For 7 innings this was a tight pitching duel, with the Rays trailing 1-0.
A painful 8th inning
And then, as has happened a few too many times this year, the wheels came off.
Chase Whitley, who pitched a clean 7th inning, gave up a single and a walk without recording an out in the 8th. Cash then replaced him with Diego Moreno, the newly called up righty who had made an inauspicious Rays debut on Tuesday, giving up the decisive 12th inning home run.
What ensued was not pretty. Ground out, moving both runners into scoring position; then double, double, and single that Kevin Kiermaier, yes Kevin Kiermaier, misplayed into yet another run. At the end of 8 innings this pitchers duel was a 6-0 blow out. Talk about deflating.
It didn’t start out that way
Jason Vargas has been extremely effective this year, so it was clear that scoring runs would be a tough hill to climb against the soft-tossing lefty. But a decent, if not dominant Jake Odorizzi, and some stellar infield and outfield defense, kept it close.
In the first inning, both Logan Morrison and Corey Dickerson made great plays that prevented extra bases, Dickerson covering some ground to rob Eric Hosmer of a home run, reaching over the fence around 162 Landing to retrieve the ball.
That moment you're suddenly 10 years old in the backyard again.— Tampa Bay Rays (@RaysBaseball) May 11, 2017
Wow, @MCoreyDickerson. pic.twitter.com/MlNuCM2UdZ
Indeed, strong fielding even carried over to the ball boy, whose catch earned appreciative applause from Salvador Perez.
Respect. pic.twitter.com/aEa0lQZHWs— Tampa Bay Rays (@RaysBaseball) May 11, 2017
Odorizzi did give up a solo home run to Whit Merrifield, got into some deep counts and relied on his defense to retrieve some hard hit balls, but I’ll take his line — 6 innings pitched, 1 earned run, 4 strike outs, 2 walks — any day.
One would need a magnifying glass to find the Rays offense. Sure, there were five base runners, but one was erased on a double play, one was caught stealing, and one reached on an infield hit in the bottom of the ninth when it pretty much didn’t matter. Chasing the one run seemed difficult, and once the deficit was 6 the game was clearly over.
No doubt much of the conversation about this game will focus on Cash’s decision to bring the relatively untested Moreno in to the high leverage 8th inning. The results were certainly as poor as they could be. In fairness, it is easy to imagine many members of the Rays bullpen performing just as poorly. But it does seem like an odd way to get Moreno back into action after his taking the loss in Tuesday’s game.
But is there anything sadder than watching our own green-eyed golden gloved center fielder turn into a liability? He’s had patches of poor offensive performance before, but his stellar defense has made him a plus contributor whether he was hitting or not. While his ability to get to balls hasn’t changed, his strange string of errors, some quite costly, has been inexplicable.
In the television broadcast Brian Anderson and Dewayne Staats wondered whether he was having trouble with the new Tropicana Field turf, but even they acknowledged that this was a problematic theory, since no other outfielder was having similar problems, and even Kiermaier wasn’t struggling with it until the past week.
This was a game with no silver linings for the Rays and their fans.
The Rays now travel to Boston for a weekend series at Fenway Park.