Baseball is what you do, it’s not who you are.
Raja and Tammy Baz saw greatness in their son, Shane, from a young age! @TriciaWhitaker sits down with Shane's parents as they watch their son make his MLB debut with the @RaysBaseball! #RaysUp pic.twitter.com/Q7SkZcXPNm— Bally Sports Sun: Rays (@BallyRays) September 21, 2021
These are the words of wisdom from Raja Baz, father of one young hard throwing righty who made his major league debut tonight. And maybe that kind of equanimity can help explain how his 22 year old son could take the mound in the middle of a pennant race and throw five amazing innings?
We’ll circle back to Baz’s performance, but let’s talk for a bit about the offense, given that we haven’t had any offense to talk about for a few days.
The Rays were facing Robby Ray, who is perhaps Cy Young bound this year, in no small part thanks to a string of shut down starts against the Rays.
Today, however, he seemed to be hittable, although the Rays weren’t able to take advantage of that immediately.
The bottom of the third was the kind of “Groundhog Day” inning I feel we’ve been watching for three nights. Kiermaier singled. Off a tough lefty — yay! But then seemed to have gotten picked off first (boo) but Guerrero dropped the ball (yay!) and Kiermaier got to second. Diaz then shot a 106 mph liner into the left-center gap - yay! But Gurriel Jr. caught it (boo). Kevin Kiermaier had taken off with the intent of stealing third, and seemed to get back to second (yay) but Charlie Montoyo noticed that he had rounded third and failed to touch the bag on his way back to second. They threw to third and he was out. Yikes.
The Rays threatened again in a very long (if ultimately unsuccessful) fourth. Cruz singled but was replaced by Arozarena on a force play. Margot walked, and then, he and Arozarena attempted a double steal, with Randy safe at third but Margot out at second. Luplow walked, but Wendle grounded out. Both Luplow and Margot worked very long at bats to get their walks, so at least they contributed to shortening Rays’ night. Still, “running up the pitch count” is not, ultimately, the point.
In the fifth, with the Rays down 2-0 after the Blue Jays second solo home run, I was starting to wonder what the Rays did to anger the baseball gods. Taylor Walls - who has not been very strong at the plate to say the least — hit a scorcher down the third base line. A double? a triple? Nah, the ball hit the third base umpire, which was certainly unfortunate for the umpire, but was also bad news for Walls, as the umpire’s body kept the ball in the infield and Walls had just a single. But wait, is that the sound of the luck dragons shifting? Because Ray threw a wild pitch that allowed Walls to move to second after all. And that meant that Kiermaier’s soft ground ball was not a double play ball, and instead moved Walls to third while KK beat the throw to first.
And that brought up Diaz who had been scorching the ball all night. Could he repeat that swing now that men were on base? He was quickly down 0-2, so maybe not. But wait, there it is, another hot shot, this one over the wall. Three run bomb, and a 3-2 lead. Another hit ended Robby Ray’s night just short of five full innings.
Shane Baz was done after five innings, and what a five innings they were. Don’t be fooled by the two runs (not that two runs is a lot). Two solo homers, one on an actually good pitch, and that’s it. No other hits. No walks. No deep counts. Five strikeouts. After each homerun he took a breath and turned around to throw a strike. Worked quickly. Threw 65 pitches in 5 innings, and 51 of them were strikes.
Here’s just a sample:
Shane Baz, Elevated 99mph ⛽️ pic.twitter.com/rbRq5Swulc— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) September 20, 2021
The bottom of the 6th was another “Kevin’s adventures on the bases.” Joey Wendle was hit by a pitch, and he moved to second on a grounder. Kiermaier hit another weak grounder and once again managed to beat it out for a hit. In fact, eager to get the speedy KK, third baseman Lamb rushed a throw that scooted past Guerrero. Wendle scored, Kiermaier took off to third and then kept going, where he was easily thrown out at the plate.
Why was he trying to score? The broadcast later pointed out that third base coach Linares actually had waved him home for a hot second before throwing up the stop sign. Could KK have managed to stop while going full tilt? Maybe, but clearly Linares takes some blame for the mixed message.
Rays picked up further insurance in the seventh — Diaz (what a game he had!) singled, went to second on a wild pitch, and scored on Margot’s single. And then a final added insurance run on an 8th inning solo home run from Joey Wendle. Those insurance runs would come in handy!
Because the Blue Jays were never going to go easily. David Robertson came on to pitch the ninth. George Springer ended up a second after his well placed pop up fell for a hit, and Marcus Semien followed with a home run. You always hear about a bloop and a blast but how often do you actually see that? Suddenly this game had gone back to being a nail biter. It didn’t help when Robertson was nowhere near the plate as he walked Guerrero.
Evidently Kevin Cash wasn’t happy with what he was seeing either; he pulled Robertson and brought in Chargois. Chargois did get two outs — but also allowed a single and a walk, loading the bases with two outs, with Lourdes Gurriel Jr at the plate.
At this point I turned off my television and pretended there was no game going on at all so I can’t tell you what happened next. But the box score tells me they brought in Dietrich Enns, who got the last out.
What a game! A win when the team needed it. Beating the Blue Jays and Robby Ray, who have foiled the Rays of late. A dazzling debut for Shane Baz. A few timely hits. Sure, more outs on the bases than we would like, and a ninth inning that produced a few gray hairs, but with the win secured those recede in significance.
Kudos to Collin McHugh, who after a slight blip has gone back to be the Man No one Can Hit. Stellar game for Yandy Diaz, with three hits and three runs batted in. But tonight is Shane Baz’s night. Welcome to the big leagues!