I don’t really think of baseball as a sport where momentum plays a big role. In basketball or ice hockey, you can feel palpable shifts in energy. But in baseball, however well your inning went, at some point it ends and the other team still gets their chance.
But tonight’s game felt like a game of momentum shifts. The very hot Rays took on a Blue Jays team that has also been playing well. The starters, Ryan Yarbrough and Matt Shoemaker, had both pitched in the recent series in Buffalo.
A few lead changes and mood shifts later, the Blue Jays had secured a 6-5 win in ten innings to take the first game of the series.
The first inning was all Rays. Yarbrough started by striking out the side. That’s always a nice accomplishment, but looking at the inning you’ll note that Yarbrough did not throw a pitch faster than 88 mph. — You don’t often see a pitcher throw four changeups in a row but that’s how he got Grichuk who is one of the Blue Jays best hitters at the moment.
And the offense seemed poised to break things open early in the bottom of the first. “This is getting to be borderline ridiculous” says BA watching Brandon Lowe deposit a long home run into the sea of fake fans in the right field bleachers to give the Rays a quick 1-0 lead.
Yandy Diaz followed with a swinging bunt base hit, a dribbler to the third base side. Third baseman Travis Shaw watched the ball roll slowly down the line, hoping it would go foul. It didn’t, and Diaz was on first. Next batter was Ji-Man Choi, who has been scuffling a bit at the plate. Choi lined a double deep into the left field corner, and third base coach Linares waved Diaz home. Sadly, he got thrown out at the plate on a terrific throw from Gurriel, Jr, I won’t even fault Linares: it was one of those cases where only a perfect throw would have gotten him — and a perfect throw it was. The Rays failed to score further that inning, but it seemed just a matter of time before they would continue the offensive assault.
But then the mood shifted quickly. The Blue Jays scored two quick runs on back to back homers by Teoscar Hernandez and Vlad Guerrero Jr — I guess those 77 mph change ups don’t always do the job, and Vladdy’s HR had an exit velocity of 115. Blue Jays 2, Rays 1. Another single, a walk, and a hard hit double and it was 3-1. We all know that Yarbrough lives by deception and this inning his pitches were getting too much plate.
If those first three runs came on very well struck balls, the next hit was just lucky, an infield chopper that Grichuk managed to beat out for a hit, scoring Biggio from third. Gurriel, Jr. then tried scoring as well. It looked like Choi’s throw and Perez’s tag would have gotten him at home, but Gurriel launched himself over the tag and swept his hand across home plate, called safe. The Rays challenged, however, and the call was overturned. The inning ended with the score 4-1, and this was now Toronto’s game.
Both pitchers settled down a bit after that. Shoemaker did allow a solo home run to Diaz, who is suddenly swinging a hot bat, to make the score 4-2.
Momentum shifted back to the good guys in the bottom of the sixth, as the Rays faced reliever Ryan Borucki. Both Lowe and Diaz drew walks. Jose Martinez, pinch hitting for Ji-Man Choi, hit a sharp ground ball that somehow got by two infielders and rolled all the way to the wall, scoring both base runners. Unfortunately the team left the bases loaded and the score tied.
One notable point: Cash used Jose Martinez as a right handed pinch hitter for Choi. But once he got on base, he pinch ran for him with Mike Brosseau. It seemed odd to use two players at that moment, which meant you no longer had Brosseau available to pinch hit.
But that momentum didn’t stay on the home side for long, because the first two Blue Jays reached base the start the seventh, ending Yarbrough’s night. Diego Castillo put down the threat with a strike out and a double play, and came back to pitch the 8th, pitching a clean inning with the help of a nice Hunter Renfroe catch. I don’t think I ever realized how slider heavy he is — He threw 14 pitches and all but three were sliders.
Renfroe, whose hitting has been a bit disappointing, had an even more remarkable catch in the ninth, preventing an extra base lead off hit. He had to run full out, completely extend his arm, and then his momentum sent him hurtling clean over the outfield wall like a guy who had been running hurdles all his life.
The final momentum shift came in the 10th. With that runner starting at second, the Blue Jays went up 5-4 on a double, and added another run on a few sacrifices, to take a 6-4 lead. The Rays countered with a quick 10th inning run of their own, but left the tying and winning runs stranded when Hunter Renfroe grounded out.
Generally I struggle to take pleasure in a Rays loss of any kind. But perhaps months without baseball has mellowed me, and I realize that despite the loss, I can appreciate a very good game. The lead changes, a number of sterling defensive plays, some loud home runs alongside infield hits, all made for a compelling game. Baseball is so much better than no baseball. We’ll get them tomorrow.
And let me leave you with this glorious moment, which is sort of how I feel about all of 2020.