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Rays 8 Orioles 4: Venters return to mound caps fifth win in a row

Balanced offense, impressive bullpen overcome rainy night in Baltimore

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Baltimore Orioles Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Watching the Tampa Bay Rays defeat the division rival Baltimore Orioles, in a game with tight defense, timely hits and strong pitching, especially from the bullpen, it was hard to remember that this team was supposedly tanking. It was a satisfying win in which everyone played a key role. That we got to see Jonny Venters take a major league mound for the first time since 2012 made it even sweeter.

For many Rays fans, one of the draws to watching this game was a chance to see Alex Cobb, signed as a free agent by the Baltimore Orioles, pitch for his new team. Cobb had signed very late in the off-season. He started the year in extended spring training, and tonight made just his third start. His first two had been dreadful, as he was hit hard and pulled early.

As the Rays have produced a number of great starting pitchers who were eventually traded, or, in Cobb’s case, lost to free agency, Rays fans have many opportunities to see our old favorites facing the team. For me, these can be difficult moments. I always want the Rays to prevail, but I don’t particularly want to see Big Game James or Matt Moore humiliated. That ambivalence was particularly strong tonight. There’s a part of me that wants Cobb, who signed a four-year, $57 million contract, to thrive; he’s a tough, smart pitcher who has come back from injury multiple times.

But that doesn’t mean I want him to find his mojo against the Rays.

In the top of the first, Cobb looked shaky.

Denard Span led off with a double, Carlos Gomez singled, and Brad Miller hit a high chopper that was not double play material, allowing Span to score. Cobb then hit Daniel Robertson on the knuckles, and you can be sure he wasn’t trying to do that. He really seemed to be unraveling. But with all that activity, the Rays emerged from the top of the first with just the single run.

Which Jacob Faria promptly gave back.

He started by walking the lead-off batter, which is never a good thing to do. Trey Mancini was able to score when Adam Jones hit a double deep into left field. The ball got wedged between the ground and the padding on the outfield wall, so in stead of caroming off the wall and toward Denard Span, it stayed put and Span had to retrieve it, costing additional seconds that ensured Mancini scoring from first.

Baltimore took the lead in the second. Again it started with a walk; then Anthony Santander hit a deep ball to center, just beyond the reach of Mallex Smith. Span was able to grab the carom and is able to hold the lead runner at third. But the very next pitch, recently acquired Jace Peterson lined a bases clearing double down the right field line, making it 3-1.

After that point both starters appeared to settle in a bit. Faria certainly didn’t have his strongest game. He seemed to struggle with command, evidenced not only by the three walks he allowed but by the deep counts. He also threw some very hittable pitches; the Baltimore hits off him were not cheapies. But he also recorded five strikeouts in his 4.1 innings, including several whiffs. There was plenty to build on.

Cobb pitched three decent innings against the Rays. He didn’t strike anyone out in his 4.2 innings, but he induced weak ground ball after weak ground ball. He seemed to have found a groove until the fifth inning, when the Rays put up four runs. Adeiny Hechevarria singled, and Denard Span bunted and made it safely to first. CJ Cron then hit a hot double just fair over third base and into the left field corner, scoring both runners. Sending Span home was a bit risky as the Orioles played the double pretty well, but Span was safe and the score was tied.

Brad Miller’s fly ball was just deep enough to score the cement-footeed CJ Cron as the Rays took the lead, 4-3. With bases empty, Daniel “doubles machine” Robertson banged out a two-bagger, and April all-star Joey Wendle drove him in with a single. With the score 5-3, Cobb’s night was over.

The Orioles got one back on a Chance Sisco solo home run that prompted Cash to pull his starter in the fifth inning.

At that point the Rays bullpen took over and they were pretty much perfect.

Kittredge got the last two outs of the fifth inning and was credited with the win, further evidence, should you need it, that pitcher wins are the most inane statistic in baseball. Matt Andriese was the most impressive, especially considering that he’s had some problematic performances of late. He threw 2.2 innings, allowing just one hit and striking out four. Alvarado finished it off with a clean ninth.

But the pitching performance that might get most talked about consisted of a single out: a Chris Davis ground out to lead off the sixth inning. The out was recorded by Jonny Venters, whose comeback story has been much discussed since his call-up earlier today.

While the bullpen held the Orioles at four runs, the Rays continued to add on with a Hechevarria home run in the 6th, and a succession of hits from Robertson, Wendle and Wilson Ramos in the seventh to make it 8-4.

I’ll let the tweet below serve as the conclusion to this post. Sometimes baseball is just great.