Today’s game looked like it was following a familiar, happy script.
The team got down early (4-0 after two, more on that in a bit). But after the second inning the pitching shut the door, the defense was good as usual, and the hitters started chipping away at the lead. With at least some baserunners every inning, and even two on with none out in the bottom of the ninth, it felt like it was just a matter of time before the Rays would get that long ball, or piece together those hits to pull ahead.
But not today.
Let’s start with the ugly opening. Ryan Yarbrough has never been an elite starter. He has, however, been pretty darn good in the role of bulk guy/back of the rotation starter. He’s been at worst serviceable, able to keep his team in the game, 4 ERA guy. He’s had some stellar moments as well — the almost complete game in Seattle; the almost perfect game in in Baltimore; the actual complete game earlier this year.
But lately, he has just been hit hard. His 5.27 ERA before today was a little unlucky, but the 4.44 FIP is the worst of his career. It’s clear that his velocity is down (he used to hit 90/91 at times), but he’s never been a pitcher who depended on velo so I’m not sure that explains his difficulties.
Today he gave up four runs in the first two innings, and we’re not talking cheap or lucky hits. On the bright side, after putting the team in a hole, he buckled down and kept Detroit off the board — indeed off the base paths — until he was relieved after six innings.
Despite being down by four early on, the Rays figured out ways to creep back into the game. In the bottom of the second, Manuel Margot singled and a Jordan Luplow home run plated two runs.
Rookie starter Tarik Skubel was on a strict pitch count, so by the fourth inning the Rays were faced with a righty, José Ureña. He walked Margot and Luplow once against came through with a single on which Margot took third. Choi then grounded into a double play, but that at least allowed Margot to score, bringing the Rays to within 1.
The top of the fifth got off to an unfortunate start. Tigers centerfielder Derek Hill tried to bunt for a hit. He bunted back to Yarbrough, whose toss to Choi was poorly located; somehow this ended up with Hill running into Choi’s hand, and Hill tumbling violently over the base. He hyperextended his leg, he hit his head, and left the field on a cart. And for all that he was also called out for running out of the base path, although given the location of Choi and the throw I’m not sure where else he was supposed to go.
The score remained 4-3 for the rest of the game. Rays relievers were nearly perfect, and Rays hitters did get on base, but they never got that key hit that would bring a runner home. In the bottom of the sixth Margot hustled his way to a two-out double but was stranded there. In the seventh, Choi walked and Phillips was hit by a pitch. Yandy Diaz hit the ball deep but not deep enough, and the Rays failed to score. Brian Anderson seemed convinced that Phillips had been hit on purpose in retaliation for his bat flip and home run celebration last night, but I’m not sure. The pitch didn’t look intentional, and do teams really retaliate if someone celebrates a walk-off?
The Rays got men on again the eighth — singles by Margot and Meadows — but again failed to tie the score. Finally, in the bottom of the ninth, a wild Michael Fulmer walked Zunino and hit Wendle with a pitch. We all could picture Brett Phillips as the hero, right? But this time he struck out, and a double play ended the game.
All the Rays relievers were terrific, but let’s take a minute to recognize the Rays debut of Joey Krehbiel, a reliever who hails from Pinellas County. The 28 year old rookie had exactly 3 major league innings under his belt before today. Krehbiel had been called up when Kiermaier went on the COVID-related IL. He struck out two (his first major league K’s) in a scoreless ninth.
With Boston winning their game, the Rays magic number doesn’t change. But Rays fans will surely be excited to learn that Shane Baz will be making his major league debut on Monday night. If you are in the St. Pete area and it’s in your budget, consider showing up in person to cheer him on.