Though the two teams’ records were uncomfortably similar for much of 2014, the Tampa Bay Rays are a much better team than the Chicago Cubs. As the Rays hope to continue working their way into the playoff picture, a three-game set at Wrigley Field looked like a good opportunity to win a trio of games and inch closer to .500 and beyond. In the first game at the historic ballpark, however, things did not go according to plan and it took a late rally for the Rays to win nonetheless.
Chris Archer and Tsuyoshi Wada dueled to a draw despite featuring about as divergent styles as you will ever see. While Archer touched 99 MPH with his fastball compared to just one fastball over 92 MPH for Wada, the results between them were nearly identical. Archer went 6 innings allowing 2 runs, 1 earned, on 5 hits, striking out 6 while walking 1. Wada, meanwhile, went 6 innings allowing 2 runs on 4 hits, striking out 6 while walking 1.
The Rays looked like they would pull away right at the start of the game. A Ben Zobrist single and a Brandon Guyer walk gave them two runners on and one out for Evan Longoria, and the Rays’ third baseman hit a bullet on a first-pitch fastball from Wada. Unfortunately for the Rays, that bullet ended up in third baseman Luis Valbuena‘s glove, and they failed to score in the inning. Then, in the bottom of the frame, and their hits found spots to land. A Javier Baez single was followed by an Anthony Rizzo double, and Chris Coghlan followed with another hard single, giving his team a 1-0 lead. Archer did strand runners on first and third with one out, but his team found itself trailing.
Desmond Jennings tied the game at one run apiece in the third inning on a solo home run, and after Archer’s own error to led to the tying run in the fourth, the Rays were back at it in the seventh inning. Sean Rodriguez began the inning with an opposite-field triple, and he scored with the help of a nifty slide on Curt Casali‘s one-out grounder. It was Casali’s first big league RBI, although he didn’t do much to get it. Matt Joyce then gave the Rays the lead with a two-out RBI single in the eighth.
Joe Maddon‘s management of his pitchers was a little questionable in this game. He removed Archer for pinch-hitter James Loney for a runner on first, one out situation in the seventh when Archer had thrown just 86 pitches. The Rays would have been more likely to end the inning in a tie game had they kept him in, but they weren’t exactly threatening, and keeping Archer in likely would have prevented them from needing to use Joel Peralta in the seventh inning. Then Maddon made the interesting move of going to Jake McGee in the eighth, and while he could not have accounted for a Kevin Kiermaier error to give the Cubs a leadoff runner on second, it was not entirely surprising that McGee’s command was not sharp and he had to battle to escape the inning. After all, it was just his second time pitching in the eighth since the All-Star Break. In addition, using him earlier forced Brad Boxberger to toss the ninth inning for just the second time since June 10th.
Boxberger, to his credit, did not pitch badly. All he allowed were a pair of groundball singles to Justin Ruggiano and Ryan Sweeney. The sac bunt in between those two hits, though, made Sweeney’s hit drive in a run and forced the game into extra innings. You can defend McGee coming in for the eighth because the Rays were trying to deal with the middle of the Cubs order, but his inconsistent inning followed by Boxberger’s tough ninth remind us that relievers are used to set roles. If Maddon is going to switch them up, it has to be a more commonplace move rather than a once-in-a-blue-moon type of thing that simply throws both relievers off. Thankfully for the Rays, it did not make a difference.
In the 10th, it was the Rays’ three outfielders coming up big as consecutive singles by Desmond Jennings and Ben Zobrist followed by Kevin Kiermaier’s go-ahead RBI single gave them the lead. Kiermaier rebounded nicely from his second error in his last three games with another key hit after he homered on Wednesday. After that strong half-inning, the game came down to Boxberger rebounding from his blown save in his second inning of work. He did exactly that, forcing a 1-2-3 frame with two strikeouts as the Rays won 4-3.