The game in the Bronx was verging on being meaningless with respect to the postseason, but that had nothing to do with the effort level of both teams. James Loney broke open the scoring leading off the second with a home run down the right field line. It was his ninth of the season, and he would add a few more hits on the night. The Tampa Bay Rays tacked on a few more runs, but still needed their bullpen to come through after Chris Archer had trouble pitching with a lead. Grant Balfour and Brad Boxberger both earned holds before Jake McGee recorded his 17th save as the Rays beat the New York Yankees 4-3.
Both pitchers looked very sharp early in the game. Hiroki Kuroda impressively struck out the side while Chris Archer did not allow a hit until the fourth. Archer was coming off two rather atrocious outings in which he looked flat, sloppy, and very hittable. This one, at least in the beginning, was a little different.
Rays hitters were committed early to an aggressive approach at the plate, looking to jump on first-pitch fastballs and avoid Kuroda’s slider and split. This approach paid off in the third when Kuroda lost his edge. Kuroda’s first two pitches in the third were drilled for singles by Ryan Hanigan and Ben Zobrist. A batter later, Evan Longoria drilled the first pitch he saw into center and drove in his 40th RBI since the All-Star Break. Loney followed Longoria with a single driven back through the middle which scored Zobrist.
The Rays had runners on first and second with one out in the fourth. Zobrist golfed a pitch from Kuroda down the left field line to drive in Kevin Kiermaier and knock Kuroda out from the game after 3.1 innings pitched. This was Kuroda’s shortest outing of the season, and the Rays seemed primed to pull away in the game. Unfortunately, the Yankees–and Archer himself–had other ideas.
Jacoby Ellsbury had the first Yankee hit of the game. It was especially frustrating, because the previous pitch was a backdoor slider that Hanigan appeared to misjudge (it didn’t seem to be an instance of being crossed-up as Hanigan gestured towards his own eyes afterward). And, although it was slightly off the plate, it was a pitch calling out for a good frame which Hanigan was unable to provide. In any event, Ellsbury proceeded to homer, and the hit seemed to rattle Archer. He lost his control, tending to miss high-and-away, but recovered before surrendering anything else in that inning.
Archer’s troubles continued in the fifth, as he allowed the Yankees to load the bases on a hit batsman and two singles. Chris Young then split the left side of the Rays infield with a hard grounder into left. Two Yankees scored and Archer seemed to have hit a wall. A strong throw from Matt Joyce prevented Stephen Drew from scoring on a Jacoby Ellsbury single. The Yankees challenged the call by claiming that Drew had no lane to slide, and he didn’t, but the “out” call was upheld. Joyce’s throw beat Drew to the plate, and you have to wonder where Hanigan might be expected to position himself when throws are slightly ahead of the runner and accurate. Given the final score, we also have to wonder what would have happened had Drew actually scored.
Archer skirted further danger when Derek Jeter lined out to Zobrist who quickly doubled off Chris Young at second. At the end of the day, though, although his numbers might be better than his previous starts, this will be viewed as a disappointing start for Archer. With his team up early and the opposing pitcher knocked out of the game, control issues surfaced and he allowed a team that seemed dead-in-the-water back into the game. His final line: 6.1 IP, 7 H, 3 ER, 0 BB, and 3 SO. That simply is not enough, but the Rays have to hope that he will continue working past his recent struggles.