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Rays 8 Cubs 1: 5788 seems to be the Rays year

Hitting, pitching and defense all show up. On the same night.

Chicago Cubs v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images

The Rays and Blake Snell figured out how to neutralize the many Cubs fans who were among the 24,000 at Tropicana Field tonight: don’t give them anything to cheer about.

There was certainly a day when a Blake Snell-Jon Lester pitching match up would seem to have heavily favored the Cubs. But today, there’s a new dominant lefty in town. Lester struggled with command and left without completing five innings.

Snell meanwhile was getting ahead with fastballs and then nailing his opponents on his curve, in several cases with batters contorting themselves as they sought to make contact with pitches in the dirt. He pitched seven innings, striking out just five to three walks. But he succeeded in keeping the ball on the ground, which meant he was rewarded with two key double plays to get him out of the mild trouble he encountered.

Indeed, in the third inning, after the ball was scooped by first baseman Morrison for the final out you could see Snell pumping his first with excitement. It’s nice to see Blake able to do a bit of celebrating on the mound.

His shutting out the strong Cubs offense on just two hits has to be considered an impressive performance.

The Rays, meanwhile, played small ball, long ball and everything in between. Stephen Souza Jr. started off the Rays’ scoring with a first inning home run, his thirtieth of the season, to become the eighth Ray in history to reach that milestone, the second this season (the other is Logan Morrison).

In the second inning, the Rays strung together some singles to score a run, and then with men on first and third and one out, put on a play seldom seen in the post-Maddon era: the safety squeeze, with Peter Bourjos laying down the perfect bunt and Cesar Puello dashing home.

This is almost enough to make me toss the “Don’t bunt, hit dingers” t-shirt because this RBI bunt was fun.

At the end of the second, which came about when Javier Baez turned a tricky double play, the Rays were up 4-0.

Lester did settle down after that and the Rays went scoreless in the third and fourth, but they struck again in the fifth. Steven Souza Jr. walked, and then took advantage of Lester’s known Achilles heel: his reluctance to hold base runners (if you don’t believe me, ask Miguel Montero about that), stealing second and then third. A hit by pitch and a walk loaded the bases, setting the stage for Wilson Ramos to single home two more runs. After a pitching change and a passed ball, the Rays came out of the fifth inning up 7-0.

The Cubs had a bit more success off of Rays reliever Ryne Stanek. Mike Freeman opened the eighth with a hard double to left and scored on a single just over Hechevarria’s glove, making the score 7-1. Stanek also had a wild pitch that advanced a runner and he walked a batter. Although he did get two strike outs (interestingly his whiffs came primarily on his change up — which at 89 mph could be someone else’s fastball), this was on the whole a somewhat rocky outing, unfortunately more the rule than the exception for Stanek.

Felix Peña came on to pitch the eighth for the Cubs, and he showed off his stuff (with two strike outs) and his command problems (with two walks). He also yielded an RBI single to Evan Longoria to make the score 8-1.

The Rays countered with Chase Whitley in the ninth inning; he gave up a lead-off double and the game ended when a fierce line drive happened to go straight to Morrison. But ultimately he kept the score at 8-1 and did his job.

To conclude, DRB joins Durham Bulls pitcher Brent Honeywell in wishing a happy and sweet new year to those who celebrate: