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Tampa Bay Rays Game 54: Kevin Kiermaier’s Homer Wins It in 10

By Robbie Knopf
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The best way to describe Wednesday night’s game for the Tampa Bay Rays is ugly. They received a bad start from Nate Karns, and Brad Boxberger blew his first save of the season in the ninth. However, unlike what we have seen time and again from this team, this contest went down as a “ugly win.” We know how dominant the Rays can be at its best between dominant pitching and majestic home runs. However, if they are going anywhere this season, they better have several more wins like this in store in the coming weeks and months.

Karns went 5 innings allowing 4 runs on 5 hits, striking out 3 and walking 3 as well. Mike Trout and Johnny Giavotella both tagged him for home runs. Karns entered this game having pitching to a 1.89 ERA in his last six starts, allowing two runs or less in each game, but everyone is due for a clunker every once in a while. The problem for Karns in this game was that he had nothing on his changeup, making him into a two-pitch pitcher, and he’s no Chris Archer when he is reduced to that. He should be fine next outing.

The Rays found themselves down 4-0 entering the sixth inning after lefty Hector Santiago had held them to 2 hits, a walk, and a hit batsman through 5 innings of work. However, things drastically began to change immediately. After Brandon Guyer was hit by a pitch, Joey Butler found a hanging changeup and drilled it just to the right of dead center for a two-run home run. Evan Longoria singled and Logan Forsythe walked before Steven Souza Jr. continued his power surge on a high flyball into the seats in left for a three-run blast.

The Rays’ win looked like it would be pretty after that half-inning and Asdrubal Cabrera‘s play in the bottom half of the frame. With one out and David Freese on second base, Carlos Perez hit a groundball up the middle that Cabrera was able to knock down but not field cleanly. As the ball got away from Cabrera a little bit, Freese rounded third and attempted to score, but Cabrera recovered quickly to throw home and cut down Freese at the plate. The Rays’ lead remained intact.

Brandon Gomes tossed a scoreless sixth with the help of Cabrera before Jake McGee struck out 2 in a perfect seventh. Kevin Jepsen allowed a pair of hits, but Evan Longoria was able to catch Kole Calhoun over-sliding second base on Souza’s throw to third, and Brad Boxberger came in to record the last out of the inning. However, Boxberger didn’t have it in the ninth, allowing 2 singles, 2 walks, and a sacrifice fly. If Taylor Featherston had not been caught stealing with nobody out, things could have been much worse. Boxberger got Albert Pujols to keep the game tied.

Bad starts and rough games from the bullpen–we are used to one or the other, but usually not both. To be fair, the Rays’ relief corps had tossed 3 shutout innings entering the ninth, but Boxberger’s blown save threatened to make the comeback in the sixth inning go for nought. Had the Rays come all the way back just to lose this game and the best-of-three series to the Angels? Luckily for the fans who stayed up to watch, there was more excitement in store.

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Kevin Kiermaier entered the game in the seventh inning and grounded out as a pinch-hitter for Brandon Guyer. It was surprising that he was pinch-hitting to begin with. He had the platoon advantage against righty Cam Bedrosian, but he entered the game with just a .233/.273/.387 line on the season and a .232/.278/.408 line versus righties that was just moderately better. In his last 99 plate appearances entering the game, he was hitting just .185/.235/.272. He was set to receive some days off with the Rays facing left-handed starters, and it looked like that would be for the best. He needed to clear his head.

Yet Cash pinch-hit Kiermaier anyway, and up he came up again in the 10th inning against Angels closer Huston Street. He got ahead 2-1 in the count before Street left a sinker up and he crushed it. Kiermaier’s homer into the right field seats gave the Rays the lead and may just be a turning point in his season. They will never ask Kiermaier for much at the plate given his spectacular defense, but the hope is that he can relax and take his offensive performance up another notch.

Steve Geltz got past a walk and a Matt Joyce sacrifice bunt in the bottom of the 10th for save as the Tampa Bay Rays won the game 6-5. The victory takes the team to 28-26, and the Rays also managed to win their second consecutive series. Next up are the Seattle Mariners, who are fresh off a three-game sweep at the hands of the New York Yankees. It will be ex-Mariner Erasmo Ramirez against lefty Roenis Elias in the opener at 10:05 PM EST.

Next: Tampa Bay Rays: Brandon Guyer’s Breakout and Its Complications

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