frosty. Logan Forsythe got a belt high gift from Perdomo and absolutely mashed it to the deepest part of the park. The shot clanged off of the Ducky's Restaurant platform for a 440 foot bomb, giving the Rays a 3-1 lead.
And from there, the bats went silent. The teams went a combined 0-for-34 after KK earned another single and stolen base immediately following the home run. It was like the most boring game of chicken; which team was going to hit first?
Luckily for Tampa Bay, it was the Rays.
The Padres turned to Leonel Campos in the eighth inning and to say it didn't go well would be an understatement. In his one inning of work, Campos walked two and gave up three hits. He loaded the bases after intentionally walking Dickerson (who would be lifted for Mikie Mahtook as a pinch-runner) to get to Rays' catcher Bobby Wilson, whom he also walked. LoMo decided to remind everyone of the hot bat he was swinging before his injury by smoking a double to right field, scoring Duffy who had led off the inning with his first hit in Tampa Bay as a member of the Rays.
Forsythe drove in another run with a sac fly, making it 5-1 Rays before the final nail was driven in to the San Diego coffin.
To this point, Campos was struggling . . . mightily. He couldn't find the strike zone if you gave him a map and with each pitch he missed, you could tell he wasn't going to get any kind of rhythm going. Now I know, late in a losing ballgame, when your reliever makes a bed like that, you usually let him lay in it; you certainly don't want to burn another arm in a wasted effort. But even I, as a Rays' fan, was hoping San Diego would do the merciful thing and save his arm (and his confidence) by going to a new pitcher.
But the Padres didn't choose to stop Campos's bleeding and The Outlaw made them pay.
Kiermaier, like Forsythe before him, got an early Christmas gift in the form of a middle-in fastball that he hit on a frozen rope over the right field fence. It was a no-doubter; even the always-hustling Kiermaier was in his home run trot before his bat touched the ground. Kevin said after the game that Campos really only throws a fastball and a slider and his job was just to wait for a fastball: Mission Accomplished.
Kevin Jepsen came on with the Rays now up 8-1 to finish out the formality of a top of the ninth inning.
But it wouldn't be that easy.
After a routine first out, our old friend Wil Myers hit a shot to the left field gap, right in-between Kiermaier and Mahtook. Kiermaier misplayed the ball initially, but fired it back into second base where Duffy applied the tag to the sliding Myers. Myers was called safe and KK was charged with the error - or so we thought. Kevin Cash challenged the call and, upon further review, Myers's hand came off the bag while Duffy kept the tag on (a lesson he learned earlier in the night about playing shortstop), giving the Rays the second out of the frame and granting Kiermaier an outfield assist in place of his error.
Padres' third baseman Yangervis Solarte took out his frustrations with the game on a Kevin Jepsen fastball, launching it into the right field stands and off of the back wall of the Trop, 8-2 Rays.
Finally, facing Christian Bethancourt, the Rays got their final out, but not without a gasping, hold your breath injury scare. Bethancourt shot a line drive up the middle, right at Jepsen. The Rays' reliever reacted as quickly as he could, but couldn't quite hit the deck fast enough, as the ball glanced off of the tips of his pitching fingers he had raised in self-defense. The ball deflected to Duffy for the standard 1-4-6 put out to end the game but, more importantly, Jepsen got back to his feet after flexing his fingers to ensure they were all still there, and walked off to the handshake line under his own power.
Good pitching; explosive, if streaky hitting; and a couple of injury scares - sounds like a quintessential Rays' win in 2016.