So, apparently even an out of contention team that has lost its two offensive threats and is known for its weak pitching can pull one out.
A three -run homerun from Albert Pujols was the difference in this game. But it also could have looked very different with a sharper Ryan Yarbrough, a tad cleaner defense, and some more competitive at bats from the Rays earlier in the game.
The day started off auspiciously for the Rays. Two singles and a sac fly in the first gave them a 1-0 lead. After that their offense took a long, cozy nap. We’ll get back to that in a bit.
The first few Angels innings were an adventure. Just as the TV broadcast was talking about the Angel’s lack of offense without Trout, the Anaheimers proceeded to score runs. In the first, they got a one-out single, and then Albert Pujols hit a sort of lazy fly ball to the right field corner. But Garcia was playing – where was he? Somewhere way over toward centerfield that made it impossible for him to get to this lazy fly ball. To my eye even with the long run it seemed catchable, or at least more smoothly playable, but his positioning clearly made this a tough play for him. This allowed a runner to score from first, put Pujols at second with a double and brought up Calhoun, the Angel’s legit offensive threat. Yarbrough walked Calhoun and then, goodness, Pujols stole third. Spoiler alert: This would turn out to be important, and then turn out not to be important.
Devan Smith flew to left, seemingly an easy sac fly to score the run, and Pujols did indeed trot home from third. That steal, it seemed, was haunting the Rays. But Calhoun also tried to advance to second and was thrown out there for an inning ending double play. The umpires ruled that Pujols had scored before the second out and gave the Angels a run. But Kevin Cash challenged, the folks in NY synched up the videos, and concluded that Pujols had crossed the plate after Wendle had applied the tag at second. So the 1-1 tie was restored.
But the Angels continued to get on base in the bottom of the second. With a runner on base, Walsh hit a long liner to the left field wall to which Austin Meadows took a really awful route. Double, RBI, Angels up for real now, 2-1. Renifgo lined hard to second base, where Joey Wendle could sort of knock it down but not make a play.
Things got even worse on the next play, when Fletcher hit a pop up into no man’s land. Not only could neither Adames nor Meadows catch up with it, but Willy kicked the ball into foul territory. Still just one out, and another RBI as the Angels went up 3-1. Mercifully Matt Duffy started a 5-3 double play on the next ground ball to end the inning.
In the third inning Yarbrough finally got two quick outs, but Smith hit a grounder that eluded Yarbrough, Wendle and Adames. Bad Luck dragons begone! That infield single did not ultimately do damage, but it seemed emblematic of how this game was going.
Yarbrough did not record his first strikeout until the third inning, and he did not have a clean inning until the fourth.
He seemed to be settling in by then. However, he opened the bottom of the fifth with a walk to David Fletcher. Andrelton Simmons, up next, seemed genuinely challenged by Yarbrough, with a few swings/foul balls that nearly took him off his feet. But today being a day that seemed to exist under some sort of fairy tale curse, of course, his ground ball was exactly in the hole between short and third. Adames could smother it but he could not throw out either runner. So two on, no outs.
With the right-handed Pujols coming up for the third time and Yarbrough having thrown some 80 plus high stress pitches, Cash wisely went to his bullpen.
Oh, wait, see that’s what I THOUGHT was going to happen. I have been a defender of Cash’s quick hook. Today in particular, with Yarbs struggling, a bullpen that looks like a crowd scene from The Ten Commandments, and several off days this week, I figured Cash would be quick to find a better matchup against Pujols, who can still hit for power.
But the bullpen phone remained silent, Pujols got ahead in the count and then, on the fourth cutter of the at bat, hit it over the left field fence. Angels were then up 6-1 and the game was firmly out of the Rays grip.
Now we’ve seen the Rays come back against similar deficits, but today their offense, apart from 2 innings. was almost nonexistent. So many swings on bad pitches! So many pitches down the middle left for called strikes! So many weak ground balls! Avi Garcia did hit one to the warning track, but until the eighth inning that was it.
Cash did finally call upon his bullpen in the sixth inning, and if we are looking for silver linings, let’s tip our caps to Anthony Banda, who looked really locked in, and Cole Sulser, who pitched a smooth eighth with the help of Avi Garcia, who nailed a runner trying to stretch a single into a double.
And the Rays didn’t go down without at least a little fight. In the eighth, Adames singled to lead off. Brendan McKay pinch hit for Mike Zunino, and logged his first major league hit, a single.
The kid, @Brendan_mckay38 can swing it too.#RaysUp pic.twitter.com/HaIXKqvaVq— Tampa Bay Rays (@RaysBaseball) September 15, 2019
And our one true slugger, Austin Meadows, homered to give their Rays their own three run bomb and make the game tantalizingly close, 6-4.
.@austin_meadows whacks his 31st home run to pull @Raysbaseball within 2! #TheHaloWay 6 #RaysUp 4— FOX Sports Florida & Sun (@FOXSportsFL) September 15, 2019
Catch @RaysBaseball on FOX Sports Sun l FOX Sports Go. pic.twitter.com/LLs0NKz002
But with two outs in the eighth, this did not give the team a chance to play catch up, and 6-4 was the final score.
It’s hard to keep a single loss in perspective when this three way race for two Wild Card spots makes every loss feel epic. Is this what it feels like to be a football fan?
I will never believe that major league players aren’t trying hard. Heck, I remember a few years ago when the Rays won the last game of the season and thereby lost their chances for a top draft pick. I mean, they needed to lose, but it’s very much against the grain of a professional athlete not to try hard for victory. So I know they are trying.
But it is still hard to watch hits falling in beyond outstretched arms on defense, and see a few really poor at bats from players on whom the team relies for offense.
A few other random thoughts:
- My knowledge of major league swing mechanics is admittedly close to zero, but I still wonder how Nate Lowe ever makes contact with anything when I watch what looks to me like a long, loopy, slow swing.
- Are Sogard and Kiermaier still perhaps dealing with fall out from nagging injuries? Because their September offense. Woof.
- Philosophical question: for a fan, is it easier if your team just goes down without a fight? I found myself wondering, when the Rays had their aborted eighth inning comeback, whether I would have been happier to have a loser of a blowout, rather than what looked like a loser of a blowout but then became close, got my hopes up, and made me more resentful of the small bits of poor play and bad luck that allowed the Angels to score six runs. And this is the song that kept running through my head: