When players return from the DL, you don’t know what you’re going to get. Sometimes they’re still not 100% and it takes time for them to return to their usual form. Sometimes they’re just not in the swing of things for a while. But other times, they come back swinging and provide a big lift to your ballclub- like Jeff Keppinger did on Saturday. Unfortunately, the Rays could not capitalize, but if Keppinger can play well, he will help plug a big offensive hole for this team.
After a rainout on Friday, the Rays and Phillies finally began their 2008 World Series rematch on Saturday afternoon in Philadelphia. At the beginning, it looked like the Rays were going to have their way with Kyle Kendrick and the Phillies. With 1 out in the second inning, Jose Lobaton walked and Ben Zobrist singled to give Jeff Keppinger a run-scoring opportunity in his first at-bat back. Keppinger came through in a big way, lining a double into the left field corner to score both runners, and he advanced to third on a throwing error by second baseman Michael Martinez on the relay throw. He would later score on a James Shields groundout to give the Rays a 3-0 lead. Shields had hit what looked to be a sure inning-ending double play ball to shortstop, but the Rays had sent Elliot Johnson, who had walked, and the only play the Phillies had was at first base, scoring the run. How about Joe Maddon trusting Shields to make contact! Shields then retired the Phillies in order in the bottom of the inning. But something was clearly off in the bottom of the third inning.
Shields faced off against the opposing pitcher, Kyle Kendrick to begin the inning, but he could not get him out. Kendrick worked the count to 3-2 and fouled off two fastballs before finally walking. The alarming thing about the 9-pitch at-bat was that Shields threw 9 straight fastballs. He didn’t have a feel for his signature changeup. That became even more evident two pitches later when Shields left a changeup right down the middle and Jimmy Rollins drilled a 2-run homer. Shields needed to use 29 pitches total before he could get out of the inning.
In the top of the 4th, the Rays looked to extend their now-skim 1-run lead. Keppinger singled to begin the inning, and two batters later, Shields came to the plate and hit a groundball to third that Polanco could not field cleanly for a single and then let the ball get away from them a little bit. Keppinger made a turn around second base but he went too far and was caught in a rundown. Shields went to second base on the play and Desmond Jennings followed with a walk. But Carlos Pena struck out to end the inning for what could have been only the second out of the inning. The momentum shift in the game was definite.
Shields struck out the first two batters he faced in the bottom of the 4th. But then Mike Fontenot singled and Jimmy Rollins followed with another single and the runners moved to second and third as Hideki Matsui attempted to gun down Fontenot at third base but was unsuccessful. Both singles came on fastballs as Shields missed three times out of the zone with his changeup between the two at-bats. Then Shields left another changeup up in the zone and Juan Pierre drilled it deep and out to right field for his first home run of the season, a backbreaking shot as it turned a 3-2 lead into a 5-3 deficit. Shields lasted just 5 innings, allowing 5 runs on 7 hits, striking out 7 while walking 1. He allowed 2 home runs as his groundout to flyout ratio was a horrid 2-5. Shields just could not locate his changeup and it cost him and the Rays.
J.P. Howell worked a 1-2-3 inning in the 6th before Brandon Gomes came in for the 7th inning. But the inning began with yet another error as Ben Zobrist let the ball get away from him and Juan Pierre, with his speed, darted to second base on the play. Two batters later, Carlos Ruiz blooped an RBI single to give the Phillies a 6-3 lead. But then the Rays’ bats came alive again.
After getting the final out of the 7th, Phillies reliever came back out for the 8th inning. But he immediately got into trouble in the 8th. Ben Zobrist, Jose Lobaton, and Jeff Keppinger all singled to begin the inning, with Keppinger’s coming of the infield variety so the bases were loaded with no one out. Pinch-hitter Brooks Conrad then struck out in his first at-bat as a Ray. Sean Rodriguez came through with a groundball single to pull the Rays within 6-4. But Desmond Jennings struck out and Carlos Pena flied out to end the inning. Jake McGee worked a perfect 8th as the Rays needed 2 more runs to keep the game going in the 9th.
Against Jonathan Papelbon in the 9th, Hideki Matsui singled. After Ben Zobrist grounded out for the second out of the inning, Jose Lobaton walked and was bizarrely pinch-run for by pitcher Chris Archer. Up came Jeff Keppinger hoping to extend the game. And he did just that, lining an RBI single to right field to score Matsui and move Archer to third base. Then Brooks Conrad’s second Rays at-bat was much better than the first as he lined a game-tying RBI single and put Keppinger on third base with the potential go-ahead run. But Sean Rodriguez struck out and the game went to the bottom of the 9th. Papelbon was booed off the field as he walked off with his first blown save of the season.
In the bottom of the 9th, McGee remained in the game while Jim Thome replaced Jonathan Papelbon as a pinch-hitter. McGee and the veteran Thome battled in an 8-pitch at-bat before McGee left a 97 MPH fastball up and Thome drilled a walk-off opposite-field home run, the 609th of his career, tying him for 7th-most all-time. It was the first home run McGee had allowed all season. Wrong time for that.
The Rays blew their early lead in the game as Shields came apart, and then they made a late comeback bid to tie the game before Thome responded for the Philles with the walk-off. The Rays were put in a tough situation when their ace came apart and did their best to come back, but missed opportunities throughout the game- the Rays stranded 12 to the Phillies’ 5- proved to be the difference. The Rays drop to 38-32 with the loss, 4 games back in the AL East, and will look to rebound on Sunday as they play a day-night doubleheader versus the Phillies. The day matchup will feature David Price versus Cole Hamels while Cliff Lee will face off against a yet-to-be-determined Rays starter, either Alex Cobb or a pitcher from Triple-A. The new doubleheader rule allows both the Rays and Phillies to call up an additional man to the big leagues for the days, and the Rays call-up will either be a relief option or start Game 2 of the doubleheader.