It’s hard enough for Rays fans to watch a game starting at 10 PM EST and stay awake. And after the way the game started, only the diehards were left. Alex Cobb lasted just 2.2 innings allowing 8 runs on 12 hits. He simply didn’t have it, and the Rays were placed in a seemingly insurmountable 80 hole. But whoever turned the game off missed something special.
The Rays couldn’t do anything against C.J. Wilson. B.J. Upton got a hit against Wilson with 1 out in the 1st inning, but he was picked off. That was the Rays’ only hit through the first 4 innings and down 8 runs with Wilson dealing, the Rays’ situation looked hopeless. But this game is a reminder that things can change in an instant and you never know when it will happen. This game did an absolute 180. Maybe 99 times out of 100 it doesn’t. But you have to keep watching because you never know which game which will be the 1.
With 1 out in the 5th, Sean Rodriguez singled off of Wilson. Ryan Roberts followed with another single. Jose Lobaton took 4 straight pitches out of the zone and suddenly the bases were loaded. Sam Fuld lined a single to center and at least the Rays weren’t getting shut out. Desmond Jennings walked on a 3-2 pitch and it was 8-2. B.J. Upton struck out to bring Ben Zobrist to the plate. And Zobrist smoke a groundball past third and into the left field corner, clearing the bases to make it 8-5 Angels. The Rays had placed a considerable dent in the Angels’ lead and made it a ballgame. But they still weren’t done. Evan Longoria slammed a 2-run homer to right-center and every Rays fan thought the same thing in unison: “We’re going to win this game.”
After Cobb’s debacle, the Rays were going to be in for a bullpen night. But the bullpen was more than ready for the task. Burke Badenhop tossed 1.1 scoreless innings in relief of Cobb. After the Rays rallied in the 5th, J.P. Howell tossed a hitless 5th, striking out 2.
The Rays tied the game in the 6th. Ryan Roberts doubled to left-center on a 3-2 pitch, advanced to 3rd on a passed ball, and scored on a Jose Lobaton sac fly. It wasn’t the most dramatic way to tie the game, but it got the job done and the Rays could care less. But then in the bottom of the inning, it looked like it might be all for naught. Kyle Farnsworth came in and got Albert Pujols to ground out. But then he walked Kendrys Morales on a close 3-2 pitch before Mark Trumbo singled to give the Angels 1st and 2nd with 1 out. But Farnsworth regained his composure, striking out Howie Kendrick before forcing Alberto Callaspo to ground out. Jake McGee forced a trio of groundouts in the 7th. And in the 8th, the Rays made sure that their efforts would not go to waste.
Kevin Jepsen blew away the Rays in the 7th, blowing away B.J. Upton, Ben Zobrist, and Evan Longoria with high-90′s fastballs placed perfectly on the corners of the strike zone as he pitched a perfect 10-pitch inning with 2 strikeouts. He was so good that Mike Scoscia brought him back out for the 8th inning. A statistic flashed across the Angels’ broadcast: Jepsen had not thrown a two-inning appearance since 2009. It quickly became apparent why as the Rays took advantage. Jeff Keppinger laced a single to centerfield. Then Joe Maddon decided to give a chance to Carlos Pena, a .191 hitter on the season and just .167 since May 1st as an abundance of strikeouts had marred his return to Tampa Bay. But what every Rays fan knew was that Carlos Pena had the power to give the Rays the lead. Pena pinch-hit for Sean Rodriguez and dug in against the right-hander Jepsen. Pena got ahead 2-0. But then he fouled off a 98 MPH fastball and swung through the next one also at 98. Jepsen came with the fastball again and Pena fouled it off. Finally on the 6th pitch of the at-bat, Jepsen left a fastball right down the middle, and Pena wasn’t going to miss it as we have seen him do far too often this season. He swung, he connected, and we knew instantly that it was gone. The ball landed in the seats down the right field line and Pena circled the bases. The comeback was complete but the enormity of what had just happened just began to dawn.
Joel Peralta tossed a perfect 8th for the Rays to set up Fernando Rodney for the save in the 9th. Rodney forced Mark Trumbo to ground out to start the inning. and then got ahead of Howie Kendrick 1-2. But Rodney hit Kendrick with a pitch and his chance for a smooth, easy inning was over. Rodney threw four fastballs to Alberto Callaspo, all out of the zone, and the Angels had two on with 1 out. A wild pitch moved the runners to 2nd and 3rd and suddenly a single by Erick Aybar could tie the game. But Rodney blew away Aybar on a nasty changeup to bring pinch-hitter Maicer Izturis to the plate. Izturis did not seem like much of a threat- but if Rodney let him escape, American League MVP favorite Mike Trout was on deck. But Izturis swung at the first pitch and hit a groundball to Ben Zobrist at shortstop. Zobrist fielded and fired to first. The throw was low, but it was scooped by Carlos Pena as the Rays won the game 10-8.
On June 25th in Kansas City, Alex Cobb had nothing. But the Rays bullpen was out of gas and Joe Maddon just let Cobb go, allowing him to toss an 8-inning complete game in the loss despite allowing 8 runs on 13 hits. In this game, the bullpen was well-rested. It didn’t matter that the Rays were down 8 runs- he was going to let the bullpen lose and give his team a chance. From that moment on, the Rays seized every opportunity. Every reliever tossed shutout ball, even though it wasn’t always easy. The Rays scored 10 runs on 9 hits from the 5th inning until the end of the game. They went 3 for 4 with runners in scoring position and stranded just 2 runners. The Rays refused to be denied on this magic night. Remember Game 119. It would have been easier to remember if it was Game 120, but sorry. Game 119 was the night where the Rays showed that no adversity would be enough to deny them and that was no opportunity that they weren’t going to do everything to seize. Every night can’t be perfect- heck, the Rays may lose tomorrow. But the type of determination we saw from the Rays in this game is exactly what they need to get to October and beyond.
This isn’t Game 162. This isn’t the end of an unbelievable journey. This game will be nothing but a trivia answer if the Rays can’t follow it up with continued inspired play. But as we saw tonight, the Rays have an opportunity. There were people picking this team for the World Series before the season but then watched them crumble as Evan Longoria and others went down with injuries and wrote them off as an afterthought. But now, everything has changed. Can the Rays actualize this momentum shift into sustained success and realize the potential we knew they had in them from the beginning?