The Rays took the second of three games from the Chicago White Sox this afternoon by a score of 6-5. Clocking in at three hours and forty-four minutes, this game was, from a Rays fan perspective, both tedious and terrifying. The tedious can be explained by a game featuring seventeen (!) bases on balls (there were also two hit-by-pitches but those thankfully are quick). I love baseball, I really do, but unless bases are loaded or a key game is on the line there is nothing particularly interesting about watching a batter draw a walk – multiply that by seventeen and, well, let’s say it slows things down.
But just when we were lulled into thinking this would be a satisfying albeit unspectacular win, Ryan Weber and Alex Colome combined to provide a roller coaster ride of a ninth inning that turned a 6-1 assured victory into a 6-5 nail biter. Apparently the Rays and their fans will never see a clean ninth inning again.
But before tackling the heart attack-inducing ninth, let’s review innings one through eight.
I have a recurrent nightmare where I watch Blake Snell pitch and he walks just about every batter. That nightmare came alive today — but fortunately it was Chicago’s Carson Fulmer in the role of “guy who can’t find the plate.” The 24-year old righty was described by JT Morgan in our series preview as a Snell-like pitcher, one with great stuff that too often got lost in a flurry of control problems. Today Fulmer’s battle with command was evident. He pitched 4.2 innings, threw 92 pitches, gave up six walks, two HBP and a balk to boot. He gave up 4 runs (3 earned) to the Rays which is actually pretty good if you consider the 13 base runners he allowed. The Lakeland native did strike out four, and threw some pretty good pitches too, but could not get beyond the lack of control.
Blake Snell’s own performance shows why we have such high hopes for the still young lefty but why he’s still not quite there. On the positive side: 10 strike outs, 7 ground outs and just one hit and one run. He did finish six innings which may not be ideal but at least puts the bullpen in a reasonable position.
On the other hand, he yielded five walks and had twelve three ball counts. At the start of the game he seemed to get ahead of batters and then let them creep back into the count, maybe hoping to get them to chase; toward the end he seemed less capable of hitting spots. By the sixth inning, when he walked two batters, he seemed both winded and frustrated. 114 pitches to get through 6 innings isn’t exactly efficient.
Is it wrong to want more? I don’t want to be too hard on Snell because pitching six 1-hit innings against a major league line-up is a feat. But I saw that in post game interviews he expressed a similar frustration about the things that went wrong. Snell wants to build on this performance and I’m glad to see him able to appreciate what worked while also striving to improve.
The Rays enjoyed a very well balanced offense today; everyone in the lineup reached base, with Carlos Gomez (HR, single); Mallex Smith (two singles), Daniel Robertson (two singles and a walk) and Joey Wendle (single and three walks) standing out.
The first two Rays runs came thanks to some poor White Sox defense. In the third Robertson walked (his team leading 8th walk of the season) to lead off but seemed to have been picked off first. But he managed to get into a rundown during which the White Sox threw the ball away. A walk to Denard Span put two runners on.
Fulmer fell behind to Joey Wendle, 3-1, who made contact on a tough low fastball and shot it into left field. That easily scored Robertson from second, and a bobble by the left fielder Nicky Delmonico allowed Span to score as well, 2-0.
The Rays scored again in the top of the fourth. Mallex Smith and Wilson Ramos got on base via a single and a walk, and advanced on a wild pitch. When Hechevarria hit a fly ball just deep enough to center field Smith scored run number three.
Subsequent Rays runs included Duffy scoring from second on a Ramos single, giving the Buffalo his first 2018 RBI; a Carlos Gomez 424 foot home run complete with bat flip; and a walk followed by Hechevarria and Robertson singles in the ninth, for what turned out to be the winning run. Let’s tip our hats to the two bundled up Rays fans sitting along the first base line who made sure that Jose Abreu was not able to nab a Daniel Robertson foul ball in the stands. Had Abreu caught that, Robertson would not have driven in run number six, and the messy bottom of the ninth would have been a far bigger disaster.
But oh that bottom of the ninth
Clearwater Central Catholic product Ryan Weber, recently called up from Durham to help out the Rays’ taxed bullpen, was brought on to start the ninth with a comfortable five run lead. Now I’m not saying Weber was great, I’m frankly not a sharp judge of pitching quality sitting at home in my living room. But I will say he was unlucky.
Tim Anderson led off, and his grounder down the third base line just got by Matt Duffy and dribbled down the foul alley in left, for a lead off double. That would have been a difficult play for Duffy to make, and he was not charged with an error, but Anderson did not exactly scorch the ball and it was thanks to its odd carom that it became an easy double. Anderson then stole third and scored on a sac fly to make the score 6-2.
Then Wendle, whose fine play at second has generally drawn praise, bobbled a pretty routine ground ball that put Leury Garcia on first. Perhaps spending 3.5 hours standing around in 38 degree weather takes its toll. Weber then walked Yoan Moncada, and Cash decided to bring in our closer, Alexander Colome, to what was now a save situation, with the score 6-2 and two men on base.
Is it fair to say that we Rays fans have a complicated relationship with Colome? That even when he’s saving games he often makes the ninth inning an adventure? That his shaky pitching contributed already to two losses and gave us heart palpitations in at least one win?
Shall I add that many relievers might be fatigued if used for a third day in a row? And especially when his appearances those two prior days all were stressful?
Considering all of the above I greeted Colome’s ninth inning entrance with a sense of foreboding.
Colome did get the first batter he faces to ground out for the second out, moving the runners to 2nd and 3rd. Two outs, a four run lead. This is going to be OK.
But then he faced Jose Abreu and this happened:
Now to my eyes that doesn’t look like a terrible pitch. It’s not a meatball. Abreu had to golf swing at it, and not many guys can take a ball that low and hit it that high.
Not letting this game get away is Colome’s job. But instead of getting that last out he made this long game in freezing temperatures a one run nail biter.
And in case that didn’t get you nervous enough, he then walked the next batter.
But somehow the line drive from Omar Narvaez found Mallex Smith, or Mallex Smith found the line drive and the game ended. 6-5, Rays win.
Tampa Bay plays Chicago again tomorrow, facing Big Game James with a chance for a sweep.