The Tampa Bay Rays climbed over .500 as they knocked off the Houston Astros 3-2 in a good old fashioned pitchers duel Sunday. No Openers/Headliners, no bullpen days, just two stud starters doing what they do. Blake Snell and Charlie Morton took turns mowing through the respective orders, waiting for somebody to blink. Nobody really did.
Well, except for the hitters.
Perhaps sensing runs would be at a premium, both teams were aggressive with their strategy from the get-go. After Alex Bregman singled to lead off the game, he swiped second and advanced to third on a Ramos throwing error with one out and Gurriel at the plate. The Rays pulled the infield in, but Snell struck out both Gurriel and Gattis swinging to end the threat.
In the fifth inning, Snell got some help from Mallex Smith. First, Mallex made a nice place cutting off a Max Stassi ball in the gap, holding him to a single. And then he did this to poor Jake Marisnick.
Mallex Smith robs Jake Marisnick at the wall to keep the @snellzilla11-Charlie Morton pitchers' duel at 0-0.— FOX Sports Florida (@FOXSportsFL) July 1, 2018
All of today's @RaysBaseball vs. @Astros action is LIVE now on FOX Sports Sun and FOX Sports Go! #RaysUp #MLB pic.twitter.com/gFpbzcy7P0
The Astros finally got to Snell in the seventh, when Gattis took a 1-0 fastball into the seats in left for a solo homer.
The Rays had several minor threats against Morton, but finally put the big one together (inasmuch as two runs can be considered “big”) in the bottom of the seventh. They pulled it off through timely hitting and hustle.
Jesus Sucre started the rally by singling to left with one out. He was replaced by pinch runner Adeiny Hechavaria as Kevin Kiermaier was sent up to pinch hit for Johnny Field. After KK was called out on a pitch that looked to be off the plate, Joey Wendle followed with a single to left-center, and — despite his dominance — that would be it for Charlie Morton. In came relief ace Chris Devenski to put out the fire.
On a 2-2 count, Matt Duffy flared a charge up into right field. Josh Reddick made a game effort to close on it, but came up short. He played it on the hop, looking utterly deflated as Hechavaria scored. Redick took several steps with the ball before lobbing it back into the infield.
Oh, did you forget that Joey Wendle was on first base? Friends, you don’t feel sorry for yourself and then lollipop a throw when Joey Wendle is running. You just don’t. Because he will straight up steal home on a sad, lazy outfielder.
I have never heard DeWayne Staats more excited in a regular season game.
More thrills in the eighth followed. With one out and Snell still pitching, Jake Marisnick struck out, but reached first on the wild pitch. A single by Tony Kemp followed, and, after Snell talked Cash into letting him face another hitter, a walk to Bregman to load the bases. In came Diego Castillo.
It was an epic ten-pitch at bat to Jose Altuve. Pitch nine was a 2-2 fastball up and in that I’m still not sure how it didn’t hit Altuve. Pitch ten was a slider way away that Altuve flailed at helpfully for strike three.
DeWayne Staats was pumped, y’all.
Castillo then got Gurriel on an entertaining grounder to short. With Tony Kemp running a nice screen, Hech made the pick up but bounced the throw. Jake Bauers executed the scoop, and DeWayne Staats nearly fainted.
Mallex Smith capped off his super fun day with a homer (no, really!) in the ninth to give the Rays a 3-1 lead.
This dinger would be super important, because Evan Gattis hit his second homer of the day in the ninth inning, this one off Sergio Romo, to make a 3-2 game. Romo then walked Tyler White, but Reddick grounded into a double play and DeWayne Staats was fighting through fits of ecstasy. Then Marwin Gonzalez grounded to second to end the game, and DeWayne collapsed into a heap.
And you now what? I was with him. All the way. This felt like playoff baseball. We just rolled through the Yankees, the Nats, and the Astros. With Blake Snell, kids and duct tape.
I love them so much.