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Rays 4, Cardinals 2: Break Down the Walls

Who saw that coming?

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time since 2014, the St. Louis Cardinals are in their former Spring Training home to play the Rays. The Redbirds come in with a 32-23 record, putting them just a half-game behind the NL Central-leading Milwaukee Brewers. The Rays entered with just one less win, but find themselves in a much deeper hole in the AL East.

Jeffrey Springs took the mound against a team that has had lots of success against left-handed pitchers this season. As a team, St. Louis has a 125 wRC+ against LHP on the season, led by Paul Goldschmidt’s ridiculous .500/.574/.900 slash line (302 wRC+, 47 PA) when facing southpaws in 2022.

Dakota Hudson got the start for St. Louis, and despite some weak peripherals (4.57 FIP, 4.81 xFIP), he has found success. He entered the game with a 2.96 ERA over 51.2 innings.

Despite the Cardinals’ dominance against lefties, Springs continued to impress as a starting pitcher. He pitched six shutout innings, allowing six hits, walking two, and striking out five. His season ERA now sits at 1.62 over 44.1 innings. St. Louis was able to get runners on in every inning with Springs in the game but weren’t able to bring anyone in. They finished the game with 11 runners left on base.

Tonight’s performance solidifies the decision to keep Springs in the rotation, and option Ryan Yarbrough to AAA Durham with Shane Baz’s return to the big league team imminent.

The Rays' offense, which continued to struggle for much of Tuesday’s game, took a 1-0 lead in the eighth inning on an Isaac Paredes sacrifice fly. Manuel Margot led things off in the eighth against Hudson with a double and was moved to third on a Kevin Kiermaier force out, making it a tad easier for Paredes to drive him in.

That lead was short-lived, however. Former All-Star Andrew Kittredge, who was making his second appearance in as many days since returning from the injured list, didn’t look his best. He was able to retire Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado to get the first two outs in the eighth, and from there it was safe to assume getting the third out would be a formality. Alas, he walked Lars Nootbaar, who was pinch-hitting for Albert Pujols, and then allowed back-to-back base hits from Tyler O’Neill and Harrison Bader, the latter of which drove in the tying run.

The Cardinals took their only lead of the game in the 10th inning when Nootbaar drove in their zombie runner Tommy Edman on a sacrifice fly. Harrison Bader then singled to center with two men on and two outs, and it appeared St. Louis would have at least a two-run lead going into the bottom half. If it weren’t for Kevin Kiermaier’s arm, they very well may have. Instead, the Platinum Glove Winner kept the Rays’ deficit at one with a great throw home to retire Paul Goldschmidt.

Kiermaier served as the zombie runner in the bottom of the 10th, and after Isaac Paredes worked a lead-off walk, Kevin Cash decided to have Brett Phillips attempt a rare sacrifice bunt. He was able to successfully bunt the ball in play, but the Cardinals crashed both corners and Gold Glove-winning third basemen Nolan Arenado was able to field it, turn his body, leap into the air, and fire a dart to the shortstop Tommy Edman covering third to retire Kiermaier.

Yandy Díaz then came off the bench to hit for Francisco Mejía, and popped out to short, meaning the Rays were down to their final out. If you had to pick someone to be the hero out of this lineup, it probably wouldn’t have been Taylor Walls, who entered the contest with a .252 OBP, 53 wRC+, and just two home runs on the season. But as you probably know by now, that’s now how this ends...

Walls’ walk-off, three-run home run left the bat at over 104 mph according to Statcast, and would’ve traveled 365 feet if it hadn’t clanked off the right field foul pole.

The win brings the Rays’ record to 32-23 and gives them a 1-0 series lead over the visiting Redbirds. Corey Kluber takes the mound tomorrow to try and seal an interleague series victory. The Rays are now 5-1 in interleague play in 2022.