The Rays began their final 2016 series on Friday, taking on the Texas Rangers in Arlington. I think it’s safe to say that everyone associated with this team, with the possible exceptions of Jaff Decker and Juniel Querecuto, is simply relieved that the agony that has been this 2016 is almost over.
Friday’s game was hardly an auspicious match-up for the Rays: our last place darlings taking on the cruising-to-division title Rangers; our sometimes very hittable Matt Andriese against a strong Texas offense while the very effective Yu Darvish squared off against a Rays line-up that, well, did I mention Jaff Decker and Juniel Querecuto, bless their hearts?
Fun fact: When Darvish was first signed, the Rangers stadium concessionaire created the Yu Dog — a hot dog served with seaweed. fried wontons, and fortune cookies on the side. Aside from sounding like a culinary abomination, it also led to complaints of racial insensitivity (and for what it’s worth fortune cookies are actually an American invention). I’m not sure that any Yu dogs were actually sold.
Anyway, back to baseball.
First, I feel a ton of gratitude to Corey Dickerson whose extended first inning lead off at-bat (Dickerson at lead off? is my At-Bat app acting up?) ended in a single, thus sparing us the pain of a no-hitter watch.
But in the bottom of that inning, Ian Desmond walked and reached second on a steal, scoring on a single to center. It appeared that Kiermaier misplayed the ball, allowing the run to score, but I know that’s not possible so I’ll blame cable provider Frontier Communications for an obviously faulty image.
In the bottom of the third inning, Carlos Beltran scorched a line drive home run to right field, making the score 2-0 Rangers. Beltran is having another highly productive year at age 39, and unlike some other older sluggers in our league he actually runs the bases, plays a respectable outfield, and neither attacks dugout equipment nor stares down opposing pitchers.
How many different pitches can Darvish throw for strikes? He certainly managed to carve up this Rays line-up. The only really hard hit ball prior to the 6th inning was a Querecuto line drive deep into the center-rightfield gap; unfortunately it was hit to the deepest part of the park where it was snagged on a good play by Ian Desmond.
The Rays offense wasn’t completely shut down. In the top of the 6th, Kiermaier reached on a walk, and flew around the bases to score on Evan Longoria’s double, making the score 2-1. Then Darvish seemed to quickly regain his bearings, striking out Miller, Franklin and Decker. 74 mph curveball followed by 77 mph slider followed by 96 mph four seamer followed by 76 mph slider (to Franklin, just as an example).
But Rougned Odor quickly followed with a solo home run, restoring the Texas 2 run lead. One out later Andriese was replaced by Justin Marks.
This was overall a decently pitched game. Andriese put in a solid performance (5.1 innings, 7 hits, three runs), about the best you can expect from your number 5 starter facing a strong line up. But Darvish was even better, yielding just 3 hits and 1 run over 6 innings, and notching 12 strikeouts along the way.
By the 7th inning it was the battle of the bullpens, with Barnette, Diekman, Bush (yes, that Bush, who gave up a double to Longoria both nothing else) and Dyson for the Rangers and Marks, Ramirez and Romero for the Rays posting clean innings. Romero looked like he was going to have what has become an all too familiar implosion when he gave up a double to Odor and then was 3-0 on pinch hitter Jonathan Lucroy. But he came back to strike out Lucroy and get Choo to fly out.
If the goal of this weekend is to get closer to that # 2 draft pick without anyone getting injured or humiliated, then mission accomplished.