The Rays just kept waiting for the spark that would ignite their offense. They hoped it would be Desmond Jennings‘ leadoff home run in the first inning off of Jake Arrieta, but it was not too be. The same held true for Matt Joyce‘s hustle double in the 4th as the Rays stranded him at third base and their offense went right back to faltering as they simply could not push a second run across. But finally in the 8th inning, with the Rays down 5-1, everything began to click.
After batting Kelly Johnson 9th in all but one of the games in which he had appeared (and batting 8th in the other), Joe Maddon decided to move Johnson up to the 2-hole for Tuesday’s game in an attempt to get him going. The move worked to perfection. Johnson struck out in the 1st inning, but only after a hard-fought 13-pitch at-bat. And after drawing walks in his next two plate appearances, Johnson finally got that hit he had been waiting for in the 8th, slamming an opposite field home run off of Pedro Strop to make it 5-2 Baltimore. After Ben Zobrist walked, Evan Longoria came to the plate looking to inflict more damage.
Longoria is, as we know, the key player in the Rays’ offense- everything feeds off of him. But Longoria entered Tuesday’s game mired in an 2 for 16 stretch and went 0 for 2 to begin the game to make him 2 for 18. In the 3rd inning, he got a hanging breaking ball with 2 runners on, but completely missed it, popping up to shortstop.Longoria’s offensive miscues were only half the story, though. In the 6th inning with the Rays down 3-1, the bases were loaded with one out when J.J. Hardy hit a soft groundball to Longoria. Longoria charged and made an off-balance throw home, but it was offline for an error, allowing a run to score and leading to an additional one before the inning was through to make it 5-1 Orioles. But in the 8th inning, Longoria finally assuaged his frustration, slamming a 2-run homer off of Strop to pull the Rays within 5-4. That was as close as the Rays would get as they lost the game 5-4, but that 8th inning gave the Rays an exhilarating feeling that had been missing for far too long, and maybe that will finally be the moment where the Rays can say that their offense turned around.
Roberto Hernandez took the loss for the Rays, going 5.1 innings, allowing 5 runs, 3 earned, on 5 hits, striking out 7 while walking 3 (1 intentional). For the third straight start, Hernandez looked really good stuff-wise but struggled to inconsistent results. His sinker was moving so much that it frustrated everyone- from Hernandez, to the Rays fans watching, to the hitters, who flailed helplessly when it looked like a strike. Hernandez’s fastball was all he had early on, getting him into trouble when he missed his spots, but he was able to harness his changeup towards the end of his outing and get into a brief groove before everything came apart in the 6th. Hernandez is 0-3 with a 5.79 ERA in his 3 starts for the Rays, but he’s another guy waiting for that breakthrough moment, and maybe if the Rays get him the run support he deserves, everything will come together.
The Rays lost the game 5-4, dropping them to just 4-9 on the season, already 5 games back of the first place Red Sox in the AL East. However, maybe the way this game finished with the 8th inning rally could be the turning point the Rays have been waiting for. Everyone knows the Rays are much better than this, and after showing flashes in this game, good things have to be ahead for this Rays team. The Rays send Matt Moore to the hill against Chris Tillman on Wednesday as they look to finally hit their stride and make their rough start a thing of the past as they start playing the way they’re capable.