It was beautiful baseball. Maybe that is even amplified by the feeling that every Rays fan is feeling right now. Every obstacle got in the Rays’ way and somehow they continued to persevere. We saw players rise up out of nowhere. We saw things work that never work. We saw a measure of redemption. Was it all for nought? Was this game simply another loss? Is this the game that puts the Rays on the ropes? Will we look back and say that this game was the nail in the coffin for the Rays? Who knows. The Rays played their hearts out. They played possibly the greatest game of the season and the greatest game that many of us have ever seen. And they lost.
Early on, both Jeremy Hellickson and Wei-Yin Chen were dealing. Both allowed 2 hits and no walks through 3 innings, with Hellickson striking out 3 and Chen striking out 5. But in the 4th, the Rays got the game’s first run. Ben Zobrist and Evan Longoria both singled, with Zobrist moving to 3rd on Longoria’s base hit, and Jeff Keppinger scored Zobrist on a sac fly to make it 1-0 Rays.
Hellickson got into trouble in the 4th and 5th, walking 3 batters but managing to avoid allowing a run. Joe Maddon pulled him after he allowed a single to J.J. Hardy to begin the 6th. Hellickson went 5+ innings allowing no runs on 4 hits, striking out 5 while walking 3. Just 57 of his 93 pitches were strikes, but he battled and left in line for the victory in the game. Before the 3 walks, Hellickson had managed a 2-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio on the season for the first time since June 2nd. The Rays had to be hoping for more length from Hellickson after neither Matt Moore nor Alex Cobb completed 5 innings in the first two games of the Rays’ series versus the Orioles, but he tossed shutout ball and the Rays had to hope their bullpen could hold the lead.
Jake McGee worked the rest of the 6th for the Rays and struck out the side. He left the game having struck out the last 7 batters he had faced between Wednesday’s game and today, and he has also struck out 8 of the last 10 batters he has faced. The Rays hoped Wade Davis could follow up McGee with a strong effort of his own. But that failed to materialize. Davis began the 7th by allowing Manny Machado to reach on his fielding error and that may have removed him from the zone he has been in of late. He struck out Mark Reynolds but then he walked Robert Andino on 4 pitches to bring up Taylor Teagarden. Then he left a fastball up, and Teagarden delivered for Baltimore drilling a 2-run double to give the Orioles a 2-1 lead. J.P. Howell and Kyle Farnsworth got an out each to end the inning, but the damage had already been done and it seemed like the Rays were heading for another tough loss.
But in the 8th, the Rays somehow managed to push across a run. Desmond Jennings walked off of Chen, moved to second on a passed ball, stole third base as B.J. Upton struck out, and then he scored when Ben Zobrist hit a tapper to third base that Manny Machado had no play on to tie the game at 2.
Joel Peralta had another tough inning but once again escaped unscathed, working around a pair of singles to toss a scoreless 8th inning. Then in the 9th against Jim Johnson, the Rays looked to take the lead. With 2 outs and nobody on, Carlos Pena delivered a big hit, lining a double down the right field line. Rich Thompson pinch-ran for him. Matt Joyce then pinch-hit for Jose Lobaton and walked. But Desmond Jennings flied out to end the threat. In the bottom of the 9th, Fernando Rodney worked around a walk to pitch a shutout inning to take the game to extra innings.
The bullpens took over in extra innings. Luis Ayala for Baltimore and Burke Badenhop for the Rays each worked around a hit to pitch scoreless half-innings. The thing was that the Rays cost themselves their designated hitter when Pena was pinch-ran for by Thompson, forcing Evan Longoria to move to third base with Jeff Keppinger at first. Joyce stayed in the game in right field while Jose Molina came in to catch. That came into play as Ayala tossed a scoreless 11th. When Ryan Roberts had to leave the game down 0-2 in the count after fouling a ball hard off his foot, right-handed pitcher Chris Archer came in to finish off the at-bat so the Rays could do a double-switch. Elliot Johnson came in to play second base for the Rays in the bottom of the 11th as Archer came to the mound. Archer worked around a walk to pitch a scoreless inning.
In the 12th, Matusz and Ayala for Baltimore and Archer for the Rays retired the scheduled hitters in order. Tommy Hunter then tossed a perfect frame to send the game into the bottom of the 13th. But things immediately went wrong for Archer.
Archer walked Endy Chavez on 5 pitches to begin the inning as he lost the strike zone, and then hurt himself even more when his throwing error on Manny Machado’s bunt gave the O’s two on with nobody out. Matt Reynolds then blooped a single in front of Matt Joyce in right field, and the Orioles had the bases loaded with nobody out and the winning run at third base. Joe Maddon then decided to pull left fielder Sam Fuld and replace him with Reid Brignac, who gave the Rays a 5th fielder on the infield grass. Robert Andino hit a groundball to Elliot Johnson, who was playing more up the middle than he usually would thanks to the presene of the extra infielder, and threw home to the force. But then Archer fell behind 3-0 on Matt Wieters and the Orioles were one ball away from victory. But Archer came back with two fastballs for strikes, and after a foul ball, he struck out Wieters on a fastball up to keep the Rays alive. After a series of position changes since there were now 2 outs (Ben Zobrist from shortstop to right field, Matt Joyce from right to left, and Reid Brignac from “left field” (he was, once again, playing on the infield) to shortstop), Archer struck out Nate McLouth to escape the jam as the Rays somehow survived to play another inning.
In the top of the 14th, Jeff Keppinger singled with 1 out off of Tommy Hunter before Archer failed to bunt him over, striking out on a foul bunt. If Archer had executed, the Rays would have taken the lead. Jose Molina followed with a single. But Randy Wolf struck out Joyce to end the inning.
In the bottom of the 14th, Archer got 2 quick outs but then walked Adam Jones. Endy Chavez then followed with a single before Manny Machado hit a bloop to left field. Matt Joyce dived and for a moment it looked like he had caught the ball, but instead the ball slipped away as the winning run scored and the Orioles won 3-2. The irony was that Joyce was only playing left field because of the five-infielders maneuver that Maddon and the Rays had executed so perfectly the inning before. Maybe Sam Fuld, a tremendous fielder, catches that ball. But we’ll never know.
How many things can do right for you? How many things can go wrong? The Rays got superlative efforts all across the board, but the few mistakes they made cost them dearly: the Davis error that threw him off, the failed bunt by Archer, and the pure circumstance that Matt Joyce was playing left field instead of Sam Fuld. Archer gave the Rays everything he could on the mound, tossing 3 shutout innings, including a Houdini-esque escape in the 13th, before the unfortunate series of events the following inning, and Davis was the only Rays reliever to have a bad game. The Rays came so close to a remarkable victory. The Rays came so close to leaving Baltimore with confidence. But instead, it’s another game in the loss column. The Rays can try to take positives from this game. We know that they’re not going to simply wilt after a game and a series like this. But every loss simply gives the Rays a bigger hole to climb. The Rays need David Price to be at his absolute best against CC Sabathia on Thursday and provide length to a depleted bullpen, and the Rays offense has to find some way to get runs on the board.