With the score tied up at six, Clint Frazier led off the top of the ninth inning against Vidal Nuno. The 1-1 pitch was a slider that traveled over the width of the plate, in toward Frazier’s body, and ended up thigh high on the inner third.
Frazier crushed it, sending a blast that seemed destined to become the go-ahead home run. Until it hit a speaker hanging from a catwalk. The speakers are in play. Adeiny Hechavarria caught it. That goes down as a popout, like any other.
Vidal Nuno got himself out of the inning, and the score remained tied.
If you didn’t watch the game, having read that first paragraph, you might have a question right now: Why was Vidal Nuno pitching in the ninth inning with the game tied?
Or let’s say you had to work today, and you came home and flipped on the game somewhere in the middle. There are several questions you might have had, depending on when you tuned in:
- Why is Vidal Nuno pitching in the sixth inning with a one-run lead?
- Why is Vidal Nuno pitching in the seventh inning with a one-run lead?
- Why is Vidal Nuno pitching in the seventh inning with a one-run lead, and with the tying run on base?
- Why is Vidal Nuno pitching in the seventh inning with a one-run lead, with the tying run on base, and with the right-handed slugger Aaron Judge at the bat?
- Why is Vidal Nuno pitching in the eighth inning with a one-run lead with the right-handed slugger Giancarlo Stanton at the bat?
- Why is Vidal Nuno pitching in the eighth inning of a tied game? (You will note the change in situation from question five to question six.)
- Why is Vidal Nuno pitching in the ninth inning of a tied game? (The original question!)
- Why is Vidal Nuno pitching in the ninth inning of a tied game with the go-ahead run on second base?
- How in the heck did the Rays win this game?
Let’s pause for a second and give Nuno his due. He’s not a very good major league pitcher at this point in his career. He tops out at 90 mph with a straight fastball. His changeup and slider are only serviceable. The projections systems think he should be able to manage a mid-to-high fours ERA, and I think that’s probably optimistic. But he can give a bit of length.
He was the last man available out of the bullpen capable of giving any length when the Rays needed length, but he didn’t pitch like a white flag. White flags don’t strike out four Yankees in four innings, including getting Aaron Judge on four pitches.
When you have no room for error, sometimes you just have to go ahead and not make any errors.
But back to those questions. Here’s how it happens:
- The Rays are working on a new way of managing pitchers, changing up roles and limiting exposure to better put people in a position to succeed. That requires more innings from relief pitchers.
- The Rays have had a lot of injuries to their starting pitchers, which means they only have a few guys who actually can soak up innings.
- The Rays held the Yankees to one run two days ago by using six pitchers, and shut them out yesterday by using five pitchers.
- The Rays decided to push back Blake Snell’s scheduled start until tomorrow, opting to make it a true bullpen day with Matt Andriese—who can generally go two-three innings every couple days but who the Rays probably hoped could manage four—getting the start.
- Andriese wasn’t very efficient, and after giving up a three-run homer to Miguel Andujar in the second (on a decent pitch) he wasn’t able to retire the first two men he faced in the fourth inning. That forced manager Kevin Cash to replace him earlier than he’d like to, with fireman Jose Alvarado.
- Alvarado wasn’t very efficient either, and after working out of the jam in the fourth, he walked Brett Gardner with one out in the fifth. With his pitch count up at 25, Cash pulled him for the flamethrowing Diego Castillo.
- Castillo, who has been occasionally dominant, really wasn’t very good today. He was wild, and was fortunate to have a Judge line drive find Kevin Kiermaier’s glove, and then gave up two runs off doubles to Didi Gregorius and Stanton, tightening the game to a 6-5 Rays lead before getting out of the inning.
- At this point Nuno and fellow lefty Jonny Venters were the only pitchers left who were supposed to be available. Later events dictated that Sergio Romo and Ryan Yarbrough would also pitch, and they showed themselves able.
That last question—number nine—about how the Rays won a game like this? Well, the Yankees starter, Domingo German, also only managed three innings. And in the twelfth inning, rather than turning to their closer Aroldis Chapman, the Yankees first sent out Chasen Shreve.
Give credit to Nuno, Romo, and Yarbrough for succeeding while pitching outside of their comfort zone. Give credit to the entire Rays offense for seven runs, with doubles from Matt Duffy, Carlos Gomez, and Jesus Sucre, and a triple from Kevin Kiermaier. Give special credit to Jake Bauers for a triple of his own and a walk-off home run.
And give credit to the speaker.
Some other notes:
- On Kevin Kiermaier’s triple, that was hit on a low line through the infield and then rolled to the wall, the Yankees announcers said “That was an artificial turf triple.” Yeah okay. Talk to me about toybox ballparks that inflate offense.
- Then the announcers said that Miguel Andujar showed “shades of Willie Mays” when he made a nice over the shoulder catch on a foul pop. Yeah okay. So here’s the thing. I live in New York, so I’m blacked out on MLB.tv for Rays-Yankees games. Usually this means I listen on the radio, but I newly gained access to YES Network, and I’m recapping, so I’m listening to these guys for the first time in a long time. I’m going to stop quoting everything ridiculous they say, but they’re out of control. There’s a lot to dislike about Yankees fan culture (rampant entitlement, cheap hagiography, systemic lack of respect for the opposition), and all of it is on display in the YES Network broadcast.
- In the second inning, Jesus Sucre, not the fastest baseball player in the world, knocked a short line drive into left field for a single. Aaron Judge fielded quickly and tried to throw him out. He was safe, but Judge made a little running pantomime at Sucre. It was pretty funny.
- While the entire Yankees bullpen was good, Chad Green, with his live fastball, was especially overpowering, racking up four strikeouts onve two innings.
- Bauers wasn’t known for his speed in the minors, but there was nothing wrong with his legs on his first career triple. He worked the count to 3-1, and then unloaded on a 93 mph heater in the middle of the zone. It would have been a home run if it was hit anywhere else, but it went to the cutout in left-center, the deepest part of the park. And frankly, that was better. The wall cushioned the rebound, which gave Bauers a chance to show off just how hard he was running the whole way.
- Romo, despite having pitched an inning the past two days, gave the Rays two scoreless.
- Yarbrough had to come in during the twelfth despite pitching three and a third innings two days ago because Jonny Venters came up grabbing his groin while running to cover first on a bunt.
Venters will be going on the DL. Roster move should be coming somewhat soon.— Juan Toribio (@juanctoribio) June 24, 2018
- This was the first time all year that the Yankees lost three games in a row.
- Sweeps feel good.