Game 135: Bats Come up Huge in Clutch as Rays Take Opener Versus Yanks

By Robbie Knopf

For whatever reason, one-run games have been the Rays’ Achilles’ heel in 2012. Entering Monday, they were just 19-24, including 2-11 in their previous 13. Why was that happening? How could a team with such great starting pitching and relief pitching falter in close games? The difference is the offense. The question has always been and will be the rest of the season whether the Rays offense could come through in big spots. On Monday, they finally got it, and hopefully it won’t be an isolated event.

The Rays took a 1-0 lead in the second inning against CC Sabathia on a Chris Gimenez RBI single and then B.J. Upton took Sabathia deep in the third as the Rays were looking good, holding a 2-0 lead. But suddenly, as appears to be the case in every Rays game, came the one bad inning. James Shields and a no-hitter through 3 innings, allowing just 2 walks, but a Robinson Cano double ended the bid and then Shields started to crumble. Alex Rodriguez singled before Eric Chavez hit a rocket line drive that Desmond Jennings caught but it scored Cano to make it 2-1. Then Raul Ibanez hit another liner to deep right-center, and Ben Francisco made an ill-advised dive and missed, scoring Rodriguez as Ibanez ended up on 3rd with a triple. Then the Yankees took the lead as Russell Martin hit a groundball off of James Shields that deflected to first base, and instead of holding Ibanez at third base, Jeff Keppinger attempted a dive to get Martin at first but didn’t get there in time as Ibanez scored to make it 3-2 Yankees. The Rays had won 2 in a row, but every Rays fan had to be thinking “here we go again.”

However, in the 5th, the Rays pushed a run across in a way only the Rays seemingly can. B.J. Upton walked, Ben Zobrist singled, and then the two executed a double steal with Evan Longoria at the plate. The Yankees played the infield back and Longoria put the ball in play on the ground to short to score Upton and tie the game. Sabathia wound up going 7 innings for the Yankees allowing 3 runs on 8 hits, striking out 4 while walking 2. James Shields on the other end put together a fine outing, going 8 innings allowing 3 runs on 5 hits, striking out 5 while walking 3. He allowed just 1 hit outside the rough 4th inning. And the Rays got him a win in the bottom of the 8th.

David Robertson entered the game for the Yankees and allowed a leadoff single to Keppinger, who was pinch-run for by Rich Thompson. Thompson was caught stealing on a disputed call, prompting Joe Maddon to be ejected, but in any event, the Rays had nobody on with 1 out. But Ryan Roberts singled and stole second base for Chris Gimenez came through again, drilling an RBI single to give the Rays a 4-3 lead. Fernando Rodney was lights out in the 9th, striking out 2 in a perfect inning, as the Rays won 4-3. Shields (13-8) earned the win. Robertson (1-5) took the loss (3 of his losses have come against the Rays), and Rodney nailed down his 41st save. The Rays came through with a much-needed win to pull within 2.5 games of the Yankees in the AL East and stay 1.5 games back of the Orioles in the Wild Card. Shields was great other than the one bad inning, the hitters were dynamic on the basepaths and Gimenez came through in the clutch, and of course Rodney is automatic as the Rays came way with a satisfying victory. Alex Cobb versus Freddy Garcia is the pitching matchup for Game 2 of the series as the Rays look to win their 4th straight.