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Rays 4 Athletics 3: Fifty wins!

Tampa Bay Rays v Oakland Athletics Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

This game was a journey.

At the start, this journey seemed straightforward. Rays back to dominating, en route to a win. But like all mythic journeys, this one included many hurdles before its conclusion.

Taj Bradley, who interestingly has so far pitched better on the road than at home, came out firing bullets. He would go on to pitch four very impressive innings and part of a less impressive inning, with eleven strikeouts. For four innings he was a joy to behold. He was our Taj Mahal, Wonder of the World.

And the Rays were getting on base. In the second inning they scored twice without ever barreling a baseball. Ramirez reached on error that seemed to involve several Oakland misplays. Luke Raley and Isaac Paredes had perfectly placed singles and Taylor Walls and even better placed double to get two runs across. Brian Anderson had noted that Oakland pitcher Paul Blackburn tended to throw first pitch strikes, and the Rays seemed prepared, often swinging on the first pitch. But after scoring two, the Rays were unable to make more of what looked poised to be a big inning. This would, indeed, become a theme.

In the top of the third, Wander Franco stretched a single into a double and Ramirez walked, but once again the subsequent Rays hitters were unable to drive the runners in.

Taj Bradley’s allowed his first base runner in the third (he had struck out the first six batters) when JJ Bleday bunted for a base hit. Smart baseball — “we can’t hit this guy so let’s try something different.” Tony Kemp followed up with a legit hit to put runners on first and third with just one out. An out later, Noda drew a walk to load the bases. But Bradley, a kid who does not easily get rattled, came back with the K to end the inning. Indeed, all three outs in the third were, again, on strikeouts.

Next inning, Manuel Mar-gone continued his hot hitting from last night with a home run. Franky Mejia followed with a double. He got to third on a Wander infield single, but once more he was stranded. And by the way, after four innings Blackburn had struck out eight Rays; it was not just Bradley who was getting whiffs. But thanks to the home run, the score was now Rays up 3-0.

The Oakland half of the fifth was one of the most frustrating innings I’ve seen in a while. Bradley lost a bit of his edge; after being so sharp for four innings, he walked the eight and nine hitters and wasn’t really close to the zone. This was the moment for a Kyle Snyder visit, would he be able to say the magic words to help a young pitcher get through this inning? Well yes, Bradley got the ground ball that should have been the inning ending double play, but Paredes bobbled the ball and the bases were loaded with just one out. How did this game get so out of hand?

Then came some very bad BABIP luck. The next two A’s hitters both hit soft bloops into the outfield, and they were just beyond the reach of Rays fielders. On the first of those hits, it looked like Margot had caught it but it came out of his glove to score a run. And Margot grimacing with a sore hand. Those hits together scored three runs to tie the game.

And that ended Bradley’s day.

Kevin Kelly came in and got a ground ball that this time was turned into a double play, so thank goodness for small mercies.

The Rays offense fared no better in the next few innings, but in the bottom of the seventh the A’s seemed about to break the game open. Jake Diekman walked the leadoff batter, and the walk was followed by a single followed by another walk. Bases loaded with none out, hard to emerge unscathed. But the Rays got a double play, including an out at the plate, and then Robert Stephenson came in to get the last out via strikeout to preserve the tie.

And just as I’m cursing Oakland and cursing baseball, Luke Raley salvaged the day with a solo home run — off old friend Austin Pruitt - to give the Rays an 8th inning lead.

After that, Jason Adam pitched a perfect eighth and our hero, Pete Fairbanks, returned from doing battle with his three-year old son looking a little worse for the wear, but able to retire the A’s to preserve the lead in the 9th.

It wasn’t, after all, a dominant win, but a win just the same. Four tough games against an Oakland team that may still be in last place, but has found its footing.

And although Bradley left without a lead in the fifth, the glimpse of greatness he gave us through four innings is inspiring. The kid is 22, might still be in Durham if not for injuries, and he can do that? He’s going to be a good one.