Game 18: Rays Offense Rolls and Complete Sweep of A’s

By Dereck Violante

Timely hitting and sub-par defense help Tampa Bay early as Roberto Hernandez posts his first win of the season helping the Rays to complete their sweep of the Oakland A’s.

Today was a performance that Andrew Friedman and the Tampa Bay front office was expecting from Roberto Hernandez when he was signed to a one year deal.  Hernandez had his sinker working all day on his way to his first win since September of 2011 with a fairly dominant performance as he managed 7 strikeouts to 3 walks over 6 innings of one run ball on just 103 pitches.  The only run Hernandez gave up was in the top of the 4th inning off a single by Josh Reddick off the glove of a diving Ryan Roberts.  Hernandez seemed to labor through the fourth by hitting the leadoff man and walking the next to give Reddick the opportunity but managed to settle down and escape the inning.

The bats came alive early for the Rays as they drew first blood in the bottom of the first with a leadoff single by Ryan Roberts followed by a long double by Ben Zobrist that was crushed over the head of center fielder Chris Young putting men at first and third.  Evan Longoria then came up looking to do damage by taking advantage of a badly misplayed popup to short right hustling to second base on the play and giving the Rays a 1-0 lead.  The next batter, Sean Rodriguez, was hit by a cutter in, scoring the second run.  Tampa Bay tacked on another run on a sac fly by Kelly Johnson to put Tampa up 3-0.

The struggling Jake McGee replaced Hernandez and continued his struggles as he walked the first 2 batters of the 7th inning on 8 straight fastballs off the plate.  After a quick visit from pitching coach Jim Hickey, McGee settled down and managed to escape the inning unscathed, with a little help from defensive replacement Sam Fuld on a spectacular grab on a fast, sinking liner to left field.

Tampa Bay tacked on 2 more runs in the bottom of the seventh that started with a one out single to left by Desmond Jennings followed by a double, again over the head of center fielder Chris Young, by Ryan Roberts.  Roberts then advanced to 3rd on a heads-up base running play off a deep fly ball to center field off the bat of Ben Zobrist.  That heads-up play led to another run as Roberts took home on a wild pitch by sidearm pitcher Pat Neshek, putting the Rays up 6-1 after seven.  Tampa Bay then tacked on another 2 runs in the 8th on an RBI double by James Loney and an RBI single by Yunel Escobar.

Brandon Gomes came in for the Rays to pitch the 8th & 9th innings and shut down Oakland by striking out 2 and not allowing a baserunner.

It was nice for the light-hitting Rays’ bats to finally come alive with 11 hits today to take the 3 game series from Oakland.  Tampa Bay is now 6-3 at home this year and can look to build off this sweep.  Yunel Escobar came out of his slump by going 3-4 with 2 RBI and hitting his 1st home run of the season, a solo shot in the 4th off Tommy Millone, perhaps with the advice of Joe Maddon to switch to a longer, heavier bat earlier this week.  Let’s hope that advice pays off in the long run.

Up next for the Rays is a 3 game home stand with the division rival New York Yankees beginning tomorrow at 7pm.  Matt Moore (3-0, 1.00 ERA) takes the hill for Tampa Bay against New York’s ace CC Sabathia (2-1, 2.57 ERA)