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Rays 4, Pirates 1: ERA has been fine

The Rays bullpen continues to prevent runs.

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

A heavyweight matchup in St. Petersburg got underway Tuesday evening as the winningest teams in the American and National Leagues began a three-game set. A World Series preview? It’s way too early to say, but both fanbases have to be more than content with how their teams played.

Roansy Contreras (3-1, 3.58) started for the Pirates, while Josh Fleming (0-0, 3.26) was expected to pitch the bulk of the innings for the Rays.

Javy Guerra (0-0, 8.64) opened for the Rays, and he did what Javy Guerra does. Throw extremely hard, and incredibly wild. Guerra walked two and recorded just two outs before making way for Fleming. I’m all for adding pitching depth, but after Guerra’s first appearance back with the Rays, it’s pretty apparent why the Brewers were so open to trading him here.

The Rays threatened in the third but couldn’t score. The breakthrough came the following inning after Randy Arozarena got things started with a double to left field. Brandon Lowe moved him to third on a ground out to first, and Harold Ramirez brought him in with a single threw the right side.

Fleming’s night was cut short after Ke’Bryan Hayes hit a 113 mph comebacker that got the lefty on the foot in the fifth inning. The x-ray on his foot came back negative, which is a positive. The injury is being called a left foot contusion. Colin Poche, everyone’s favorite reliever, entered the game.

Reynolds was the first batter to face Poche and he doubled to left to give the Buccos two runners in scoring position. Poche was able to strike out Andrew McCutchen, and then Carlos Santana flew out to shallow center field. Center fielder Jose Siri was charging in to make the catch, and he made a near-perfect throw to the plate as Hayes was tagging, but Christian Bethancourt couldn’t handle the one-hop, and we’re now tied at one. Jack Suwinski flew out to right, stranding the go-ahead run at third base.

The game was not tied for long, however. Margot drew a leadoff walk in the fifth, followed by a single from Bethancourt. In stepped Wander Franco, who had already grounded into two double plays. Apparently, the trick was to hit it softer. Franco singled up the middle with an exit velocity of 81.8 mph, bringing home Margot.

It got even more exciting when Franco took off for second base. Hedges threw down, seemingly forgetting that one of the fastest players in baseball was at third base. Siri took off as soon as the throw went to second and the Pirates had no chance. 3-1 Rays.

Ryan Thompson entered the game in the sixth inning. Joe led things off with a double, and then Thompson hit Castro. Tucupita Marcano pinch hit for Mathias and put down a great sacrifice bunt that forced Thompson to make a tough play, where fortunately his alow arm angle helped him fire it to first for the out. That gave the Pirates two men in scoring position, and one of them probably should have scored when it appeared Thompson didn’t come set, but there was no balk called. He took advantage of that break, striking out Austin Hedges and Hayes to end the inning and keep the Rays in the lead.

Harold Ramirez extended the lead in the bottom half, sending a solo shot into the Not-Sure-What-It’s-Called-Now Deck in left-center field. 4-1 Rays.

That was the final Rays run of the night, but they didn’t need anymore. Rays relievers entered the night with the second-best ERA in baseball, even though some underlying metrics aren’t as impressed with how they’ve pitched. After Fleming departed, Poche, Thompson, Jalen Beeks, Kevin Kelly, and Jason Adam combined for five shutout innings. Their ERA remains fine.

The Rays move to 24-6 on the season and 15-2 inside Tropicana Field. They’ll have a chance to clinch the series tomorrow against Pittsburgh. A series win over the best team in the National League may quiet some of the haters who don’t believe the Rays have beaten any “real teams.”

Additional notes:

  • This is Ji-Man Choi’s first time back at the Trop since he was traded to the Pirates this offseason. He’s on the IL with a strained Achilles tendon, so he will not see the field this week.
  • Yandy Diaz, the Cuban God of Walks, drew three of them tonight for just the fourth time in his career.
  • Wander Franco had to change pants after the seventh inning and he took the field wearing a pair that looked a couple of sizes too small. The question is, whose pants did he put on?
  • Pete Fairbanks hasn’t pitched since last Friday after exiting that game against the White Sox with numbness in his fingers from Raynaud syndrome. However, in a save situation in the climate-controlled dome, Jason Adam got the ninth inning tonight.