ST. PETERSBURG FL. A true bullpen day held the Blue Jays scoreless; Mallex Smith and Matt Duffy combined to push through the only run the Rays needed to emerge victorious today.
I love a pitcher’s duel, a nice crisp fast-moving pitchers duel. But that’s not how this game started out. A thirty minute first inning, with Rays opener Wilmer Font at 28 pitches and Jay’s starter J. A. Happ at 30, seemed to presage a long game.
It also had the makings of one of the sloppy outings that tend to come about during afternoon games after night game. The Rays committed an error in the top of the first (an errant Font throw to Bauers at first), and Toronto in the bottom of the first on a Bauers grounder. The Rays were charged with an error again in the top of second when Mallex Smith and Carlos Gomez both went for a deep fly in the gap; Gomez had it in his glove so he gets the error, but both players seemed tentative and that, to this reporter, meant that neither was really ready to catch the ball.
After the two base error, Font walked Randal Grichuk; the runners were forced to hold on a fly out to center when Mallex delivered a strong throw in to third. A slick 6-4-3 double play got the Rays through the second with no damage.
Font and Happ both got more efficient after that, and the teams traded scoreless frames. On the Rays side, it was good enough pitching and sharp defense that ended up taking them to victory.
Some highlights: Not often you see a 3-5-3 double play, but Bauers fielded this ball well, and had the instincts to throw to second, where a shifted Matt Duffy could get the force and throw back to first:
3 ➡️ 5 ➡️ 3 pic.twitter.com/mb4FRI5RFt— DRaysBay (@draysbay) June 13, 2018
Then there’s this memorable play, where Adames, shifted into the right feel gap, fielded a tough grounder and threw from a prone position with just enough on the ball to get in on a bounce to Jake Bauers:
Willy! pic.twitter.com/asaWWAmWI8— DRaysBay (@draysbay) June 13, 2018
And for late inning drama, we have this catch by Johnny Field. He didn’t quite rob a homer, as you can see from his glove position, but he had to leap several feet in the air to spear this hard hit shot in the top of the ninth. In post game interviews, both Kevin Cash and Matt Duffy said they could tell by the sound of the hit and the reaction of the Jays Aledmys Diaz that it was not going out, but to less informed eyes this looked like it was gone. At any rate, Johnny’s heroics at least robbed an extra base hit.
Big grab.— Tampa Bay Rays (@RaysBaseball) June 13, 2018
Let's walk it off. pic.twitter.com/kvR0ha57wo
After those early errors the defense was sharp all around. Matt Duffy, in an interview, said that basically they have an “infield of shortstops”, meaning everyone playing there is a great athlete with range and an arm, and that showed today. Also exciting to see our next generation, Christian Arroyo, Willy Adames, Jake Bauers and Johnny Field, proving their worth.
The offense was limited, but how many runs do you need anyway?
C.J. Cron continued to be a pitch magnet, reaching on a HBP. Jake Bauers managed two singles, including one off the lefty Happ, which is nice to see. Willy Adames had a frustrating day at the plate, with three strikeouts; the umpire was definitely not helping him, with some questionable calls that may have made Adames a bit more free swinging than he might otherwise have been. But hopefully he’ll find his swing soon.
The biggest hits, of course, were the two the Rays really needed. In the bottom of the ninth Mallex Smith came through with a long double – that was just a few feet short of ending the game altogether. Wilson Ramos grounded him to third, bringing up Matt Duffy needing a hit or sac fly to send us home. Duffy came through with the sharp grounder just beyond the third baseman’s outstretched arm, as Mallex trotted home for the walk off.
Cash noted postgame that the only available pitcher after Castillo would have been Vidal Nuño. So it was important to get that run across in the ninth.
The Rays thus complete the sweep against Toronto. Credit to Wilmer Font and Matt Andriese for battling through 21 outs, and to Diego Castillo who gets his first major league win after pitching the eight and ninth.
Duffy’s RBI was his third career walk-off. They need all the good vibes they can get heading to New York, where the Rays have lost three consecutive season series to the Yankees.