The Tampa Bay Rays finish the 2015 season at 80-82, three games better than last season. As we discussed, they were more than one game below .500 in just one month, July, and they actually won their season series with the Toronto Blue Jays 10 victories to nine. They closed the season out with another instance of Game 162 magic, scoring nine runs in the first inning on their way to a 12-3 victory.
Before this game, Joey Butler hadn’t hit driven in a single run since August 30th and hadn’t driven in two in one game since June 12th. Since June 24th, he had endured one of the worst stretches you will ever hear about, hitting to just a .162/.231/.182 line in 108 plate appearances. His days carrying the Rays’ offense weren’t forgotten, but it was hard to believe that they had truly taken place. They were like a fleeting dream too preposterous to have actually happened. Then, as has transpired in many a movie, we saw proof that it was real, that Butler was truly capable of hitting like that.
Butler drilled a grand slam in the first inning and a two-run homer in the fifth to cap a 3-for-4 performance with 6 RBI and 2 runs scored. One spectacular game can’t erase several poor months and Butler certainly didn’t save his roster spot. Even so, Butler reminded all 30 major league teams that he still may have something to contribute and Rays fans certainly appreciated the excitement he gave them. There is no better time than the final game of the season to get lost in a moment and forget about the long-term implications. Joey Butler had quite a game.
Longtime Rays nemesis Mark Buehrle took the mound for Toronto hoping to throw two innings to notch 200 frames for the 15th straight year. The Rays were able to ruin that with some help from the Blue Jays’ defense. Ex-Blue Jay Dewayne Wise robbed a home run to help Buehrle notch his perfect game against the Rays, but this contest was a different story. Errors from Ryan Goins and Edwin Encarnacion gave the Rays the bases loaded with a run in and one out in the first inning instead of ending the frame. Out number four came on a James Loney popout, but then the Rays began pouring it on.
Buehrle departed the game after giving up a bases-loaded walk to Tim Beckham, Butler’s grand slam, Luke Maile‘s double, and Brandon Guyer‘s RBI single. Mikie Mahtook then capped the scoring in the frame with a two-run homer off Ryan Tepera. The grand slam was the first of the season for the Rays–they couldn’t have procrastinated much longer–and, as Marc Topkin detailed, it was their most runs scored in one inning since 2008.
The Rays added three more runs in the fifth inning to remind everyone that they are not just a one-inning wonder, but the other big story of the game was Matt Moore. This start wasn’t as pretty for him as his previous three had been as he walked 4 batters to match his 4 strikeouts and gave up a Chris Colabello home run, but he battled to pitch well again. He finished with 1 run allowed on 4 hits in 6 innings of work, throwing 96 pitches in the process.
Moore had issues with his curveball, changeup, and cutter as he was only able to use them 22 times combined. He was especially fastball-dependent, and that was an issue considering that he had some issues throwing the pitch for strikes. On the other hand, he averaged over 93 MPH with his fastball, hitting as high as 96.4 MPH, and dared the Blue Jays to beat him. Other than Colabello’s blast, they were unable to do so as he gave the Rays another great outing. Moore’s confidence is sky-high as he begin preparation for his first full season back from Tommy John Surgery.
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Matt Andriese also pitched well, tossing 2 innings giving up just a hit and a hit while striking out 3. He forced 2 more outs on the ground. Injuries gave Andriese a much bigger role than expected with the Rays, and he had to contend with the issues of inconsistent usage and a sudden conversion to the bullpen in addition to the challenge of facing big leaguers for the first time. His performance in August and much of September was disappointing, but it was nice to see him finish strongly and remind us how good he was earlier in the year. His next objective will be to earn a spot on the team for 2016.
Evan Longoria also notched one more Game 162 hit, going 1 for 2 with a run, while Mikie Mahtook went 2 for 5 with his homer, James Loney went 2 for 4, and Luke Maile had a 2-for-4 game with a double and a run scored. Maile didn’t hit much in his first big league stint, but he did finish 4 for his last 7. The win gives the Tampa Bay Rays their aforementioned 80-82 record in 2015 and also a 42-42 record at home to end the year. They played 84 home games because of the three-game series with the Orioles that was moved to Tropicana Field.
It seems so strange to stop writing this piece and officially conclude this season in my mind, but that is exactly what I have to do. Somehow this is my fifth year covering this team. Thank you for your support, and we will start evaluating players’ seasons and discussing the Rays’ next steps in the coming days.