Although we merry band of recappers are consummate professionals, I will confess that some recap tasks seem more onerous than others. And recapping today’s game looked to be a true labor of love.
First there were concerns about pitching. As others have noted, perhaps the “Erasmo as starter” experiment has run its course. At the very least, Ramirez seemed to match up especially poorly with the Reds line up.
Then there was the Rays lineup. Between injuries and rest days, the bottom half of the lineup —Plouffe, Robertson, Featherston, Bourjos and Sucre — was not exactly murderer’s row. Maybe more of an “idle threat” row. Some of my DRB colleagues were comparing this lineup to some we might have seen in 2012, also known as The Year Everyone Got Injured and Rich Thompson got 24 Plate Appearances.
Plus, I have vivid, haunting memories of weekday afternoon games when it seems the Rays offense tends to go to sleep even under the best of circumstances. Haven’t they been nearly no-hit a few times in these games?
But this, folks, is why they actually play the games. Because those five through nine hole hitters combined for seven hits, including two home runs. Coming alongside some good hitting from the guys in front of them, they were part of an offense that plated eight runs on the afternoon.
Early innings went quickly
Both pitchers, Erasmo Rivera and Tim Adleman, started quickly and efficiently, with Erasmo perfect through three.
The Rays got a mini threat going in the bottom of the third. Sucre walked, and Mallex Smith kept his hitting streak alive with a little flare over the head of the short stop. Souza then lined a very deep single to left field, which scored Sucre and moved Smith to third. Rays up, 1-0.
But Ramirez put that lead quickly at risk. Billy Hamilton is the fastest man in baseball whose hitting tool is unimpressive (he is slashing .240/.291/.313). So pretty much the only thing you don’t want to do is walk him. But that’s what Erasmo did to lead off the fourth. And of course Hamilton stole second, putting a man in scoring position with perennial all star Joey Votto at bat.
Votto drew a walk on a questionable checked swing, and, so after a very efficient three innings, Ramirez looked to be laboring in the fourth, prompting a Hickey mound visit. He came back to strike out Adam Duvall, and got a weak ground ball from third baseman Eugenio Suarez.
Daniel Robertson, playing shortstop in place of Tim Beckham, charged the ball but could not field it cleanly, losing the chance to make the out a first as the other runners advanced. However, lead runner Billy Hamilton had aggressively rounded third and started toward the plate, trying to reverse course when he saw that Robertson had the ball in hand. He then led the Rays defense in an extended rundown that ended in an out when a resourceful Mallex Smith charged in from left field, taking the final throw and tagging out a grinning Hamilton. Score it Robertson to Plouffe to Sucre to Featherston to Plouffe to Smith – just your basic 6-5-2-4-5-7 put out.
When the official scorer takes the last piece of gum. pic.twitter.com/GS2W9Y5Gpc— Tampa Bay Rays (@RaysBaseball) June 21, 2017
Rays offense gets in gear
Trevor Plouffe led off the Rays fourth with a solo homer, suggesting that the Rays plan to bring him in for a little extra power could pay off. Then a walk to Robertson and an infield single by Peter Bourjos, who can still get up the line in a hurry, put two men on with one out. That brought up Jose Sucre, Mr. Clutch, and while he gave the ball a good ride nearly to the warning track, it was ultimately an out, on which the runners failed to advance. But a line drive single by Mallex Smith, jumping on the first pitch, scored Robertson from second. Rays up, 3-0.
Ramirez’ shut out and no-hitter both ended in the top of the fifth inning when Scott Schebler, who is showing some power this year, hit the first pitch of the inning out over the left centerfield fence, making the score 3-1. Cincinnati tacked on another run in the sixth, after Ramirez put two men on and Cash decided to go to the bullpen for those last 11 outs.
