While not a monster blast, Ji-Man Choi ripped his first homer of the second half on Friday. (Photo Credit: Tampa Bay Rays)

Not wanting to fall 2.5 behind the Boston Red Sox, who won their contest last night, the Tampa Bay Rays came from behind to defeat Atlanta, 7-6, in extra innings.

At 54-37 on the season, Tampa Bay enters play 17-games over .500 and is still 1.5 games back in the division. They won just their fourth extra-inning contest in 13 tries, while Atlanta fell to 2-11 against the AL East, and is 2-7 in extra-inning contests.

Michael Wacha got the start Friday and allowed four runs on five hits and two walks while striking out five across four innings. Wacha held Atlanta scoreless for the first three innings but allowed two home runs in the third to give them a 3-2 lead. The right-hander was pulled in the fifth inning after he surrendered a leadoff single which came around to score when Freddie Freeman launched a two-run homer against J.P. Feyereisen, who took over for Wacha in relief. Wacha has been quite unpredictable this season; over his last four outings, he’s had two in which he’s allowed one run or less and two in which he’s allowed at least four runs. Wacha stands at a 5.14 ERA and a 4.90 FIP, with a 1.35 WHIP, and a 3.06 K/BB over 61.1 innings on the season.

The Rays opened the scoring in the second inning against Charlie Morton. After Austin Meadows was hit by a pitch, and moved into third when Joey Wendle doubled down the right-field line, Kevin Kiermaier hit an RBI grounder.

A few pitches later, Mike Zunino followed with a slowly-hit RBI groundout to third for a two-run advantage. Morton threw 33 pitches in the frame, yet, he left the bases juiced when he struck out Ji-Man Choi.

Down by one in the fifth, Tampa Bay got a run back when Choi lashed an opposite-field homer to left, tying the game at three. Later in the frame, Zunino just missed a three-run homer — flying out at the base of the wall in left field.

Yet, Atlanta moved ahead against Wacha and Feyereisen (mentioned above). It was the first run against the Rays’ bullpen in 22.1 innings.

Still, Tampa Bay was able to get within a run in the seventh inning after Wander Franco hit a one-out triple to right off AJ Minter.

Austin Meadows followed with a sacrifice fly to left, making it a one-run contest.

They also loaded the bases that inning after Minter walked Wendle and Kiermaier, and Zunino was hit by a Luke Jackson pitch. However, Taylor Walls grounded into the shift to end the threat.

As fate would have it though, Atlanta answered in the bottom of the inning against Drew Rasmussen, who previously posted a scoreless sixth. The rally started with a one-out Freeman hit. Then with a pair of outs, Austin Riley lined a base hit into left, while Orlando Arcia followed with an RBI single to right, putting Atlanta up by two.

Down by a pair in the eighth, Tampa Bay rallied to tie the game against singer/songwriter reliever Chris Martin. Brandon Lowe kicked things off with a one-out single to center before Franco, Meadows, and Wendle collected back-to-back-to-back singles — with the last two driving home a couple of runs.

Kiermaier grounded out to keep the game even.

Finally, since the speedy Brett Phillips ended the ninth as the batter, he began the 10th inning at second base. Lowe earned a four-pitch free pass against Jesse Chavez, yet Choi struck out looking at a fastball on the outside corner. Franco followed by flying out to left for the second out of the frame, as the “here we go again” feeling crept in the collective fanbase. Yet, Meadows, who ended the night with three RBI, lined a single through the right side for the go-ahead lead.

That put Matt Wisler on the winning side of the ledger after he worked a pair of scoreless frames to send the game into extra innings. Wisler allowed just one hit while striking out three. Pete Fairbanks took over in the tenth and retired all three batters he faced without allowing Riley to advance past second base.

The New What Next

Josh Fleming (7-4, 3.26 ERA) will make the traditional start for the Rays on Saturday, pitching opposite of Max Fried (6-5, 4.71 ERA).

Josh Fleming followed Collin McHugh in the combined no-hitter against Cleveland on Wednesday and allowed the first batter he faced to reach after Oscar Mercado hit a ground ball into the hole on the left side. Wander Franco and Taylor Walls collided while attempting to field the ball. And while it was originally ruled an infield hit, the play was later changed to an error on Franco. Much to Terry Francona’s chagrin though, Mercado was erased after Walls started a terrific 6-4-3 double play on a diving stop to his left (swipe through the embedded Instagram post above for the video). It would be the only base runner the left-hander would allow over 2.2 frames until the fifth inning when he walked Owen Miller with two outs. Fleming lowered his ERA to 3.26 and his FIP to 4.10 with a 1.03 WHIP and a 2.47 K/BB across 69 innings this year.

Max Fried coughed up six runs on seven hits and two walks over five-plus innings against the Pirates in his last start. He struck out five. The southpaw kept things close until he hit the wall in the sixth inning and served up four consecutive hits before getting the hook, with all four runners eventually coming around to score. In 13 trips to the mound this season, he’s been tagged for five or more runs four times. Fried maintains a 4.71 ERA and a 4.14 FIP on the season, with a 1.39 WHIP and a 2.88 K/BB across 72.2 innings. He is 1-0 with a 1.35 ERA in one career start against Tampa Bay. Friend relies primarily on a 94 mph four-seam fastball with heavy sinking action, a 75 mph curveball with exceptional bite glove-side movement, and an 85 mph sweeping slider, while also mixing in a 93 mph sinker. Key Matchup: Francisco Mejía (1-3)

You can read about the series in our preview, while the starting lineup is below.

Rays 7/17/21 Starting Lineup

  1. Díaz 3B
  2. Franco 2B
  3. Meadows LF
  4. Arozarena RF
  5. Choi 1B
  6. Mejía C
  7. Phillips CF
  8. Walls SS
  9. Fleming LHP

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