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Rays 9 Astros 8: The Best Worst Game of the Year

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Rays pitchers walk 10 (ten!) Astros but somehow hang on for the win

Tampa Bay Rays v Houston Astros Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

This game was a story of getting, losing, regaining, and relosing and regaining the lead. At one point, the ever insightful Brian Anderson noted that both teams would most likely look back on this as one of the worst played games of their respective seasons. No doubt, but isn’t it better to win than to lose a battle of poor performance?

I’m glad for the win, but I think I aged about five years since this game started. And most of that aging occurred in the fourth and fifth innings, when the Rays gave up three runs to the Astros without allowing a single hit. Key errors and a LOT of walks will do that. Rays pitchers threw 197 pitches in this nine inning game.

Good thing they won’t need to rely on their bullpen much moving forward since they have (checks probables)...oops, bullpen day Friday and Saturday.

But I guess the positive side of a 9-8 victory is a pretty good offense. And since the Rays offense has had a period of scuffling, it was good to see them with some pretty good, efficient hitting across the game. They played long ball (solo shot by Meadows and a two run bomb by Travis d’Arnaud.)

Meadows has a moment:

They also had some small ball moments. For example, they got on the board first, in the second inning, when Ji-Man Choi singled and moved to second when Greinke was called on a balk. d’Arnaud drove him in on a two-out single. Rays up 1-0.

But opener Andrew Kittredge couldn’t complete a clean second inning to keep the lead in tact. He walked Yordan Alvarez (which isn’t a bad thing to do when facing the red-hot rookie), after which Yuli Gurriel singled to put runners at first and second with 1 out. Cash replaced him with Trevor Richards, scheduled to be the “bulk” guy. After getting the second out, he gave up a double to Robinson Chirinos that scored a run to tie things up a 1-1. It was a well struck ball and fortunate that Pham played it cleanly to prevent a second run from scoring.

The Rays got back in the lead in the second, when Austin Meadows, who has of late been a strike out machine, hit a long home run to make it 2-1. But Richards gave up a very long home run to George Springer to tie things up again.

Rays offense got two runs back in the fourth. Avisail Garcia beat out an infield hit, and Travis d’Arnaud homered to bring in two runs for a 4-2 lead.

But from there the Rays pitching really imploded. And I do mean the pitching, because defense had nothing to do with any of this. Richards walked Gurriel and Toro. He then recorded two strikeouts and got a loopy grounder from Josh Reddick. After fielding it he had a relatively easy play for the last out at first base, but he misfired and Reddick reached on the error to load the bases. So Richards, meant to be the bulk guy, was done after a little more than 2 innings. Chaz Roe replaced him, and walked George Springer to bring in a run, making the score 4-3. He then mercifully got the out.

Colin Poche was next up to pitch the fifth, and seldom have I been more tortured by an inning of baseball.

Here’s how it went: walk, deeeeep fly ball out, walk, strike out, walk, walk, walk. If you lost count, all those walks resulted in two runs, as the Astros took the lead, 5 to 4.

Poche is a guy who normally throws around 93 mph. The knock on him is that he may give up the long ball but doesn’t walk a lot of guys (1.66 BB/9).

Today, Poche was hitting 94-95 on a number of pitches and couldn’t find the strike zone. Was he just off for some reason? Was he trying to do something different (if so, maybe stop?)

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Houston Astros Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

The Rays came back to tie it, and knocked out Greinke in the sixth. He had walked Choi, who moved to second on a grounder, who scored on yet another two-out TdA RBI single.

That tie lasted about the length of a Visit Clearwater-St. Pete commercial before Jose Altuve opened the bottom of the sxith with a long home run off Nick Anderson. Et tu, Nick? He got two subsequent outs and turned the ball over to recently re-called Jose de Leon. Astros 6, Rays 5.

Next inning, with Chris Deveski pitching, Matt Duffy singled and Austin Meadows doubled into right field to put runners on corners. Tommy Pham hit a looping fly ball that Alvarez tried to catch but really just trapped. That allowed Duffy to score and tie the game; Meadows got to third and Pham to second. Down 1-2, Choi lofted a double over the head of the centerfielder to score two and go up 8-6.

But bottom of the seventh comes and that lead is in jeopardy again. Jose de Leon walked Abraham Toro, and Robinson Chirinos hit a grounder to third that Matt Duffy could not handle. My DRB colleagues will tell you that I am the best and probably only remaining Matt Duffy fan, but I have to admit that Duffy is not hitting nearly well enough to play the lackluster defense we’ve been seeing from him. This one was a tough hop but he was charged with an error, an indication that it was a playable ball. Now with two men on, Josh Reddick singled in a run to make it 8-7. But this time the Rays managed to get those last two outs — a strike out and a good catch by Ji-man Choi — without yielding the lead. In the process the Rays used up the last of their mound visits.

The Rays even managed to get a run back in the next inning, which would turn out to be an important one. Matt Duffy walked and moved to third on an Eric Sogard single, then scoring on a fielder’s choice. 9-7 Rays.

Pagan came back to pitch the 8th, and yielded a single to the fairly unstoppable Alex Bregman, but he somehow got through the inning without giving up a run. The bottom of the 8th inning was just the second in which Houston failed to score (the Rays also scored in six different innings).

Pagan was back out to pitch the ninth. I get it. I mean who else would you want out there? But I did wonder whether Cash was getting a little greedy; although Pagan had “only”pitched 1.1. innings there were two ups-and-downs which make things a little more challenging.

And Pagan did of course then give up a lead off homer to Toro, to give us the one run game that seemed almost inevitable. He did however get the requisite three outs, including a strike out of Josh Reddick that left Mr. Reddick very unhappy (And for what it’s worth, Reddick was correct, the ball was low).

So, kudos to some strong Rays hitting performances today from Travis d’Arnaud, Austin Meadows, Ji-man Choi, Tommy Pham. Tip of the hat to Jose de Leon, who was far from perfect but at least didn’t walk in two runs. And my gratitude to Emilio freaking Pagan for stepping up when his floundering team badly needed him.

The Rays are still on the outside of the Wild Card race looking in, but avoiding the sweep from a very strong Houston team can leave fans with a small glimmer of hope for the games to come.

Just FYI: Mindful of the predicted hurricane, the Florida State League has canceled its remaining regular season games and its playoff. Given that all of Florida is in the hurricane’s cone of uncertainty and the hurricane’s timing remains unclear, it makes sense to let these young players get out of harm’s way.

And for Florida-based Rays fans — we are all in that moment where we know enough to be anxious but not enough to really know what to expect. We will share any information about game day arrangements as soon as we know of them; as of 5pm today it looks like Dorian will be impacting Florida somewhere in the Monday-Wednesday timeframe.

If you are in an evacuation zone and your local emergency management folks tell you to leave, then leave. Evacuating unnecessarily is a nuisance; staying and finding yourself in danger can lead to tragedy.