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Rays 3, Yankees 2: Bullpen day; bullpen hijinks

The Rays win the series in unusual fashion.

MLB: New York Yankees at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

A short time ago as counted in hours, but a long time ago as counted in baseball transactions,the Rays actually played a baseball game. It was game three of a three-game series against the Yankees.

Let’s recap:

  • Game one: Luis Severino vs. the Rays bullpen. This is a Yankees mismatch (But is it?) Rays win.
  • Game two: Masahiro Tanaka vs. Yonny Chirinos. This is a Yankees mismatch. Chirinos is good, and Chi-Wei Hu is good in relief, but Tanaka is better. Yankees win.
  • Game three: Luis Cessa vs. Nathan Eovaldi. Finally Rays fans like their chances, on paper. But Eovaldi is traded. Insert the Rays bullpen. This is a Yankees mismatch. (But is it?) Rays win.

Both Rays wins were true bullpen days, not opener-headliner combinations. At what point do we stop calling that a mismatch? At what point do we give up on the idea that just because someone didn’t make it to the majors as a starter, that they are unworthy of our attention, that they are annoying bit players in some classical contest of champions?

Can we quit worrying about The Fate of Baseball for a minute and note that this Rays bullpen has been given an unusual job, and that maybe you didn’t know any of their names before the season (other than Sergio Romo who you maybe thought was washed up), but that they seem to be doing that unusual job pretty well?

Because Ryne Stanek, Jamie Schultz, Diego Castillo, Jose Alvarado, Sergio Romo, and Jonny Venters just combined to pitch nine innings of two-run, seven-hit baseball, in which they struck out ten Yankees and walked only two. That’s a pitching line. Against an excellent offense.

Only Venters pitched less than one inning, and we’ll get to that later. Only Stanek pitched a single inning. Everyone else succeeded as a multi-inning reliever.

In the American League, only the Astros, Yankees, and Red Sox have been better by ERA- and FIP- this season.

Give. Them. Props.

After Ryne Stanek opened the game with a clean inning, as he does, young Rays fireballer Jamie Schultz took over. Schultz was rocky two days ago, when he faced one batter and walked him, and he got off to another rocky start today, walking Gleyber Torres. Greg Bird bunted against the shift, and Schultz fell behind Miguel Andujar 3-1 before Andujar hit a flyball to center, which advanced Torres. The run came home on a sac fly after Schultz had fallen behind Neil Walker 2-1.

Honestly, Jamie Schultz looked pretty shaky at this point, and I imagine plenty of Rays fans thought it was going to be a long day without Eovaldi.

It wasn’t.

Jamie Schultz came back in the third inning and struck out the side, overpowering Brett Gardner on three straight fastballs at the top of the zone, setting up Aaron Judge with a fastball at the top of the zone and then putting him away with a curve down in the zone, and then getting Didi Gregorious to freeze on a strike-three fastball literally right down the middle.

In the end, Schultz gave the Rays the length they needed, which in this case was three innings. His fastball was incredible. According to Brooks Baseball, he threw it 35 times, 22 of those for a strike. The Yankees swung 16 times, and whiffed on 9 of those swings. That’s dominance.

One Inning of Offense

Adam Moore led off the sixth inning by getting on top of a high fastball and lining it into left field for a single.

Next up, Kevin Kiermaier tried to bunt, laying one down the third base line. It went foul. The Rays continued to attempt to manufacture offense, as in a 2-1 count, Moore took off. I assume logically that it was a hit and run and not a stolen base attempt, but I’m going to imagine the more enjoyable reality, where the speedster Moore takes the game into his own hands. Regardless of what the playcall was, it was moot. The pitch to Kiermaier was a changeup that didn’t drop, and didn’t fool him, and he hit it for a two-run homer.

After a pitching change, C.J. Cron added another run with his 20th home of the season.

ROOGY? No, that’s a third baseman.

The Yankees manufactured a single run in the eighth inning, to bring the game within one. Sergio Romo got two outs in the eighth. Greg Bird was set to lead off the ninth inning. Greg Bird is a lefty, so this should be a job for Jonny Venters, right?

Well, yes, but here’s the thing: after Bird came Miguel Andujar, a righty, Aaron Hicks, a switch hitter who’s been much better against lefties, and Austin Romine, another righty, so the Rays would really rather have Sergio Romo, with his big slider, to face those guys.

When you use this many relievers, you can’t afford to limit your good ones just because of the handedness matchups. Most teams solve this problem by having starting pitchers. The Rays solve it another way.

Venters entered the game for Wily Adames, while Romo went to third base. Matt Duffy took over at shortstop. These positions are relatively meaningless, because the Rays shift Bird heavily to pull (remember that Bird had already bunted for a hit this game). Suffice to say that all the regular fielders were on the first base side of the infield, while Romo stood alone, guarding against the bunt, on the third base side.

Bird grounded to right into the shift.

Romo returned to the mound, while Adeiny Hechavarria came into the game to play shortstop.

The Baseball Gods Have a Sense Of Humor

Remember when Romo was sitting there at third base, out of position, guarding against the bunt? Well as soon as he returned to his normal position, Andujar swung on an outside slider and bounced it to the third base side. It was basically a swinging bunt, and Romo, fielding, had no play. If he were playing in at third, he would have had a play.

Next up, Hicks grounded to second base on what could have been a double play, but Duffy, the real third baseman covering second over a shift, missed the catch.

Then the baseball gods stopped joking, and let Romo get the last two outs of the game.

Some other notes:

  • Adam Moore had an important hit to start the rally. For his efforts:
  • Romo is listed in the box score before Venters. Romo has the save, Venters a hold. That’s weird.
  • Jake Bauers, he of the underrated speed, stole a base in the eighth inning.