Man, this team.
So often games that are advertised as pitchers’ duels end up disappointing, but tonight was a real battle between Blake Snell and Justin Verlander, and then and in the end between back end bullpen pitchers, and the Rays came out ahead by a hair.
The first inning did not give Rays fans reasons for optimism. The Rays at least got the dreaded no-hitter threat out of the way with a Matt Duffy single. The Astros, however, mounted a true threat in their half of the inning. Of course with Brian Anderson saying that George Springer had been the only Astro not hitting well, Springer starts with a hard grounder into the hole at short that went for an infield single. Blake Snell then walked Alex Bregman on four pitches, and one out later walked Yuli Gurriel to load the bases. But then a wonderful thing happened. Evan Gattis flied out to shallow-ish right field, and George Springer tagged to score on the sac fly. But Carlos Gomez fired a bullet to Wilson Ramos, who was able to nab Spinger at home plate for the inning ending 9-2 double play. Just like we planned.
After all that first inning drama, how ironic that the Rays were the first to get on the board, with a very long homer from an otherwise slumping CJ Cron. This was Cron’s 16th homer, and with that he equaled his season high of previous years. 1-0 Rays.
The lead was short-lived. Jake Marisnick singled to lead off, and Springer replaced him at first after a force play. Springer moved to second on a wild pitch. He then scored on a screeching hot line drive off the wall in right field off the bat of Alex Bregman. Bregman, however overslid second base and was called out when Hechevarria managed to tag him was he clawed his way back to end the inning. The score was tied, 1-1, and remained that way for quite a while.
The Rays scored the deciding run off the Houston bullpen in the top of the eighth. Matt Duffy, who by several measures is currently the Rays best hitter, doubled, moved to third on a ground ball, to be driven home by a Wilson Ramos single.
That was all the scoring but not all the drama.
With a one run lead to protect, Cash brought in Ryne Stanek, who has been effective in the first inning, to pitch the eighth. The second batter, Carlos Correa, gave us a little scare with a ball just to the foul side of the home run pole but then he struck out on Stanek’s increasingly swing-inducing slider. And then Yuli Gurriel gave us heart palpitations when his line drive backed Carlos Gomez near to the right field wall. But it was a one-two-three eighth inning, just what we needed.
The drama intensified in the bottom of the ninth. Cash called on lefty Jose Alvarado, perhaps an odd choice because he has struggled of late, and because the first batter up was the right-handed Evan Gattis, who promptly hits a long single to left. It was time to hold on to your hats because the next hitter was Jose Altuve, who had sat out the game but was brought in as a pinch hitter. He hit a fly ball to center for a long out.
He was replaced by Sergio Romo to face several right handed batters. Romo had an extended at bat against catcher Max Stassi, thanks to several throws over to first, and after what seems like a good 15 minutes Romo caught him looking on a sweeping slider that somehow ended up in the middle of the plate.
Tyler White just barely got his bat on the ball but managed to hit it in such a way that it died in the grass somewhere between the pitchers mound and second, where Wendle could not reach it in time to make a play (Romo may have had a play but it got behind him before he could react). But Jake Marisnick popped it up and the Rays were victors.
Let’s take a minute to consider the performances of Justin Verlander and Blake Snell.
In many ways Verlander was the more dominant of the two tonight. He gave up six hits in 6.2 innings, walking just one and striking out ten. Prior to this game he had struck out 120 on the season against just twenty walks.
But Snell more than held his own (see image below for one of his strike outs, which resulted in Marwin Gonzalez’ ejection.) Facing one of the league’s best lineups he allowed one run on three hits, and got through seven innings. But he walked walked six (plus another intentionally) and his ratio of 57 strikes to 45 balls suggests a lack of command. In his postgame comments Doug Waechter called Snell “effectively wild,” suggesting his approach was somewhat strategic. He certainly prevented the Astros from squaring up on pitches — not that many balls were hit hard.
Some closing observations:
- I know he’s not long for this lineup and his lack of offensive threat makes him a liability but I can watch Adeiny Hechevarria play short stop all day. He’s quick, he’s graceful, his arm is strong and accurate. If he can’t get to it, it can’t be gotten to. And before we write off his hit tool, let’s give him credit for the batting master class he put on against Verlander in the seventh inning. He extended his at bat for ten pitches, spoiling some very good fastballs before finally smashing a grounder that went for a double.
- It’s got to be hard coming back after two months and facing Verlander, but Kiermaier’s at bats were not great. You can see him below manning center field with his old confidence, although one could argue that his leap to catch this ball was unnecessary and maybe even counterproductive:
- Nice to see Romo get a chance to save the game after his disappointing Monday night effort.
- This team! They can break your heart one day, and then play a smart, clean nine innings in which they come out on top against the ace pitcher of the best team in the league.