What is the opposite of a pitching duel? I ask because the opening innings of tonight’s game were precisely that.
If runs being scored is your favorite thing about baseball, then lucky you. But if you like watching a complicated dance between batter and pitcher, and pitcher vs. pitcher as they struggle against each other to keep runs at bay, well... perhaps you should have watched a different game.
Shane McClanahan was not good. In his three innings of work he went 3.0 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 4 K, 2 HR on 77 pitches before getting pulled in favor of the bullpen. He just didn’t seem to have it, and I’m usually the first person to give positive adjectives. If I had to give you one, he tried. He tried so hard that at one point in the third he threw a pitch so hard he fell over.
Patrick Corbin for the Nationals started out as badly, though he evened out enough that he was able to go five innings, but had a pretty similar line to McClanahan with 5.0 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 4 BB, 3 K on 93 pitches.
What the game became, then was a battle for the lead, with the teams swapping back and forth throughout the night.
The Nationals drew first blood, with a walk to Turner to open the game, then a Juan Soto home run to drive in himself and Turner. Zimmerman also walked in the inning, but the Nats would have to settle for two. The Rays weren’t ready to take it sitting down, and Margot walked to start the bottom of the first. Then Diaz walked, and lo and behold, Meadows walked. With three men on Arozarena hit a deep single that looked so much like a home run he went a little too slow around the bases to admire his work, only to realize he should have hustled, hence why what should have been an easy double was a mere single. The “single” scored Margot and Diaz easily. A Brosseau sac fly scored Meadows, giving the Rays the lead.
In the top of the second, Castro reached on a single, then Robles doubled, but with two men on, the Nationals couldn’t capitalize and went back to the bench. The bottom of the second was a 1-2-3 inning as the Rays went down in order.
In the top of the third Zimmerman notched a solo home run to re-tie the game at 3-3. Kyle Schwarber walked, and Josh Bell got a ground-rule double, but neither of them managed to score. It was, at this point, that I realized I’d forgotten half of the offseason moves the Nats made and kept thinking “oh so that’s where that guy ended up.” In the bottom of the inning Diaz singled, as did Arozarena, but no runs scored and the Rays had to settle for staying tied.
Ryan Thompson came on in relief in the fourth and set the Nationals down in order. The Rays didn’t make much headway in the bottom of the inning by Walls walked, and then stole second, and a throwing error from the catcher got him all the way to third, though he was unable to capitalize on it.
Onto the fifth, with Jeffrey Springs on this time, and started with a walk to Soto, followed by another home run to Ryan Zimmerman, giving the Nationals a 5-3 lead in the game. The Rays once again went down 1-2-3 in the bottom of the fifth.
Collin McHugh was the next reliever on for the Rays and he retired the Nationals in quick succession, and that became the story for the next few innings. It wasn’t until the bottom of the seventh that we say any kind of action, and it was in the Rays favor, as Walls came to the plate and collected his first big league home run, a solo shot that brought the score to 5-4. Diaz singled in the inning, having himself a nice night, but no further runs scored.
The Nationals only managed a Schwarber single in the top of the eighth, and then a pinch-hitting Joey Wendle did Joey Wendle things, but hitting a solo home run to tie the game.
In the ninth, with the game on the line, the Nationals made no headway, and soon it was up to the Rays to make something happen and keep me from having to recap an extra-innings game. I want to watch the first episode of Loki.
Mike Zunino stepped in as a pinch hitter and you know I want to see him demolish a walk-off home run here. Instead, he drew a walk, and the Rays opted for a pinch-runner in Kevin Kiermaier. Kiermaier did steal second, but evidently right as he ran, Margot asked for time. Margot struck out, but Kiermaier did finally get his stolen base, and immediately after he did they intentionally walked Diaz to get to Meadows. Unfortunately, the Rays were unable to make anything happen, and onwards to extras we go.
Things went the opposite of well in the top of the 10th. Harrison was the default baserunner, and Soto was intentionally walked. Zimmerman grounded out, but advanced the runners, then Gomes singled to score Harrison and give the Nationals the lead back. That would be the end of the day for Andrew Kittredge and Cash turned things over to Ryan Sherriff. Soto scored on a long, long sac hit by Schwarber to left that was caught, but still allowed the run. The bleeding stopped there, but it was still damaging, with the Nationals gaining a 7-5 lead.
But the Rays are nothing if not dramatic, and with Meadows on the basepaths, Randy Arozarena hit a leadoff triple with a lot of hustle this time around, not pausing to see if it was a home run or not. Suddenly it was once again a one-run game with Wendle up to bat. And Wendle hits a single to score Arozarena and once again, the game was tied off Wendle’s bat. Mejia reached on a fielder’s choice that eliminated Wendle. Soon it was two out and down to the rookie Walls to save the day. But nope, the best they managed was re-tying the game and we’re onto the 11th.
The tie didn’t last long as Castro doubled to score baserunner Mercer. Robles laid down a bunt and inexplicably Diego Castillo cut off Wendle to try to make the grab, but bobbled the ball and no play was available. Harrison hit a sac fly to score Castro with the score now 9-7 with two outs. Robles stole second and Mejia almost threw the ball away in an attempt to throw to Walls but Lowe backed it up. The inning ended in a Soto strikeout and once again the Rays were on the line.
Kiermaier walked to start the inning, with Walls as the default runner on second. A Diaz groundout off the bat of Diaz advanced both runners and brought Meadows up. Ultimately Meadows struck out, and at over four hours, the game was over.
Final: Rays 7, Nationals 9.