The Tampa Bay Rays were going to waste another strong start from Chris Archer. He had tossed 6 innings allowing just 1 run on 5 hits, striking out 9 while walking 2, but that still wasn’t good enough. He gave up a Chris Davis RBI double in the top of the fourth, and after the Rays stranded Evan Longoria at second base in the bottom of the frame, they never got another runner into scoring position against Chris Tillman. Xavier Cedeno and Alex Colome were excellent in relief of Archer, each striking out 2 in a hitless frame, but it all seemed irrelevant because the Rays weren’t going to score.
But then the bottom of the eighth began and Kevin Kiermaier drew a walk. It was progress, though we have seen the Rays strand many a baserunner. Darren O’Day came in to replace Tillman, and though Joey Butler hit the ball well to the opposite field, Adam Jones was able to run it down in right-center. Kiermaier then stole second, his 11th steal in 12 tries, but Steven Souza Jr. followed with a vintage looking strikeout on a nasty slider from O’Day, and it looked like the Rays were just tantalizing us again. They weren’t going to score.
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The Rays then received a break on a 1-1 fastball from O’Day to John Jaso that was called a ball even though it certainly looked like a strike. Between O’Day’s crazy arm slot and a less-than-perfect frame from Caleb Joseph, Jaso was ahead in the count. And he wasted no time in cashing in, drilling a single up the middle to score Kiermaier to tie the game. Up came Evan Longoria and missed a couple of mistake pitches from O’Day. The concerns continue about whether he can return to hitting the ball with more authority. However, he managed to put a 2-2 slider in play and dunked in a bloop hit just past Ryan Flaherty. Through luck and just enough skill, the inning was still going.
James Loney provided additional hope as a left-handed bat against O’Day, but O’Day gave him nothing to hit and threw the fourth ball of his four-pitch walk intentionally out of the zone. Up came Tim Beckham, who had never faced O’Day before and hadn’t delivered a signature moment in months and months. He got behind 0-2 and it was difficult to have much hope. At least the Rays tied the game. They are due to win a game like this one of these times–maybe next inning will be better. Beckham, though, had other intentions. He hit a hard groundball off the mound, two runs scored, and the Rays led the contest 3-1.
Jake McGee prompted a little bit more concern in the top of the ninth, seeing his fastball dip to just 91 MPH before he gave up a leadoff single to J.J. Hardy. Then, with two outs and Hardy on second base, he got behind in the count 3-1 to Jonathan Schoop. Luckily he settled in from there, blowing two 95 MPH heaters past Schoop to seal the Rays’ 3-1 win.
Maybe it was all luck. It took so many things going right for the Tampa Bay Rays to win this game. Even amid arguably the Rays’ best win of the season, we still see the flaws, the strikeouts looking from Souza and the continued frustration for Longoria. The Rays still didn’t hit Chris Tillman at all. But even if this will never be a great offense and won’t even be an average one, they are better than they have played. Maybe confidence is all they need to return to a decent run output–at least three runs more consistently with a good amount of fours, fives, and even sixes. They found some of that confidence in this game, and hopefully it means something.