As fans, most of us have watched our team through great, get all the way to the World Series seasons, and have also watched through disappointing, languishing in fourth place seasons. As one who started following the (Devil) Rays in around 2006, I’ve had both. I start every season — yes, every season, and yes that includes 2007 and 2014, full of optimism, and in then in most years at some point I realize maybe this year’s team doesn’t have it.
For me that 2022 moment came yesterday, during the inning pitched by David McKay. First, with all respect to Mr. McKay, there was the fact that he was pitching a non mop-up major league inning at all. The Rays were down by just three at that point with three more bites at the apple remaining. And yet when McKay, to no one’s surprise, loaded the bases with none out, even before he actually gave up a run, I realized that this game was, in Cash’s eyes, over; that a three run deficit was pretty much insurmountable; and that the bullpen did not have enough capable arms to waste one in this situation.
This realization does not mean I’m angrily giving up on the season, or even that I see no possibility of the Rays ending up with a postseason slot. For example, I felt this way in 2011, and still enjoyed various midseason story lines — Desmond Jennings’ impressive debut month; James Shields still standing on the mound for the last out in countless games. When the Rays rallied and the Red Sox collapsed into a pile of fried chicken bones I was just as thrilled. But for most of the second half of 2011, I did not think I was watching a playoff bound team.
And that’s where I am right now, which serves as a backdrop to how I’m recapping this game. Looking forward to a battle of two Cy Young candidates and not expecting much more.
So of course this is the game where clutch knocks are hit; bases are stolen; and the defense doesn’t embarrass. All that behind yet another spectacular McClanahan start.
While this was pegged as a great pitching duel, the game opened with a surprising amount of offense, although the Blue Jays actually scored. In the top of the first, the Rays strung together two hits to have men on second and third with one out. Gausman struck out Arozarena (thanks in part to a strike zone the size of the Northwest Territories), and the inning ended with a ground out. When the Blue Jays also strung together two hits in the bottom of the inning, well, they resulted in a run. 1-0 Jays.
The Rays continued to threaten in the second, loading the bases on two singles and a walk albeit with two outs. Could Wander Franco get that clutch hit? No, his liner ricocheted off of Gausman’s leg and he was thrown out at first by a quick thinking catcher; but the liner was hit hard enough — 100 mph — to leave Gausman limping off the field. Bad luck everywhere. 100 mph a bit to the left is a hit and the Rays score two, which Gausman would surely prefer to a busted leg (which turned out to be bruised, not broken, fortunately).
The Rays did get on the board on the third thanks to the one Rays hitter who has remembered to eat his Wheaties, Isaac Paredes:
The holiday weekend is officially underway with Paredes and some fireworks pic.twitter.com/XXpEoTDmNc— Tampa Bay Rays (@RaysBaseball) July 2, 2022
McClanahan meanwhile went into the Sugar Shane cruise control we have gotten used to seeing from him. But the Rays faced near disaster in the bottom of the fourth; a no-man’s-land pop-up nearly led to a collision between Franco and Arozarena. Franco had been tracking and calling for the ball from the crack of the bat, so that would seem to be his ball. Fortunately Franco held on and no one seemed badly injured.
Top of the fifth seemed strangely reminiscent of the second but with a better outcome for everyone. Wander walked and Ramirez blooped a single sending Franco to third. Arozarena hit a grounder that, yes, hit off the leg of the Blue Jays pitcher! Fortunately for the Jays, the grounder did not injure pitcher Lawrence; fortunately for the Rays the hit went for a run-scoring single.
The inning continued when Kiermaier was safe on an infield grounder, and then the man of the hour, Rene Pinto, delivered a two-RBI single to make the score 4-1. That would soon (an inning later) become 5-1 because Wander is BACK:
That same inning had a very strange defensive play for the Blue Jays: another no-man’s land pop-up; a convergence of infielders and outfielders but centerfielder Gurriel Jr. seemed to have the ball heading into his glove, when left fielder Spinger “sprang” in and grabbed the ball just before he got it! I think Springer’s momentum was carrying him right into Gurriel and he went with it.
The Rays scored yet again — really, again! — in the eighth, when Taylor Walls got a single and stole second, coming home on a Yandy Diaz single. Hey, guys, save some runs for later!
We were glad that the Rays had that cushion, however, when Shane left after seven and was replaced by newly promoted reliever Javy Guerra, a guy who can hit 101 with his fastball. But he can’t always control where that pitch is going, so baserunners ensued. There was a chance — a good chance — to end the inning on a double play but Guerra did a poor job covering first — he got there, and got the throw, but did a little stutter step around the base rather than, you know, touching it. But he did get Vladdy Jr. to pop up on a 3-1 pitch to end the inning. We got more of the same in the ninth, and Guerra gave way to Phoenix Sanders. A Toronto run scored on a double play but that’s fine, we’ll take the two outs in exchange for a run.
Let’s acknowledge two very good pitching performances. I’m going to start with the other guys: Casey Lawrence takes the loss, and giving up six runs is hardly exemplary, but he threw 5.2 respectable innings and saved the Toronto bullpen, which has ripple effects for the coming two games.
But of course the real hero is Shane McClanahan; the quality of his appearances is putting him in league with the game’s most elite pitchers. Today it was seven innings, three hits, one walk and one run, with ten strikeouts. Third time through the order penalty? Well, McClanahan struck out the side in the seventh. He gets whiffs on all his pitches; he gets soft contact; he seldom falls behind; he doesn’t get rattled. I realize that at some point he’ll have an off game — heck when he gave up the first inning run I thought maybe that was today. But no, he was nearly perfect after that.
On to game 2!