After several tough losses (and even a tough win), no doubt a few Rays fans were considering tonight’s game against the National League’s best team with a little trepidation. Even the unflappable Dewayne Staats seemed to share a sense of foreboding. Discussing the Rays difficult upcoming schedule, he said that Kevin Cash’s goal would be to “remain relevant” over the coming weeks. Remain relevant? A team that was in first place until three days ago and still has a pretty good record is merely trying to “remain relevant?” Talk about a low bar!
Fortunately the Rays were very relevant tonight. This was one of those games that seemed to switch personality midway. What started as a tense and efficient pitchers duel where a runner thrown out at the plate to maintain a 1-1 tie seemed like it would be the play of the game turned into a comfortable blow out after the Rays batted around in the bottom of the seventh.
It was another opener-bulk-bullpen night for our guys. Stanek seemed shaky at first — he walked the lead off hitter on a full count and gave up a hard ground ball single to Max Muncy to put two men on. But he recovered very nicely getting five straight outs to take the Rays into the second inning, at which point bulk guy Yonny Chirinos took over.
Rich Hill was the Dodgers starter. It’s hard to root against Hill. He’s one of these guys who bounced around forever until establishing himself in his thirties. He does a Rafa Nadal style grunt with each pitch and sometimes lets lose with a clearly audible f-bomb when he misses his spot. He also penned this very moving account of his experience losing an infant son; you will cry reading it so don’t click on the link unless you’ve got a box of tissues handy.
Hill looked very impressive in the first few innings; he’s in the “crafty lefty” mold, with several curve/slider varietals that seemed to be keeping Rays hitters off balance. I was relieved when Ji-Man Choi bunted for a single in the first inning (getting that no hitter watch out of the way) and even more relieved in the bottom of the fourth inning when Tommy Pham put the Rays up with this home run:
Chirinos was very effective into the sixth inning, and just as Cash had started Adam Kolarek up in the bullpen he began to falter. He went 3-1 on Max Muncy; the next pitch was very hittable and Muncy drove it over the center field wall. Justin Turner followed with a single, and with Bellinger coming up Chirinos’ night was over. So our bulk guy wasn’t very bulkish, but give him credit for a strong three plus innings against a very good line up. Kolarek got the second out when Bellinger’s ground out forced out Turner at second; off the bat it had looked like a good double play ball, but the Rays were a tad slow and Bellinger was very fast so they could only get the one out. Kolarek then hit Corey Seager with a poorly executed sinker, and Cash went back to the bullpen to bring in right handed Emilio Pagan.
Pagan got ahead of Russell Martin, but Martin was nonetheless able to flare a single that bounced just short of Kiermaier in center. Oh no, I thought, that will give the Dodgers bases loaded which, even with two outs, can be dangerous. But wait, what was that? Cody Bellinger motoring around third base heading home? Had no one told him, or his third base coach, that our center fielder has an arm? Kiermaier threw a strike to catcher Travis d’Arnaud that reached him as Bellinger was still several strides from the plate, d’Arnaud received it perfectly, and Bellinger was the third out. Kiermaier’s throw apparently came in at 100.6 mph. Phew.
The Dodgers brought in former Rays RHP Dylan Floro to preserve the tie in the bottom of the seventh inning, so Rays sent up Austin Meadows to pinch hit for d’Arnaud. Meadows was hit by a pitch so the lead off man was on. Heredia then singled into right center field; Meadows hung around second base to see if it would be caught, but had it been caught he probably couldn’t get back to first anyway so perhaps it would have been better to just sell out and get to third. But it didn’t matter, because Lowe’s grounder got through the infield; third base coach Linares did not hesitate to send Meadows home. Perhaps a perfect throw would have gotten him out but the throw was very high and Meadows scored easily. Rays up 2-1.
And what came next was one of my favorite baseball things: the three run bomb. This one was courtesy of Avisail Garcia and there was no doubt (406 fit and hit at 106.8 mph). That cleared the bases and gave the Rays a 5-1 lead. After a pitching change, Tommy Pham walked on a 10 pitch at bat and a few outs later Robertson was hit by a pitch (it was a curve ball that bounced several feet in front of the plate, but did hit him on a bounce so he went to first.)
But why settle for one three-run bomb when you can have two three run bombs? Kevin Kiermaier did not leave any chicken on the bone; his home run made the score 8-1, which would be the final tally.
Emilio Pagan and and Casey Sadler kept the Dodgers off the board through the seventh, eighth and ninth, and the Rays had earned a series split with the kind of easy-ish win that hasn’t been in the team’s repertoire in recent weeks.
The team hits the airport tonight and flies to Cleveland for four games; get ready for a lot of baseball in the coming weeks!