Wisely or not, I decided to stay up and watch last night’s effort – partly because I wanted to see Matt Garza’s debut, but mostly because I’m just plain excited at having baseball to watch again.
By the time that Jonny Gomes popped up to end the game however, I was left with a distinct feeling of deja vu.
If I’m honest, it wasn’t the greatest all-round performance by the Rays anyway. Two nicely timed homers (a 3-run Cliff Floyd shot, and a 2-run blast from Carlos Pena) aside, and it was a story of missed opportunities at the plate. Twice we loaded the bases – once failing to score with only one out, and once scoring only once despite having nobody out. You’ve got to convert in those situations.
That being said, in truth the six runs we did manage looked like they would, and indeed should have been enough. Garza pitched nicely without ever completely getting on top of the Orioles’ hitters, and, as often seems to be the case with the Rays, was hurt by the longball – a two-run shot by erstwhile Ray Aubrey Huff being the blow that saw him lifted in the sixth. But with a one-run lead, and Gary Glover and Dan Wheeler shutting down the rally through the seventh, and things seemed ok.
Despite all the changes, we are still the Rays, however. And I was wary of the way things were going from one (non-)decision in the top of the eighth. I suppose that the choice that Joe Maddon had was in a way a question of baseball philosophy. One run up, two innings left, do you want a good hitting outfielder or a good fielding outfielder in the game? Perhaps I’m biased because one of the players in question is Jonny Gomes. But look at the situation. One out, facing a difficult lefty (Jamie Walker), Nathan Haynes coming up. Now Haynes was in the team because left handed hitters beat up on Daniel Cabrera, the O’s starter. But now its a lefty – and of Haynes’ 48 ML plate appearances before last night, all but two had come against right handers. Which, while far from conclusive does indicate that maybe he’s not so good facing the lefty.
So what do you do? Do you pinch hit with Gomes, who hits 70 points better against leftys than rightys, and is actually a much better outfielder than people either realise or give him credit for. Or do you leave in Haynes, which is all but surrendering an out, because he plays superior defense. Now I don’t know about you, but I always do whatever I can to go after that insurance run.
Maddon of course saw things the other way, and Haynes struck out rather pathetically on three pitches. And, just to rub salt in the wound, he went on to make an error, misplaying a Huff drive of the wall in the bottom of the inning, ultimately leading to another Baltimore run.
Not that I’m blaming Haynes for the loss. Or Maddon for that matter – although once again he showed his rather worrying habit for leaving a pitcher in when it was clear he didn’t have his stuff. The guy in question last night was Al Reyes, who coming into the game in his new setup role, walked the first hitter he faced on 4 pitches. Even watching on TV it was obvious that Reyes just could not find his groove, and by the time there were two men on and Huff was at the plate, the right course of action was pretty clear. Bring on the lefty from the ‘pen (we’ve got two of them this year!) and look for the ground ball double play to escape the inning.
But he didn’t, Huff doubled, and by the time the inning was over the O’s had turned a 6-5 deficit into a 9-6 win.
If I sound overly frustrated about all that, then its most probably because I’m tired. And I know that its early days, but if the Rays are serious about progressing up the standings, then we absolutely have to be able to close out games when we have a lead going into the home stretch. Especially against teams like the Orioles.