Can we talk about it now? Cause dammmmmmmmmmn that was close.
For two and a half hours on a hot, quiet Sunday in July, the Rays pitching corps (a deadly duo of Ryne and Ryan) held the Orioles off the basepaths entirely, twirling eight innings of perfect baseball that had Rays fans on the edge of their seat, frantically googling whether there had ever been a combined perfect game in MLB history.
There hadn’t been, and there still isn’t, as Hanser Alberto—the second-best hitter against lefties, by batting average, in all of baseball this season—beat the southpaw Yarbrough and the infield shift with a little inside-out grounder that barely reached the outfield. But it was more than enough to spoil what would have been the 24th perfect game in baseball history, and the first since Felix Hernandez in 2012.
Instead, Ryne Stanek and Ryan Yarbough joined a not-so-long but not-so-short list that no pitcher wants to be on (while simultaneously kind of wanting to be on): pitchers that lost perfect games in the ninth inning.
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Ryne Stanek came into Sunday’s game having given up four runs in his last outing, taking the loss in the Rays pre-All-Star Break, extra-inning game against the Yankees back on July 5. Stanek clearly wanted to reset the juju, and he dominated the O’s in both the first and second frames.
On the offensive side of things, the Rays bats, which exploded in both the first and third games of this series, sandwiched around a three-hour nap in the opener of the doubleheader on Saturday, tried to split the difference today, snagging one run in the second on a Joey Wendle sac fly, and one run in the third, a shot off the bat of Austin Meadows, his first homer since May(!).
In the bottom half of the third, Yarbrough entered the game and instantly became the story. The lefty, who struggled so much at the start of the season, has shown just incredible amounts of chutzpah this year, returning with an absolute vengeance, and looking as good on Sunday as any Rays pitcher has looked in recent memory.
There are certain perfect game bids when the pitcher looks to be teetering on the edge the entire time—sashaying a performative dance on the blade-edge of a diamond-shaped knife. It’s a spectacle in its own right, but Yarbrough was the exact opposite. In some ways it’s fitting that the Wimbledon Final was also taking place this Sunday, albeit over 3,500 miles away across the Atlantic, because Yarbrough almost had a Roger Federer-like approach on the day. (Also fitting that both came up short of their end goal...)
His cutters came right in on the hands; his sinkers caught the (Zunino Extended) edge of the plate time after time; he wasn’t afraid to hit lefties with the changeup.
Some pitchers luck into perfect game bids. There was nothing lucky about Yarbrough’s bid.
When Mike Brosseau put the Rays up 4-0 in the sixth, and then Yarbs once again set down the side in order in the bottom half, the excitement really started to grow.
The seventh: Jonathan Villar can be pesky—strike out looking; Trey Mancini is a scary and powerful hitter—take your lineout.
The eighth: Renato Nuñez has absolutely mashed the past couple of weeks—that’s a lazy flyout; Chris Davis got ahead in the count—nah, that’s just another easy groundout.
After the Rays were held off the board in the top of the ninth, the Rays broadcast decided not to go to commercial. Kevin Burkhardt** and Brian Anderson had done a good job of dancing around saying exactly what was going on, and the tension in the ballpark/announcer’s box/GDT was palpable.
** The one slightest of silver linings: If the Rays had gotten the perfecto in a game without Dewayne, it would’ve taken off three percent of the shine.
Not to bang the drum too often: But it really did look like Yarbrough had absorbed the Perfect Game Energy.
But alas, the best laid plans of mice and men—you know the rest... (get broken up by pesky righties).
Alberto got his dribbler to break up the perfecto, and, somewhat graciously, Steve Wilkerson followed that up with a legitimate hit back up the middle right after to allay any potential “That dribbler was the only thing between the Rays and history!??!?!” talk.
One batter later, Yarbrough was removed to an ovation from his teammates and some genuinely smile-inducing love from his opener that day.
The O’s pushed one run across in the ninth, and actually got the tying run to the plate just to make sure the anxiety we had collectively felt for the past three hours didn’t just completely disappear, but Emilio Pagán came in for the final out and got the job done, bringing the Rays to 15 games above .500 and sending their run differential into triple digits.
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In the end, Ryne, Ryan, and the Rays came up just short of history. They got eight perfect frames, and gave us a game no Rays fan will forget for a while. In fact, it’s not hard to imagine 10, 15 years down the line, turning to a fellow Rays fan and saying, “Hey, remember that time the Rays were just three outs away from the first combined perfect game in baseball history?”
That’s the type of game we just saw, and while it sucks the record books won’t be fully cracked today, hopefully we can all channel whatever it was going through Yarbrough’s head right here, cause I think he definitely gets it.