Game 36: Wild Night for Rays Ends Alright as Evan Longoria Slams Walk-Off Home Run
By Robbie Knopf
The same script was replayed over and over like multiple cuts of the same lousy scene. The Rays offense would have one big inning but then they would be kept off the board the rest of the game, and then the Rays’ starting pitcher would blow the lead and the bullpen would only make things worse. On Saturday, the Rays’ knocked out Padres starter Butch Smith after just 1+ innings with a 6-run second inning highlighted by a James Loney 2-run homer and a Yunel Escobar 2-run single. But then Jeremy Hellickson allowed a pinch-hit grand slam to Jesus Guzman as part of a 5-run 6th that made it 7-6 Padres. The Rays had pulled off the same shameful feat once again–but this time, they refused to let that be that way it ended.
For the vast majority of his outing, Jeremy Hellickson was dominant. He allowed a 2-run home run to Chase Headley in the first inning, but from the 1st all the way to the 7th, he retired 17 in a row, striking out 6 in the process. His fastball was mediocre, but his changeup was about as good as anyone had ever seen. Hellickson threw it a crazy 49 times out of 110 pitches, just as often as he threw his fastball, and threw it for strikes 38 out of 49 times and generated an unbelievable 18 swings-and-misses. But no pitcher is perfect, and sure enough, two changeups were errant and hit a long way: the pitch to Headley and the fatal pitch to Guzman. But even in that 7th inning, Hellickson’s collapse wasn’t him totally falling apart but instead really making just one terrible pitch.
Hellickson walked Carlos Quentin to begin the inning but then struck out Yonder Alonso. Mark Kotsay didn’t hit the ball hard but was able to drop the ball in front of Kelly Johnson for a single. But then Hellickson struck out Jedd Gyorko and appeared to be out of the inning as he got Alexi Amarista to hit a soft groundball to third base. However, with the speedy Amarista busting it down the line, Longoria had to make a tough barehand play and was unable to do it, allowing Amarista to reach to load the bases with the pinch-hitter Guzman coming to the plate. But with the count 2-2, Hellickson hung his changeup to Guzman as he threw it for the sixth time in a row to him in the at-bat, and Guzman didn’t miss it, tying the game at 6 as he hit a grand slam down the left field line. Hellickson went 6.2 innings allowing 6 runs on 6 hits, striking out 8 while walking 1. It was a shame that on a night where he looked great nearly the entire time, he left in the most disheartening fashion. If there is a positive side to this, Hellickson enters his next outing knowing who close he came to an outstanding performance only to let it slip away, and hopefully that will motivate him to push just a little bit more next time around.
After Hellickson departed, Jamey Wright did his job, getting a groundball to second base, but Zobrist made a rare error before Wright inexplicably came apart, hitting the best batter before walking the next two to allow a run. Cesar Ramos had to come in to finally get the Rays out of the inning on a strikeout of Alonso. The Rays had done it again, thoroughly outplaying the Padres for 6 innings yet finding themselves trailing after a 7th inning of disastrous proportions. But the last out of the 7th emerged as a turning point as Ramos made sure the story ended differently in this game. Ramos tossed the final 2.1 innings in perfect fashion, striking out 3 in the process. Just a few days ago, Ramos had fallen out of favor with Joe Maddon after managing ugly numbers all season. But after others’ struggles gave Ramos a second chance, he has run with it, tossing 2.1 scoreless innings in his last two games. And for his efforts, he got the win when the Rays rallied in the 9th.
Kelly Johnson and the Rays came so close against Huston Street as Johnson got a sinker up on the outer part of the plate but got just under it as his flyball died on the track. Street then got ahead of Ben Zobrist 1-2, getting him to swing and miss on two changeups, and the Rays were down to their final strike. Two pitches later, Zobrist swung and it appeared for a moment that the game was over but catcher Nick Hundley was unable to hang onto Zobrist’s foul tip, giving the Rays a second wind and an opportunity they wouldn’t miss. Zobrist then was able to lay off of two more changeups for a walk, bringing Evan Longoria to the plate. And after Street fell behind Longoria 2-1, he hanged a slider over the outer part of the plate, and Street didn’t get so lucky this time around. Longoria delivered a walk-off 2-run home run to left-center as the Rays won the game 8-7.
It was the same unfortunate series of events that had caused the Rays to lose many a game this season, but this time, everything was different. Instead of feeling sorry for themselves as the game came apart around them, the Rays stopped the bleeding after the 7th inning in large part to Ramos’ huge performance. The Rays have lost so many times because they had one great inning on offense but got nothing the rest of the game. In this contest, they turned the tables on the Padres, letting them have that 7th but keeping them off the board in seven of the other eight innings to give themselves the chance to come back. You don’t really know whether you have fixed a problem until you’re placed in the same situation and prove that you won’t act the same way. One late rally to erase another blown lead doesn’t erase all the games the Rays have let slip away this season, but maybe they have finally found a way to move on. The Rays go for the sweep against the Padres at 1:40 PM on Sunday with Roberto Hernandez taking on Eric Stults.