I thought this was going to be a pitchers duel. Twins starting pitcher Martin Perez is having a great year. His velocity is up from last year’s with his fastball touching 95 and he’s relying more on an effective cutter. He came in with a 2.95 ERA which is significantly lower than his career 4.51. With a 3.72 FIP he’s maybe been a touch lucky but mostly he’s just been good.
For the Rays, we had Charlie Morton, who of course, has been Charlie Freakin Morton in most of his starts, capable of using his curve and fastball combo to freeze hitters.
And that pitchers duel was indeed what we saw for two and a half innings. Both pitchers were getting their strikeouts and inducing weak contact.
And then, in the bottom of the third inning, the Rays started hitting. And hitting.
Daniel Robertson had a one out single and Avisail Garcia drew a walk, as did Tommy Pham, laying off some close pitches. That loaded the bases, which seemed like it might not be a great thing because the Rays had a terrible record of scoring players with the bases loaded (based on a pretty small sample of course).
But the guy at bat was Austin Meadows, so all narratives of failure must go out the window. He drove an inside fastball down the first base line. As right fielder Max Kepler covered a lot of ground to track down the ball, all three base runners were able to score:
M— Tampa Bay Rays (@RaysBaseball) May 31, 2019
I don’t know what witchery explains Meadows hot hand but we’ll take some more of it. It’s also interesting to note that 2019 Meadows has practically no platoon splits and no evidence of a DH penalty. He’s really good in every situation.
Normally when I recap games I take careful notes on each play, and in particular make sure to document each Rays run. But I have to confess: tonight I lost track. After the Rays went up 3-0 on Meadows’ bases loaded double, there were a lot of other hits, as the team scored six runs and chased Perez from the game before the third inning was over.
But that’s not all; in the bottom of the fourth, against relative newcomer Zach Littell, they scored five more runs. And despite that you could even say that the Rays were “unlucky” that inning; two of their outs were loud balls caught by outfielders, one was an out at second when Willy Adames tried unsuccessfully to stretch a single. In other words, Littell was really getting hit around. It was clear that his job was to absorb these innings, however ugly they might be. As the fifth inning rolled around, the Rays had lead of 11-0.
Charlie Morton had lost just a little bit of his very sharp edge by the fifth – maybe that is what happens as the game goes on, maybe as much as any pitcher loves those runs it can be difficult to sit in the dugout through two very long innings. He gave up a few hard hits to allow Minnesota to score in the fifth; Byron Buxton opened the sixth with a triple to deep right and scored on a ground out, to make the score 11-2. But he pretty easily got through 7 innings, giving up 2 runs on four hits and pitching a “no walker” which helped make this a very nicely paced game. Charlie Freakin Morton indeed.
The Rays batters weren’t having any of this “margin below ten runs” stuff tonight, so they tacked on three more runs in the bottom of the seventh, still facing Littell. This inning included the game’s only home run, a two-run bomb from Ji-Man Choi. It’s not often a team scores this many runs without a lot of long ball. Here’s the call in Korean:
here you go! pic.twitter.com/HrMbUzK2y0— Sung Min Kim (@sung_minkim) May 31, 2019
The Rays used Adam Kolarek and Oliver Drake to get the last six outs. Kolarek gave up the Twins third run of the game, but he really pitched just fine — his job is to get ground balls and he did; two of them happened to go for hits.
So in sum: Rays had 16 hits and three walks; every player had at least one hit, and Avi Garcia had three. This was a great offensive performance, coupled with strong pitching and very tight defense.
- There was just one troubling moment in the game: Tommy Pham, scoring from third in the fourth inning, came up limping. The report was that he experienced a lower leg cramp and would be “day to day”. We can all hope that it was indeed a cramp, as these are less likely to creating lasting problems as muscle strains or tears would do. There are a few players whose loss would sting badly and Pham has to be at the top of that list.
- I am still waiting to see Charlie Morton smile. If you happened to see his on-camera postgame interview and had not watched the game, from his demeanor you would have assumed that they had lost. When he was asked about custom t-shirts with his name that the team had been wearing he did seem to lighten up just a tiny bit — but nothing close to a smile, even then. I guess he’s just a serious guy.
- If pace of play is your thing, this was a game for you. Even with a total of 17 runs scored, this game clocked in at 2 hours and 44 minutes. Credit the limited number of walks and mid-inning pitching changes and a very efficient Charlie Morton.
- Ozzie Timmons, who does ten push-ups for every run the Rays score, is going to have some sore arms tomorrow. I hope the training staff has a treatment plan for him.
- The Rays are playing great baseball and the Twins have the best record in the MLB. So think about taking in a game this weekend! There are ticket specials on Friday; a Tommy Pham bobblehead giveaway on Saturday, and with continued scorching hot weather in the Tampa Bay area, 72 degrees sounds pretty delightful.
- This Rocco Baldelli tribute is nice:
Thank you for setting the standard every day you put on our uniform, @roccodbaldelli.#RaysUp pic.twitter.com/Rkf0vtHEFQ— Tampa Bay Rays (@RaysBaseball) May 30, 2019