Narrative is a dirty word at DRaysBay, and with fairly good reason. It’s an easy trap to follow into when it comes to the 162-game marathon that is a Major League Baseball season, and these narratives are often disproven, or simply abandoned by the side of the road as soon as a new narrative appears.
But I’ll tell you, Monday night’s 6-3 win over the Baltimore Orioles felt like a capital-N ‘Narrative’ win. Both at the macro and micro levels.
The narrative that the Rays may have survived their worst stretch of the season is sitting right there. The win was the third in a row for the Rays, who went 13-16 in June, not terrible, but for reference, this is their first three-game win streak since June 8. Their two-game win streak heading into the game was their first time stringing together consecutive wins since June 10.
Now, the Rays have two more games against the lowly Orioles before hosting a likely (hopefully?) to be London-hungover Yankee squad before the All-Star Break.
Mostly, things just looked to be a lot more like they “should” be on Monday.
The Rays took an early lead
The first inning was such a boon for the Rays during their early-season Salad Days, but it’s been far harsher in recent weeks. In fact, the Rays went from arguably the best first-inning team in baseball through the first two months, to a slightly below-average first-inning team on the season as a whole with their recent struggles.
On Monday, Austin Meadows got a leadoff single to start the game, and you could almost feel that being key. (Again: narrative.) Brandon Lowe followed with a walk, and a batter later, Ji-Man Choi and Avisail Garcia put together back-to-back singles to give the Rays the early 2-0 lead.
Credit where credit is due, Orioles starter, Tom Eshelman, who was making his MLB debut, bounced back well to hold the Rays off the board for the rest of his five-inning start. In the meantime, the O’s got one run off Ryan Yarbrough in the fourth, before Chaz Roe came in and did Chaz Roe things (I’m not sold on the past 10 days of decent outings) in the sixth, handing the O’s a 3-2 lead in the top half of the frame.
The Rays were able to get to a bad Orioles bullpen
However, things almost got a lot worse. Already down one, with two outs and a man on second, Jonathan Villar laced a ball the other way, but Brandon Lowe made the outstanding catch to end the inning and keep the Rays within striking distance.
In the moment, it felt like a big play. And it was indeed.
With Eshelman out after five, the Rays immediately jumped on the O’s pen. Branden Kline got the call for the O’s, and the Rays managed to secure all the runs they’d need for the night before he could even record an out. They went ahead 5-3 thanks to a Choi walk, a Garcia single, and then a KK moonshot to center.
The Rays bullpen looked as strong as it has in recent memory
The Rays tacked on one more run thanks to Yandy Diaz and Choi in the seventh, but really the story of the final three frames was how little nerves the Rays pen brought to the tables. Oliver Drake got through the seventh on 12 pitches (11 strikes). Emilio Pagan got through the eighth on 13 pitches (nine strikes). And, most importantly, Jose Alvarado got through the ninth on 16 pitches (10 strikes).
It was Alvarado’s first save since May 26. I know that we all know that saves don’t really matter. They’re an arbitrary stat decided upon decades ago. Still, for Alvarado, who missed nearly the entirety of June, I think it may actually mean something.
To steal some Friends parlance, this game felt like The One Where the Rays Steady the Ship. Maybe the O’s will snipe a couple off us, maybe the Yanks will come in and take three out of four, and maybe we’ll be right back to square one, but there was something that felt a little different tonight.
Of course, that’s all just narrative, though.
- Brendan McKay got his first start as an MLB hitter, making him an official, MLB two-way player. Let’s just say he’s not quite Shohei Ohtani at the plate (or on the basepaths...) just yet. But that’s fine, who on earth would expect him to be? He hasn’t been given the same time that Ohtani got to hone his skills against players at a level less than MLB caliber. In my mind, tonight was all about showing him: Hey, we truly want you to be a two-way guy; we’re committed to this. It was basically a no-loss scenario for them. I like it a lot.
- The Rays are now 24-10 against sub-.500 teams. Whenever you get annoyed at this team, just go back to that stat. Also, go ahead and glance at the schedule in August for both the Rays and the Yankees. If the Rays keep beating up on the minnows, this division race might not be as cooked as it looks right now.
- Tired: Drake-based Oliver Drake puns. Wired: Oliver!-based Oliver Drake puns. “Consider yourself, our
mateseventh inning man. Consider yourself, part of the family!”
- That “Double Santander” pun from Staats in the ninth belongs on his Hall of Fame plaque.
- Ok, just go ahead and skip to the comments now if you get annoyed by social justice warriordom....
- Are you gone, yet?
- Ok. That KK homer in the sixth? Amazing. That bat flip/bat drop/whatever you want to call it? Even more amazing. BUTTTT. I love a good bat flip. If you’re the type who gets butt hurt when Yasiel Puig sticks out his tongue after sliding safely into second, or fires off an angry tweet whenever Javy Baez pimps a tag at second base, I really, really hope you were just as annoyed with Kiermaier... Cause go back and look at that tweet above. He pimped the hell out of that bad boy, and I’d hate to speculate on why you’d only get annoyed by Puig or Baez but not KK...