The results of Spring Training games usually do not matter, but sometimes, they can grab one’s attention. Yesterday’s performance by the Tampa Bay Rays did exactly that.
Usually, when a team scores 19 runs in a game, that would be the main story. The Tampa Bay Rays did that yesterday in their Spring Training matchup with the Minnesota Twins, as they set a franchise record for the most runs in a Grapefruit League game. Yet, despite the fireworks provided by Jake Bauers, who hit a grand slam, the Rays pitching was the most impressive part of the afternoon.
Yes, it was a game at the end of February. And yes, typically hitters are working on their swings at this time of year. And, pitchers are usually ahead of hitters in the early days of Spring Training. All of those caveats apply here as well.
But when a team has a possible perfect game on the line, regardless of the time of year, it makes one pay attention. That was the case for the Rays yesterday, as they fired seven perfect frames against the Twins. While it was not their likely Opening Day lineup, some of the Twins projected regulars, such as Byron Buxton, Max Kepler, and Miguel Sano, were on the field for this contest.
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It took until the top of the eighth for the Twins to get any offense. Neil Wagner, who spent most of last season in Durham for the Rays, entered in the eighth and promptly allowed a base hit to Benji Gonzalez. The Twins would not score, but they did manage three hits and a walk off of Wagner.
As impressive as the cumulative performance was, the positive signs to come from the outing were even more important. Alex Cobb looked sharp as he struck out two batters in his two innings. David Carpenter continued his comeback with a perfect fourth inning, notching a strikeout. Seeing those two pitchers have positive results, given the questions of their health, was a great sign for the coming season.
Sometimes, teams can find a spark for the season in seemingly random places. That spark can even come in Spring Training, as the result of an incident or just a dramatic victory. In the Rays case, this dominant performance, coupled with Cobb and Carpenter looking like their old selves, might give them a little added confidence to start the year.
Yes, it is a Spring Training game, and it means absolutely nothing. For the Tampa Bay Rays, however, it could be a springboard for a surprising season.