Tonight the Rays played four innings of great baseball that reminded me of the Rays of recent years. Good pitching, solid defense, and strong offense from across the lineup. They looked sharp! They had a lead! It was fun.
But then some of the demons of 2022 emerged. Outs on the bases. Costly fielding errors. And finally, when you need 12 bullpen outs and you are counting on Colin Faucher (ERA 9.82, FIP 6.67), Ryan Thompson (ERA 5.87, FIP 4.82) and Ralph Garza (ERA a surprisingly low 3.27, FIP 4.63) to get them, you have to think “maybe this isn’t our year.”
Let’s start at the beginning, however, and enjoy those four good innings.
Shane Baz gave up a leadoff single in the first and I admit I felt a little uneasy as he fell behind hitters before getting a few fly balls. But in inning two he seemed even more in command (ok, against less dominant hitters), ending the clean inning by striking out Kiner-Felefa, who first watched a perfect curve ball drop into the zone and then swung helplessly at a 98 mph fastball. Poetry.
The Rays took a lead — a lead! - in the second inning, with what feels like both the most and least likely possible event: an Isaac Paredes home run. Whatever this kid’s been eating, make sure he gets plenty of it!
No this is not a replay from last night... Isaac Paredes has homered again pic.twitter.com/AvQXHHHzjU— Tampa Bay Rays (@RaysBaseball) June 22, 2022
That was pretty exciting, right KK?
Next up, Josh Lowe singled, and then, what feels like truly the least expected outcome: Vidal Brujan with a bomb of a home run, to give the Rays a 3-0 lead.
We're Bruján up a few more runs pic.twitter.com/V8mwrZqAkA— Tampa Bay Rays (@RaysBaseball) June 22, 2022
Meanwhile our Wizard of Baz had settled into a nice rhythm, striking out the side in the third. He gave up a solo homerun to Aaron Judge in the fourth, but that apparently happens! Josh Donaldson also reached that inning on a line drive that literally went through Yandy Diaz’s glove.
The Rays got the run back in the bottom of the inning. Francisco Mejia got a hustle double (at first called out but the Rays challenged and the call was reversed. He moved to third on a sac fly and scored on an infield dribbler. Rays up, 4-1. It looked as though the Rays might get more that inning: with two outs, Walls singled and both Diaz and Ramirez drew walks as Montgomery seemed to lose his control. That brought up Choi, who had hit Montgomery well.
That was probably the high point of the game. The pitching had been great, the defense solid and the offense chugging along. But then came a series of missteps the remind us why this season has been one that sometimes makes you pull out your hair.
First, the bases loaded threat ended when Taylor Walls got picked off third base — Josh Donaldson did a great job of covering third and using his leg to block the base as he nabbed the throw. I mean Taylor, where the heck were you going?
Then when Baz came back to pitch the top of the fifth, maybe he was just tiring, or maybe watching his team screw up a scoring chance made him sad, but he was much shakier than he had been. He gave up a single and then walked the next two batters. Aaron Judge up with bases loaded? No thanks. Full count on Judge, and then Baz got him chasing a breaking pitch that was actually well out of the zone. Gutsy pitch, Shane! Baz gave way for Brooks Raley, who got the last out of the inning.
Bottom of the fifth, Randy Arozarena tried to stretch a single into a double. It didn’t work. (By the way, Randy had a particularly awful game at the plate, striking out twice and leaving five men on base.)
Top of the sixth, Rays brough in Calvin Faucher. I assume he has some strengths but they haven’t really shown up yet in great results. A walk and a single put two men on base. It looked like the Rays would nonetheless get out of the inning, but Taylor Walls made a poor throw on a routine grounder, which allowed the lead runner to score and kept the inning going. Faucher then walked the next batter and was replaced by Jason Adam.
So it was once more a mere two run game, with two outs on the bases and one unearned run, and the Rays still needed to get another nine outs....somehow. Oh and by now Montgomery seemed to have settled in, and Rays were not getting more scoring chances.
Make that a one-run game, as Judge hit another solo homer against Colin Poche to start the seventh inning.
With the score 4-3, the Rays needed to get eight more outs and the remaining bullpen options were Garza and Thompson. I don’t consider myself especially prescient, and I don’t generally tend toward pessimism, but at this point I knew that, despite holding a lead, they would lose this game. Conceding defeat, I decided to watch some of the Lightning game.
When I checked back, to no one’s surprise, Ralph Garza was pitching and he’d given up a two-run homer. Yankees had their first lead of the game, 5-4, which was ultimately the final score.