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Rays 9, Mets 0: Eovaldi toys with perfect game

While the offense knocks Flexen out early.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at New York Mets Gregory J. Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

No one chooses a bullpen day. Really, it’s much preferrable to start a game with your ace on his or her preferred schedule, and let him or her chew up the innings, giving them the full attention they deserve, noticing and recording all the ebbs and the flows, the changes in location and approach, the narrative arcs. Frankly, we expect a complete game from our recappers, here at DRaysBay.

But sometimes Jim has to help a friend move, Liz has early dinner plans, and Ian’s mom just got into town to help with the baby (and anyway he’s blacked out for Mets games). A 162 game season stretches your depth. Necessity is the mother of invention. Recap bullpen day.

Of course, this wasn’t a bullpen day for the Rays in Citi Field, where Nathan Eovaldi very nearly made a mockery of our cute little gimmick by carrying a perfect game into the seventh inning, making a strong statement about the value, and the continued place, of starters in this game.

In total, it only took Eovaldi 79 pitches to make it through seven. He gave up only the one baserunner, a single by Brandon Nimmo, and he struck out nine Mets batters. This was a man who could have tossed a complete game today. But already up 7-0, with the no-hitter broken up, and with Eovaldi’s recent injury history, manager Kevin Cash did the responsible thing and lifted him, allowing Andrew Kittredge to finish off the last two innings.

League, you are on notice. Nathan Eovaldi is back. The Rays may not take you up on your offers (heck, someone needs to be able to fill the innings in Tampa Bay, and the Rays are awful short on healthy starting pitchers right now), but you should be making those offers.

On to the game.

Jim, the opener, through the top of the third

Joey Wendle started the game with a lead-off single.

The Mets rookie pitcher, Chris Flexen, was struggling with command right out of the gate, and it burned him big time when he walked Jake Bauers and then fell behind 3-1 to C.J. Cron and had to groove one. It was middle of the plate, and low, but Cron is a low-ball hitter, and he very much took advantage of that pitch, depositing one into the second deck.

That was Cron’s 17th home run of the season, passing the magical 16 homer plateau he reached but couldn’t top in 2015, 2016, and 2017. On this pitch, it was [lowers sunglasses] Cron who did the Flexen . . .

Eovaldi was sharp as a raptor’s talon in the first couple innings, racking up out after out with his splitter, but really thriving with all his offerings.

Ian: Jim called Eovaldi’s good day early, but the funny thing here is that while the splitter is usually Eovaldi’s best out pitch, and while Jim is right that Eovaldi got great results out of it in the first two innings, as the game wore on it really was the 89 mph cutter that made the hay. According to Brooks Baseball with MLBAM classifications, Eovaldi threw only eight splitters today, and a full 25 cutters.

In the third inning, Bauers hit a leadoff double into the left-center gap, and then advanced to third on a passed ball. Bauers almost didn’t score on a one-out Daniel Robertson blooper forced him to hold up and see if it would be caught, but once it dropped he motored home. Bauers’s head first slide made it 4-0. A two-out Mallex Smith poke the other way gave Eovaldi the 5-0 lead heading into the bottom of the third, and left this author feeling pretty good, even though he was being pulled early from his start.

Liz, the headliner, bottom of the third through the eighth inning, in present tense because one of the pluses of this strategy is that your opener and your headliner give the reader different looks

Bottom of the third: Eovaldi looks sharp in striking out Devin Mesoraco and José Reyes, and Wendle finishes off the inning with a diving catch of a bloop into no-man’s land. Nice work, running full tilt on a bee-line to ball to make the catch. Looks like an outfielder.

Top of fouth: Apparently the Mets are also bullpenning today because there is a new pitcher now, Chis Beck. He walks two but retires the next three batters

Bottom of the fourth: Two more strikeouts for Eovaldi, who has not allowed a base runner at all.

Top of the fifth: Beck walks first two batters once again, and appears to have big command struggles, but he gets bailed out by double play, that leaves Adeiny Hechevarria on third with two outs.

Mallex Smith, who is out at second, pulls up limping and is taken off the field.

Nathan Eovaldi helps his own cause, though, with grounder between first and second, good for an infield single, and a 6-0 lead.

When I was a kid in pre-DH days announcers would sometimes comment that an opposing pitcher throwing a good game could “tire himself out” running the bases, so perhaps the Mets allowing Eovaldi to reach is their strategy for hurting his pitching mojo.

Bottom of the fifth: If that was their strategy it didn’t work. Another 1-2-3 inning for Eovaldi.

Top of the sixth: It’s the battle of the tape measures as Jake Bauers hits one to the right-field stands that seems to rival the home run Cron had hit earlier to left.

7-0 Rays.

Bottom of the sixth: And yet another 1-2-3 inning for Eovaldi.

Bottom of the seventh: With a single, the perfect game is over. However, the runner is erased on a double play so Eovaldi has still faced just the minimum—not the sort of stat that seems to get much respect, but very impressive.

Ian: Speaking of no respect.

Top of the eigth: An 89 mph fastball over the heart of the plate isn’t a good choice from Met’s pitcher Paul Sewald, and Wendle takes it deep.

Ian: With that home run coming after his good play in the outfield, Wendle continues his “heck yeah I’m a major league player tour.” Joey Wendle and Ryan Yarbrough are in hot competition for the “things Ian is happy to have been wrong about” title.

Two walks and a single load the bases with one out; the ninth run scores on a fielder’s choice.

Bottom of the eighth: Despite a reasonable pitch count and a 9 run Rays lead, Cash decides not to see whether Eovaldi can get through a lineup a third time, and pulls him at the end of the seventh in favor of Andrew Kittredge.

Kitten walks the leadoff batter, but the runner is erased on a double play. After eight innings, Rays pitchers have still faced the minimum of 24 batters.

Okay. Above are my inning-by-inning notes. Edit away, nothing is sacred.

Ian: No Liz, pitching roles, such as the starter and the closer are sacred, amirite?

Some general thoughts:

  • Jeez guys save some runs and outs for another day!
  • Eovaldi just upped his trade value quite a bit. This should make me happy but it doesn’t.
  • Hopefully nothing eventful happens in the ninth.

Ian: Mesoraco singled, and Nimmo walked, meaning that the Rays faced two batters more than the minimum, and we don’t get to call this a faux-perfect game. I suppose that’s eventful.

Ian, the closer, because someone has to step in to put a bow on things and get an outsized amount of credit

Oh huh, there’s no game left for me to recap. It’s almost like the closer role is entirely superfluous.

With the playoffs nearly but not quite out of reach, the Rays leave New York with a series win, but will probably regret a near-miss of the sweep. Starters Blake Snell and Nathan Eovaldi were superb. Chris Archer may be back on Monday.

Back home to face the Tigers.