TOP OF THE FOURTH: RAYS 8 2 – 5 RED SOX
David Price on the mound today against his former team, wagging his yellow mouth-guard out between his teeth and cheeks, getting the first out of the 4th inning with a 5-2 lead. He’s got a good read on these guys, looking to shake off the early-season struggles and make himself the next great Boston hurler, in line with Pedro, Schilling (may his ESPN career rest in peace), Lester.
Both teams are sitting semi-pretty at the moment, in the dead middle of the American League pack, with last-place or first-place potential.
And I can’t help but think this Rays team wants a win here more badly than most days, against the guy that left them, in year two of the post-Joe-Maddon era, with Evan Longoria the only remaining piece (I think?) of the ’08 pennant club—and facing this money-tree of a franchise, inside the history of baseball “cathedral” Fenway Park, awaiting a return trip home to the lowly Trop.
Well, they got their chance.
For the first out, Tim Beckham grounds out sharply to third base, Travis Shaw flinging a straight shot over to first for the out as Beckham’s helmet flies off running through the base.
Wait a second—who are these guys? Last time I checked, the Red Sox were sporting an all-star crew of names: Shane Victorino, Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Jason Varitek, Manny Ramirez, Kevin Millar, Mo Vaughn, Wade Boggs….
So now, we’ve got: Travis Shaw… Brock Holt… ? Christian Vasquez…? Then looking over at the Rays: Curt Casali, Steve Pearce, Tim Beckham.
Evidently I need to hit the books on the replacement-level rookies and journeymen of the American League, or else I must be watching the sequel to “The Replacements”, half expecting Keanu Reeves as Shane Falco to strut heroically out from the left-field service door in the Green Monster, ready to save the season for the big-league club.
Kevin Kiermaier comes up now, I know this guy. Borderline legendary-tier center fielder, just not the usual guy to get an offensive rally going, with Price on the mound and a deficit maybe already too big to overcome.
He works a quick 3-0 count. Price, who must have the loosest, most casual style on the mound, sticks that yellow mouthguard out again as if imitating either Stephen Curry or some sort of lizard.
Kiermaier walks, Price shaking his shoulders as if trying to reset the system, adjusting his jersey, tapping his shoulder and the brim of his cap just to be safe.
But Price is definitely still dealing, as he gets Curt Casali to chase on a nasty slider.
Maybe the Rays can get one run here, if they’re lucky. Kiermaier could steal, Casali could knock him over to third, and then they’d need just one lucky break to make it 5-3.
I take that all back: Casali hits a no-doubter up on top of the Green Monster, a two-run homer on a fastball left right over the heart of the plate—big mistake. 5-4 game.
— Tampa Bay Rays (@RaysBaseball) April 21, 2016
The fans up in the few rows on top of the wall jolt up from a mid-inning afternoon slumber, reaching for the ball, spilling drink and burger and sundry concessions, as the ball migrates around a-bouncing onto each person’s seat before falling back down to the field like the rigged end result of an arcade claw machine.
John Farrell chews his gum menacingly in the dugout. No call to the bullpen just yet.
I look at the shoulder patch on Price’s jersey, same image that’s painted on the back edge of the pitcher’s mound. It’s got a decal of some sort of green recycling flow-triangle, the one with the arrows, suggesting that…. he’s a very environmentally sound pitcher or… the rotation on his pitches actually generates renewable wind energy, or… yeah I’m not sure what that’s for. But as the Rays start getting to this guy, might it be the ironic mark of their quick trip around the order in a single inning?
Logan Forsythe comes up now—singles on a bunt-like hit to Price, bringing him off the mound on a weak grounder and the throw is just late.
We’re now, officially, in a jam.
On the next pitch, the jam really gets jammed up.
Price hits Brandon Guyer on the elbow, his second hit batter on the day (Guyer, for the second time). Now it’s two men on, again, and doubt starts rippling through the minds of Farrell, the Boston fans, probably Price himself, and team ownership who shelled out insane amounts of money for a guy on the verge of an implosion here.
I didn’t clearly see the pitch, but Price looks dumbfounded and/or “miffed” “peeved” and “vexed” on the mound, as the TV feed shows the replay, and—wow—Guyer definitely leaned into that one, taking the “take one for the team” motto a little too far, dropping the elbow-guarded elbow into the pitch, a move reminiscent (one the TV guy says) of “the way Don Baylor used to lean into a pitch to get hit,” and of course the bush-league breakup of Max Scherzer’s perfect game last year by Jose Tabata. Still can’t believe that happened…
“That’s over the plate!” Price mouths on camera, his mouthguard peeking out again from the corner of his mouth.
The umpire gives Guyer passage to first base, and Price gets back to work, the chances of him escaping this inning now approaching zero.
Evan Longoria comes up. Price shudders. Finally, after the long run through the who-are-these-guys region of the lineup, we get the big slugger, standing there with his classic upright and open stance, waiting to follow up on the home run he hit earlier in the game.
— Tampa Bay Rays (@RaysBaseball) April 21, 2016
Price deals against his long-time former teammate, and Longoria hits a rocket to left field off the scoreboard wall that “Skips right into the AL East standings!” bouncing around in Brock Holt’s hands, prompting the third-base coach to wave home the second runner, who originally had no business even trying to score—coming in safely as it’s now 6-5 Rays.
The camera stays on Holt, blowing bubble gum as he walks back to his position in left field, with a tough exterior that says Nah bro I’m not embarrassed, it’s all good, I’m a great fielder. Not like I made a mistake. I wanted to do that. I got this.
Meanwhile John Farrell marches into the shady under-belly of the dugout and gets on the bullpen phone, saying Help! Please! My pitcher’s got a soft spot for his Tampa Bay old boys and refuses to get them out!
At this point, the green recycling sign on the Red Sox jerseys starts looking more and more like the state of their pitching staff after this game, a never-ending (but environmentally friendly) rotation of trash.
Price gets a high pop-up from the next guy up, finally, Vasquez catching it in the shade behind home.
Desmond Jennings comes up for the Rays, wasting no time continuing the jam, crushing the first pitch for a deep, home-run-esque drive to left, soaring and soaring, then sinking suddenly into a catchable ball off the wall, as Holt pauses the bubble-gum popping to ready for the catch and slams into the wall like an alley-cat crashing into aluminum trash cans, making a racket that echoes out over the park like a death knell for David Price’s season ERA and confidence among Red Sox nation.
He’s out of the game a minute later, replaced by Matt Barnes, who comes in and gives up an quick RBI single to Steve Souza Jr., Sousa-marching his way to first base, now 8-5 for the Rays.
Tough day yesterday but I WILL get better!! Stick with me #soxnation I’m determined to make all of you love me!!
— David Price (@DAVIDprice24) April 22, 2016
Beckham comes back up, the green wheel of recycling now complete, striking out to end the inning.
So it comes to 8-5, and the Rays eventually hold on to win 12-8, in a wild, wacky game that puts both teams into a tie in the standings at 7-8—both with the chance to fall apart completely or make a big run for the AL East title.
As Wyclef Jean once said, Anything Can Happen.