This season, with a mere 60 games to be played in order for teams to prove themselves, does not allow a lot of room for error. More than that, though, it’s a brilliant opportunity for adaptable teams — like the Rays — to embrace the concept of small ball, and use it to win their way right back into the postseason.
The Rays have a lot of power, certainly, but they’ve also proven they have a team filled with smart, savvy ballplayers who know that a successful stolen base here or there can be the key to winning or losing a game.
That’s precisely what we saw today, as a Kevin Kiermaier stolen base in the bottom of the third turned the tide of the whole game in the Rays favor.
For the first two innings things remained tight and tied at zero, with young Braves pitcher Kyle Wright actually looking very efficient and tuned in. For the Rays, Yonny Chirinos looked decent until things got away from him in the top of the third. First an error by Ji-Man Choi allowed Ender Inciarte to get safely to first. Jackson doubled to put two on, then Acuña Jr walked, loading the bases with no outs.
Chirinos, to his credit, held it together in a very tense situation, striking out the next two batters and getting two strikes on Ozuna. Unfortunately the next pitch stayed up in the zone and Ozuna singled to score Inciarte, giving the Braves the first run of the game. It would be their last of the inning, though.
In the bottom of the third, the Rays struck back and struck hard.
Kiermaier walked, and then with the next two batters striking out, he took his opportunity and stole second base. Then things really started to fall apart for Wright, as he lost all sense of the zone and walked Lowe and Diaz back to back to load the bases. Tsutsugo hit a long, perfectly placed single to score Kiermaier and Lowe, and suddenly the Rays were back on top, but they weren’t done yet.
Martinez was up next, scoring Diaz, then Wendle singled to score Tsutsugo. That marked the end of the game for Wright, and brought in Josh Tomlin for the Braves. A wild pitch then scored Martinez, giving the Rays a 5-1 lead, and Tomlin was finally able to end the inning.
Things were pretty tightly played from there, but a story from the broadcast that deserves being shared was about the Friday debut of reliever Ryan Thompson. The side-armer was unable to have his family present for his MLB debut, but regardless of that, his father flew over 3000 miles to come to St. Pete so he could watch the game from a local bar. When it was over, Thompson’s dad met him in the stadium parking lot, where he yelled his well-wishes from six car stalls away to maintain social distancing.
In the top of the seventh, Ji-Man Choi recorded his second error of the game as he overthrew a pitch to second that ended up in left field. Nick Anderson replaced Thompson, and gave up a single to Albies to score Camargo, putting the Rays at 5-2.
The Braves may have added to their score, but they were unable to chip away at the Rays lead any more beyond that.
Ji-Man Choi was pulled from the game in the eighth for right shoulder soreness after a long stretched out catch, and is currently listed as day-to-day.
Rays win 5-2, extend their record to 4-1, and head to Atlanta tomorrow with one of the best records in baseball.