First up, was former Red Jumbo Diaz. He recorded a strikeout but then walked the next batter, and left with bases loaded for lefty Jose Alvarado to face Scott Schebler. Alvarado sort of got the result he wanted – a ground ball back to the pitcher – but he could not make a play on the ball, which deflected off of him into no man’s land, scoring a run. Rays up, 3-2.
In the bottom of the fifth, Souza hit a very high fly ball into the far corner of left field. It seemed like it was going foul, perhaps, and Souza sort of stood at the plate watching it, dashing to first when it fell in fair, hitting the wall and falling onto the field. Souza made it to second, but it might have been a triple if he had run from the start. And had he made it to third, he then would not have been caught leaning off of second base on the the next play, his pick off essentially ending that inning’s threat.
To start the bottom of the sixth inning, the Reds went to their bullpen, bringing in young righty Austin Brice. Taylor Featherston greeted him with a deep ground ball that went for an infield hit. He fell victim to the baserunning overboogie, however, getting thrown out trying to advance to third on a Peter Bourjos infield single. A Sucre single (he is no doubt making it hard for the Rays to make a catching decision when Ramos returns) put runners at first and second as the Reds once more went to their pen, going to lefty Wandy Peralta. Corey Dickerson’s pop up somehow fell for a hit; with two outs Bourjos had been running on contact and was able to score. Rays up 4-2. A legit single by Souza scored Sucre, 5-2. Next a deep double by LoMo off the wall scored two more, Rays up 7-2, 9 outs to go. Taylor Featherston would add the eight run on a seventh inning home run.
Rays bullpen bends but doesn’t break
Jose Alvarado stayed in to start the 7th, yielding a long double to DH Jesse Winkler. He advanced to third on a strike in the dirt, and scored on a Hamilton ground ball on which Taylor Featherston made a nice play to get the speedy Hamilton at first, cutting the Rays lead down to 7-3.
Tommy Hunter came to in pitch the 8th and made it a bit too interesting. He walked Joey Votto, gave up a deep double to Adam Duvall (Souza dove for it valiantly but couldn’t keep hold of the ball, leading to a visit from the trainer. He seemed to be OK but maybe save the diving heroics for times when it is a real game changer?), and a walk to Scott Schebler with just one out. He was pulled in favor of Chase Whitley, who got them out of the inning on a strikeout and a ground ball, and came back to finish the game with a clean ninth.
All told, that much-maligned bullpen managed 3.2 innings of one-run ball, including six strikeouts.
Oh those blunders
I know Cash and the players have talked about wanting to clean up their play, but there were a few clunkers today. There was one error, when Robertson booted an easily playable ball the third (although we should thank him because it gave rise to the entertaining Hamilton rundown), but the other missteps were on the basepaths.
First, there was Robertson’s failure to tag and advance on Sucre’s fourth inning fly ball, perhaps because it didn’t look like it would be deep enough. Souza arguably made two mistakes in the fifth, first standing for several seconds to study his fly ball, perhaps losing the chance for a triple, and then getting picked off second base. Later, Trevor Plouffe got thrown out by quite a bit chugging from first to third on a Robertson single.
Finally, in the bottom of the sixth, Featherston was thrown out at third trying to grab an extra base on a Bourjos high chop infield single. Perhaps he thought that the effort to get Bourjos at first would be more time consuming and he would have time to sneak over to third, but he was thrown out quite easily and yet another man in scoring position turned into an out.
Teams that choose to be aggressive on the base paths are opting for higher risk alongside higher reward, so the occasional disappointing out at third may be collateral damage of an approach that will, on the plus side, yield stronger offense. After all, the Rays, before this game, were +14.9 runs on the bases, second in major league baseball, and you probably don’t get there without taking some chances.
Nonetheless it is painful to lose three runners in scoring position to outs. And seeing Trevor Plouffe huffing his way around the bases certainly suggests he is a guy for whom the running game is not a strong point. At the very least, Souza’s several second freeze at home plate in fifth is a mistake he should be able to avoid.
But I’ll take the imperfect victory over the perfectly executed loss every time!