One of the things I like most about baseball, is the year round nature of it. Only three seemingly short months between the last game of the World Series, and when pitchers and catchers report for spring training. In between we have Winter Meetings, Free Agent signings and hitting the F5 key on Twitter constantly to see what the next trade was.
Even as a Rays fan, this was a year to look forward to.
Finishing the season 96-66. Winning the Wildcard game IN OAKLAND. Forcing a game 5 against the 2020 AL Champion* Houston Astros. 2020 was supposed to BE the Rays year.
Then COVID-19 made its way over. Families quarantining, millions of lost & furloughed jobs. Then the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmad Aubrey & others, the sudden spotlight of police brutality in the United States, and the Black Lives Matter Movement.
And baseball, which previously consumed my life, became a very minor detail. A faint memory in the back of my mind, as I tried to figure out this new life.
But long last, baseball is back. 2020 is especially the Rays year, now more than ever with the shortened season and expanded playoffs.
This does not mean the fight is over. There is a long journey and a lot of work. to do. But having baseball again brings back a small sense of normalcy, even in a strange, new world of uncertainty.
Welcome back baseball.
The starting nine, and the thirty to lead us into the season— Tampa Bay Rays (@RaysBaseball) July 24, 2020
1 - Díaz
2 - Renfroe
3 - Tsutsugo
4 - Martínez
5 - Margot
6 - Brosseau
7 - Adames
8 - Kiermaier
9 - Zunino pic.twitter.com/XcHf2kwlPP
As both the Canadian and American National Anthems played, a large black banner was held by both teams, in support of Black Lives Matter. All of the Blue Jays players took a knee during the American National Anthem. On the Rays, coaches Ozzie Timmons & Rodney Lineares took a knee, with the support of Willy Adames.
The Rays’ unique strategy was already in mid season form with four outfielders in the 1st inning for Cavan Biggio.
Morton didn’t even need the help as Biggio struck out looking. I’m not sure Morton took a day off at all this year, as his strikeouts were already crushing batters.
The first Rays hit of the 2020 season came courtesy of a Willy Adames. A 102 MPH hit deflected off of Blue Jays 2B Cavan Biggio. Adames hustled out of the box and was able to safely slide into second base.
Kiermier was able to move Adames to third base with a groundout, but Zunino popped out in foul territory. Yandy Diaz was able to work Ryu for a walk, and now we have runners on first and third with two outs, and new Ray Hunter Renfroe at the plate. Ryu made some big pitches, and got Renfroe swinging for strike three.
Innings 4 - 6
Now it was the Blue Jays’ turn as they opened the 4th inning with back to back hits by Cavan Biggio and Vlad Guerrero Jr. to put runners on first and second base with nobody out.
A walk on a borderline 3-2 pitch to Travis Shaw loaded the bases with nobody out.
Randal Grichuk singled the first run of the game to give the Blue Jays a 1-0 lead. Bases were still loaded and nobody out. The Blue Jays put together some productive outs with two sac flys by Rowdy Tellez and Teoscar Hernandez to quickly make it 3-0.
The Rays responded in the bottom of the 4th inning, when Ryu hit Tsusugo on the shoulder to walk him. Jose Martinez struck out, and Manuel Margot hit a hard grounder that seemed to be a surefire double play, but Margots’ speed beat out the throw and kept the Rays alive, and brings...**Checks notes** Who had the first RBI of the Rays’ 2020 season going to Mike Brosseau?
Mike Brosseau hits a double to get the Rays on the board and puts the team within two! pic.twitter.com/GQlYJB4HXW— DRaysBay (@draysbay) July 25, 2020
Really solid contact for Brosseau’s hit too, 103 MPH off the bat. Willy Adames was the next batter and worked a great AB to earn a walk, but the rally was short lived as Kiermier struck out and ended the inning. At least we got Ryu’s pitch count up?
But the Blue Jays also ramped up Uncle Charlie’s pitch count, as Danny Jansen and Bo Bichette opened the 5th inning with back to back singles. Strike zone wasn’t helping Morton, however, a more concerning note was the fastball velocity and location.
