I’m never going to think of a game the Rays lost as a “good game” but this game definitely had a lot of things to hold a fan’s interest.
In the early innings it had the feel of a blowout in the making with the Rays and Corey Kluber on the losing end. Four singles — some soft and lucky, some scorched no doubters — led to two quick Boston runs. As one of our DRaysBay writers insightfully noted, throwing the ball over the middle of the plate is not a good pitching strategy, certainly not when your fastball is 90 mph. Frankly it felt like a relief to get through the top of the first down just 2-0.
Wander Franco cut that lead in half. Batting second, he didn’t need to see Wacha’s stuff, he simply took a slightly mislocated fastball on the meat of his bat and lasered it out of the park to cut the deficit to 2-1.
Are we ever going to tire of marveling at Franco’s talents? No, we will not tire. Check out his easy adjustment to this elevated pitch, the speed of his bat, the efficiency of his swing. It looks effortless, yet he has just hit a baseball nearly 110mph.
The Rays had the chance for more when Arozarena reached on an error, and was taking off seemingly on contact with Choi at bat. But Choi’s well struck liner to right field was caught and Randy was doubled off to end the inning.
Kluber had a pretty quick second inning but the third didn’t go so well. Devers took him deep (3-1), followed by a Bogaerts double to put another man in scoring position with no outs. He was driven home by Herandez’s second single of the young evening (4-1). Once again we are reminded: do not throw the ball right over the plate! The inning ended with a Travis Shaw strikeout, but not before one of Shaw’s foul balls was reviewed as a possible three run homer. In other words it could have been worse.
The Rays looked poised to cut into that lead in the fourth: with two men on base Diaz hit a 110 mph liner that looked headed to the gap in left center field, but Bogaerts made an excellent leaping catch for the out. An inning later, however, Franco reminded us: they can’t defend against a line drive that leaves the park:
And lest anyone was thinking that Franco was just a good bat, he made the second out in the top of the sixth by running down a ball way back by the Boston bullpen that seemed uncatchable.
After squandering the chance for a sixth inning rally when Yandy Diaz hit a hard single and for some reason decided it should be a double, the Rays were able to scratch out run number 3 in the seventh with a couple of singles (including an infield single from Mike Zunino, who has had quite the dry spell) and a few ground balls.
The Rays had a chance to pull this one out in walk off fashion. In the bottom of the ninth they got two men on as Red Sox closer Diekman struggled with control. Pinch hitter Harold Ramirez hit a grounder that moved the lead runner, Taylor Walls, to third but forced Margot at second. Ramirez was able to beat the throw to first, however, to avoid the double play. Zunino walked to load the bases with one out. But Brandon Lowe got fooled by a few sliders and struck out. That brought up Franco with bases loaded and two outs. Could you ask for a more dramatic baseball moment? But Franco’s hard grounder was hit right into the shift and the game was over.
Kluber pitched five innings, walking one and giving up 11 hits and 4 runs. I can’t decide if he was especially unlucky — some number of those 11 hits were soft singles — or lucky, because 11 hits in five innings can often represent a far bigger drubbing than we saw tonight. It’s safe to say that Kluber wasn’t sharp, but also note that for a guy who wasn’t sharp he did manage to get through five and keep his team in the game.
The Rays bullpen was, in contrast, very sharp. Guerra, Poche and Sanders covered four innings and gave the Red Sox nothing. Not a hit. Not a walk.
So there were a lot of positive things to take away from this loss. The team stayed it in after a shaky start. The bullpen was great. It would be nice if players not named Wander Franco were showing a little more spark at the plate.