Rays ace Chris Archer’s struggles against the Boston Red Sox have been well-documented: a 5.14 ERA in 17 career starts. The narrative was already there. So you have to give Archer credit for not wasting any time in pitching to that narrative.
He hung a slider to the first batter he faced, and Mookie Betts took it out of the park. Three-ball counts to the next two batters (ending in a strikeout and a lineout), and a walk to Mitch Moreland made it a long first inning for Archer.
Steven Souza Jr., leading off for the Rays, almost turned the same trick on a David Price fastball in the lower half of the zone, but his fly ball was a foot short and he had to settle for a double. Corey Dickerson grounded to the right to move Souza over, and Evan Longoria singled him home to reset the game at 1-1.
Given the equivalent of a clean start, Archer seemed to have a little bit extra in the second inning, attacking the zone, and throwing several of his fastballs at 98 mph. He overpowered Hanley Ramirez and Jackie Bradley Jr. It was quick, efficient, aggressive work. It was what the Rays needed.
The Rays offense made something of the fresh start. In the bottom of the third inning, Steven Souza Jr. lead off with a walk. With two strikes, Corey Dickerson shortened up his string and poked a hard grounder the other way just past third base and into left field for a double. Evan Longoria lifted a fly ball into the outfield to sacrifice home a run and put the Rays in front.
Archer and Intermittent Domination
Archer was not perfect, but he was very good.
There were too many non-competitive pitches—fastballs that missed too high, and sliders in the dirt—and there were hanging sliders in the zone that didn’t get taken advantage of.
But he only got hurt on that a couple times, and when he was executing his pitches, he was dominant. He overpowered the talented Boston lineup, making up for his mistakes. His final line was 6.2 innings pitched with eight strikeouts, two walks, and only three hits. According to Brooks Baseball, he got a 12% whiff rate on his fastball, and a 21% whiff rate on his slider. That’s great.
The Rays Defense
While Archer was playing the role of imperfect ace, the Rays defense did their part behind him.
- In the fourth inning, Souza chased a fly ball deep into foul territory, laying out dramatically to make the catch. StatCast evaluated that catch as having a 14% probability of being made.
- In the sixth inning, with Hanley Ramirez on first, Jackie Bradley Jr. hit a fly ball to the wall in left field. Corey Dickerson covered a lot of ground, and got there comfortably, making a leaping grab. Ramirez read the play wrong, running aggressively, anticipating a bounce off the wall. Dickerson, not known for his arm, fired a long, strong, accurate throw to the infield, and Brad Miller relayed it quickly to double up Ramirez off first.
- In the ninth inning, Adeiny Hechavarria, a defensive replacement, went way out into left field to make a catch on what would otherwise have been a bloop.
The Seventh Inning
It all happened in the seventh inning.
Tzu-Wei Lin has been really annoying this series. As the ninth man in the order, he’s supposed to be someone a pitcher is able to overpower. He’s not supposed to be a threat. But we have to give him some credit. Lin has shown a good eye at the plate, not chasing pitches, and while he won’t hit the ball hard, he’s been able to make contact on tough pitches.
Back in the third inning, Archer jammed Lin with a fastball in on the hands, but Lin muscled it just over Brad Miller and into right field. Now in the seventh inning, with one out, he was once more jammed with a fastball up and in—that’s a tough pitch to touch—and again he did something with it, flipping it into short left field, just over the head of a diving Taylor Featherston. Maybe Adeiny Hechavarria gets there. Featherston doesn’t, and he shouldn’t feel bad. Bloops happen.
Next up, Mookie Betts hit a soft ground ball up the middle. It was weak contact. Too weak to turn two, and Betts is fast. Featherston fielded and got the lead runner.
Archer had dominated Pedroia so far today. But in the seventh inning, he did not. On the seventh pitch, in a full count, Pedroia hit a thigh-high fastball on the outer third the other way to put Boston in the lead, 3-2.
That was the end of Chris Archer’s night. Tommy Hunter cleaned up.
Matt Barnes came on to pitch the bottom of the seventh inning, trying to hold the lead. Mallex Smith, pinch hitting, led off.
And honestly, it’s pretty strange about Smith; he’s not a power hitter, but pitchers have had trouble throwing him strikes. Barnes was high with his pitches, and he walked Smith on four.
The Sox pitching coach came out to talk, and Joe Kelly started warming up in the bullpen.
Peter Bourjos was bunting all the way. He bunted what would have been ball one foul, and then he showed bunt and pulled back, taking strike two. And the Rays kept it on. In an 0-2 count, Bourjos got the bunt down, sacrificing Smith over to second.
Let’s consider the decision (#CashConsiderations):
- Bourjos is not a good hitter, and he’s working with the handedness disadvantage.
- Bourjos is a good bunter.
- Mallex Smith is really fast.
- The Red Sox know Mallex Smith is really fast.
- Smith was successfully taking big leads, but didn’t try to swipe a bag. If Bourjos had struck out, probably he would have tried.
- Sacrificing the runner over generally raises a team’s chances of scoring one run, and lowers their chances of scoring multiple runs.
- With Craig Kimbral leading a tough Red Sox bullpen, the chances of scoring a run are small (not 0%, but closeish).
- With the game tied, this is perhaps Erasmo Ramirez’s game for the Rays. I don’t know whose game it is for the Red Sox. Joe Kelly next?
Do you put the bunt on there? Do you keep it on with two strikes? It’s the second time in two recaps that I’ve written this, but I don’t know.
In any case, Souza hit a hard grounder down the third base line that Lin could only knock down, rather than fielding cleanly on the backhand. With Souza’s speed, that would have been a tough play at first, but there was no play, because the #MallexEffect took over.
Smith had the whole play in front of him. He saw Lin knock the ball down behind third. And he could also see where Xander Bogaerts was playing at short, and how Bogaerts didn’t immediately run to cover third. He knows his speed, and he realized that he could beat everyone to the bag. So he did. Lin tried to get there. Everyone was safe. It was great baserunning.
The Red Sox swapped Barnes for Kelly, and Corey Dickerson hit a foul fly ball down the left field line. Andrew Benintendi messed up.
The fly ball was maybe halfway up the line. It was shallow enough that Benintendi might plausibly think he could throw a runner out at the plate from there, but the Rays didn’t have “a runner” at third base—they had Mallex Smith. That’s 80 speed. No one throws Smith out at that distance. Benintendi needed to let that ball drop foul and preserve the lead for the Sox. Either he was overconfident, or he forgot the scouting report. Tie game, #MallexEffect.
Not Facing Craig Kimbrell
The Red Sox have one of the best relievers ever. And the Rays didn’t have to face him.
Instead, Farrell sent Kelly back out to pitch the bottom of the eighth inning, and he walked Logan Morrison to lead off. Kelly is good, and he got the next two outs. but Brad Miller had something to say about out number three.
Alex Colome worked a good ninth, around a leadoff single.
Some Other Notes:
- Wilson Ramos struggled to frame the low strike. Both Archer and Brad Boxberger lost strikes at the bottom of the zone, and some of those were clearly on Ramos (there were a couple low sliders from Archer that were actually stikes, but that Ramos caught with his glove touching the dirt). This is part of the problem with being a big guy.
- Boy is it nice to have Boxberger back.
- The Rays are tied with the Yankees going into the All-Star break, and only 3.5 behind the Red Sox.