90~91 mph mostly for Morton. His average FB velocity was 94.4 mph last year. #Rays.— Homin Lee (@Homein22) July 25, 2020
As a result, it put Uncle Charlie in a runners on second and third with 1 out, and Cavan Biggio took a dislocated, slow fastball and put right over the right field fence.
Uncle Charlie was chased out of the game, and the Blue Jays took a 6-1 lead.
Charlie Morton’s Opening Day: 4.0 IP 7 H, 6 ER, 1 BB, 4 Ks
Kevin Cash went to newcomer Ryan Thompson, in a low-pressure situation. Thompson and his fun delivery...delivered, as he forced a groundout and two pop-outs of the Blue Jays 3-4-5 hitters to end the 5th inning.
Time for the Rays to get to work.
I’m definitely going to regret this, but after the past couple of seasons, I’ve gotten strangely comfortable with the Rays operating in a run deficit.
The 5th inning started like the past 4, with Zunino and Diaz grounding out to open the inning. But Hunter Renfroe worked a 2-out walk, and then Yoshi Tsutsugo did this for his first MLB hit:
YOSHI! Tsutsugo gets his first Major League hit by sending this ball to the seats! pic.twitter.com/geZqLANoPZ— DRaysBay (@draysbay) July 25, 2020
DRaysBay is now a Yoshi Tsutsugo & friends fan site - YoshiRaysBay
Rays cut the deficit and trail the Blue Jays 6-3.
J-Mart followed up the Yoshi HR with a deep double, and FINALLY the Rays got Ryu out of the inning, and Blue Jays Manager Charlie Montoyo brought in RHP Jordan Romano to face Manuel Margot. Margot was able to work a walk, and the Rays have two runners on with two outs.
At this point, Cash decided to play platoon/matchups, and pinch hit Brandon Lowe for Mike Brosseau.
Who struck out looking on three pitches.
No matter, we are chipping away and working back.
Ryan Thompson Debut
Thompson came back on the mound for the Rays at the top of the 6th, and although got into a bit of a trouble with a double and a walk, was able to work through the trouble and kept the Rays within 3 runs.
Thompson’s line: 2.0 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB.
Rays Silent Bats (so far)
For the 6th and 7th inning, the Rays’ bats fell silent to a combination of Jordan Romano and RHP Anthony Bass. But in the 8th, the Rays had another rally brewing facing Blue Jays RHP Rafael Dolis.
Manuel Margot opened by reaching 1st on an error, and Brandon Lowe walked to put 2 runners on with nobody out. Adames worked a solid 3-2 count before hitting a single to left field, and scoring Margot from second base.
Blue Jays still lead 6-4, and nobody out, but the rally ended there. Even with a Choi walked, bases loaded, and Hunter Renfroe a the plate (5 career grand slams), they couldn’t capitalize. To be fair, there wasn’t much Renfroe could do as he watched strike 3 pass.
Jose Alvarado came out for the 9th inning, relieving 2 solid innings from LHP Jalen Beeks (2.0 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 6 Ks). It was a welcomed sight, as Alvarado was hitting 96 - 97 MPH on his fastball, and his slider disappearing on the Blue Jays batters.
Alvarado finished with 1.0 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 2 Ks.
Although Manuel worked Ken Giles for a nice walk with two outs after being down in the count 0-2, the Rays couldn’t put the winning rally together, Rays fall to the Blue Jays 6-4.
Although not the outcome that we all wanted or expected, here are three great things we can takeaway from the Rays Opening Day 2020:
- Rays best-in-baseball Bullpen: 5.0 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 7 Ks
- Rays still put three runs on the board, and never felt out of it. Had a lot of great opportunities for the big hit, but couldn’t come through. Thats okay, because they worked deep counts, and got runners on base in 6 innings.
- Yoshitomo Tsutsugo Home Run. Obviously.
Up high into the sky of Tampa Bay!— Tampa Bay Rays (@RaysBaseball) July 25, 2020
Hit a home run, Tsutsugo! pic.twitter.com/KgRaTpP9N6
Rays will have to wait until tomorrow to get their first win of the 2020 season. Ryan Yarborough takes on TBD for the Blue Jays. First pitch is at 3:40 PM.
Despite the result, it is good to have you back, baseball.