Saturday, August 9, 2014

Game of the Day (8/8/14)

Rays 4, Cubs 3 (10). Tampa started former Cub farmhand Chris Archer, who they acquired as part of the Matt Garza trade a few years ago. It would have been cool if CJ Edwards, who the Cubs acquired when trading Garza themselves, was currently in the majors to oppose him. As it was, Chicago's response to Archer was Tsuyoshi Wada, a 33-year-old Japanese lefty making his fifth major league start.

Wada allowed a Ben Zobrist single and walked Brandon Guyer in the first, but recovered to strand the runners. The Cubs then took the lead in the bottom of the inning on a Javier Baez single, an Anthony Rizzo double, and a Starlin Castro RBI single. Wada worked around a leadoff hit by Yunel Escobar in the second, then reached on an error himself and was stranded in the bottom of the inning. Desmond Jennings tied the game in the third with a solo homer.

Archer was perfect in the third, and Wada matched him in the fourth. In the bottom of the fourth, Arismendy Alcantara drew a walk, Ryan Sweeney reached on an Archer error, and John Baker singled in the go-ahead run; Sweeney was then picked off of second to constrain the threat of further scoring. Both starters were spotless in the fifth, and Wada threw an immaculate sixth as well; Archer allowed a two-out Alcantara single, but then saw the runner caught stealing to end the inning.

Sean Rodriguez led off the seventh with a triple to chase Wada from the mound. Brian Schlitter got Escobar to ground out, but Curt Casali then grounded to short and Rodriguez beat the throw home to tie the game at 2. Wesley Wright relieved and retired pinch hitter James Loney, and Justin Grimm then came on to end the inning. Joel Peralta worked a spotless bottom of the seventh, and Pedro Strop took the mound for the Cubs in the eighth. Zobrist doubled with one out, but Strop struck out the next two Rays; the trouble was, the first strikeout was of Kevin Kiermaier, and strike 3 went wild, allowing the speedy outfielder to reach first. The inning was therefore kept alive for Matt Joyce, who singled to bring Zobrist home and put the Rays in front for the first time in the game.

Chris Coghlan led off the bottom of the eighth by reaching second on a single-and-error, but Jake McGee retired the next three hitters to strand him. Carlos Villanueva worked a 1-2-3 ninth, and Brad Boxberger came in for the save chance in the bottom of the inning. Justin Ruggiano led off with a pinch single and was bunted to second by Alcantara; Sweeney then singled him home to tie the game at 3. Boxberger got through the next two Cubs without further drama, sending the game to extras.

Hector Rondon took the mound in the top of the tenth and got a quick first out. But Jennings, Zobrist, and Kiermaier followed with consecutive singles, the third of which scored Jennings with the go-ahead run, and Boxberger stayed in the game and managed a perfect bottom of the inning to end it.

You don't see batters reach on dropped third strikes too often in present-day baseball; even if the catcher mishandles the final pitch of the at bat, he generally recovers in plenty of time to throw out the batter who's trotting down the line. And in the rare occasions of the batter actually reaching, it typically ends up making very little difference to the eventual outcome of the game.

Not this time. This time, Kevin Kiermaier making it safely to first on a wild third strike kept the eighth inning alive long enough for the Rays to take the lead, which then kept the Cubs from winning it in the bottom of the ninth, and in turn gave Kiermaier himself a crack at the go-ahead tenth-inning single.

It may not quite have been Mickey Owen in the '41 World Series or AJ Pierzynski in the '05 ALCS, but it's still a game-altering K/WP - and that would be cool enough even if it didn't come in an extra-inning game in which the margin never exceeded a single run.

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