To say I had reservations about this game would be an understatement. The Rays, having just dropped four of their last five, including getting swept in a two game set against the Red Sox, had to contend with the reigning AL Champs, the Cleveland Indians. To give this game a bit more foreboding, the Tribe had the flame-throwing Danny Salazar on the hill, while Tampa Bay trotted out the consistently inconsistent Blake Snell.
Luckily, the Rays rookie was finally up to the task.
Snell Settles In
On Thursday night, Blake Snell outdueled Danny Salazar.
Now let’s not paint any images of grandeur about this start. It wasn’t nearly as efficient as any of us would have liked, as Snell needed 101 pitches to get through 6.1 innings and found himself on the wrong end of many counts, especially early in the game; he didn’t rack up his counting stats, striking out only four Indians’ hitters all night; and he made a number of questionable pitches on which he was lucky not to be punished.
But at the end of the night, Snell did indeed settle in and navigated a very potent Indians lineup, particularly against left-handed pitching. He kept the powerful trio of Jose Ramirez, Edwin Encarnacion, and Carlos Santana to a combined 1-for-11, allowing only an RBI single to Ramirez in the top of the first inning, after a leadoff double by Francisco Lindor.
Snell was able to keep the ball in the park and got the Indians to ground into eight outs, including a double play by Encarnacion.
It may not have been perfect, but Snell was able to keep a dangerous lineup in check long enough to turn the ball over to Tommy Hunter, who was perfect through 1.2 innings with three strikeouts, and allow the offense to eventually show up and win the contest.
Speaking of which…
Better Late Than Never!
And with a 0-for-4 night leading up to the eighth inning, “Never” looked like a real possibility for Corey Dickerson. Prior to his fifth at-bat, Dickerson was definitely not seeing the ball well. While being known as a free-swinging slugger, the Rays’ leftfielder was taking huge cuts at pitches above his hands and nearly in the dirt far more often than usual. Dickerson struck out once and left three men on base over his first four plate appearances.
But when the Indians turned to the bullpen and Nick Goody in the eighth, Dickerson broke through!
Adeiny Hechavarria led off the frame with a frozen rope single over Lindor’s glove at short. He then let his speed go to work, swiping second and, on the misfire by Indians’ catcher Yan Gomes that bounced off of Lindor’s glove and into the outfield, stole third as well!
What followed was an interesting chain of events with Mallex Smith attempting to bunt Hechavarria home. With one strike already against him, Smith tried to put down a bunt, but instead popped it up down the third base line. Johnny Urshela made a valiant effort, and appeared to have caught it, but the ball squirted free from under his arm, giving Smith new life in a two strike count. Smith again tried to bunt and again popped it up, this time to first. With three Indians’ fielders converging on the ball, first baseman Santana took his eyes off of the ball and it skipped off of his glove and bounced away, leaving Hechavarria at third and Smith shaking his head after a bunt strike out.
Jesus Sucre got plunked pretty hard in the left forearm, right above the elbow pad, and appeared to favor the area for a few moments before eventually staying in the game. Just enough time to get brought home by Corey Dickerson!
Dickerson got himself a pitch to hit, a fastball just above the belt and dead-center of the plate and he mashed it to straight-away center. It barely cleared the leaping Bradley Zimmer’s glove and the centerfield wall, but it was just far enough to score the three runs that would break the tie and give the Rays a 4-1 lead.
Alex Colome came on to work a 1-2-3 ninth and secure the much needed win for the Rays, who once again got above .500 and remain in the AL Wild Card hunt!