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Tampa Bay Rays Game 136: Yankees Roar Back Vs. Archer

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It was funny to hear people talking about how good Chris Archer was looking for the Tampa Bay Rays through the first five innings. According to his line to that point in the contest–just 1 hit and 1 walk allowed while striking out 4–that was true. However, glancing even one step beyond that made it clear that Archer was not operating with his best stuff. The Rays’ hope was that Archer would continue to battle and keep the Yankees off the board, but there was plenty of reason of skeptical. This time, the skeptics won out as the Rays lost the game and the series to New York.

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There is a dead giveaway that distinguishes the games where something is off for Archer: he uses his changeup more. In this game, Archer threw 16 changeups, his most since June 18, 2013. The reasons were simple: he had no command of his fastball and could only consistently throw his slider for strikes in one spot. Many of Archer’s strikes with his fastball came on pitches right down the middle–he missed too often when he tried to spot it down and away to hitters of either side and when he tried to elicit swings on pitches up. His slider, meanwhile, was missing down except for when he threw it to the outside corner against right-handed batters (which is the same as the inside corner against lefties).

Archer’s pure stuff and the occasional changeup were enough to keep the Yankees off-balance through two times around the batting order, but by the third, they had figured him out given his deficiencies. With two outs in the sixth inning and a runner on first after Jacoby Ellsbury had singled on a changeup, Carlos Beltran took two fastballs and two sliders out of the zone to draw a walk. Archer then got behind Brian McCann 3-0 before leaving a 3-1 fastball middle-in and watching it go for a game-tying three-run homer. Then Alex Rodriguez took one of those sliders on the outside corner and drilled it for a second straight homer to give the Yankees the lead.

Kevin Cash was really put in a tough situation because Archer had generated good results through the first five innings and had thrown just 55 pitches. People would have been nothing short of perplexed if Archer had been pulled as the Yankees lineup wrapped back around to the top in the sixth. In addition, this isn’t just a public perception thing–Archer has had quite a few games where his arsenal has tightened up in later innings, and Cash and Jim Hickey were expecting something similar to happen. They couldn’t pull their ace unless they had to.

However, Archer’s command didn’t improve and he simply didn’t have the crispness to face the middle of the Yankee order again. It is as simple as that. Don’t blame Archer for collapsing–his stuff didn’t get any worse in that sixth inning. Don’t blame Cash and Hickey either because no one would remove their ace after five shutout innings. The only thing to be upset about is the fact that it was Archer delivering this start and not a guy like Nate Karns, who the Rays have been willing to replace even after five great frames.

The Yankees extended their lead to 5-3 in the seventh as Logan Forsythe made a critical mistake. Forsythe is a great defensive second baseman and made a great stop on a Greg Bird groundball in the second inning, but he simply tried to do too much on Brett Gardner‘s grounder with runners on first and second and one out in the seventh. He fielded Gardner’s hit and stepped on second base for the force, but he decided to throw to first base to try to double up Gardner even though Gardner was going to beat out the play by a mile. The throw was wild, allowing Didi Gregorius to score.

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Let me clarify something about that play. If say Alex Rodriguez had hit that groundball and was jogging down the line, then Forsythe absolutely should have thrown to first. Forsythe would have had a real chance to get Enny Romero out of the inning, and that would be worth the risk of a wild throw. With a speedy runner like Gardner coming down the line, on the other hand, there was no reason at all for that throw to be made. It was a unnecessary risk with a minuscule probability of leading to anything good for the Rays. It especially stung after Asdrubal Cabrera homered off Dellin Betances in the top of the eighth to pull the Rays within a run.

The Yankees made it a 6-4 game in the bottom of the frame as C.J. Riefenhauser couldn’t strand all three runners he inherited from Steve Geltz, who failed to record an out. Didi Gregorius’ soft liner was barely out of Riefenhauser’s reach to allow pinch-runner Rico Noel to score. Riefenhauser did look good overall, showing off a slider-heavy approach to hold New York to just that one run. With a little bit of luck, he might have even got out of that jam unscathed.

The Tampa Bay Rays did generate a little bit of ninth-inning excitement against New York closer Andrew Miller, getting two-out singles from Mikie Mahtook and Evan Longoria, but Brandon Guyer struck out on a nasty breaking ball to end the game as the Yankees won 6-4. It was rough for the Rays to lose after holding that 3-0 lead through five innings. Kevin Kiermaier delivered a big two-run home run while Forsythe came through with a two-out RBI single, but the struggles of Archer proved to be too much when combined with Forsythe’s mistake and Geltz’s inability to retire anyone.

The Rays will play a Labor Day matinee against the Detroit Tigers tomorrow at 1:08 PM, with Drew Smyly taking the ball against his ex-team’s Randy Wolf.

Next: Tampa Bay Rays MiLB Recap: P-Rays Advance To League Championship

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