The Rays topped the Yankees 4-0 on Saturday afternoon, securing their first series win over the Yankees this season, and their first series win over their division rivals since May of last season. The game was started by Wilmer Font, finished off by Sergio Romo, with five total pitchers chipping in to the Rays victory. There were a few dominant themes to the afternoon.
Transition: Opener to Starter
Wilmer Font had his best outing in a Rays uniform Saturday. In fact, it was the best outing of his relatively young career as a whole. The 28-year-old collected the first win of his career thanks to 5.2 shutout innings against the most powerful lineup in baseball. Font was efficient all game, needing only 80 pitches to get his 17 outs and not walking a batter until his final foe of the outing.
There’s a very easy trend to spot among Font’s last four outings (his four starts) with the Rays:
6/8: 2.1 IP
6/13: 3.1 IP
6/17: 4.2 IP
6/23: 5.2 IP
While Font’s first few starts may have been thought of as “Opener” type starts, it’s fair to say he has made the full transition into starter. (Quick Opener update: The Rays are 6-9 in the 15 games in which their “starter” has faced fewer than 10 batters. Those pitchers possess a 5.68 ERA. It is still very early, but it’s fun to track.)
Whether this was the plan for Font all along, or if it has been the result of an unreal run of injuries to the Rays rotation, is neither here nor there. Font looks like a starter. He owns a 1.69 ERA in his four starts, and this most recent outing will lock him into a spot in the rotation even once a few of those injured arms start making their way back.
On Saturday, Font was given the chance to face Aaron Judge for a third time, and if he continues this current trend, increasing his innings pitched each time out, soon he’ll be tossing Harvey Haddix-esque starts (hopefully with better final results, of course).
The Yankees had a few hard hit balls off Font, but they were directed right at Rays outfielders for the most part, or, in the case of a big moment in the top of the second — while the Rays lead was at just one — directly at Daniel Robertson positioned right behind second base, allowing Font to escape what would have been a game-tying single. (Remember that for future reference, Shift Truthers.)
The Rays pitchers, on the day, were a delight, holding the Bronx Bombers to just 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position, bringing the Yanks to 2-for-17 on the series as a whole in such situations.
Of course, no win is possible without a touch of offense.
Transition: Back from injury
Kevin Kiermaier looked a little rusty in his first three games back, going a combined 0-for-13 in those games, reaching base just once on a walk. KK set the mood early for Saturday’s affair, however, collecting a leadoff single (his first hit since April 15 because of the extended injury). Not long after, he was back in the dugout, for good reasons, thanks to an opposite field double from Jake Bauers that had that kind of sound off the bat that causes sportswriters to lose their mind.
Transition: To the future
After D-Rob’s excellent positioning kept the Rays in the lead heading into the bottom of the second, the Rays gave Font a little more room to work with, as C.J. Cron broke a 1-for-30 slump with a double spanked down the left field line. He came around the very next batter, as Daniel Robertson nearly left the yard, settling instead for a deep RBI double.
After a Mallex Smith sacrifice, it was the Rays young stud, Willy Adames who singled past a drawn-in infield to extend the lead to 3-0.
The Rays offense cooled off a bit after that, as Sonny Gray settled in, sitting down 15 Rays in a row at one point. However, Adames got him again, going the other way with a low-and-away breaking ball. sending the pitch over the right field fence to run the ex-A’s ace from the game and give the Rays a 4-0 lead.
Three batters later, Bauers very nearly sent the Rays ahead 7-0, missing a deeeeep homer by about three inches to the right of the foul pole. Even still, Bauers now owns a slash line of .245/.394/.453, good for a 140 wRC+. While Adames is a bit behind in terms of offensive production (slash line of .231/.268/.365 for a wRC+ of 73), Saturday was an awesome sight into the potential future of the club. Adames and Bauers combined for three of the Rays four runs driven in (and nearly six of their seven). Friendly reminder: This is a pair of 22-year-olds we’re talking about.
The Rays held off the Yankees after that in their only real moment of threat, as the visitors put runners on first and third for Giancarlo Stanton in the sixth, but Ryne Stanek came in with two outs and punched out the big righty on four pitches. Not bad for a “starter” coming in dry in the sixth. Chaz Roe came in for the eighth, Sergio Romo handled the ninth, as the Rays handed the Yanks only their second shutout of the season. The win also guaranteed the Rays victory in the series, handing the Yanks their first series loss in over a month.
(** Narcissistic Millennial Alert: The rest of this article is going to be about fandom, and my fandom in general, rather than anything about Saturday’s game. If that annoys you, go ahead and skip to the comments, there’s nothing else about this game in particular. You’ve been warned.)
Transition: Full Fandom
Saturday was an interesting game for me personally. I grew up a Yankee fan, and a die-hard one at that. I was born in New York and raised on the Core Four. Posada, Pettitte, and co. were the players who made me fall in love with the sport as a whole.
Once I reached college (circa the Yankees 2008 binge-spending), I fell out of love with the team, because they simply bought players and that was no fun to be a fan of. I was a baseball free agent for many years, only recently turning my sights on the Rays when I started writing for DRB before last season.
Saturday’s game was an interesting test case. They say you never forget your first love. Fox Sports even put that to the ultimate test, putting Michael Kay on the broadcast with BA in a cool hybrid announcing team, as a way to tempt me back in. (While many may find it insane that Kay could be a draw, having fallen asleep to Kay/John Sterling calling Yankee games on the radio approximately a thousand times a child, you could say I was brainwashed.)
Once the game started, though, it was clear where my allegiances lay. There was no hesitation in my heart when KK came around to score the first run of the game. When Stanton struck out to end the sixth, there were no underlying feelings of disappointment. It was full Rays fandom. After nearly a decade without an official team, I was pretty sure my Rays fandom had settled in by this point (thanks to the fun DRB community, as well as a fun lovable team with a stats-y approach I can get behind), but Saturday was bound to be the Final Boss: Writing a recap for the Rays against the team I used to love.
It was appropriate the Rays won on the scoreboard, but they have also officially won my heart. For good.