Remember how many of us worried, after losing two to the Twins just a few days after giving up 20 runs to the Red Sox, that the Rays 2021 magic had run out?
Well thank you Baltimore Orioles for helping the team turn things around.
Looking at the final score it might be hard to believe that this started out with real pitching duel vibes. Orioles starter John Means was notching strikeouts even if he was running up the pitch count a bit. Drew Rasmussen was very efficient, not facing a three ball count or giving up a hit until he got to the number nine hitter in the third.
Rays hitters broke through in the fourth inning, starting when Wander Franco reached base on an error. He astutely moved to second on a deep fly ball, and scored easily on Margot’s double. But if that inning’s scoring started in small-ball fashion, it ended in Papa Zunino fashion. His two-run homer was not impressive by his standards, a mere 373 feet, and it made the score 3-0.
With a HR in 5 straight games, Mike Zunino ties Jose Canseco (1999) for the 2nd-longest HR streak in @RaysBaseball history (Carlos Pena, 6). pic.twitter.com/ApdyL6uFEm— MLB Stats (@MLBStats) August 18, 2021
Rasmussen was finished after a very strong four innings (one hit, one walk). He was replaced by Adam Conley, making his Rays Tropicana Field debut. He set the Orioles down in order. He’s got a good mix of pitches and a delivery that somehow gives the impression that his limbs are flying in all different directions.
The Rays were able to grow their lead the next inning. Kiermaier and Arozarena both singled (Randy’s third hit of the night). Nelson Cruz came up with runners at the corners, hoping to come out of a slump that has had some wondering about his ability to help the team down the stretch. No doubt his three run bomb, which ended Means’ night, felt great.
Joyful greeting for Nelson Cruz after he his 1st HR at the Trop.— Tricia Whitaker (@TriciaWhitaker) August 18, 2021
Sat down for a 1-on-1 w/ him before the game & he said:
“I’m not where I wanna be right now, but I’m working. Stayed here late last night after the game to work. Hopefully it’ll come.”
Then he hits a 3 run bomb pic.twitter.com/pihqLhyC9U
The Rays continued to pile on, getting run number 7 on a Brandon Lowe double.
But it was run number 8 that seemed emblematic of the Orioles’ season. Zunino had been bailed out by the home plate ump, who called strike three a ball. Zunino then hit an infield pop up that second baseman Urias apparently lost in the lights, dropping in a fashion I would call comical except by then I was feeling too badly for the Orioles to laugh. At any rate, Brandon Lowe scored to make it 8-0.
That lead was hefty enough that Kevin Cash handed the ball to Chris Ellis, another recent call up whose poor results at Durham suggest that his presence in the majors is merely to mop up some innings in a game like this before being replaced.
But the Rays weren’t done! Nelson Cruz, making up for lost time, had another homerun in him, this time of the two-run variety, to put the Rays up by double digits.
The shutout was completed by Chris Ellis, who ultimately pitched four scoreless innings and was credited with the win. Prior to tonight, Ellis had pitched a single forgettable major league inning (for the Royals in 2019). So tonight was big for him. He is likely be released considering all the established major leaguers due to return from the IL, but perhaps these four shut out innings will help him find a new baseball home.
The stars of the game:
Randy Arozarena. A four hit night is a good night.
Nelson Cruz. Two homeruns and five RBI are always great, but especially so coming after a mini-slump.
Chris Ellis. See above. And hey, he’s the winning pitcher!