It’s been said that perception is everything. For example, take the Rays in the months of April, June, and August — months where Tampa Bay posted a sub .500, 36-44 record. On paper, it seemed unfathomable that the Rays would end the regular season with a 92-71 record, much less clinch a postseason berth. Yet here we sit on the cusp of the Rays fourth playoff appearance in six years, following a huge 5-2 win over the Texas Rangers, Monday night. How sweet it is. Game peripherals are below.
- David Price, oh my. A good amount of discussion concerning Price’s history against the Rangers led up to the game, and because of it, it would have been reasonable to assume that the game plan for him would have been to avoid any contact against the potent Rangers lineup. Contrary to that idea however, he sought out contact in the form of weak nubbers and jam shots. Forget that he didn’t seem to have much success with his secondary pitches, Price was very good. The Rays ace jammed the Rangers hitters in on the hands, intermittently pitching down and away to change the eye level and keep the them honest. Of the Rangers seven total hits, only three were hit hard. The other four were lucky bloops that fell into no-mans land. It would also be reasonable assume that the Rangers would be aggressive on the base paths, and Price did an outstanding job neutralizing any running threat by picking off a pair of runners (more on that in the next bullet). The Rangers had a few opportunities to get back in the game, but those uprisings were shutdown. Take the bottom of the eighth for example. Maddon sent Price back out to start the inning with Joel Peralta warming in the pen. The initial thought was that he would just face the lefty, Leonys Martin, then pull him in favor of Peralta. Martin tried to bunt a soft liner to second base. Next up was Kinsler, who pulled a fastball past third base and against the side wall. DeJesus misplayed it into a double, yet Maddon trusted his ace to get out of the jam — and get out of the jam he did. Price fielded an Elvis Andrus bunt to first, then quickly got ground out to end the inning.
- With a 2-1 count and Alex Rios at the plate, Price threw over to first to keep Elvis Andrus close. He threw over again, then he held set just a bit longer to see if he could catch Andrus leaning. He did. Price hedged the bet, and threw to first once more. This time Loney blocked Andrus’s dive with his leg as he received the throw, wiping the bases clean. A couple of innings late with the Rangers threatening, Ian Kinsler also thought he had Price timed up, but he didn’t. Kinsler took off before Price started his motion to the plate, and Price was able to see him and throw to first, putting Kinsler in an inning ending rundown. These two plays were incredibly important, considering the problems the Rays catching staff have had gunning runners down at the plate this year.
- The swarm…ish. Tampa Bay got things started early with a one run first. Granted they had an opportunity to tag Perez for more than one run in the inning, that they were able to reach base four times in the first (three singles and a walk) deflated the hopes of Ron Washington, that the Rangers starter would comfortably settle in. Desmond Jennings lead off the third inning with a walk, and Evan Longoria followed a couple outs later with a two-run shot, on a low and inside pitch, driving it 402 feet to the opposite field. With Alexi Ogando on in relief in the sixth, Longo came up big again, driving an outside fastball to the opposite field again, this time for a double. David DeJesus came in to pinch hit for Sean Rodriguez an out later, and did what he’s done so well of late: Ripping a 96 MPH fastball down the right-field line for an RBI double — giving the Rays a 4-1 advantage. Tampa Bay was able to tack on an important insurance run in the eighth, thanks to Sam Fuld. Super Sam lined a Tanner Scheppers fastball up the middle for a single, and Wil Myers was able to move him over on a fielder’s choice. Fuld noticed Schepper’s wide stance on the mound and decided to take advantage, handily swiping third. In a heads up play, Fuld noticed that the throw to third on the steal would be an errant one, and headed home — crossing the plate standing up.
- About that trap. The Rays put two men aboard against Jason Frasor in the top of the seventh. With two outs and Delmon Young at the plate, Ron Washington pulled Frasor in favor of former Royals closer Joakim Soria. Young responded to the change well, sending a sinking line drive into center field. Martin charged and “cleanly fielded the ball” to get out of the inning. Apparently none of the six umpires could get the plainly obvious call right (see the GIF below). In the end, the geeked call didn’t effect the outcome of the game. However, this one was indicative of the poor calls that have hampered the Rays all season.
The New What Next
The Rays earned their way into the postseason after 163 games. They’ll head to Cleveland to face the Indians in the one game Wildcard tomorrow evening. We’ll put together the preview shortly. Until then bask in this win, Rays fans.