Ji-Man Choi’s walk-off home run gave the Rays their 12th consecutive home win, setting a new franchise record. (Photo Credit: Tampa Bay Rays)

The Tampa Bay Rays chased Corey Kluber in the second inning on Monday but eventually lost a three-run lead. Yet at the end of the day, the Rays won in the bottom of the ninth inning in dramatic fashion, as Ji-Man Choi hit a two-out, two-run walk-off homer against Brad Hand for a 6-5 victory. With the win, Tampa Bay set a new franchise record with 12 consecutive at home.

Cleveland took the initial lead in the first inning against opener Diego Castillo when Michael Brantley walked with one out, was wild pitched into scoring position, and moved up to third on a groundout. Edwin Encarnacion followed with a single to left, putting Cleveland in front. Although that was the only hit Castillo would allow, as the right-hander gave up just one hit in the first two innings.

Yet the Rays knocked perineal Cy Young Award contender Kluber out of the game in a four-run, 44-pitch second inning to take the lead. Joey Wendle started the rally with a one-out triple to right-center before Willy Adames hit a ground ball past a drawn-in infield to tie the game at one each. After Brandon Lowe went down looking for the second out, Jake Bauers worked a nine-pitch at-bat before he homered to right-center, his first since August 1.

Nick Ciuffo then doubled, Mallex Smith walked, and Pham had an infield hit, loading the bases before Ji-Man Choi was hit by a pitch, forcing home the fourth run — chasing Kluber.

From there Tyler Olson struck out CJ Cron to end the threat as the momentum swung back to Cleveland’s side. Olson, Oliver Perez, Dan Otero, and Andrew Miller combined for 4-1/3 innings of one-hit ball, striking out 10 batters along the way. The only hit they any of them allowed was a Mallex Smith double, which was erased when he unsuccessfully tried to steal third base to end the fourth inning.

However, Cleveland began its comeback in the fifth inning against Jalen Beeks, who boasted neither fastball command or control. After escaping a pair of threatening situations in his first two innings of work, Francisco Lindor hit a one-out single to right, and Michael Brantley doubled to right-center. Jose Ramirez followed by looping a ball into shallow centerfield that fell beyond Brandon Lowe and in front of Smith for a double, chasing Beeks after 2-1/3 innings (51 pitches, 33 strikes, 65% strike rate, 8/13 first-pitch strikes) and making it 4-2. Ryne Stanek and Adam Kolarek got the final two outs in the inning.

Cleveland tied the game in the sixth inning against Kolarek. Melky Cabrera led off the inning with a line drive single to right. Then with one out, Yan Gomes singled to left, bringing to the plate pinch hitter, and former Ray, Brandon Guyer. With runners at first and second, Guyer hit a two-run double over the head of Smith in centerfield, tying the game.

Cleveland capped their scoring in the seventh inning against Chaz Roe and took the lead in doing so. Roe hit Ramirez with a 3-2 pitch then stole second. After Encarnacion struck out, Ramirez swiped third with Yonder Alonso at the plate. With the infield drawn in, Lowe made a diving stop on a hard grounder to second. However, his throw was late, and Ramirez crossed the plate to take the late lead.

From there, Neil Ramirez pitched a scoreless seventh, and Cody Allen worked around a “runner on the corners” jam the eighth, setting the stage for the final frame.

Southpaw Brad Hand took the mound in the bottom of the ninth and quickly put down pinch-hitter Carlos Gomez and Smith for the first two outs of the inning. Nevertheless, Pham ground single through the right side to set up Choi, who crushed a 0-1 fastball into the right-field seats for Tampa Bay’s ninth walk-off win of the season.

Because both the Athletics and Mariners had off-days, the Rays were able to pick up a half-game on both, ending the night 7-1/2 games behind Oakland in the AL Wildcard race, and tied with the Mariners who previously stood between the Rays and A’s.

The New What Next

Tyler Glasnow (1-5, 4.64 ERA) will get the start for Tampa Bay in the second game of the series, pitching opposite of Shane Bieber (9-3, 4.63 ERA).

Glasnow was hit hard by the Blue Jays on Wednesday, allowing seven runs on five hits and two walks while recording just two outs. He struck out two. The right-hander just didn’t have it in this one, as Glasnow couldn’t make it out of the first inning. He issued a leadoff walk before allowing four of the next five batters to reach via base hits, putting Toronto up 3-0. Glasnow then served up a three-run homer to Aledmys Diaz. Adding insult to injury, the 25-year-old was almost out of the inning, but a wild pitch allowed Billy McKinney to reach base on a strikeout and Glasnow was chased after having thrown 39 pitches. The disastrous outing raised his ERA from 3.95 to 4.64.

Bieber allowed four runs (three earned) on seven hits and one walk while striking out six across 6-1/3 innings on Thursday against the Blue Jays. All four of the runs against Bieber came in the fourth inning when he allowed four of the first five batters he faced to reach base. It was an impressive outing for Bieber otherwise, as 15 of his 19 outs came on either groundballs or strikeouts, limiting Toronto’s chance to do damage. It was a welcome change for Bieber, who had failed to record a quality start in three of his past four starts. The Rays tagged Bieber for four runs on nine hits across 5-1/3 innings on September 1. Key Matchups: Willy Adames (1-2), Jake Bauers (1-2, 2B), Ji-Man Choi (2-3, 2 2B), Matt Duffy (1-3, 2B, 2 RBI), Brandon Lowe (1-2), Joey Wendle (2-3, 2B)

Rays 9/11/18 Starting Lineup

Smith CF
Pham LF
Choi DH
Cron 1B
Wendle 3B
Adames SS
Lowe 2B
Bauers RF
Ciuffo C
Glasnow RHP

You can read about the series in our preview.

The New What Next: Rays vs Cleveland, part two — a series preview


— No Matt Duffy (back), no Kevin Kiermaier (illness) again tonight for the Rays. Duffy said his back is feeling better, and an MRI didn’t show anything of concern. He is available off the bench tonight, based on pain tolerance. While there is no set timetable, Duffy is eyeing Friday for a potential return to the lineup.

— On the subject of where Rays fans are or aren’t, John Romano (Tampa Bay Times) said it best:

Oh sure, the Ybor City vision is still a long way from completion. The odds remain high and financing options remain scarce.

… As I’ve said, over and over, residents have no obligation to support a baseball team, a restaurant or a museum. How anyone spends their discretionary dollars is entirely up to them.

The point I’m making is larger.

The success, or in this case the struggles, of a pro sports team is more emblematic of a region’s vitality. Markets that lose MLB or NFL teams invariably overspend while trying to get back into the game for that reason.

That doesn’t mean Tampa Bay will wither if the Ybor City deal falls through. And it doesn’t mean that taxpayers should hand over their wallets if it comes to that.

— Preach Craig, preach:

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