Tampa Bay Rays Game 152: Steven Souza Jr. Comes Alive

By Robbie Knopf

While the Tampa Bay Rays’ 2015 season still has 10 games remaining and they are not mathematically eliminated from the Wild Card yet, more of our focus has to be on 2016 than this year at this point. Luckily, the Rays have been giving fans plenty of good things to think about. On Tuesday night, Matt Moore looked sharp for the second straight outing while on Wednesday, it was Steven Souza Jr. and Drew Smyly stepping up.

Souza has needed a game like this for a long time. His home run in the ninth inning was his first since July 4th–what’s sadder, that or the fact that Evan Longoria didn’t pass him for the team lead in homers until September 2nd? In any event, Souza did a lot more than homer as he finished 4 for 5 with a pair of runs scored. We aren’t talking him hitting dribblers either–even the out was a lineout. Souza could especially benefit from the Rays’ shift in approach to be more aggressive, and the hope is that he can finish strongly and be a big part of the Rays’ success next season.

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Smyly, meanwhile, kept up his remarkable streak since returning from the DL. Here are his runs allowed in his starts: 5, 0, 4, 0, 4, 0, 5, and now 0 again. Yes, he has tossed shutout baseball in every other start. It was as difficult as ever for Smyly to keep the opposition off the board in this one as he gave up 5 hits and 3 walks in 6.1 innings while striking out 7. He was able to strand two runners in the first inning and the bases loaded in the fourth before Andrew Bellatti stranded the two runners that he inherited from Smyly in the seventh. Smyly was able to use an excellent curveball to make up for iffy command of his fastball within the zone.

We also have a bunch of clutch hits to talk about. Daniel Nava gave the Rays a 1-0 lead in the seventh when he hit a Rick Porcello sinker for a groundball just out of Dustin Pedroia‘s reach. The Rays had issues breaking through against Porcello throughout his start, but it was Nava coming through with the big hit against his former team to finally get the ball rolling. The Rays then took advantage of a Deven Marrero error in the eighth as they scored one run on the play and two more on John Jaso‘s double later in the inning. Asdrubal Cabrera and Souza finished off the Rays’ scoring with solo homers in the ninth.

Finally, there was a bullpen collapse, but it won’t go down as the story of this game as the Rays’ built-up 6-0 lead proved to be enough. Kirby Yates got the first two outs of the ninth before giving up a Jackie Bradley walk, a Mookie Betts RBI single that got Betts all the way to third on a Kevin Kiermaier throwing error, another walk to Pedroia, and a Xander Bogaerts RBI single. Brad Boxberger had to come in to get David Ortiz, and luckily he did so successfully.

At 74-78, the Rays still have a chance to finish at .500 or better and make the end of their season more interesting. They will hope to build on their two consecutive wins against the Red Sox tomorrow at 7:10 PM as they start Erasmo Ramirez against Wade Miley.

Next: Tampa Bay Rays: Quantifying the Team’s Bad Luck