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Rays 6 Blue Jays 7: Rays come up short in home-run-palooza

Wind must have been blowing out at Tropicana Field

Toronto Blue Jays v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images

The Rays lost a heart-breaking game tonight, climbing back from a five-run deficit only to lose by a single run. The game featured nine home runs, and unfortunately six of them belonged to the Blue Jays.

Austin Pruitt pitches BP

Marcus Stroman is a good pitcher, and the Rays offense has been struggling, so a win tonight required a really strong performance from Austin Pruitt, something akin to the game he threw against the Houston Astros in July.

That’s not what we got.

Indeed, what we got reminded me a bit of the home run derby. About the same percentage of tosses ended up in the stands.

It started with a two-run blast by Josh Donaldson in the first inning. Donaldson apparently saves all his offensive mojo for games against the Rays.

It continued in the second with solo shots Ryan Goins, Raffy Lopez and Steve Pearce, making the score 5-0 after two innings. I guess the only good thing to say is that when everyone hits a homer there is by definition no one on base when the home run is hit.

Pruitt didn’t seem to be wild or missing his spots (at least to the extent that my untrained eye could see) so the deluge of hard and long balls was hard to explain. The home runs all came when he was ahead of the hitters. Was he tipping pitches? Had someone put a fleeting curse on him?

But wait! Rays make it a game....

The Rays, however, worked their way back into it. An infield single from Wilson Ramos (!) on an overturned out call gave the Rays a base runner. Adeiny Hechevarria then hit a ground ball to Donaldson at third base. Donaldson got the force at second but then thanks to some Hech hustle could not turn the double play. That became significant, because it extended the inning and allowed Kevin Kiermaier to end the shut out with a a home run to dead center. 5-2 Blue Jays.

Although Pruitt managed a scoreless third and had two outs (with a runner on first after a single) in the fourth, Kevin Cash decided that he’d seen enough of Austin, and went to the bullpen. Chase Whitley came on to get the last out.

The Rays continued their crawl back in the bottom of the fourth when Steven Souza Jr. hit a solo home run, also to center field, with Kevin Pillar valiantly climbing the wall in an unsuccessful bid for a catch.

Corey Dickerson and Wilson Ramos made it even more interesting with back to back singles, but Brad Miller, whose slump has become pretty epic, popped up to shallow left field to end the threat. But with the score 5-3 after four innings, at least we had a ballgame.

In the top of the fifth, however, Chase Whitley and Justin Smoak decided that they wanted to be part of the dinger party, as Smoak took fastball again over the center field wall, and the Blue Jay lead was back to three. A single by Kendrys Morales continued the inning, but he was forced at second for out number three on a nice play by Hechevarria, fielding a grounder deflected/misplayed by Longoria well into the outfield and pivoting a full 180 degrees to toss to second.

Kevin Kiermaier, however, doesn’t want to hear about your three run deficit, and he showed his disdain in the fifth inning by hitting a towering home run just to the good side of the right field foul pole. At the end of five innings, then, it was 6-4 Toronto, and eight home runs had been struck.

Whitley got in some trouble in the top of the sixth, giving up a single and a walk with just one out. He was replaced by the recently re-called Andrew Kittredge, he of the high ground ball rates, no doubt in hopes of inducing the double play. He did get the ground ball, but it was only good for a single out, which left two men on base for Josh Donaldson. But no problem, Kittredge fanned him on three well placed pitches. Nicely done!

Souza Jr. and Dickerson singles in the bottom of the 6th knocked Stroman out of the game in favor of right handed reliever Danny Barnes. Although his first pitch, a change up, got Wilson Ramos to hit a harmless infield pop-up, his next pitch, a change up to Brad Miller, was lined into left field for an RBI single. It was a nice piece of hitting for Miller who needed to adjust to a pitch on the inside and made the score of this once out of reach game a very close 6-5.

In the bottom of the 7th the Rays mounted another threat. Kiermaier walked and stole second, with catcher Raffy Lopez’s throw going into center field. Kiermaier clearly had lost track of the ball and for several excruciating seconds did not budge from second base. Only once Pillar had reached the ball did KK take off for third, beating the throw.

Lucas Duda drew a walk, putting runners on the corner with no outs. Ryan Tepera took Barnes’ place trying to hold onto the Blue Jays slim lead. But one pitch later the lead was gone as Longoria hit a grounder in just the right spot for an RBI infield single. The next two batters made outs, bringing up Corey Dickerson for one of the most dramatic walks I’ve seen. This was an 11 pitch at-bat that was so Corey — it included his swinging at a pitch that was, I’m not kidding, at helmet level, but also managing to foul off some half a dozen pitches to draw the walk. Unfortunately it didn’t have any greater impact, as Ramos then grounded out to end the inning, but it was quite a battle.

...Only to be cruelly denied

If the Rays home run power had run out, unfortunately the Blue Jays’ had not. With Tommy Hunter on the mound to start the eight, Kevin Pillar took a curve ball to deep left center field to put Toronto ahead, 7-6. It was the ninth homer of the night. Hunter came back to get the next three quick outs, two on strike outs, but the damage was done. Hunter has taken several painful losses over the past few weeks. He continues to pitch very effectively, but even touch of regression for a high leverage reliever can translate quickly into losses.

Failing to score in the eight and ninth against Aaron Loup or Roberto Osuna, the Rays were handed a difficult defeat.

Concluding thoughts

  • MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred was in attendance tonight, treated to the smallest crowd in Rays (as opposed to Devil Rays) history. Manfred has recently been loudly insisting that, contrary to some suspicions, this year’s baseballs are not “juiced” and are not responsible for this year’s surge in home runs. How fitting then to have him in attendance tonight! Did I mention that there were nine home runs?
  • Manfred joined the Rays TV broadcast crew for an inning and made some interesting points. He noted that there are some criticisms of the current schedule for interleague play. As long as the leagues each have fifteen teams, he noted, there will be interleague games. Ideally, he went on, he would like to see sixteen teams in each league, which would create greater scheduling flexibility. This implies, of course, that expansion is in MLB’s future. Manfred gave no hints about where the league might expand. Potential expansion areas must have sufficient population size to support a team, and must not have an oversaturated sports market (implying, for instance, that with their new hockey and football teams, Las Vegas could be out). ,
  • But expansion won’t be on the table until Oakland and Tampa Bay stadiums are resolved. So to all those pushing for a Montreal baseball team: stop ogling our Rays, because you could compete for an expansion franchise once the Tampa Bay stadium issue is settled!
  • Recently acquired Cesar Puello made his Rays debut in the bottom of the eighth, pinch hitting for Lucas Duda. Facing a tough match-up (Toronto closer Roberto Osuna), he managed to make hard contact but hit the ball directly at Justin Smoak at first base for the third out of the inning.
  • Welcome back Kevin Kiermaier! Hitting lead-off, our KK was three for four with a walk, including two home runs.
  • How often, during this difficult stretch, did the Rays lose 2-0 or 3-1? How frustrating to manage six runs and yet come up short on one of the rare off nights for the pitching staff. Baseball.

The Rays will try to salvage the series tomorrow afternoon, with Alex Cobb on the mound.