On the final day of what Marvel executives would call Phase Two of the Rays season (a six-week phase that really kicked our ass, unlike anything Kevin Feige and co. had to endure), the Rays managed to take the final game of their three-game set with the Boston Red Sox by a (maybe) final score of 3-2.
What’s with the maybe?
Well, let’s set the scene first.
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Wednesday’s finale was what looked like it would be a potential low-scoring affair from the jump, as Rays ace Charlie Morton drew Rays ex, David Price.
The Sox got on the board first with an amazing (and yes, definitely intentional) piece of shift-beating, opposite-field hitting from Rafael Devers with one out and runners on second and third in the top of the third inning. The inside-out grounder gave the Red Sox a 2-0 lead, and a headstart on a potential sweep that would have moved them into the top spot among the American League Wild Card Chasers.
However, the Rays got one run back in the fourth, with Tommy Pham taking Price deep to left field for his 16th home run of the season, making it 2-1. Way to get aggressive early in the count, Tommy!
Then, in the bottom of the fifth, the Rays took the lead. Mike Brosseau continued his impressive start to his Rays career with a single, advancing to second on a wild pitch. Joey Wendle, who looked as good as he has all season at the plate on Wednesday, drove him in immediately after, tying things up at 2-2. Guillermo Heredia kept the good vibes going with a shot into the left-center gap that brought around the speedy Wendle, and gave the Rays the 3-2 lead.
Back on the run prevention side of things, Morton began to lock in, finishing his outing with yet another sexy line: 7 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 11 K.
It was in the eighth inning that shit got weird.
With Jackie Bradley Jr. due up to lead off the inning, Cash turned to Adam Kolarek to start the frame. The Sox pinch-hit with righty Sam Travis, but Kolarek got the two-pitch out. Then, with Mookie Betts up in a one-run game, but lefty Rafael Devers on deck, Cash wisely went to his classic “pitcher in the field” double switch: Kolarek went to first; Choi went to the bench; and Chaz Roe came into the game.
It should’ve been simple, but everything went to hell in a handbasket. Roe got the out, but when Cash went to re-enter Kolarek as a pitcher, Red Sox manager Alex Cora wanted the Rays to lose their DH, Austin Meadows, who was due up to lead off the bottom half of the frame.
The umpires didn’t seem to know how to handle it, and huddled; talked to coaches; and talked to the replay center for what seemed like four and a half weeks. (Staats pointed out at one point in the bottom half of the inning that seven pitches had been thrown in the last 31 minutes; yikes.) Finally, play got back underway, and Kolarek got Devers to ground out on the first pitch of the at bat… lol.
The Rays were held off the board in the eighth, leaving a nervy one-run lead to take into the ninth against the Boston 3-4-5 hitters. Luckily, Emilio Pagan was locked in from the start, striking out Xander Bogaerts, then J.D. Martinez, before getting Andrew Benintendi to roll over on a grounder to first to end the game—for now.
During the whole hullabaloo in the eighth, Alex Cora put in an official protest, as, in his words:
Cora says Rays kept the DH, meaning they had a pitcher, first baseman, pitcher and DH in the lineup. "Hard to explain...there's a lot. Illegal substitutions but we'll see what happens."— Chris Cotillo (@ChrisCotillo) July 24, 2019
To my eyes (and the eyes of the rest of the DRB staff), Cora doesn’t have much of a case, especially since Meadows did have to come out of the game in the eighth. But in a Wild Card race as close as this one (the A’s trail Houston 4-1 as this is being written… fingers crossed) every win will matter, so count this as an almost-certain win, with an official ruling likely sooner than later.
(For the record, official protests almost never lead to any actual change, but a reversal in that trend for this case would be oh so 2019 Rays. Plus, as fellow DRB writer John Ford pointed out, today is the anniversary of the most famous protested game in baseball history: The Pine Tar Incident... Maybe we shouldn’t lock in that W after all...)
- Boy oh boy, was Charlie Morton money (very!) well spent this offseason. The dude is an absolute Lockdown Guy. Pitching record is pointless, blah, blah, blah. The dude is now 12-3, and the Rays are 14-8 in the games he starts. He’s already earning that biggest contract in Rays history.
- Tommy Pham has a 99 wRC+ with runners in scoring position, and an 85 wRC+ in high-leverage situations. I love Tommy, but honestly, it feels way worse than that, even. For such a good player, he still doesn’t have a Signature Moment with the Rays. (Just means he’s due for one…)
- To reiterate, Pagan looked great. He’s now 5-for-5 in traditional “start the ninth, get three outs” save opportunities, and while the Rays are never going to use him strictly in that role (and that’s totally fine), I trust him about as much as anyone out in the pen right now.
- Get ready for the schedule to get A LOT easier now, in Phase Three: @TOR (3), @BOS (3), MIA (2), TOR (3), @SEA (3), @SD (3), DET (3), SEA (3), @BAL (4). That feels like 18-9, maybe 17-10. The stretch run gets a little trickier, so if the Rays aren’t in a WC spot after this upcoming five weeks, it may be a lot harder… Should be fun to watch.