The pitching matchup for the rubber game of the Tampa Bay Rays vs. New York Mets series was between pitchers who could not be more different. The Rays’ Chris Archer is a young, trim hard-thrower with a 96 MPH fastball that is complemented by a great slider and a rare changeup. The Mets’ Bartolo Colon, meanwhile, is a veteran who is probably just a biscuit less than 300 pounds who throws an 89 MPH “heater” with impeccable command on just about every pitch. Coming into this game, Colon had walked only 14 batters in 120 innings and five of those were intentional. The game itself proved to be just as interesting as the juxtaposition of the two arms.
For the second time in as many games, the Rays fell behind in the early innings. After striking out the side in the first inning, Archer walked four straight Mets in the second frame to force in the game’s first run. That strange occurrence was followed by a Daniel Murphy two-run single that made the score 3-0 Mets. Archer looked out of sorts for a series of five batters and was not helped by a ridiculously tight strike zone by home plate umpire Tom Wooding.
Archer quickly got back in the groove and went on to strike out 10 batters in 6 innings, not allowing another run. It is a testament to his maturity that he was able to compose himself after one of the worse innings we have seen from him in a long time. He finished with 116 pitches as he got past his 44-pitch second inning to give the Rays yet another quality start. And as Archer returned to his usual level of dominance, the Rays fought their way back into the game.
In the bottom of the third, the Rays came roaring back with a Richie Shaffer single, a flyball by Rene Rivera that was misplayed into a double by ex-Ray Kelly Johnson, and a sacrifice fly by John Jaso. After Shaffer worked the count to 3-2 and came through with a single, each of the next three Rays hitters swung at the second pitch he saw from Colon. Their aggressiveness paid off to get the Rays on the board. Then, in the fifth, the Rays struck again with singles by Shaffer and Brandon Guyer followed by a double into the gap by Jaso to tie the game at three runs apiece.
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Richie Shaffer had sat against Mets right-handers Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard in the first two games of the Rays-Mets series, but the Rays decided to give him a chance against the soft-tossing Colon. Shaffer proceeded to get involved in the first two rallies with singles, but he was only getting started. In the seventh inning, Shaffer stepped to the plate and promptly drove a Colon fastball on a line into the left field stands for a solo home run that wound up being the game-winner. The rookie looked very good at the plate all day, and in that last at-bat, he took a series of breaking balls from Colon until he got a fastball. We wil have to see if Shaffer has showed the Rays enough to earn more regular playing time moving forward.
That left the game in the hands of the Rays’ bullpen and it was once again outstanding. Xavier Cedeno pitched the seventh, Steve Geltz the eighth, and Jake McGee the ninth for the save. The trio stranded two hits and one hit batsman to toss shutout ball, striking out three batters between them. It was the first time all season that McGee had worked three days in a row, and he showed no ill effects.
The Tampa Bay Rays’ new offensive approach of hitting pitches early in the count seems to be paying off. They look more comfortable at the plate, and you get the feeling that they can score at any time. Fans have to hope that their turnaround didn’t take place too late in the season. One final note is that the three game series drew some 80,000 fans, with Saturday night’s game being the second sellout of the season after Opening Day. That’s almost as impressive as winning the series.