Monday night marked the first game of the Tampa Bay Rays’ three-game homestand against the New York Yankees that will be future Hall Of Famer Derek Jeter‘s final appearances at Tropicana Field in his career. Off the mound, freshly promoted right-hander Alex Colome (1-0, 2.79 ERA) brought his fastball touching the mid-90’s, cutter-like slider, and changeup to face Yankees lefty Chris Capuano (1-2, 5.13 ERA) in a battle of two pitchers with contrasting ages, pitching arms, and velocities.
Prior to the game, while announcing his new six-man pitching rotation, Joe Maddon said that he had confidence in Colome’s slider and changeup but expressed doubt in the control of his fastball to set up both pitches. Although Colome’s fastball got a little wild in the second inning, he showed enough command to lead the Rays to a 1-0 combined shutout over the Yankees in a 3:28 game before 16,058 fans in attendance.
While mixing his pitches and speeds quite well, Colome pitched 6.2 scoreless innings in a 113-pitch outing with 68 strikes. With the exception of a 24-pitch second inning where his fastball was consistently up in the zone, his four-seamer was electric to set up an effective slider/cutter and several solid changeups. He gave up 6 hits and a walk over the course of his outing while striking out 4. He ended the game with a shiny 1.65 ERA in his 16.1 big league innings this season. This was a very impressive outing, and if Alex Colome can continue to pitch this well, he will receive a closer look for a rotation spot next season. To complete the shutout, Steve Geltz, Jeff Beliveau, Kirby Yates, and Joel Peralta all contributed shutout relief, a welcome change from the Rays’ recent bullpen struggles.
Yankees starter Chris Capuano pitched much more accurately than in his last outing in New York versus the Rays, with only four Rays hitters reaching second base until the ninth inning. It was then, however, that the Rays’ bats came alive to score the only run of the game. With one out, Logan Forsythe singled to left field off of Shawn Kelley, New York’s third pitcher of the night. James Loney, hitting .387 against the Yanks this year, then popped a single to shallow center field to put runners on first and second base. In a two-batter span, the Rays had doubled their total number of hits in the game from two to four. However, Kelly then struck out David DeJesus to bring up Matt Joyce to pinch-hit for Curt Casali.
With two outs, the bases loaded, and the Rays hoping to end the game, Joyce took advantage of Kelley’s wildness to draw a five-pitch walk. There was also another factor helping the Rays: Joe Girardi had sat down lefty Rich Hill in the bullpen earlier in the inning. Had Hill been warming up, he undoubtedly would have come in to face Joyce, forcing Maddon to decide between either a Kelley-Casali matchup (where Joyce never would have pinch-hit) or to have Ryan Hanigan pinch-hit for Joyce. Instead, Joyce was never neutralized by the lefty and walked to bring up Ben Zobrist with the bases loaded and the winning run 90 feet away. On a 1-1 count Zorilla, delivered the fifth walk-off of his career on a single to right field.
Loney and Forsythe saw their lone hits of the game come at the precisely the right time, helping the Rays to play spoiler as the Yankees’ hopes for a AL Wild Card spot fade away. With the Rays goal of trying to get back to .500 and possibly a winning season, their bats must get warmer, especially that of Wil Myers. Otherwise, a truly unfulfilled season will haunt the offseason and cause fans to wonder, with a reduced 2015 payroll already announced, how much the Rays’ offense will truly improve next season.