To cap off an exciting weekend between two teams battling atop the AL East, the series finale was selected for ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball. Shane McClanahan made the start for the Rays, and out of the healthy starting pitchers, Shane has been the best one of the bunch, carrying a 3.93 ERA and a 3.27 xFIP over 71 innings this season.
The Red Sox would send out Nick Pivetta, who was lights out in his last visit to the Trop on June 24th, throwing 6.2 innings of no-hit baseball and striking out eight. It looked like Pivetta’s dominance against the Rays lineup would continue well into tonight’s game, but a LASER (105.1 EV, 361 ft.) from Brandon Lowe gave the Rays a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the third.
Pivetta worked into the fifth inning and pitched relatively well. Only one more run was scored against him, and it came off the bat of Manuel Margot, who drove in Wander Franco. Franco had singled and moved to second on a wild pitch. Pivetta’s final line: 4.2 IP, 3 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 6 SO.
McClanahan matched his counterpart and then some, only allowing one run in six innings of work, striking out seven. He recorded 15 whiffs and 15 more called strikes. The only blemish on Sugar Shane’s night was a solo shot given up to former-Ray Hunter Renfroe in the fourth inning. Two more Red Sox batters reached in that frame, but were ultimately stranded.
While both team’s pitching staffs did well to keep two of the league’s most productive offenses at bay, they were aided by some incredible defense. Manuel Margot lept into the right field wall in the seventh inning to save a run after Alex Verdugo led off with a double. In the bottom of the eighth, Hunter Renfroe gunned down Nelson Cruz, who was trying to stretch a single into a double.
The Red Sox would make things interesting down the stretch, scoring on a Drew Rasmussen wild pitch to make it a one-run game. It wasn’t Rasmussen’s sharpest outing, but he got through 1.2 innings only allowing the one run, with an assist from Ryan Sherriff who came in and shut the door in the eighth by striking out Alex Verdugo.
The ninth inning added further suspense, with back-to-back singles from Kiké Hernandez and Rafael Devers giving Boston runners on the corners with two men out, and JD Martinez at the plate. Slider-enthusiast Matt Wisler was tasked with the final frame, and despite making every Rays fan packed into Tropicana Field want to watch through their fingers, he got JD Martinez to fly out to right field, ending the game.
It’s important to note in the ninth inning the Rays were able to deploy three of the top four leaders in Outs Above Average (OAA) in their outfield, with Brett Phillips (2) in left, Kevin Kiermaier in center (4), and Margot (1) in right. All three made plays where they either recorded an out or prevented a runner from advancing an extra base. This sort of in-game management is why the Rays were completely comfortable holding on to all three of their centerfield-type players through the July 30 trade deadline.
With the win, and sweep, over the Red Sox, the Rays now lead the AL East by a game and a half. The home stand wraps up this week with a three-game set against the Seattle Mariners, where the Rays might see former closer Diego Castillo take the mound against them. Michael Wacha will start game one of that series on Monday night, facing off against Seattle’s Chris Flexen.