Rangers tie series by topping Rays 8-6 in ALDS Game 2

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Aided by a big miscue from home-plate umpire Kerwin Danley, the Rangers overcame a 3-0 deficit and defeated the Rays 8-6 on Saturday to even the ALDS at one game apiece.

The Rays got it started early again tonight, picking up a run in the first on Kelly Shoppach’s bases-loaded walk and then two more on Matt Joyce’s homer in the fourth. Unfortunately for them, James Shields suddenly lost his command in the bottom of the fourth, hitting two batters and giving up three runs to tie the game.  That’s when Danley stepped in.

With runners on first and second and one out, David Murphy hit a little nubber that spun off the plate and rolled into fair territory. Shoppach picked it up and threw to first for what appeared to be the second out of the inning. However, Danley had signaled foul ball right away, making it a dead ball and taking the out off the board.

Shields went on to throw a wild pitch to advance the runners and then another one on strike three.  Murphy reached first and the run scored, giving the Rangers a 4-3 lead. They’d add one more on a Mitch Moreland groundout before Shields got out of the inning.

The Rangers managed to keep hitting afterwards. Ian Kinsler had a two-run double in the sixth to make it 7-3. Evan Longoria came back with a three-run homer off Koji Uehara in the seventh, to bring the Rays within a run, but the Rangers scored an insurance run when Mitch Moreland homered in the eighth. Neftali Feliz protected the two-run lead in the ninth.

Game 3 in the best-of-five series is scheduled for Monday in St. Pete.  It should be advantage Rays with Colby Lewis facing David Price, but Price gave up six runs — five earned — in four innings in what looked like a must-win start Wednesday against the Yankees. Price is also 0-3 with a 5.67 ERA in six career regular-season starts against the Rangers, and he lost to them twice in the ALDS last year, amassing a 4.97 ERA.

Notes

– The Rays caught a big break in the first when Ben Zobrist wasn’t sent to cover on a hit and run with Kinsler on first and Elvis Andrus at the plate. Standing his ground, Zobrist was barely able to glove a soft liner from Andrus that seemed destined for right field. Instead of runners on first and third with none out, Shields suddenly had the bases empty with two outs and was on his way to an easy inning.

– If anyone from the group of Reid Brignac, Felipe Lopez, Justin Ruggiano and Brandon Guyer had stepped up this year, the left-handed-hitting Joyce, who hit the two-run homer in the fourth, probably wouldn’t have been playing tonight. The Rays use to play Ben Zobrist in right field against lefties, but he’s needed in the infield on a full-time basis now, and Ruggiano and Guyer failed to step up and become legitimate platoon candidates for Joyce. That’s why Joyce, who hit .217 with three homers in 92 at-bats against lefties this season, was in there batting ninth.

– “Big Game” James has allowed 11 runs over 9 1/3 innings in his last two postseason starts, both against the Rangers. He’s now 2-4 with a 4.98 ERA lifetime in October.

– As soon as Derek Holland departed having allowed three runs — one earned — in five innings, the Rangers had it scripted that they’d go with Alexi Ogando, Uehara, Mike Adams and Feliz for an inning apiece.  Three of the four did their jobs, but Uehara never got an out before allowing Longoria’s homer and exiting the game. It makes one wonder if he’ll be skipped next time around. Darren Oliver, who replaced Uehara tonight and retired all three batters he faced in the seventh, could combine with Ogando to work the sixth and seventh innings next time a similar situation crops up.

– Napoli went 2-for-4 with two RBI to break out of his postseason drought.  Since hitting two homers and knocking in four runs in Game 3 of the 2008 ALDS against Boston, he was 2-for-19. Before tonight, that two-homer performance was the only time in 15 postseason appearances that he had driven in a run.

Evan Longoria: “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base.”

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The Rays were busy over the weekend, trading starter Jake Odorizzi to the Twins, designating All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, and then picking up C.J. Cron in a deal with the Angels. The Rays saved about $4 million — Odorizzi’s $6.3 million less Cron’s $2.3 million salary — and picked up a prospect. They’re still on the hook for Dickerson’s $5.95 million salary until they can find a trade partner, which seems likely.

Those are some head-scratching moves if you’re a Rays fan or a member of the Rays. Dickerson hit .282/.325/.490 with 27 home runs, 62 RBI, and 84 runs scored in 629 plate appearances last season, part of which resulted in his first trip to the All-Star Game. Designating him for assignment is strictly a financial move, assuming he can be traded. The Rays are currently operating with a payroll below $70 million. This comes just a week and a half after Rays ownership proposed the public footing most of the bill for the club’s new stadium. And the Rays had traded third baseman Evan Longoria — then the face of the franchise — to the Giants earlier this offseason.

Longoria expressed sympathy for Rays fans for having to put up with this. Via Andrew Baggarly, Longoria said of the curious Dickerson move, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base. … I’m not going to take too many shots but it’s pretty obvious that guy is a valuable player and didn’t deserve to be DFAd. Corey was our best player last year.”

Longoria isn’t quite on the money there. By WAR, Dickerson ranked fifth among position players on the team, according to Baseball Reference. FanGraphs is also in agreement. Still, it’s indisputable that Dickerson, who turns 29 years old this May, more than pulled his weight. The Rays do not have a surfeit of starting outfielders, so it wasn’t like they were making room for other capable players. Mallex Smith, who put up a .684 OPS in 282 PA last year, is slated to start in left field at the moment. Designating Dickerson for assignment, as well as trading Longoria and Odorizzi, were simply cost-cutting decisions.

The Rays’ M.O. has been part of the problem leading to the current stagnant free agent market (sans Eric Hosmer‘s eight-year deal on Saturday). Teams like the Rays, Phillies, Reds, and Tigers have been explicitly putting out non-competitive teams in order to facilitate a rebuilding process. Longoria is right to express sympathy for Rays fans, who see their favorite team worsening a roster that went 80-82 last year. The Rays haven’t finished at .500 or above since 2013 and doesn’t figure to halt the streak this year.