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Rays 5, Athletics 4: Plan B is for bullpen

Although really, after the first inning, this was more like Plan C.

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Tampa Bay Rays Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

The Rays entered this game nursing a very outside shot at the playoffs, with 15 games left to play, and with no off-days. The “bulk-guy” due up was left-hander Jalen Beeks. The Athletics are a lineup stacked with righties.

So Kevin Cash chose “plan B is for bullpen.”

And at the same time, Cash made the very gutsy call to stretch. When there are 15 must-win games, you can’t treat them all as must-win games, putting only your very best players on the field. You have to roll with your guys, and trust.

Tommy Pham got the day off. Joey Wendle got the day off. In the end, Chaz Roe got the day off, and so did Ryne Stanek (although he was up warming, once).

In their stead, CJ Cron got the start against an opposing righty*, and after a dominating opening inning from Diego Castillo, Andrew Kittredge pitched two scoreless, Hunter Wood pitched two scoreless, Jamie Schultz pitched two scoreless, and Adam Kolarek pitched one scoreless. Maybe, in retrospect, he should have gone two.

Cash was stretching, and it was working. Then Jake Faria came on to pitch the ninth with a five-run lead, and walked the bases loaded. That meant that Cash could no longer stretch. Jose Alvarado struck out one batter before passing the game to Sergio Romo, and Khris Davis did a Khris Davis thing, before Romo was able to find his way out of the woods.

*Good Thing About Cron

With one out in the bottom of the first, Matt Duffy took a fastball in the back of the ribs. Brian Anderson thought that was suspect, with Fiers being a command and control artist, and wondered if it had to do with Jake Bauers’s bat flip from yesterday. I have trouble believing that was the case. If you’re mad at Bauers, why, in the middle of a playoff race, do you hit Duffy in front of two of the Rays sluggers?

Well, the first slugger, Ji-Man Choi, hit what should have been a ground ball double play. Jed Lowrie booted it though, which allowed Choi to beat out the throw. Props to him for running hard out of the box.

Even though I don’t, I’d like to believe Fiers hit Duffy on purpose, because that would make what happened next a cautionary tale. Hung slider to C.J. Cron, middle of the plate, bottom third of the zone, 2-0 Rays.

The second inning made it clear Fiers wasn’t settling scores, and instead was struggling uncharacteristicly with his command. After giving up an infield single to Kevin Kiermaier, he walked Willy Adames, Jake Bauers, and Mallex Smith. The only reason he wasn’t made to pay was that Jesus Sucre lined into a double play (that Adames at second base misread).

By the fourth inning, Fiers had settled in and found his commenad, striking out Kiermaier looking, with a beautiful curve dropped into the zone. He got ahead in the count to Adames, but then he wasn’t able to put him away. Pitch number six was a high fastball that Adames swung at. Often that’s a strikeout, but Adames flashed his bat tool and fouled it off. Pitch number nine was another high fastball, but not high enough this time. Adames was on it for a solo homer, stretching the lead to three.

The final Rays runs of the night came in the seventh, when with one out Matt Duffy doubled off the wall (!). Choi moved Duffy over to third on a groundout, and Cron walked (for his third time on base). Cash decided to play some games on the basepaths, getting Carlos Gomez into the game a half-inning early as a pinch runner (he was probably coming in as a defensive replacement, anyway). That set up the potential double steal of second and home, and it was clear it was on Oakland’s mind, as Emilio Pagan immediately threw over to first, trying to catch Duffy straying down the line.

But the action was at the plate. Brandon Lowe pulled the first-pitch fastball into the corner, and then motored for a triple. Gomez scored from first, beating the throw with a head-first slide.

Five runs seemed like it would be enough. In the end, it was.

Some other notes:

  • In the top of the first inning, Carlos Gomez had a staring contest with Liam Hedricks across the field in the Oakland dugout. Gomez won. Obviously. MVP.
  • In the fifth inning, Hunter Wood hung a curve to Khris Davis, who only hit it to the warning track. Sometimes you get away with one. Foreshadowing.
  • First baseman Jake Bauers ended the top of the sixth inning by diving to make the catch in foul territory of left field. Impressive range there.
  • Quick, think to yourself, what approximately is Brandon Lowe’s wRC+ with the Rays this season? 60-80? 80-100? 100-120? 120-140? Now go check, here.