Did you doubt it? Did you doubt that the Rays would hang on to win, after seeing late inning leads evaporate in far too many recent games?
But thanks to some clutch hits (all the Rays’ runs came with 2 outs — H/T Neil Solondz) and five scoreless bullpen innings (H/T Rays front office), today the Rays were victors.
Jacob Faria was the Rays starter, and also happened to be celebrating his 24th birthday. I had been hoping to see the kind of shut down performance he enjoyed in his last start, and I even had the title for the recap picked out: A W for the Birthday Boy! Unfortunately I had to drop that title pretty quickly
The Rays got on the board in the first inning, scoring on an RBI single by Trevor Plouffe.
New title: It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity.
But that lead didn’t stand. Faria, who struggled with control all day, walked Chase Headley in the bottom of the second inning. Two batters later he hung a pitch to generally light-hitting Ronald Torreyes, who connected for a two run homer. Yankees were in the lead, 2-1.
The Rays got their game-deciding crooked numbers in the third inning. Peter Bourjos doubled, and Evan Longoria legged out an infield hit. A Lucas Duda walk loaded the bases, bringing up Corey Dickerson with two outs. In all honesty, a slumping Corey Dickerson was not the batter I wanted to see there, as Montgomery’s control was shaky and a patient batter might have drawn the RBI walk.
But Dickerson, with two strikes on him, managed to get just enough contact to push a single into center field, and two runs came home. Another run scored on a Wilson Ramos single, and the Rays had a 4-2 lead.
Joe Girardi did not wait long to pull his floundering starter, replacing him with Luis Cessa. Cessa went on to pitch 3.1 innings, striking out the first four Rays he faced as they chased his sliders. He would eventually lose his control as he walked four, but he provided very effective long relief for New York.
Faria, meanwhile, continued his own control struggles, falling behind almost every batter. In the fourth inning he walked Todd Frazier and this time merely gave up a double, rather than a home run, to Torreyes, bringing the Yankees within one. When he walked the first two batters of the fifth inning to bring up Aaron Judge, Kevin Cash decided that he would rather see his newly upgraded bullpen take over, and Sergio Romo entered the game. After a wild pitch that moved both runners into scoring position, Romo did his best ROOGY thing and struck out Judge, and got an infield popup from Matt Holliday. Cash then went to LOOGY Dan Jennings to face Didi Gregorious, and the result was a ground out to end the inning.
A lot more happened! But I’ll focus on both the run-scoring and head-banging innings.
First the head-banging:
New title: A Series of Unfortunate Events
Jennings started the sixth by walking Todd Frazier. Last time that happened, if you recall, Frazier came around to score. This time Jennings did his job, however, inducing a ground ball that seemed challenging but possible for a double play. Instead Hechevarria took a few steps in to field it, and then turned to airmail it over the head of second baseman Tim Beckham. Instead of an inning ending double play this left runners on the corners with one out.
Cash called for newly arrived Steve Cishek, who then hit Yankee catcher Austin Romine on the arm — you could see it swelling as he stood on first — to load the bases for Brett Gardner. But Cishek, who I think we will like, came through (and the defense didn’t blow it), with a force at home and an outfield fly, so the thin 4-3 lead is preserved.
New title: #MallexEffect plus Souza
Finally, in the top of the eight, the Rays added that all important insurance run. Pinch hitting for Peter Bourjos, Mallex Smith managed to chop the ball hard into the ground, causing it to bounce high in the air. By the time Yankees pitcher Green could field it, Mallex was easily beating any throw to first, and he eventually stole second. The next two Rays made outs, but Steven Souza Jr. came through with the RBI double to make it 5-3 Rays.
Finally the Rays headed into the bottom of the ninth with a two-run lead. This would normally would give a fan a feeling of confidence, because statistically speaking teams leading in the bottom of the ninth usually win. Right?
Possible new title: Alex Colome you are driving me to drink
But I do not need to explain to anyone who has been following the Rays the last ten days or so why this is not the case.
Colome started well, striking out Gary Sanchez. Not putting on the lead off man strikes me as a very good plan.
But Brett Gardner, of course, worked a very long at bat and then hit a single. Not so good. Gardner of course went to second base on what is ruled a wild pitch. And Colome then walks Clint Frazier. And did I mention that Aaron Judge is on deck?
But Judge popped a ball foul and like some kind of miracle it was playable for Plouffe near the first base dugout. And a hard hit grounder to third was playable for Longoria who threw out Holliday for the last out.
Some final thoughts
- This 9 inning game took 3 hours and 51 minutes, featured 10 pitchers, 23 position players, 15 walks, a HBP, and 27 strike outs. For all that there were just 13 hits and 8 runs. It was a combination of October baseball — quick hooks for pitchers, lots of pinch hitters -- and sloppy baseball (walks, errors) that made this game feel like a long slog.
- Even those who may be critical of Stu Sternberg’s management love Stu Sternberg the Rays fan, which is always on display when he does in-game interviews, usually when the team is playing in New York. Today, Alex Corddry interviewed him during the third inning. First we got some of his observations about the team — they had been following Lucas Duda since his rookie year; with recent acquisitions and the return of Kevin Kiermaier (he also said Matt Duffy but we’ll believe it when we see it) this team, despite this down week, can compete with any in the AL East.
- But the best is hearing Stu react to the game going on while he’s speaking. His cheer for the Bourjos double, his urging Longoria on the infield hit. Corddry even noted that Dewayne Staats and Brian Anderson love these interviews to hear Sternberg’s play-by-play commentary. Sternberg’s conclusion: “I am a fan first, second and third.”
- Is there a more annoying sound than the Yankees stadium whistle after every opposing player strikes out? For those not familiar, that whistle is part of the advertising jingle for the electronics chain PC Richards, which sponsors the Yankees. I find it odd that a team so steeped in history has a stupid ad jingle as their most memorable in-stadium experience. Are the Steinbrenner’s that hard up for cash? Imagine if the Rays stooped to such a lame kind of sell-out, the New York press would never stop complaining about it. Clearly I am not the only one who feels this way.
On to Houston.