Yandy Diaz hit his first career walkoff homerun this evening, and Tampa Bay’s fifth this season, muscling an opposite field line drive up and over the wall, in a well fought battle against the very good Seattle Mariners in what felt like a playoff warm up for the Rays.
Let’s start with the best part of the night.
Diaz, the Rays best hitter this season, was on the bench to start this game and his absence for most of the night resulted in an even match up between the Rays and Mariners, and it wasn’t until his dramatic pinch hitting late in the game that Tampa Bay pulled away, illustrating his importance to the Rays success in my mind.
His walkoff was not only a satisfying conclusion to tonight’s game, but a joy to watch thanks to the players reactions, with several players donning double bubble buckets as helmets in the celebration, and hugs from everyone on the roster. Diaz is the loudest bat but possibly the quietest and humblest man in the Rays lineup. To see him rightfully celebrated brought about a season’s worth of thankfulness for his steady leadership and performance.
As for the homer itself, it was a rare opposite field longball for Diaz, and one that carried more than his usual laser beams, and despite a 104.5 mph exit velo. It wasn’t his typical hit, in that it was a more typical batted ball for a major league homerun, but it was just what the Rays needed.
So, how did we get here? Let’s go back to the beginning.
Aaron Civale started his night with a tough first inning, when a walk-single-HBP sequence loaded the bases on no outs. He would walk in one run, and then allow a single to plate two more, but settled in nicely in the following frames, working efficiently in innings 2-5 and only allowing a notable blast to Julio Rodriguez — who hit what would be a legendary Trop homer if hit by a Rays player, blasting a baseball over the B-ring, colliding then with the C-ring.
Tampa Bay started the scoring against Opener Trent Thornton by taking advantage of a misplay made by LF Dominic Canzone, who took his eyes off the ball with fellow left fielder Randy running from first base on an Isaac Paredes double. Rays 1 - Mariners 4.
The Rays bats were silent against Bulk pitcher Luke Weaver until the fifth inning, when No. 7 hitter Jonathan Aranda singled and No. 9 hitter Taylor Walls walked, bringing up today’s leadoff hitter Brandon Lowe. He got a first pitch hanging breaking ball, and that Dawg hammered it up the line, scoring both base runners easily. Rays 3 - Mariners 4
Randy nearly tied the game the next at bat, but a floater was nabbed at LF Canzone’s shoe laces, making up for his error that allowed the Rays first run and disappointing what had been a rowdy left field stands (even though Randy Land was last night, the attitude continues now in Tropicana Field).
The Rays turned to Jake Diekman in the sixth, who got caught on a pitch clock violation but otherwise was pristine, picking up 2 K’s and allowing no base runners through ten pitches. It was efficient enough a performance to head back out for the seventh, but the Mariners initiated to pinch hit a lefty to start the frame after Diekman warmed up... so Cash made a pitching change to Kevin Kelly.
Seattle’s back up catcher Brian O’Keefe stepped in and gave one a one-out ride to the left field wall, appearing to pick up his first big league homerun, but the ball bounced back into play leading to some confusion. Basabe, making his second career Rays appearance as a third baseman, caught the throw in and applied the tag, but one of the umpires had called a homerun after O’Keefe had stopped at second base.
After review, even though O’Keefe had already brandished the Mariners trident in the visitor’s clubhouse, he was called back onto the field and awarded second base. After the delay, Kelly got out of the frame with a double-play lineout to second base, catching O’Keefe off the bag for the final out of the frame.
The Rays tied it up in the bottom of the seventh, again on the bats of Aranda and Walls who each hit doubles, finally chasing Weaver from the game. Rays 4 -Mariners 4
With a lefty reliever on the mound, Cash pinch hit Brandon Lowe for Yandy Diaz (who had the day off), and he doubled to left center, giving the Rays their first lead on the night and - honestly - making it look easy, despite this being his first appearance of the game. Rays 5 - Mariners 4.
In the eighth Kevin Kelly returned, a bit surprisingly, and would have gotten through the frame unscathed if not for a fielding error by Basabe. Another single put runners on the corners with two outs, leading Cash to turn to Bob Stephenson, where a breaking ball in the dirt would get away from Pinto, allowing the tying runner to score. Rays 5 - Mariners 5.
Colin Poche thankfully pitched a quiet ninth, and it was another walkoff opportunity for the Rays. After two quick outs against lefty reliever Saucedo, Taylor Walls walked to bring Yandy Diaz back to the plate, and you know what happened next. Rays 7 - Mariners 5.
- The Rays had been retired 8 in a row when Isaac Paredes was hit by a pitch with one out in the fourth, making him the second most HBP batter this season with 20 free bases (the leader is Mariners 1B Ty France with 30 HBP). He took the opportunity as an excuse to steal, but was thrown out on a close play. Upon returning to the dugout, the Rays sent him into the clubhouse for imaging on his hand, which was where the HBP occurred. He’s day-to-day with a hand contusion, but should be ok.
- After Diaz’s RBI double in the seventh, Seattle intentionally walked Randy with one out to reach Josh Lowe, and Cash pinch hit again to bring in Harold Ramirez, effectively emptying the bench, an interesting decision. Ramirez chopped one off the dirt in front of home plate for an easy double play ball, ending the inning.
- Of course, it’s wonderful to have Taylor Walls defense back this month after his extended absence for an oblique injury, but never was it more obvious than when the Rays saw a slick back handed play by Walls followed up by an error from the usually sure handed rookie Basabe in the eighth.
- For his efforts in the ninth, Colin Poche now has 11 wins credited this season, behind only Zach Eflin this season, who has 13.
- Cannot imagine doing something this dangerous...