I spent a good hour watching the Rays chasing a run against the worst team in the league. During that hour I went through the Sports Fan Stages of Grief. I questioned the team’s strategy, their bullpen choices. I wondered whether some were out partying last night and didn’t have their heads in the game. I questioned whether these guys really had The Will to Win — and I don’t even think The Will to Win is a thing!
And then they loaded the bases in the bottom of the ninth and with two outs and two strikes Austin Meadows hit a two run single and the won the game.
The Rays did indeed pull out a victory to notch yet another series win. How did they do it?
Well the first inning could certainly have been worse. Hard double, hard double led to the Orioles first run. But the Rays were able to minimize the damage with this double play:
Fortunate because this ball could have been trouble for Wacha — but he avoided injury and got the two outs. The inning ended when Vidal Brujan snagged a 100mph line drive. After all that hard contact to have given up just one run felt like a good outcome.
The Orioles had made a last minute switch in starters as their announced starter was put on the COVID IL list. His replacement, Alexander Wells is a soft tossing lefty who debuted with Baltimore and before today had only pitched 4.2 innings. He did not get long to settle in. Randy Arozarena, who is definitely locked in right now, drove the second pitch over the left field fence to tie the score at one each.
The Rays took the lead in the second inning, and this time the Orioles got to say “it could have been worse”. Francisco Mejia, the hero of last night’s game, singled to lead off, and scored when Wendle tripled. Guy on third with no outs, that’s a good scoring chance, right? Well Phillips struck out and Arozarena hit a hard grounder to third. Wendle had taken off at contact and was an easy force out at home.
That slender lead was gone by the top of the third; Orioles lead off hitter Pat Valaika homered to tie the score. Mullins singled (he’s very good!) and then Austin Hays hit what I thought was a double play ball, except Brujan could not set his feet for the turn to first base and it became a fielder’s choice. The double play pivot with a runner sliding at you is not easy but it is a necessary part of the infielder’s repetoire and I was disappointed to see Brujan unable to make that play. Wacha got the strikeout for the third out but the failure to turn the double play cost him an extra seven pitches.
But we can’t blame the defense for the third Baltimore run, yet another solo homerun, this time off the bat of Ryan Mountcastle. The Rays are playing the last place team, I’m thinking, whose starting pitcher is basically org depth, I’m thinking, and they are trailing.
Well, Randy looked at that score and said “not on my watch!” Another leadoff home run for Arozarena, and the score was tied, 3-3. But even that tie had a short lifespan. The Rays brought in Matt Wisler, and it turns out that when your sliders hang up a bit, hitters aren’t fooled. He gave up a double to Trey Mancini, who scored on a single.
The score remained 4-3 for several innings. There were other scoring opportunities. Brett Phillips tripled in the seventh inning but was stranded. The Orioles loaded the bases against Collin McHugh, a rare difficult inning for him, but failed to score.
So that left us with three more outs to avoid losing a series to the Orioles. Coming up in the bottom of the ninth, Francisco Mejia did his job with a lead-off single. Pinch hitter Mike Zunino walked. Then Arozarena, who had hit a few bombs today, blooped one into shallow right field and somehow you just felt that none of the Orioles was going to make that play. Indeed, the ball fell for a hit that loaded the bases. Vidal Brujan failed to deliver, but Meadows, falling behind, managed to hit a plain old ordinary single that, with bases loaded and runners going on contact, was good for two RBI and a victory.
The Rays start a weekend series with Cleveland tomorrow. They are currently .5 games out of first place, pending the outcome of the Red Sox vs Blue Jays game tonight.
To conclude, this clip is from Tuesday’s game, not today’s, but I love it: