The Rays beat the Cubs 4-3 to salvage the getaway game of this series, it was far from an easy win.
For six innings this looked exactly like the previous two games — narrow losses marked by no Rays offense.
Normally we could watch Eflin struggle a bit in the first — nothing disastrous but a walk, a few steals, a few hits and the Cubs were up two. Normally in 2023 meant we knew those runs were coming back. But in this series? It seemed far less likely.
The Cubs starter was a guy named Justin Steele. A guy named Justin Steele has to be a superhero. And this Justin Steele was, giving the Rays little in the way of solid contact, let alone an actual hit, in three innings. In fairness, he’s actually a good pitcher. An unhittable pitcher? No, he’s not that.
But toward the end of the third, the trainer came out to talk to Steele, and in the fourth inning he was gone, the report being “forearm tightness.”
I never wish ill on a player, but I had thought at least an early shot at the bullpen could give the Rays some life. But no, apparently Hayden Wesneski, a young-ish guy with a 5.93 FIP also was granted superpowers for the day, and while he did allow a hit (infield hit!) the Rays got nothing else off of him, and he managed to pitch 3.2 nearly perfect innings. He did walk Margot, however, in the seventh, which led David Ross to replace him with Mark Leiter, Jr. who then kindly allowed this to happen:
Bam Bam we got a brand new ball game! pic.twitter.com/z2N6XqVCgJ— Tampa Bay Rays (@RaysBaseball) May 31, 2023
That tied the game at 2-2. In the bottom of the inning, Eflin — who was really good, an efficient, after the shaky first inning — allowed a lead off double, and he was pulled in favor of Colin Poche. That runner came around to score to give the Cubs their lead back before the inning was over.
But then in the 8th, this happened:
This gave the Rays a 4-3 lead in the eighth, but we knew — we knew! - -a one run lead does not cut it. Fortunately the Rays loaded the bases in the top of the ninth as Cubs reliever Merriweather struggled with the strike zone. With Diaz and his OBP skills coming up that had to be good for another run. But he struck out, no doubt in part because the umpire called a clear outside pitch a strike early in the count. The Rays were going to have to close out a one-run game.
Adam had pitched the eighth and was unavailable, so Cash spun the “who can get three outs without drama” wheel and chose Kevin Kelly. Kelly got that crucial first out, put two on base with a walk and a hit by pitch, and then seemed like he was going to end the game with a double play ball that, however, did not yield a double play. Isaac Paredes threw badly and bases were loaded (this has not been an Isaac Paredes highlight reel series on either side of the ball).
At this point Cash went back to the spinny wheel and the name that came up was Jalen Beeks. Beeks was indeed able to get those last two outs. Victory!
It’s great to get a win, but I’m still perplexed at the poor Rays offense in this series. Did the Cubs advance scouts figure out the Rays hitters’ kryptonite and give their pitchers good guidance? Are the Cubs pitchers just better than they have shown themselves to be this season? Was there sleeping powder in the Rays pre-game clubhouse meals?
Or maybe the Rays players are just tired because they’ve played a lot and didn’t even have the usual break between the Sunday afternoon game and the Monday afternoon game.
I don’t know but let’s get back to smashing baseballs, shall we? And maybe Isaac Paredes needs a night off.
Rays: Rest up tomorrow, stroll along the Charles, grab a pizza in the North End, and then let’s see those bats back in action on Friday