Let me confess, I did not want to be writing this recap. No, I haven’t abandoned the Rays, and I haven’t lost my interest in writing. But as of Wednesday morning I looked at our writing schedule, saw I was due to recap the game on Friday night, and I thought to myself “things will have gone badly wrong if there is actually a game for me to write about!”
And here we are.
Let me remind you, the series is still not lost, even if it feels a bit like that at this moment. We know the Rays can pitch, play defense, and even on occasion hit. They can do that tomorrow. But this. Feels. Awful. I have to hope that Kevin Cash has some magic words for his players so they can wake up tomorrow and not feel like the team that just blew the three game lead, but instead feel like the team that holds the top seed in the league and can beat anyone.
How did we get here? Blake Snell got the start. He seemed to be off to a good one when he struck out the lead off batter. But for the first two innings he had deep count after deep count. While he kept the Astros off the scoreboard, he was at 42 pitches after just two innings. Interestingly he was getting a good number of first pitch strikes, but then falling behind. He was relying a lot on his curve and his change, either strategically or because he wasn’t confident in his fastball.
Framber Valdez was effective, just as he had been in Game 1. He relies mostly on his devastating curve ball, which gets a ton of whiffs, but his other stuff is mid-90s so he’s not a soft-tosser type. His heavy sinker means that when hitters make contact they are primarily driving the ball into the ground.
But after looking silly in the first inning, the Rays seemed to have figured him out just a bit. In the second, Brandon Lowe singled, and Willy Adames lauched a double perfectly into the gap to score him. Rays up 1-0, which felt huge at that moment.
That one run lead appeared to settle Snell down. Top of the third was his one clean inning. Top of the fourth he gave up a soft single to Michael Brantley, but left him stranded.
Meanwhile Rays batters were not able to add to that thin lead. In the third Valdez lost a bit of his control, but the Rays could not capitalize. He walked Arozarena, and then fell behind 2-0 to Hunter Renfroe. With Valdez losing the strike zone, you’d think Hunter would take a few pitches, but instead he swung at two curves at his shoe laces en route to a strike out.
And then, friends, the wheels came off. It started off with Snell yielding another blasted walk to the lead off hitter. The next batter hit the sort of ground ball that two feet to either side is a rally killing double play, but instead skipped to the outfield to put two men on base.
That was it for Snell, who left looking pretty unhappy — maybe at Cash for pulling him, maybe at himself for the 4 walks and 82 pitches before getting an out in the fifth.
Diego Castillo came in with two on and no one out. Maldonado lay down a very good bunt to advance the runners, and then Springer hit a soft grounder against the shift that scored two runs. Astros up 2 to 1, with an Altuve double making it 3-1. Even the vaunted defense let the Rays down on that play; Lowe fielded Altuve’s hit well and threw it into the infield, but Brosseau bobbled it just enough to take away any chance of of catching Altuve at second. Castillo, who has been pretty awesome all post season, seemed to be melting down as he walked Brantley on four pitches, one of which got by Zunino allowing Altuve to advance to third. Another seeing eye single through the infield and it was 4-1. There had really just been one well struck ball this inning, but does that matter?
At that point we knew that Cash would be saving his A bullpen for game seven and it would take something like a miracle to make this game competitive. Shane McClanahan, who may someday make a fine major league pitcher but who in this postseason is serving as a human white flag waved in unwinnable games, yielded another three runs in his 1.2 innings. Jose Alvarado, who I guess could use a little extra work after a long hiatus, walked three in under an inning. We weren’t quite at the point of having a position player pitch, but it sort of felt that way.
Valdez, with a comfortable lead and pitching without much pressure, was able to cruise and remain in the game through six innings. At some point in the sixth Yandy Diaz started screaming at Valdez with Maldonado jumping in but I honestly don’t know what they were yelling about.
Once the game was out of reach the Rays did tack on a few runs, thanks to two home runs from Manuel Margot. That didn’t get them much closer to a win, but it did push Dusty Baker to bring in his closer, Ryan Pressley, in the ninth. This is significant because it could affect his availability tomorrow. From that perspective, it’s a shame the Rays could not extend the inning beyond nine pitches.
But most of the night was strikeout, ground out. Or maybe walk, double play, strikeout. I know strikeouts are the Rays way, and they often win games despite double digit strikeouts, but that implies its a trade-off for power - which was not the case tonight (with the exception of Margot). Thanks to six walks they actually had chances, but failed to capitalize on almost all of them. Thirteen strikeouts and four double plays will do that to you.
This hurts. This hurts a lot. But there is still a game tomorrow and the Rays can still win this series.