The Bullpen II
The Rays bullpen was saddled with another uneviable task on Thursday: pitch nearly as many innings as the starters in a day-night doubleheader against the Red Sox in Boston. Though the group has taken its lumps along the way due to a taxing workload, six relievers – including two that pulled a double shift – were up to the challenge.
In game one, Cesar Ramos, the seventh starter on the depth chart, worked into the fifth inning for the third straight time; however, the 15th out eluded him. Brandon Gomes relieved Ramos and was able to bridge the gap to the seventh inning while keeping a 2-1 lead in tact. Gomes escaped a two on, two out jam in the fifth created by Ramos before cleaning up his own two on, two out mess in the sixth. Jake McGee took over in the seventh inning and was the beneficiary of a fine defensive play after Matt Joyce relayed a double off the wall to Yunel Escobar, who gunned out Dustin Pedroia at the plate. The Red Sox challenged the ruling, but the call was confirmed on the field. Joel Peralta worked the eighth inning before handing the baton to Grant Balfour for the ninth.
After a one-out single by Dustin Pedroia, Shane Victorino bunted the Sox second basemen into scoring position. The sacrifice brought up David Ortiz with a man on second, first base open and two outs. As the story goes, Joe Maddon went to the mound set to ordering an intentional walk to set up a confrontation between Balfour and Mike Napoli. Maddon contends he was “talked out” of the walk by Balfour and allowed the closer to face Ortiz. The game ended on a 1-3 putout after Ortiz bounced a ball back to mound. Maddon went out of his way in post-game comments to point out how Balfour had talked him out of the walk, but it would not come as a surprise if one day it was discovered that he had no intentions of walking Ortiz and was simply using the opportunity to motivate Balfour, who blew a save in his last appearance.
It looked like the bullpen might get a break in the night cap as Chris Archer tossed just 52 pitches through four shutout innings. Meanwhile, he needed 34 pitches to get two outs in the fifth inning while allowing the Sox to jump ahead 4-2. It was an uncharacteristic bout of wildness for Archer after showing improved control and command early on in the season. Brad Boxberger, recalled as the 26th man, replaced Archer and allowed an inherited runner to score before closing out the fifth. The Rays would score two runs in the top of the sixth inning, cutting the lead to one. Boxberger would work into the seventh inning before tiring as his pitch count neared 50. Juan Oviedo took over with two on and two out, striking out Grady Sizemore to finish the inning. The Rays would tie the game in the top of the eighth inning before Jake McGee was called upon to work for a second time in the bottom half of the frame.
After allowing a lead-off double and a sacrifice bunt, McGee struck out Will Middlebrooks with a runner on third and one out. He then walked pinch-hitter Jonny Gomes on four pitches before inducing a ground ball out from Dustin Pedroia to keep the game tied at five. McGee’s great escape was magnified when Yunel Escobar led off the top of the ninth inning with a booming solo blast to set up Grant Balfour with his second save opportunity of the day.
Similar to McGee’s eighth inning, a lead-off double and a groundout left Balfour with the tying run 90-feet away with less than two outs. And just like McGee, he registered a huge strikeout before issuing a walk. Facing Xander Bogaerts with the game on the line, Balfour started the rookie with an slider in the dirt for ball one. His next pitch was a more competitive slider that Bogaerts swung at and missed. Balfour threw another slider out of the zone before getting another whiff; this one on a firm 92-mph fastball. With the count at 2-2, the Aussie went back to the breaking ball, locating a mid-80s slider on outside corner for a called strike three to complete the daily sweep.
In summation six relievers allowed eight hits and six walks while striking out 10 batters in 8 1/3 innings. It took 157 pitches, but the most important number is zero runs allowed. It was not perfect by any stretch, and over the course of season practicing good process is generally the way to go. On the other hand, when you are down three starters and in last place, it gets easier to just accept the good result of sweeping a doubleheader against a division rival in their ballpark.