So far in 2013, the Rays have found themselves frustrated by so many parts of their team–and on Thursday night, they all collided. David Price took the mound, the bullpen had to step up in a tie game, they had to respond after blowing an early lead, Yunel Escobar came up in a big spot, and the Rays even faced a bases loaded situation with the game on the line. The way the Rays have been playing, it was a recipe for disaster, but this game was an entirely different story. After seemingly unremitting struggles, the Rays may have finally broken through.
David Price came out dealing for the Rays in the first inning, getting two strikeouts sandwiched around a groundout as he made the Blue Jays look helpless. But that was the only time in his entire outing that Price seemed to dominate. The Rays staked him to a 2-0 lead in the first inning against R.A. Dickey, with Evan Longoria plating a run with a double before scoring on Matt Joyce‘s RBI single, but it did’t take long for Price to put the Rays right back in a hole. A Brett Lawrie RBI single in the 2nd made it 2-1 before a Longoria error gave the Jays an extra out in the 3rd and Toronto took full advantage, taking a 3-2 lead against Price on a Jose Bautista RBI double and an Edwin Encarnacion RBI single. A Ben Zobrist triple followed by a passed ball tied the game at 3, but then the Jays got Price again, taking a 4-3 lead as Rajai Davis singled, stole two bases, and scored on a Jose Bautista sac fly. To that point, Price had gone 5 innings allowing 4 runs. Just 2 of the runs were earned, but by no stretch was Price pitched like an ace. In the 6th finally, though, matters reached a tipping point and Price finally came together like the Rays have been waiting for him to do for far too long.
In the 6th inning, Mark DeRosa singled to begin the inning against Price, but he rebounded to retire the next three hitters in order. It was the same story for Price in the 7th as he allowed a Henry Blanco single to open the frame but put down the next three hitters once again to keep the Rays down 4-3. Price had thrown 102 pitches to that point, but Joe Maddon sensed that something was different in Price and decided to leave him in for the 8th. Price made it scary, allowing long flyballs to Edwin Encarnacion and Brett Lawrie, but with some help from his defense he managed a huge 1-2-3 inning to finish his outing in as high of spirits as he has all season. Price went 8 innings allowing 4 runs, 2 earned, on 7 hits, striking out 8 while walking 1. He racked up some strikeouts, but he was far from overpowering overall, allowing a baserunner in every inning from the 2nd to the 7th. But he gave the Rays exactly the type of outing they have to expect from their ace, coming back from a tough start to go 8 strong innings and keeping the Rays in the game the entire way through. He stopped being tentative and started gaining confidence. Is this the type of game he’s been waiting for all season to finally pitch up to his ability?
The Rays had to be kicking themselves for all the opportunities they missed against R.A. Dickey. Last time Dickey came to Tropicana Field, he one-hit the Rays as a member of the Mets, narrowly missing a no-hitter after a disputed call in the early goings was called an infield single. This time around, he was not nearly as sharp. In 6 innings, Dickey allowing 5 hits and 5 walks, but the Rays were only to get him for 3 runs, 2 earned, and just 1 run after the 1st inning. The Rays couldn’t even manage a single hit with a runner on base after the 1st, and it seemed everything like it was going to cost them the game. But Yunel Escobar quickly reversed their fortunes to begin the 7th. Escobar got ahead of Steve Delabar 3-1 before getting a belt-high fastball, and Escobar didn’t miss it, drilling a game-tying home run just to the left of dead center to knot the game at 4. Escobar entered the game hitting just .177 and on a Rays team that has surprised at the plate, he has been the missing link. But with the game on the line, Escobar delivered his most important hit as a Ray and gave the Rays hope in a game they seemed so destined to lose.
Price gave the Rays his all through 8 innings, throwing 117 pitches, but then he was out of the game and in came the struggling Fernando Rodney in a 4-4 game. After the way Rodney has pitched, it was extremely hard to believe that he could live up to Price’s standard and keep the game tied. Instead, Rodney delivered an outing that was a microcosm of Price’s game. Like Price, Rodney came out dealing to begin the game, striking out Colby Rasmus on four pitches with his fastball touching 98 MPH before forcing Maicer Izturis to ground out weakly to second base. But then suddenly it seemed like everything was falling apart again. Rodney hit J.P. Arencibia with a pitch before a Rajai Davis bloop single put the go-ahead run at second base for Toronto with Melky Cabrera coming to the plate. Against Cabrera, though, Rodney looked the best that he has all season, striking him out swinging in a hard-fought 7-pitch at-bat featuring two fastballs at 100 MPH, to keep the game tied. After the Rays failed to score in the bottom of the inning, it was up to Kyle Farnsworth, who has struggled even more this season, to keep the line moving. And Farnsworth did just that, getting Jose Bautista to ground out, Edwin Encarnacion to pop out, and Munenori to retire on an excellent play by Farnsworth on a bunt right in front of home plate to send the game into the bottom of the 10th still tied 4-4. The Rays’ bullpen pairing of Rodney and Farnsworth thoroughly impressed. After the Rays’ bullpen certainly went from the best in the American League last year to the AL’s worst this year, is this the moment where it finally right itself?
Everything was set for a Rays victory as satisfying as any one this season–but first the Rays had to push the winning run across. They gave it their best effort in the 8th, with Luke Scott drilling a single with Evan Longoria at second base with 2 outs in the 9th, but Jose Bautista gunned down Longoria at home to keep the game going. But in the 10th against Aaron Loup, Longoria doubled for the second time in the game with 2 outs before James Loney was intentionally walked, and then Brad Lincoln came in and walked Ryan Roberts to load the bases. Lincoln then got ahead of Scott 0-2, but Scott battled the count back to 3-2 before taking a pitch in the dirt for a walk-off walk as the Rays won 5-4.
For the Rays, had to draw this game up any better. Price finished his outing on a roll, Rodney and Farnsworth had breakthrough outings, Yunel Escobar had his biggest hit as a Ray, and really in all facets of the game, the Rays gave their best all-around effort. The Jays refused to go down and hanged in their like they did to beat the Rays in the first two games of the series, but the Rays showed that they had finally had enough of the struggles, enough of the inconsistency, and willed their way to victory on a night that would have turned into a loss had everyone in the team not come through just as much as they did. The Rays find their way to a 4-game split with the Blue Jays after losing the first two games and are set to begin a 3-game Interleague series with the San Diego Padres on Friday night. Alex Cobb takes on Edinson Volquez as the Rays hope to keep this run that they’ve had the last two games going and show the AL East and the rest of baseball just how good they can be.