The Rays and Red Sox faced off in the final game of their three-day, four game series. Blake Snell was looking to bounce back from one of his least impressive starts. For the Red Sox, the 26 year lefty Eduardo Rodriguez had the start. Rodriguez came in with a 4.88 ERA, but his 3.55 FIP suggested he’d encountered some bad luck this season.
Coming into this game it seemed likely that the Rays could score a few against Rodriguez; the question was whether Snell would rebound after his very poor performance against Detroit in his last outing.
Spoiler alert: he did, but it wasn’t easy.
The Rays got on the board early, and they probably could and should have scored more than two runs in that first inning. Yandy Diaz started the game off with a hard (100.4 mph) single. Tommy Pham also smoked the ball at 108 mph, but of course the large obstruction they call the “green monster” turned a home run or gap double into something completely different.
Diaz got to third on the hit. Tommy Pham was thrown out at second, and thrown out pretty easily (not by a mile, but the throw clearly beat him). Pham has been on the wrong end of a number of outs on the bases. In this case, he might have started off a little slowly thinking this ball was out of the park (I didn’t see a camera shot of him running out of the box so I don’t know). He might be unfamiliar with the way balls play off the wall at Fenway. But in any case his mistake cost an out and a base runner, and had this been a closer game the error would have seemed more pivotal.
That was followed by singles for Brandon Lowe (which scored Diaz, Rays up 1-0) and Avisail Garcia. A deep fly ball off the hot bat of Travis d’Arnaud brought home another run for a 2-0 advantage.
Blake Snell took the mound for the bottom of the first. He started by getting ahead with two strikes to Mookie Betts, but Betts was able to poke a curveball over the infield for a single. He then walked Christian Vázquez. They both moved up when Snell spiked a changeup and d’Arnaud couldn’t block it.
Snell then had a long battle (well only 7 pitches but it felt long) to strike out Xander Bogaerts. Snell got to 0-2 on Chavis at which point Snyder came to the mound to chat with him. Barring injury you just don’t see a pitching coach come out in the middle of an at bat, so I have to imagine Kyle saw something in Snell’s mechanics that he felt needed immediate attention. Snell followed a similar pattern to set Chavis up with fastballs and put him away with a curve. He followed a similar script (fastball – curve-curve in this case) to strike out Eduardo Nunez and end the threat.
At this point let me note how terrific the broadcast team of Brian Anderson and Dewayne Staats has been. At the start of the inning they noted that Snell’s pitch mix this year had diverged from the last year’s, with the fastball more dominant in 2018 (apparently this had been discussed pregame). With that context, they were able to take us through the three at-bats in which Snell managed strikeouts, showing how he used his fastball, which was sitting at 96-97, to set up hitters who were then vulnerable to swinging early on his put-away curve.
Back to that first inning: On the one hand it was not the start we might have wanted for Snell, who threw 24 max-effort pitches. On the other hand, when you are looking for a definition of “gutsy” performance you can point to Snell’s ability to dial it up several notches.
In the top of the second inning, Guillermo Heredia showed his teammates how you deal with that damned wall – you get that launch angle just right so when you hit the ball 105 mph it clears the wall and goes into the bleachers. Rays up 3-0.
Snell had a bit of a battle again in the bottom of the second, resulting in the lone Boston run scoring. Once again he put the first two hitters on, this time with back-to-back singles. Snell struck out Leon (who is not a great hitter but who has a good record against Snell). He got the second out by picking Jackie Bradley Jr. off base, but after all that, Marco Hernandez hit a single that scored the run. Rays up 3-1. The inning ended with a foul pop up.
The teams traded zeros for a few innings. Snell had a good streak of retiring batters and ended up completing six innings, with a little drama (but no scoring) in the bottom of the sixth inning when Avisail Garcia whiffed on a difficult but catchable high fly to the right field corner for a two-base error. Snell ended the sixth having thrown 105 pitches. He battled through 6 innings, giving up five hits but just one walk and walking one and striking out 7.
In the sixth and seventh innings the Rays offense tacked on those key insurance runs in the form of three solo home runs. One was hit by Yandy Diaz, an over the monster shot. The other two were hit by Brandon Lowe-rhymes-with-how does this guy generate so much power?
They were both hit to a similar part of the park; one was about 20 feet deeper with a few ticks more exit velocity.
With a five run lead once Snell’s day was done, Cash had the luxury of saving some of his high leverage bullpen arms, and Oliver Drake got the ball. He struck out Bradley Jr. before giving up hits to Leon and Hernandez to put two on with one out. Going full count to Mookie Betts Drake faced a huge pivot point; walking Betts to load the bases would, it goes without saying, put this lead in jeopardy. But he got him swinging on a low splitter that led catcher d’Arnaud to excitedly point to the mound. Chistrian Vazquez popped up to end the inning. Six outs to go.
Meanwhile, Cleveland had tied up the Yankees on a home run by Jake Bauers. Not that we are scoreboard watching in early June. They would go on to lose in ten innings however, so the Rays remain tied for first place.
Oliver Drake took the Rays through the eighth and Adam Kolarek got the ninth, and the Rays had won the series — and managed to give Diego Castillo and Emilio Pagan the day off, not that we expect Charlie Freakin’ Morton to need any help in Monday’s game.
Let me close with a rant that I’m likely to include any time I am assigned a recap of a Fenway Park game: I cannot understand why the baseball world loses its mind over the Tropicana Field catwalks, which interfere with balls in play maybe....twice a year? Three times? At the same time that folks wax poetic over a stadium that has a 37 foot wall essentially in the middle of left field. No other stadium has dimensions at all like that. As a result the game played at Fenway is markedly different from the game played anywhere else, and this gives a huge advantage to the home team.
I’m all for quirky if quirky doesn’t distort the game, but giving a team the ability to muck with field dimensions this dramatically isn’t quirky, it’s creating a dramatically different playing field (in both the literal and figurative senses).
But no point being bitter when the Rays have come out winning three of four.
Hope some of you locals will be at Tropicana Field this week; even if you missed out on the $5 tickets there are plenty of regularly priced tickets in the $20 range. Not too many communities have the good fortune to watch first-place baseball in person!