The Rays’ offense, which had been sputtering of late, finally came alive but the Rays’ still fell to the Yankees 7-6 in 10 innings.
Jeremy Hellickson took the hill today for the Rays and wound up delivering only mixed results. While Hellickson did manage to pitch seven innings, his stat line was not spectacular at all giving up four runs, all earned, on eight hits with two walks against only one strikeout. He allowed home runs to Kevin Youkilis and Travis Hafner to account for 3 of the 4 runs he allowed. His numbers were entirely unimpressive, but as the regular season draws closer it’s always good to see the starting pitcher go fairly deep into the game. The latter was what Joe Madddon dwelled upon following the game, loving how Hellickson got into the “mindset” of going deeper into games, something critical as he replaces perennial 200-inning man James Shields in the Rays’ rotation.
Down 3-1 in the top of the 4th is where the Rays offense began to get going. Back to back singles by Shelley Duncan and then Yunel Escobar put men at first and third with no one out to start the inning, and although Escobar later got caught stealing, the Rays offense was able to rally. An error scored Duncan before Desmond Jennings came through with a big 2-run double, also taking third on the throw, and two batters later that loomed large as Ben Zobrist brought him home on an infield single to give the Rays a 5-3 lead.
Hellickson departed with the Rays holding a 5-4 advantage but Veteran right-hander Jamie Wright, still looking at making the team, took the ball in the eighth inning and struggled, allowing Youkilis’ second home run of the game, a 2-run shot, to give the Yankees a 6-5 lead. But the Rays were able to respond in the top of the 9th. There were two outs and a runner on 3rd when about the least likely candidate on the Rays for a clutch hit stepped up to the plate: Jake Hager, one of the Rays’ top prospects but also a player who finished last season at just Low-A. Digging in his for his first-ever at-bat in major league spring training, Hager came up huge, drilling a game-tying double to centerfield to tie the game at 6. After Wright rebounded from the Youkilis homer by forcing three groundouts in a 1-2-3 ninth, the game headed into extra innings.
The Rays had themselves quite a day, but it was spoiled in the bottom of the 10th when Josh Lueke gave up a walk-off home run to Yankees outfield prospect Ronnier Mustelier to give the Yankees a 7-6 win. But while the Rays would always want to win, it’s still spring training and the individual performances are what matter most at this point. Hellickson impressed by going 7 innings and Wright did finish strong, but the real headliners were the bats, principally Ben Zobrist, who went an incredible 4 for 5, Desmond Jennings, who went 2 for 4 with a pair of doubles, Matthew Joyce, who also collected 2 hits in 4 at-bats, and obviously Hager, who came out of nowhere to deliver his huge double. Also having an encouraging effort was Kelly Johnson, who is hitting just .136 this spring but was great in this one, going 1 for 2 with 2 walks as the Rays hope to get him going with the season rapidly approaching. Up next for the 14-14 Rays are the Pittsburgh Pirates, with Matt Moore taking on Kyle McPherson in a 1:05 PM matchup at the Rays’ spring home in Port Charlotte.