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Rays 3, Pirates 2: Rays Swab the Deck Clean

Eflin dominates, Rays dig the long ball, and the NL’s top team gets swept away by the Bay.

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at Tampa Bay Rays Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

This Rays team is something special. They do it through pitching, hitting, nifty glovework, and they do it all with immense amounts of charisma and swagger.

With the Pirates in town, you had the battle of the top record in both the AL and the NL. A huge test for this exciting Rays club who have been world-beaters to this point. Consider the test was passed with flying colors.

The story of today has to begin with the man of the hour and almost certainly the recipient of the postgame tequila shot: Zach Eflin.

Eflin pitched nothing short of a masterpiece today. 7 IP 3 H 0 BB 10 K, with 13 whiffs and a whopping 40% CSW%. All of that on a hyper-efficient 80 pitches. Zach Eflin’s command was absolutely dazzling, working the Pirates in and out of the zone, both horizontally and vertically. More than a few at-bats ended frozen looking at strike 3 on a perfectly ladder-climbed fastball at the top of the zone.

All day the Home Plate Umpire’s strikezone seemed more than a little generous for both teams. For a guy like Eflin who has been one of the most effective near zone command pitchers, that’s just too tasty of a treat.

What’s even more impressive watching Eflin pitch was how quick he got set. All game he was seemingly ready to deliver when the pitch clock reached 10-12 seconds. Pairing that with him ruthlessly peppering the zone with strikes (59 strikes to just 21 balls), the Pirates hitters fell behind early and just could not get comfortable all day.

Even being forced to remove his rubber wedding band couldn’t shake Eflin.

Rays bats provided more longballs toad to their near record-setting number of HR to start the year. Three solo shots, from Taylor Walls, Randy Arozarena, and finally (what would be the difference maker) a Yandy Diaz opposite field bomb.

The Rays smoked the ball all day, but couldn’t break through for the big inning. Thankfully the big fly was there, and it didn’t take much with the pitching they got today.

Weird call in the 6th, where Josh Lowe appeared to steal yet another bag, beating the throw by a good deal and the tag. However, on review, his hand was pushed off during the tag from Bae of the Pirates. The rules are pretty clear that you cannot push a guy off a base, but less so when it comes to helping momentum take folks off. There’s also the potential issue of the replay review being simply a binary: did Josh Lowe’s hand come off, yes or no. The boundaries of the replay can be narrow, and in that case, I suppose there’s little doubt.

Josh Lowe had been a nearly flawless base stealer in Triple-A and perfect in the majors, and it took some light cheating to finally snag him.

Another neat moment in the game, and one of the few bright spots for the Pirates all series, was Colin Holderman pitching an immaculate inning.

The 9th inning got way too interesting in all the worst ways.

First, came an 0-2 bunt attempt where Marcano squared around and his back foot moved in close enough to get to the Jason Adam bendy pitch and get the HBP call. Next up, came Bryan Reynolds hitting into a textbook double play groundball to Taylor Walls. Unfortunately, Taylor did not make like Wander Franco yesterday and get his ball flip game on, and took the glove to the running Mercano who was able to knock the ball loose.

What should have been the end of the game, instead allowed Carlos Santana to lace a double to drive in those two runs. What had been pure domination by Rays pitchers suddenly became a fight for survival.

Thankfully, Jason Adam is heating up and he K’d a very tough Connor Joe with both the tying and winning runs on base. Big save, big series sweep against the 2nd best team in baseball this year.

Rays now move to a whopping 20 games above .500 to improve their record to 26-6.

Bonus: Rays delivered today to set up this perfect Star Wars day themed tweet