Needing to begin another win streak after Sunday’s loss to the Red Sox, the Tampa Bay Rays began a series with the formidable Milwaukee Brewers, who were tied with the Los Angeles Dodgers for the best record in the National League going into Monday’s games. Young Jake Odorizzi (6-8, 3.97 ERA) faced wily veteran Kyle Lohse (11-4, 3.07 ERA) with Rays fans dreaming that a win a day will keep the trade rumors at bay. The dream continues as the Rays played a very calm and collected game led by a stellar performance by starter Odorizzi to beat Milwaukee 2 -1 in a tight 2:35 timeframe.
The most striking thing about the Rays pitchers tonight was their patience and focus, exhibiting a quiet confidence suggesting they knew how to prevail over a very successful Brewers team. Odorizzi calmly shut down the first six batters he faced and made only one mistake in the third inning when Mark Reynolds sent an 89 MPH fastball into the left field seats, giving the Brew Crew a 1 -0 lead. Showing little concern about that, the Rays right-hander continued to mix well-located fastballs with his slider and split-change to dominate Milwaukee for seven solid innings. He finished with 91 pitches, 65 of them strikes, with no walks and 5 strikeouts, lowering his ERA to 3.80 on the season. Jake Odorizzi has shown increased confidence with each start and is now a reliable force in the Rays rotation, providing more strength from the mound as Tampa Bay marches forward in its quest for the 2014 postseason.
After Odorizzi’s seven dominant innings pitched, no middle relief was necessary and all manager Joe Maddon had to do was bring in the consistent one-two knockout punch of “committee” relievers Brad Boxberger and Jake McGee. “Box” shut down three consecutive batters in the eighth inning with a mix of fastballs and changeups, hardly giving opposing hitters time to blink between his fifteen pitches. Next, the Brewers had to face McGee, who threw 95-98mph fastballs to strike out the side with eleven pitches. The three Rays pitchers combined to lead the Rays to a critical win, holding the Brewers to just 1 run on 3 hits in the process.
Offensively, like the pitchers, the Rays’ bats were patient and confident. Brewers starter Kyle Lohse proved to be his usual effective self, but Ben Zobrist recorded the Rays’ first hit with a single to lead off the fourth inning. Then, with two outs in the sixth, Ben Zobrist drew a rare walk off Lohse with Matt Joyce then moving him to second base on a two-strike single. Another walk to Evan Longoria loaded the bases and gave James Loney the type of opportunity that he takes advantage of so often. Loney turned an 0-2 pitch to a two-run single to give the Rays a one-run lead. Jake Odorizzi and the pitchers did the rest, with the help of excellent defensive play from Kevin Kiermaier.
Overall, this game was a prime example of Rays Baseball, playing a solid game with strong pitching, error-free defense and, in this case, enough offense to win. The Rays, now 52-54, will continue their quest towards .500 and beyond as they take on the Brewers in the second game of the three-game series between the two teams. Former Rays star Matt Garza will face the surging Alex Cobb in a 7:10 EST start at Tropicana Field.