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Rays 11 Blue Jays 7: Long balls and openers take Rays to victory

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First it was a blowout, then it was a nail biter, ultimately it was a W

Tampa Bay Rays v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

If you are reading this, you are probably a Tampa Bay sports fan. And boy have you had an emotional night.

First, you’ve seen the Lightning get obliterated by the Columbus Blue Jackets to go down 0-2 in what was supposed to be their march to the Stanley Cup. Ouch

Then you saw your Rays sailing calmly to victory, only to have storm clouds knock them off course.

The Rays game certainly started well. Indeed, for six and a half innings this game seemed so easily in hand that I was busy scoreboard watching (which is crazy to do in April, I know. But Red Sox beat Baltimore; as of this writing White Sox were leading Yankees 9-6 with the game in rain delay).

Austin Meadows started off quickly with a home run on a 2-2 count to lead off giving the Rays a 1-0 lead.

Ryne Stanek opened for the Rays, and had such an efficient first inning that he came out for the second as well. Six outs, twenty-two pitches, three strike outs.

Austin “Powers” Meadows came up again in the top of the third, and once again he went yard. This time his home run hit one of the upper decks with a trajectory like this:

Yandy Diaz drew a walk with two outs; Brandon Lowe then hit a home run that to my eye seemed to land in exactly the same spot as the Meadows homer, making it 4-0 Rays

Here’s Willy Adames’ reaction to the Lowe home run (thanks for the GIF, @domhunt18):

And some visuals from people in the stadium:

A Garcia single and Kiermaier triple led to the Rays fifth run. Their offense was looking so strong and Blue Jay pitcher Trent Thornton looking so flustered that I found myself feeling badly for him. Isn’t there a mercy rule, I thought? Thornton, the traditional starter, was pulled after three innings.

Ryan Yarbrough was the Rays second pitcher of the night and like Stanek he pitched two perfect innings. It was a little surprising that he only got two as he usually goes deeper, but Cash had suggested that he wanted both Yarbrough and Chirinos to see action in this game, so Yonny was brought in to start the fifth inning.

His had a comfortable lead which got more comfortable when the Rays added one run in the sixth and two in the seventh.

In the sixth, Kevin Kiermaier hit a routine ground ball single to right. But of course he accelerated as he turned first, and the routine single became a double. And that made it easier for him to tag and get to third on Zunino’s deep fly to center. Adames was struck in the back (yes the back) by a misdirected breaking pitch. One out later up came Tommy Pham, whose on-base streak was on the line after going 0-3. Pham hits a dribbler short of third base, and he legged it out for an RBI single. His outs were clocked at 104 mph; his hit had an exit velocity of 57.4. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ 6-0.

In the seventh Lowe’s second two-run homer of the night gave the Rays a commanding 8-0 lead.

But then came the inning of near doom.

Needless to say it’s never a good idea to start an inning with a lead off walk; the walk was followed by a single, two doubles, a single, and a a home run by Luke Maile. Sometime in the midst of all those hits to the outfield I realized that Guillermo Heredia, and not Kevin Kiermaier, was manning center field. Kiermaier apparently was pulled to give him some time off in what appeared to be a blowout. But the blowout was suddenly 8-6. I was no longer worried about the hurt feelings of Trent Thornton.

Yonny was removed after the homer and replaced by Adam Kolarek who recorded the quick ground ball out, but then gave up a Freddy Galvis double into the left field corner which brought the tying run to the plate. Next to the mound was Diego Castillo. His first pitch to Justin Smoak was a strike. The next was way low, in the dirt, and Zunino lost track of it for a second. Galvis took off for third, where he was tagged out on Zunino’s throw. Interestingly, the Blue Jays decided not to challenge although the slow motion replay suggested that Diaz’s tag could well have been a second late. Big sigh of relief to escape with that two run lead.

But don’t get too comfortable. Castillo was back on to pitch the 8th, and in a sort of recurring nightmare from the 7th, he walked the lead-off batter, Justin Smoak, who took second on a wild pitch. A single then put runners on the corners with one out and brought the go-ahead run to the plate, in the person of pinch hitter Rowdy Tellez, who has been a Blue Jay fan favorite this year. Castillo was having some trouble finding the strike zone, but somehow got Tellez to swing over a 98 mph sinking fastball for a foul tip strike out.

The next hitter, Richard Ureña, hit a grounder that literally went through Ji-Man Choi’s legs. I’m mean we’re talking Bill Buckner 1986 World Series. The error scored another run, making it 8-7. Castillo then fell behind 2-0 to Alen Hanson, at which point Cash really rolled the dice, calling for the intentional walk to load the bases, bringing up Luke Maile, whose earlier two run homer was largely responsible for the Rays being in this mess in the first place.

Castillo, of course, had been struggling with command this whole outing; now he NEEDED to throw strikes to protect a one-run lead.

Ball one.

Ball two.

Ball three.

He’s at 30 pitches. This is rough.

But he painted the lower corners with two cutters to get to a full count and then caught Maile looking on a third cutter on the inside edge of the plate to notch the inning-ending strikeout. Credit to Mike Zunino for selling some close pitches as strikes — Gameday pegged all three pitches in the zone, although two were very close. Inning over with the slender lead preserved.

Rays hitters apparently did not want to see whether a one-run lead would survive. In the top of the ninth, Garcia doubled to lead off and Heredia bunted him to third. Mike Zunino hit a shallow fly to the right field line which dropped in and scored Garcia. And the next batter, Willy Adames, hit the Rays fifth homer of the game. It wasn’t as long as the earlier shots from Meadows and Lowe but the timing of this one, sealing the victory, made it my favorite dinger of the night.

Jose Alvarado pitched a mercifully quick and clean bottom of the ninth and the Rays pulled out another win.

For those who enjoy second guessing managers this game provided a lot of opportunities. On the Blue Jays side, Charlie Montoyo surely should have called for a replay on the tag on Galvis in the seventh inning. It was late in the game; losing an out with a man in scoring position in a two-run game is about as crucial a moment as you can find. What exactly are you holding your challenge for if not a situation like this one?

We can also argue that Cash should have pulled Yonny Chirinos a bit faster in the seventh inning. That inning really got badly out of hand. However, it got out of hand so quickly it’s hard to say how much sooner Cash could have had another pitcher ready. In his postgame interview Cash suggested it was important that Chirinos feel that the team trusted him to get through such situations. Had the Rays ultimately lost, however, the decision to stick with Chirinos would have looked that much worse.

I’m sure there will also be discussion about the decision to load the bases intentionally in the eighth. It gave the Rays a more favorable match-up against the right-handed Maile. But Castillo was having trouble throwing strikes, and putting pressure on him to do so could have backfired. I would note that the intentional walk was not called until Castillo was already behind on the previous hitter; Cash may have been reluctant to see him try to locate his pitchers against the lefty.

Ultimately this game was about the long ball. Let’s hope the wind continues blowing out for Rays hitters and Blake Snell can eat some innings against this Blue Jays lineup tomorrow.

And may the Blue Jays continue to claim that Vladdy Jr. needs to work on his defense...at least until Monday.