The Rays sought to sweep the Athletics in today’s afternoon getaway game, going up against the highly effective Sonny Gray, the object of desire for a number of starting-pitching-challenged contenders. The Rays featured starter Jacob Faria, who had begun his major league career with a string of seven “quality starts,” filling in more than effectively for Matt Andriese and quickly becoming a mainstay of the rotation.
We knew that that Faria would at some point likely have a rough outing. I mean, no pitcher is effective every game, right?
But did it have to be today?
Actually, Faria didn’t even have a bad outing – he had a bad inning. But in baseball one bad inning can decide a game.
Rays play four excellent innings
Prior to that bad inning, this looked like a game out of the recent Rays playbook, with strong defense, timely enough hitting against an opposing ace, and effective enough pitching.
Even in the first four innings Faria wasn’t really dominant, falling behind hitters too often, but he was getting the job done. And he was backed by a strong defense – no web gem plays but solid work from infield to outfield. Faria even helped his cause by nabbing Rajai Davis in a stolen base attempt – pretty impressive in that Davis has managed to swipe 17 bases this season, caught only four times previously.
A particularly noteworthy play came in the bottom of the first. Faria got two quick outs before giving up a ground ball single to Yonder Alonso and then a sharp double to Kris Davis. But very fortunately Alonso (or likely his third base coach) made a poor decision to try to score from first. The relay throw to the plate beat him by the proverbial country mile (or so I think, because Alonso avoided the inevitable tag by basically peeling off to the dugout before ever getting to the plate). With a combination of good defense and poor decision making by the A’s the Rays managed to get through the first scoreless.
It was actually the Rays who first scored, in the top of the fourth inning. Longoria reached on chopped infield hit, managing to evade the tag at first. Morrison followed up with a well struck line drive base hit to our friend Matt Joyce in right field, putting runners at the corners with no outs. The Buffalo came up, and with his ground ball tendencies and Gray’s sinking action I will admit I could already see the double play. But Ramos got a hold of a pitch that had caught too much plate, and drilled a line drive to the center field wall, settling for a long single, with Longo scoring. Rays up 1-0. Brad Miller’s ground out then scored Morrison with Ramos forced at second. 2-0. A very hard hit grounder by Beckham unfortunately turned into an easy inning ending double play to prevent further scoring.
But sadly the game didn’t end in the middle of the fifth
The Rays’ lead didn’t last long. Faria walked Maxwell to lead off the 5th and went 2-0 to Chapman with both pitches floating up outside the zone in a way that suggested he just wasn’t sure where they were going. He did manage to strike out Chapman, but the loss of command reappeared as he walked Jaycob Brugman before yielding a run-scoring ground rule double to Rajai Davis (Rays up 2-1), followed by a sac fly by Matt Joyce (score tied, 2-2) and then a wild pitch (Oakland up 3-2), a single by Semien who then advanced to second on another wild pitch, then an RBI single from Alonso (Oakland up 4-2). Faria finally limped out of the inning with a strike out of Kris Davis, but after 4 runs and 35 pitches, damage was done.
Of course a two run deficit is not insurmountable, but after a stellar performance to snatch a victory yesterday, Rays relievers were far less impressive today. In the bottom of the sixth, Cash went to newcomer Andrew Kittridge and it wasn’t pretty. His second pitch, a slider, was hit hard by Jed Lowrie for a double. He got a foul pop up for out number one, but then the wheels came off. A Matt Chapman single put runners at first and third. Jaycob Brugman then put down a very good bunt, which Kittredge played poorly, fielding it too slowly to get the runner at home, then hesitating too long to get the runner at first. Because Longoria had come in for the initial bunt he was out of position when Plouffe threw to third, so the runner was able to advance.
So that one bunt play scored a run, making the score 5-2, failed to record an out, and left runners once again at the corners. Rajai Davis tried repeating the bunt play, with Brugman hung out at third, but able to keep the rundown going long enough to end up with runners at second and third. The Rays then brought in lefty, side-arm throwing Adam Kolarek to face Matt Joyce who made the third out.
Kolarek didn’t fare as well in the seventh, however. He started the inning by walking Marcus Semien and then a pitch seemed to get away from him as he hit Alonso squarely in the torso (Gameday called the pitch a 67 mph sinker). Kolarek was replaced by Chase Whitley, who gave up a single and a run-scoring ground ball out, for a 6-2 score. The final Oakland run came on a home run by Matt Joyce in the 8th.
Other points of note:
- It’s not fun to lose, but what is worse than a loss in which a key player gets injured? In the top of the first inning, Steven Souza led off with a walk, taking off for second as Corey Dickerson whiffed on a third strike. He slid very awkwardly, with his back leg seeming to snag on the track, and he limped off with the trainer after the out call. Subsequent reports noted that x-rays were negative, but that he had strained the hip on which he had had off-season surgery. He will be further evaluated when the team returns home. His absence is a big test of the Rays outfield depth under any circumstances, but it is a particular loss at this time, as Souza has been enjoying his best professional season and is a huge contributor to the team in all facets of the game.
- An effective Sonny Gray received a nice ovation from the home town crowd, with everyone aware that he could be making his last appearance in an Oakland uniform.