The Tampa Bay Rays debut of the top-prospect in baseball was one of the most exciting regular season games in franchise history and tonight we were treated to the encore.
Rich Hill was the Rays starter and the lineup had some changes after Taylor Walls was scratched with a sore wrist. The lineup adjustment provided our first look at Wander Franco playing shortstop for the Rays.
Rich Hill got off to an inconsistent start in the first inning. After only needing three pitches to strikeout Danny Santana he walked Alex Verdugo to give the Red Sox their first baserunner of the game. Things momentarily seemed to settle back into place with a J.D. Martinez flyout that Manuel Margot made an impressive catch along the wall to snag. Then the anxiety-inducing sequence of a wild pitch moving Verdugo to second, a RBI single to Xander Bogaerts, and hitting Rafael Devers with a pitch made it a 1-0 Red Sox lead with two runners on. Thankfully Bogaerts got caught trying to steal third to close out the inning before things could really get out of hand.
In the bottom of the first, Brandon Lowe’s struggles continued with a groundout for the first out followed by Ji-Man Choi following suit with a groundout of his own for two quick outs. Wander continued to add to his lore by demonstrating good plate discipline and walking on five pitches from Garrett Richards. Three pitches later Austin Meadows unloaded on a fastball from Richards for a two-run home run (EV 105.1, LA 28, 413ft) to give the Rays a 2-1 lead. Richards walked Randy Arozarena in the next at-bat and was able to get out of the inning on a Joey Wendle groundout.
Austin Meadows - Tampa Bay Rays (16) pic.twitter.com/3gi0szzitG— MLB HR Videos (@MLBHRVideos) June 23, 2021
Hunter Renfroe led off the top of the second with a first-pitch single which looked like it might be another challenging inning. Margot made another impressive catch in right field to get Christian Vazquez out and has been so consistently good it is easy to not appreciate his defensive gifts. After a flyout from Enrique Hernandez for the second out, Hill walked Dalbec, giving the Red Sox runners on first and second. Hill got out of the second inning the same way he started the first, by striking out Santana.
The Rays offense came to life in the bottom of the second inning. Brett Phillips drew a one-out walk and then stole second base for his 10th steal of the season. Then Zunino came to the plate and sent an 86.4 MPH slider over the left field wall for a two-run home run (EV 98.6, LA 29, 374ft) to extend the Rays lead to 4-1.
Richards gave up a line-drive double to Lowe in the next at-bat which prompted the first of three mound visits the Red Sox would use in the inning. With two outs, Franco continued to add to his developing legacy by beating out an groundball with a 29.4 ft/sec sprint speed to safely reach first on a throwing error charged to Hernandez. With the inning continuing, so did Richards’ lackluster performance. He walked Meadows and hit Arozarena to load the bases and end his day. Brandon Workman entered the game in relief and closed out the bottom of the second getting Wendle to ground into a force out at second. Rays lead 5-1 after two innings.
In the top of the third, Hill once again got off to a quick start with a three-pitch strikeout of Verdugo followed by allowing a single to J.D. Martinez on a 2-0 count and a walk to Bogaerts to give Boston two baserunners on one out. Devers followed and worked the at-bat to a full count before a flyout to center field. After a quick mound visit, Hill got Renfroe to strikeout swinging to end the inning. The resilience of the Rays defense in this game to find ways to get out of potentially bad situations felt more like the way the Rays play defense than recent games has felt.
There was a little excitement in the bottom of the third for the Rays offense even without them getting a hit. With two outs, Zunino and Lowe drew back-to-back walks. Both runners advanced to third on a balk but would get left stranded on a Ji-Man Choi groundout.
In the fourth inning both pitchers retired the side in order. Yacksel Rios was in to replace Workman for the Red Sox.
If you like walks, this was the game for you. Rich Hill got the first two hitters out in the top of the fifth before walking Martinez and Bogaerts before getting Devers to flyout to close the top-half of the inning.
In the bottom of the fifth a Brett Phillips walk produced the only baserunner for the Rays as the 5-1 lead is maintained heading into the sixth inning.
Last night’s opener is tonight’s sixth inning pitcher as Andrew Kittredge came in to replace Hill who finished his night with 5.0 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER and 5 K on 97 pitches. Kittredge was very efficient in his appearance beginning with a three-pitch strikeout to Renfroe. Enrique Hernandez was the only Red Sox hitter to reach base safely when he hit a two-out double to left field.
Josh Taylor came in to replace Rios for the Red Sox. Franco continued to show great vision working a seven-pitch at-bat into a walk. Austin Meadows followed with a ground ball single and Franco hustled to safely dive into third. No additional runs would score as an Arozarena line drive to left field would end the inning.
Jeffrey Springs came in to pitch for the Rays in the seventh. He got Santana to strikeout for the third time in the game. Verdugo drew a walk and would be the only baserunner for the Red Sox as Springs was efficient and relied heavily on his sinker to get through the seventh.
In the bottom of the seventh, former Rays pitcher, Matt Andriese took the mound for the Red Sox. Joey Wendle led off for the Rays and was hit by an Andriese curveball and would advance to second on a Margot single. Andriese was able to get Phillips and Zunino to both strikeout swinging to bring Brandon Lowe to the plate with two on and two outs. Lowe took a first-pitch 86 mph changeup left over the plate from Andriese and launched it over the centerfield wall for a three-run homer (106.9 EV, 25 LA, 423 ft). For all of Lowe’s struggles, when he is able to put it together you are quickly reminded of how much talent he has offensively. Rays lead 8-1.
Springs gave up a leadoff double to Devers to start the eighth inning for his final batter. Ryan Thompson came in and got Renfroe to groundout to shortstop for the first out of the inning. He would not have a clean inning as Vazquez hit a 2-0 Sinker for a line drive RBI single scoring Devers to make it an 8-2 game.
I tried to make it through this entire recap without mentioning anything in the realm of sticky substances but Kevin Cash had to bring a fresh cap to the mound for Diego Castillo before the ninth inning. It will take some time to get used to all of these new protocols, though, it took little time and effort for Castillo to end the game. He only needed 11 pitches to retire the side and put an end to the Rays seven-game losing streak.
Cora: Umpires told him Castillo's cap was discolored but nothing sticky was found. He wanted clarification about the rules, not to have Castillo ejected.— Pete Abraham (@PeteAbe) June 24, 2021
Cora also called MLB VP Mike Hill to get clarification.
It was nice to see a quality outing from Brandon Lowe and continued performance from Mike Zunino and Austin Meadows. Of course, the focus continues to be on Wander Franco that despite being 0-3 tonight was on base three times and scored a run thanks to good plate discipline and hustle. Losing streaks will happen and good teams will over come them and this is a very good team.
These teams are back at it tomorrow night at 7:10 pm as the Rays look to improve on their 5-4-2 series record at home this season.