Rays’ Bullpen Helps Finish Off Tigers On Getaway Day

The Rays exit a mini-homestand with a sweep of Detroit

For the eighteenth time this season, Rays manager Kevin Cash called for the “opener.” The term first surfaced on May 19, and the opener has become a fixture of Tampa Bay Rays baseball. This time it was Hunter Wood in the role, his first ever taste of a Major League first inning. Wood demonstrated one of the finer points of the Rays’ opener strategy: He has the kind of stuff that relief pitchers late in games tend to demonstrate. Lots of velocity, lots of movement, good variance between his heat and his breaking stuff. The first two batters of the game for Detroit struck out, and once again the Rays got out of the first inning scoreless.

Kevin Kiermaier got the scoring started. The center fielder homered to lead off the bottom of the third and put the Rays up 1-0. Since his tenth inning triple Monday night, Kiermaier has looked more like himself at the plate, recovering from a slump since he had been reinstated from the disabled list. He knocked in a run in the third inning Tuesday, and he did so again in the loudest fashion on Wednesday afternoon. Kiermaier would go on to add a pair of singles, including an infield hit he legged out in the seventh.

Detroit took their first lead of the three game series in the top of the fourth, with James McCann crushing a two run shot to left field to make the score 2-1 Detroit. It was a rare mistake from Matt Andriese, who started his appearance with five strikeouts across his first two innings of work. Andriese wound up with six punchouts on the afternoon, a 49 pitch performance that was only marred by the homer.

In the seventh, it was C.J. Cron who got the Rays back in front. Cron pulled an emphatic homer to left field, scoring Kiermaier and Matt Duffy to get Tampa Bay up 4-2 after the stretch. It was Cron’s second extra base hit of the afternoon, the first coming on a frozen rope double to the left field fence.

“Youth brings some energy, there’s no doubt. But the effort level, and the buy in. We’re getting a lot of buy-in from guys right now.” Manager Kevin Cash has not just had to sell baseball on the changing roles that the Rays employ in 2018, he’s had to sell that to his players. Ballplayers get used to playing in specific roles for the bulk of their careers, and Cash’s insistence on stirring that pot has required an impressive showing of effort from the Tampa Bay Rays.

It was another getaway day special on Wednesday afternoon, another chance for St. Petersburg’s parks and recreation department to bring some of the Suncoast’s youngest baseball fans to the Rays. What in many other cities would be called a Businessman’s Special takes on the atmosphere of a public pool on a weekday afternoon with all the youth in the building.

The game felt like getaway day, too. Umpires called borderline pitches strikes, moving he game along as though in a hurry. The day game after a night game dynamic led to a number of players, such as Wilson Ramos, having the day off. The pitchers did not dawdle on the mound for very long. Much of the game had a feel as though the players were in a hurry to get back into the clubhouse where they could watch the World Cup semifinal.

Each team issued just one walk, which is critical in speeding up a baseball game. Wasted pitches eat time. The Rays and Tigers, instead, kept things moving. The game was over in 2:40, making things easy as both teams are headed out of town.

Ramos, Cash honored before game

Before first pitch, the Rays had some business to take care of. With Wednesday marking their final home game before the All Star break, the Rays took the time to formally recognize their All Star contingent. Wilson Ramos was presented with a jersey during a small ceremony, while manager Kevin Cash was also acknowledged as a coach of the American League team.

Perhaps not coincidentally, Tampa Bay also honored Blake Snell’s stellar first half with a “Quality Report” between the first and second innings, giving the Tropicana Field crowd an opportunity to honor their latest top starter.

From here, the Rays head to Minnesota for their final games before the All Star break. Blake Snell gets his final start of the first half on Thursday night, going up against Kyle Gibson at Target Field.

At 48 wins, the Rays already have more wins before the All Star break than they had last year. As this is their final home game before the All Star festivities, that gives them a 26-17 record at home for the first half. This was a team that was 4-13 in mid-April, written off as not just a failure but a disaster, and they’ve been turning heads ever since.

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Tim Williams has been covering sports since his days as a student at Northeastern University covering events such as the Beanpot. In the thirteen years since, he has covered college hockey, the NFL, Major League Baseball, the PGA Tour, and the National Hockey League. A native of the Tampa Bay area, Tim has returned home after living much of his life in the northeast, including sixteen years in the Boston area. These days the Managing Editor of Sports Talk Florida can be found on Florida's golf courses when he's not working.