This game felt insanely stressful for one that had little significance to the Rays. It’s not even about disliking the Yankees, nor is it because I’m particularly invested in which team they play in the ALDS. I just like the idea of contributing to Team Chaos that could produce at least one Game 163 in the American League.
If you like tense and relatively quick moving pitching duels, this game was for you.
Michael Wacha looked sharp, pitching five innings for the Rays. He allowed one single, a walk and hit a batter in five innings of work, with double plays erasing two of those base runners. Several observers have noticed that his pitch mix has changed and wonder if that explains his better results:
Seeing a lot of "why can't the Yankees do anything against a pitcher like Michael Wacha?" Don't sleep on what Wacha/the Rays have done to fix his issues.— JJ Cooper (@jjcoop36) October 3, 2021
Wacha in 5 Sept. starts: 3.60 ERA, 3.49 FIP, 25 IP, 16 H, 4 BB, 28 SO. Seems to coincide with the Rays nuking his cutter. pic.twitter.com/GlDAkEHvxt
The Yankees, meanwhile, had a match-up driven bullpen day. While JamesonTaillon started, he was one of six Yankee pitchers over the course of the game.
The Rays had several opportunities, with two runners on base in multiple innings, without anything to show for it. In the eighth they even got a runner to third. Randy Arozarena reached on an infield single, stole second and advanced to third on a fly ball. As Randy was just one stolen base short of becoming a 20-20 (home runs/stolen bases) guy, everyone knew he was going.
Randy accomplishes his goal as he joins the 20-20 club pic.twitter.com/alGY90xaAV— Tampa Bay Rays (@RaysBaseball) October 3, 2021
The Yankees finally scratched out a run in the bottom of the ninth. Josh Fleming gave up two hits, one a weak single and the other a well hit double on a pitch that sort of floated across the plate. Kittredge replaced him with runners and second and third. Aaron Judge hit a ground ball that Kittredge deflected but couldn’t catch. Brandon Lowe fielded it but it all took some time which allowed the runner to score from third. Walk off infield single for the Wild Card-game bound Yankees.
A few closing thoughts:
- An amazing and frightening play — in the top of the sixth, Gio Urshela chased a foul ball as it drifted toward the Rays dugout. He lunged for it and it looked like his momentum caused him to trip over the top step and fly face first into the dugout. He was running full speed and must have taken quite a tumble. He managed to hold on to the ball for the out, but Rays players took one look at him and immediately began gesturing for a trainer. I think many of us imagined a horrific injury. After a few minutes he emerged with a limp but walking on his own, and he returned to the game.
- I hate to say it but at the moment Nelson Cruz is the team’s weakest link. He had managed to heat up a bit after a slow start with the Rays, but then he missed some games with a lingering illness and although he has hit a home run since his return most of his at bats look terrible.
- If you are inclined to feel down about this loss to a rival, remember: Rays came into the series with nothing to prove. They rested their starters. They let Francisco Mejia play first base for the first time in his professional life. The Yankees meanwhile had not yet clinched a postseason berth, making these must-win games for them. The outcome? Rays took two of three, and Yankees barely eked out today’s win.