Tampa Bay Rays Game 22: James Loney Delivers in 13th
By Robbie Knopf
One major positive for the Tampa Bay Rays in their losses to the New York Yankees on Monday and Tuesday was their bullpen usage. In the two games, they had gone to Brandon Gomes just once and hadn’t used Brad Boxberger, Kevin Jepsen, Steve Geltz, or Ernesto Frieri a single time. We can debate whether they were right to leave those pitchers out, but without a fresh bullpen, they would not have beaten the Yankees on Wednesday afternoon. The relief arms stepped up in a huge way in the Rays’ 3-2 win in 13 innings.
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When each team manages just 7 hits in 13 innings, you know that there was not much offense in the game. The Rays took the first lead on a two-run triple by Kevin Kiermaier in the fourth inning, but the Yankees came back with solo homers from Chase Headley and Chris Young. Smyly allowed little else in the rest of his outing as he went 6 innings allowing 2 runs on 4 hits, striking out 10 while walking 1. Mistakes on those homers marred his start as he dueled to a draw with Michael Pineda, but his final line was still excellent. He hasn’t been at his sharpest quite yet, but we can see the signs of him returning to being the pitcher that he was after the Rays acquired him last season.
From there, it was a battle of the bullpens, and the Rays found a way to emerge victorious. Steve Geltz was unhittable in his outing, striking out all 5 batters he faced. Geltz had managed just a 5-5 strikeout to walk ratio in 8.2 innings since he had struck out all 4 hitters he saw on Opening Day, but the game reminds us that the strikeouts could start coming more consistently. Geltz did a great job using his slider and splitter to keep hitters off his fastball and help his record his first four K’s with the heater.
Kevin Jepsen then tossed 1.1 perfect innings with 3 groundouts to get the game to extra inning before Brad Boxberger entered the game and was sketchy. He allowed a pair of two-out walks in the 10th before he found a way to escape and then he was lifted for Brandon Gomes after allowing a leadoff single in the following frame. Luckily for the Rays, Gomes saved the day, tossing 2 shutout innings allowing just a hit. He would earn the win after the Rays finally rallied in the 13th inning.
The Rays couldn’t manage a single baserunner against the first four Yankees relievers they saw. Andrew Miller led the way for New York as usual, using just 23 pitches to toss 2 perfect innings with 3 strikeouts. The Rays finally managed a walk against Chris Martin in the 11th and another one against lefty Chasen Shreve in the 12th, but both times they failed to score. The 13th looked like it would be more of the same when Steven Souza walked against Shreve but ended up on second base with two outs and Evan Longoria coming to the plate.
The Yankees decided to walk Longoria to bring up James Loney, but there were two inherent risks on that. Firstly, Loney may be the best Ray at using the whole field with runners in scoring position, and secondly, intentional walks can cause a pitcher to lose his arm slot. The second may have held true in this situation as Shreve got behind Loney 3-1. Shreve then located a slider for a called strike, but that did afford the Rays a critical advantage: their two runners on would be going on the 3-2 pitch.
Shreve threw a third straight slider to Loney, and Loney drilled a hard groundball. Stephen Drew came up with it on a dive in shallow right field, but he had no chance to throw Loney out at first as Souza headed towards home plate. Drew double-clutched before throwing home, but by then it was too late–and Souza may have been safe even if he had been throwing home the whole time. Souza had a rough game, going 0 for 5 with 3 strikeouts as his average dipped to .237, but it was his hustle in conjunction with Loney’s hit that won the Rays this game.
Ernesto Frieri forced Alex Rodriguez to hit into a double play to end the game in the bottom of the frame for his second save as the Tampa Bay Rays beat the New York Yankees 3-2. The Rays will be off tomorrow before continuing their road trip in an unusual location: Tropicana Field. The Rays will be wearing their road uniforms as they take on the Baltimore Orioles, but with general admission seats just $15 apiece, it may be worth hitting the road to see them play.