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Hittin’ Harold comes through: Rays 6 Guardians 5

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Cleveland Guardians David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

I’ve got to admit, when the Rays lost the lead in the eighth inning, I thought this game was gone. I started writing a recap that decried the less than stellar defense, the low energy, the lack of effective hitting.

But then Harold Ramirez shot a double down the leftfield line in the 11th inning and the Rays held on for victory.

So those complaints? Well, never mind.

But let’s start at the beginning. Kluber has been the great enigma on the Rays pitching staff — a few really abysmal starts, a lot of OK starts, and some high-quality games, such as the recent loss to New York in which he pitched seven strong innings.

Today was more in the meh category. He gave up eight hits and three runs in just four innings, but most of those hits were soft contact — not that those can’t be devastating of course (his terrible start against the Yankees included a lot of soft contact hits, but like ten in a row). In the third inning, a soft single, however, put a man on base just ahead of Cleveland’s main power threat, who tripled home the first run of the game. Jose Ramirez’s hit was really the only hard-hit ball off of Kluber through those first three innings.

In the top of the third, in the middle of Margot’s at bat, the rain began coming down hard and the game was stopped, but just for 23 minutes, which meant the starters were able to keep pitching.

The Rays had a good opportunity to score in the fourth, and they took advantage of it. Franco doubled, and took third when Guardians infielders let the ball get loose. One pitch later Harold Ramirez doubled to drive him home. Two productive outs later, Ramirez had scored and the Rays took a 2-1 lead. But that’s not all! Bethancourt hit a fly ball that Guardian’s Gonzalez seemed to have caught after a dive, but it popped out of his glove, and then Jose Siri put some hurt on a cutter, for a two-run homer. It took a great catch by Straw to get the last out of the inning, and the Rays were up, 4-1

Things seemed to be trending in the Rays direction! But that changed quickly.

The Guardians came roaring back, with back-to-back singles to lead off their half of the fourth. One run scored on an infield hit, 4-2 and still no outs. Kluber struck out Austin Hedges after an eight-pitch battle that included a foul ball that looked homerun-ish from my TV (but wasn’t), followed by a running catch by Siri for out number two. But then another weak single, where it seemed that Peralta had a chance to nail the runner at the plate. However, his throw went to third base where only the Guardian’s third base coach was actually in position to receive it. So the run scored, and the Rays were fortunate that Paredes scrambled back to third base to keep the ball from getting away. 4-3. That inning would be Kluber’s last.

The teams traded scoreless innings through the middle of the game. However, the Rays pitchers were narrowly escaping with runners on each inning, whereas Bieber pitched efficiently, and his replacement, Enyel De Los Santos’ pitched an immaculate seventh, where he struck out Bethancourt, Siri and Walls throwing just nine pitches. Indeed after their fourth inning scoring burst, they didn’t even get a man on base until the 11th inning.

It was Jason Adam who gave up the tying run, in the eighth. He walked Arias on what should have been strike three. He made it to third with two outs, and it looked like the inning was over when Wander threw out Straw at first. But Cleveland challenged and the call and won their challenge, so Straw had an RBI single.

An aside: Adam had some back luck in this appearance, but he also has not been the pitcher he was earlier this year. Perhaps this is unsurprising since his performance had well outperformed his previous career numbers, but he’s come back down to earth:

With Pete Fairbanks used to maintain the tie in the ninth inning, the Rays went to Javy Guerra for the tenth. As is typical, he has some good stuff but still so often lacks anything close to command, walking the second batter and then falling behind on Miles Straw. Straw hit a grounder that provided a force at second, but then much as he did in the eighth, he beat out Franco’s throw to first to keep the inning going. Cash called for a review but it was a bit of a “Hail Mary” because the runner did appear to be safe. A weak fly ball did however end the inning.

But then came the decisive 11th inning. The Rays quickly had two out, but then Wander Franco walked and Ramirez, with two strikes on him, sent a hard grounder down the third base line for a two-RBI double. Rays up 6-4.

And Kevin Cash chose....Calvin Faucher to close this out. OK, Kevin, we trust you on this. Right? He got the first out, but then Jose Ramirez hit a little blooper into shallow no man’s land that scored a run. 6-5. But he did indeed get three outs without giving up the lead, with the final out coming on a great play by the glove-challenged Jonathan Aranda, and it was one for the win column.

This puts the Rays postseason magic number at four, pending the outcome of the Baltimore-Boston game (with Boston leading 13-9 in the ninth as of this writing).

Finally: Thanks to Randy Arozarena for a moment of levity, when he confidently took first base for the walk he thought he deserved after actually getting called out on strikes.