When the Tampa Bay Rays win a game 1-0 or 2-1, a sensible reaction is “That’s great, a win is a win, but this team needs to score more runs.” The reaction should be quite similar after the victories that the Rays have pulled off in their last two games, but it has actually been the bats coming up in the clutch to make up for some questionable pitching. The difference between the two types of games, though, is how fans and even the players feel afterwards. The Rays pulled off a huge win in their series opener against the Chicago White Sox, and while they followed a game plan that they can’t count on continuing to execute, their confidence is only continuing to rise.
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Logan Forsythe gave Nate Karns a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning on an RBI double, and then he added a sac fly to make it 2-0 in the fifth. Karns was sharp, striking out 7 while allowing just 2 hits and 3 walks, but he hung a curveball to the dangerous Jose Abreu and it didn’t come back, going for a game-tying two-run home run. Karns delivered some of his best curves of the season in this game, but he got too cute throwing secondary pitches to Abreu in both the fourth and sixth innings as he allowed a double (the first hit he allowed in the game) and the homer. That brought Karns’ outing to an end after 5.1 innings even though he had pitched so well, and the Rays entrusted their bullpen to give them a chance to retake the lead.
The Rays went right back ahead 3-2 under interesting circumstances. The Rays had Grady Sizemore, he of the .234/.289/.343 line the last two years, pinch-hit for Brandon Guyer against White Sox reliever Jake Petricka. Sizemore was going to have the platoon advantage, but by all accounts, Guyer is the better player, even against right-handed pitching. However, the Rays apparently knew what they were doing as Sizemore drilled a double and advanced to third on an error. John Jaso was then robbed on a nice play by Adam LaRoche at first, but Evan Longoria came through with a go-ahead RBI double.
But after none other than Brandon Gomes had pitched the final two thirds of the sixth inning without incident, the Rays bullpen did experience troubles of its own in the bottom of the seventh. After Xavier Cedeno struck out LaRoche, Steve Geltz was hit hard, allowing an Avisail Garcia double and a two-run homer by Carlos Sanchez to put Chicago ahead 4-3. The Rays had pulled their starter early to disastrous results, but this game was different than most times that we have said that. Sizemore’s magic continued in the top of the eighth as he improbably drilled a game-tying homer in a left-on-left matchup with Zach Duke.
After Jake McGee delivered a perfect frame, the Rays then went ahead in the ninth. With one out against David Robertson, Forsythe walked and got as far as third base on Asdrubal Cabrera‘s single. However, James Loney was unable to be the hero for the second straight game, striking out, leaving it up to rookie outfielder Mikie Mahtook. Mahtook seized the opportunity as Robertson hanged a curveball and Mahtook hit a line drive single to bring Forsythe home. Unfortunately, the bottom of the ninth would be anything but easy for Brad Boxberger.
Boxberger, fresh off striking out the side on 13 pitches in Boston on Sunday, allowed a leadoff single to Alexei Ramirez on a fastball that didn’t get up enough. Up came LaRoche and lined a single to center, but the White Sox for some reason decided to have Ramirez, who had stolen second base, try to score on Kevin Kiermaier‘s arm. That proved to be a fatal mistake as Kiermaier threw out Ramirez by a good margin with help from Curt Casali making a nice scoop. Boxberger then overpowered Garcia for a strikeout before Sanchez’s liner landed in Mahtook’s glove to finish the win.
Let’s count some of the notable bizarre things from this game that helped the Rays. 1) Sizemore doubling in a huge situation. 2) Sizemore drilling a game-tying home run, 3) Robertson issuing a rare walk to Forsythe, 4) Robertson hanging a curveball to Mahtook after blowing by him with a first-pitch cutter, 5) the White Sox sending Ramirez from third base, and 6) Mahtook catching Sanchez’s line drive. It took a lot of things to go right for the Rays to win this game, but it was sure was satisfying when they all fell into place.
The Rays’ big bats, Longoria and Forsythe, led the offense by going 3 for 5 with a double and an RBI and 2 for 3 with a walk, 2 RBI, and a run scored respectively. Also delivering multi-hit games were Sizemore, Cabrera, and Joey Butler, who surprisingly went 2 for 3 with a double and 2 runs scored. You can make that 7) on the list above–who would have thought that the struggling Butler would play that well?
As you know, this was also Richie Shaffer‘s major league debut, and he finished 0 for 2 with a hit-by-pitch, a walk, and 2 strikeouts. He may have been trying to do a little bit too much and elongated his swing in the process, but he worked great at-bats and it was great to see him come back from 1-2 to walk against a tough reliever in Petricka in the seventh. There is no guarantee that Shaffer can hit major league pitching right now, but he showed reason for encouragement and hopefully that last plate appearance is a sign of things to come.
The win takes the Rays within 2 games of the second AL Wild Card spot, and they will hope to gain further ground tomorrow night. It will be a battle of aces as Chris Archer takes on Chris Sale in a game set to begin at 8:10 EST.