Game 44: Hanging on For Dear Life


What a game it could have been, what an exhilarating win. It could have been a season-changing win. But what looked to be an easy Rays victory got ugly. Things got tense and there are things that the Rays have to beating themselves up about right now. But a win it was, and at least in the standings, that’s all that matters.

Matt Moore was on his game. He worked around a single and a walk in the first inning with 2 strikeouts and a groundout, and he allowed just 1 hit over the next 3 innings, a chopper that hit off of home plate off the bat of Yunel Escobar that Chris Gimenez was unable to field. He ran his K count up to 6 and his groundball to flyball ratio was 5-2. And the Rays staked him to a lead working against Jays starter Drew Hutchinson. Luke Scott slammed an opposite-field solo shot off of Hutchinson in the second inning, and then the Rays really hit their stride in the 4th inning. Scott led off the inning with another hard hit, a double, and 2 batters later, Drew Sutton came up with his first hit as a Ray, an RBI double, to give the Rays a 2-0 lead. Sutton advanced to 3rd on a wild pitch and beat out Brett Lawrie‘s throw to home on a Chris Gimenez grounder to make it a 3-0 lead. Then Carlos Pena came up to the plate.

How crazy is Joe Maddon? For this game, he installed Carlos Pena as his leadoff hitter in an attempt to get him going. He claimed that it would force Pena to change his approach. Sorry for doubting you again, Joe. I’ll believe you next time. In the 4th inning with a couple runners on, Pena got ahead in the count 2-0 before getting a Hutchinson fastball waist-high, and he absolutely crushed it, slamming a 3-run blast to dead center to give the Rays a 6-0 lead. The blast was later measured at 453 feet. Wow.

The Rays had broken the game wide open. But in the process, they ruined Moore’s rhythm, ironic as that may seem. In the first 4 innings, what really stood out for Moore was how quickly he was working. He was pitching, getting the ball back, and the dealing again in rapid succession. And he was rolling. But in the 5th his rhythm stopped, his release point vanished, and he struggled mightily. His first 6 pitches of the inning were out of the zone, including a four-pitch walk to Colby Rasmus. Moore proceeded to force Yan Gomes to ground into a force play, and Rajai Davis followed suit. But then Moore’s control issues resurfaced. Moore was clearly distracted by Davis at first base despite the 6-run cushion in the game and fell behind 3-0 to Kelly Johnson as Davis stole second base. Moore wound up walking Johnson as Davis stole 3rd base. Then Moore completely lost the zone, walking Yunel Escobar on 5 pitches after a first-pitch strike, to bring the always dangerous Jose Bautista to the plate. Moore got ahead of Bautista 1-2, but he could not put him away, working into a 3-2 count before Bautista drilled a 2-run single. Then Moore forced Edwin Encarnacion to hit a grounder to 3rd. But Sean Rodriguez made his second error in as many days, throwing the ball well past Carlos Pena into right field. Ben Zobrist came up throwing trying to cut down the runner at the plate, but he throw was way offline for Zobrist’s first career error in 270 career games in the outfield. 2 runs scored on the play to pull the Jays within 6-4, and that was it for Moore after just 4.2 innings. He would not be eligible for the win. Burke Badenhop forced J.P. Arencibia to fly out to end the inning. On the day, Moore went 4.2 innings, allowing 4 runs, 2 earned, on just 3 hits, striking out 6 but walking 4. 60 of his 97 pitches were strikes but just 18 of 39 pitches in the 5th were strikes. He had everything working but he suddenly lost it.

It’s crazy to think that if the Rays came up with just 1 or 2 runs in the 4th inning, say if Carlos Pena grounded into a double play instead of homering, Moore keeps his rhythm and maybe he goes 7 shutout innings with 10 strikeouts. Moore has to be able to stay composed no matter what happens, good or bad. He has to relax. When he ran into trouble in the 5th, he rushed his delivery and took more times between pitches. He fell completely out of sync and completely fell apart. For 4 innings we saw the Matt Moore that we still haven’t seen for an entire game yet in 2012. But in the 5th, he let the Blue Jays right back into the game. Hopefully in 5 days Moore can finish this process that he has been struggling to complete and give the Rays a solid outing. But he’s simply not there yet.

The Rays answered with 1 in the bottom of the 5th inning on a Chris Gimenez RBI single to extend their lead back to 7-4. Yan Gomes homered off of Wade Davis in the top of the 6th to pull the Jays within 7-5. But B.J. Upton drilled a solo homer in the bottom of the inning (just after Elliot Johnson had been caught foolishly trying to steal 3rd base) to give the Rays an 8-5 lead, and Davis, Joel Peralta, and Fernando Rodney tossed a scoreless inning each in the 7th, 8th, and 9th as the Rays won the 8-5. Davis earned the win with his two one-run innings, improving 1-0 on the season, while Hutchinson fell to 3-2 and Rodney notched his 14th save in as many tries.

Joe Maddon’s tweet perfectly sums up the sentiment from this game.

The Rays won this game. But they have plenty to think about moving forward. In terms of their pitching and their fielding, they need to be better. However, despite everything, the Rays have a chance to clinch a series win on Wednesday with James Shields opposing Ricky Romero. The Rays will take the win by all means. But it means nothing if the Rays fail to make the improvements they need to make. A win can be an isolated occasion. Or it can be the start of a season-changing run.