Just as all hope seemed to have been lost after last night's loss, the Rays proved their never-say-die attitude is alive and well. Up against a wall, the team must now win out, and that includes a three-game series against the Orioles to finish the season; those three games are the most crucial games of the entire season.
Conceivably, if the Yankees were to lose their remaining games and the Rays win out, they will take the remaining wild card spot away from Baltimore. Yes, it is a bit childish to use the "if-then" rationale, but stranger things have happened in the history of America's pastime: Bill Buckner's error in Game 6 of the '86 World Series (lead to the Mets winning it all in Game 7), the Steve Bartman incident which Chicago will always be remembered for in Game 6 of the 2003 World Series (Chicago would lose in 7), to name a few. Knowing this, the Rays approach the remaining games of the season with an "anything can happen" mindset.
Yesterday they had a tough task ahead of them, as the hard-throwing lefty ace Chris Sale took the mound, going up against fellow lefty Matt Moore. Sale is in his rookie year, but has already established himself as a (potential) strikeout machine for the White Sox, and the Rays are notorious for having a lacking plate discipline.
Fortunately for the Rays, Sale was not on his A-game Saturday evening, and the Rays made sure to make him pay dearly for his numerous mistakes and lack of command. Following some missed opportunities early on, the scoring for the Rays started in the third, when Ben Zobrist lined a double to left field, scoring BJ Upton. Two batters later, the ever-consistent Jeff Keppinger just managed to squak a ball over the left-field wall for a two-run shot, making it a 3-0 game.
Sale's luck would not get any better in the fourth: both BJ Upton and Evan Longoria hit RBI singles, giving the Rays a 5-0 cushion, and ending Sale's night on the mound. Despite striking out 7 Rays batters in 3.1 innings of work, Sale allowed 7 hits and gave up 5 earned runs to go with 3 walks. With a 5-0 lead, the Rays needed Matt Moore and the 'pen to hold down the fort.
In the sixth inning, Chris Gimenez hit his first home run of the season to straightaway center, but the slugger of the game for the Rays was undoubtedly Matt Joyce. Joyce squared up on a Dylan Axelrod pitch in the 7th, taking him deep to center, and one inning later hit a three-run homer off of Leyson Septimo to give the Rays a double-digit 10-0 lead.
Matt Moore's start, unlike Sale's, was gem-like given the fact that the ChiSox have an offensively loaded lineup that can go deep in any park, off any pitcher. While Moore did walk two, he struck out 4 ChiSox batters and only allowed one lonely hit, all in 5.1 innings of nice work on the mound. It was a testament to how good Moore can be in clutch situations. Yes, he's had a very up-and-down season, but he is also a rookie pitching in the most difficult division in all of baseball. With more (no pun intended) time and work with pitching coach Jim Hickey, Matt Moore will undoubtedly be a major contributor to the Rays' playoff hunts for years to come.
The only blemish on an otherwise great all-around pitching performance by Rays pitchers, was in the 8th inning while Chris Archer was on the mound. After walking two batters and giving up a hit to load the bases, Archer left a lazy pitch right down the middle of the zone, allowing veteran infielder Orlando Hudson to extend just enough for a grand slam. In any other scenario that would've been a game-changing mistake, but with a 6 run lead intact even after the grand slam, it's not much of an issue; Archer was able to gather himself and close out the game without surrendering any additional runs.
Everything went right for the Rays in South Side on Saturday, but there was some bad news outside of the ballpark. The A's, who lead the Rays by three games in the second Wild Card spot before the game, still hold that lead after a heartbreaking comeback win over the Mariners. Oakland was trailing 4-1 in the eighth and 4-2 in the ninth but still pulled off the win in extras. The Orioles also won unfortunately, and with the Yankees' loss they are now tied for first in the AL East. As for the Angels, their game was rained out, and they now stand a half-game in front of the Rays also fighting for a playoff spot.
Notable stats from tonight's game:
Rays News and Notes: