For the second time in a week, the Rays beat the Red Sox in a one-run game. Tonight, just like last Wednesday, Charlie Morton faced off against David Price, with Emilio Pagan nailing down the save.
Both Price and Morton departed early, after 4.1 and 4.2 innings respectively (more on Morton’s exit below). Neither pitcher was at his best, each giving up four runs (although one of Morton’s was really Kolarek’s fault). Price had more strike outs (nine) but also got hit harder. Both teams used seven pitchers, as the managers worked match-ups. I think the Rays actually used up all their allotted mound visits.
The Rays didn’t score in the first inning, but they did work some long at bats that contributed to Price’s high pitch count and early departure. Avisail Garcia was the only batter who really looked overmatched, striking out on three pitches, but he made up for that later. And of course their chances for a big inning were stymied by — stop me if you’ve heard this one — a base running blunder. Matt Duffy got hung up between first and second base, seemingly unsure about whether to try to for second on a ball in the dirt.
Like Price, Morton walked the lead off batter, and Mookie Betts managed not to get picked off first base. If the baseball gods were kind Morton would have been quickly out of the inning however; the next three batters popped up, but the third of these, JD Martinez, managed to place his bloop in that infernal no-man’s land between center field and second base, with Betts getting to third. Morton promptly walked Benintendi on four pitches. Down in the count 1-2, Mitch Moreland singled to right field – maybe catchable by Garcia with a better read? and the Red Sox were up 2-0 .
The Rays scored in the third; Duffy doubled and Meadows drove him in with a triple to the right field corner, to make the score 2-1. That brought up Garcia, who looked a little less lost than in the first inning, but who nonetheless struck out on a 2-2 count.
But Morton gave that run back in the bottom of the third. There were a string of singles that made the score 3-1 and it could have been worse, but a timely double play kept the inning in check.
After loading the bases but failing to score in the fourth, in the top of the fifth the Rays finally decided that “small ball” was not working out for them so they went for the dingers. First Travis d’Arnaud (of course) hit a solo home run over the left field wall and out of the stadium. And then Avi Garcia— he of the embarrassing first inning strike out— hit his own solo home run to tie the game. I guess maybe this “third time through the order” thing actually makes sense? Mike Brosseau singled, Lowe doubled, and Price left the game with runners at second and third. Newly acquired Eric Sogard was brought in to pinch hit for Willy Adames; he hit a grounder that scored run number 4 and gave the Rays the lead.
Morton gave up a lead off single to start the bottom of the fifth. He got two outs, but then Cash decided to pull him in favor of lefty Adam Kolarek to face left-handed, and red hot Andrew Benintendi.
Let’s pause here for a minute. Morton is the Rays best starter and has generally been giving them 6-7 quality innings. Today he was at just 84 pitches and while he hadn’t been dominant he had also managed to contain the Boston offense reasonably well. On the other hand, with runners on base almost every inning, those were some stressful 84 pitches. Coming up was Andrew Benintendi, a lefty hitter who has been hitting well lately. And perhaps Cash and Snyder, observing Morton from the dugout, can tell when he’s out of steam. So Cash decided to take Morton out and replace him with a lefty ground ball specialist, Adam Kolarek.
And so of course Kolarek immediately gave up a two run homer to Benintendi. The lead was gone. Of course. If you take a look at Rays Twitter or our Gameday comments you’ll see many people who are sure that Cash made a terrible mistake, one that very nearly cost the Rays this important game. I have no idea whether Cash made a poor decision — it is too hard to evaluate the process without being swayed by the results. And the results were terrible. To his credit, Kolarek did get out of the inning and took care of three Red Sox lefties in the sixth inning as well.
And apparently even Cash second guessed Cash:
#Rays Cash said that the decision to take out Morton had to do with matchups but said that Morton “deserves” the opportunity to get that out and would give it to him if he could do it all over again.— Juan Toribio (@juanctoribio) July 31, 2019
The Rays however managed a two out rally of their own to start the sixth inning and regain the lead. Travis d’Arnaud walked and Austin Meadows singled. Alex Cora then made his second pitching change of the inning to bring in a righty to face Garcia. Garcia made him regret his decision, however, smacking a double off that left field wall to score two runs, giving the Rays a 6-5 lead. (Wonder whether Red Sox Twitter is as angry with Cora about that pitching move as Rays folks are with Cash?)
So the Rays took a 6-5 lead into the seventh inning; that would be all the scoring but not all the action. Both the Rays and the Red Sox had base runners in the final innings. The Rays needed three pitchers to get through the eighth, as the Red Sox loaded the bases.
The Red Sox had runners on the corners in the ninth inning. But somehow the Rays bullpen powered through. Particular credit goes to Emilio Pagan, who was certainly not perfect — three hits in 1.1 innings, ouch — but got the outs he needed to put this one to bed.
Some final thoughts:
- Matt Duffy has looked locked in for a guy who missed spring training and half the season. He had two hits and a walk, including a single off of Nate Eovaldi. Eovaldi is being used in relief, where his ability to hit triple digits in late inning games ought to be a plus for the Red Sox.
- Mike Zunino. Should we just concede his strike out and skip the at-bat to improve pace of play? I’m not one to get down on players, and I assume he helps the team with his play behind the plate, but I don’t think even Jose Molina 2.0 had this terrible a stretch as a batter.
- Robo umps. What else can I say? First the zone was tight, then wide, then tight. The strike zone should not be a guessing game.
- So apparently a lot was going one while we were sweating out this game. All I know is that Yasiel Puig was busy brawling to defend guys who, he apparently didn’t know, were no longer his teammates. The upshot is, however, Puig is not going to be a Ray.