Rays advance to postseason with 12th-inning win, Red Sox loss

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The Rays beat the Yankees 8-7 in the 12th inning on an Evan Longoria walkoff homer Wednesday, while the Red Sox fell to the Orioles 4-3 after Jonathan Papelbon gave up two ninth-inning runs.

Tampa Bay’s win came after a furious six-run eighth and a Dan Johnson homer with two outs in the ninth ruined a 7-0 Yankees lead.  Left with just Scott Proctor — their 11th pitcher of the game — in the bullpen the Yankees lost it in the 12th.  Proctor did an admirable job for someone with an 10.80 ERA, pitching 2 2/3 scoreless innings prior to Longoria’s homer.

In Baltimore, Papelbon, who worked 2 1/3 innings on Sunday and had a difficult ninth inning Tuesday, appeared to simply run out of gas.  He gave up two doubles with two outs, tying the game.  Robert Andino then hit a low liner to left that Carl Crawford appeared to have a play on.  Of course, Crawford, as he has all season long, came up just a little short and had no chance of throwing out Nolan Reimold at the plate after playing the one-hopper.

The loss completed a season-ending run that saw the Red Sox go 7-19 and lose a nine-game lead over Tampa Bay.

The story from the Red Sox fan viewpoint will be how the Orioles gave it their all and the Yankees, Mark Teixeira excepted, did anything but. It’s also worth noting how terribly Terry Francona used his bench down the stretch. The Red Sox didn’t send up one pinch-hitter in this game.  Francona allowed J.D. Drew to face a lefty with two men on in the fifth (he flied out to end the inning) and he let Ryan Lavarnway go 0-for-5 (with nine men on base) even though there were lefties to hit for him against right-handers late.

So, it’s the Rays who move on to face the Rangers on Friday, while the Tigers will travel to New York. Stifled for seven innings — they managed just two hits against the dregs of the Yankees pitching staff — the Rays, to their credit, did their battling back under extreme duress against genuine major league pitchers.  Luis Ayala, who was torched in the eighth inning, entered with a 1.64 ERA in 55 innings, and Cory Wade, who gave up the run in the ninth, had a 1.85 ERA.  They were the Yankees’ low-leverage guys this season, but both had been excellent.

For the Red Sox, it it was Papelbon’s last appearance with the team, it was a dreadful one. He and David Ortiz are among the team’s key free agents, and it’s unclear if the Red Sox will want to commit to making Papelbon one of the game’s highest-paid closers for the next three or four years.  Papelbon had just one blown save all season until taking two in his last three chances, both of which resulted in losses.

Francona’s status is also very much in doubt. Letting go of their two-time World Series-winning manager would by a drastic step for the Red Sox, but it’s one that could be considered. Technically, they wouldn’t even have to fire him, since his contract is up anyway.

Royals sign Drew Storen to minor league deal

Drew Storen
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The Royals are in agreement with right-handed reliever Drew Storen on a minor league deal, the team announced Friday. Per Jon Heyman of MLB Network, the deal is worth $1.25 million if the veteran righty breaks camp with the club this spring. Additional, albeit unspecified incentives will be included in the contract as well.

Storen, 31, is coming off of a protracted absence from any MLB duties. After inking a one-year deal with the Reds in 2017, he sustained a right elbow sprain toward the end of the year and underwent Tommy John surgery that October. He was effectively decommissioned for the club’s entire 2018 run and generated little interest around the league this winter, perhaps due in part to the uninspired 4.45 ERA, 3.8 BB/9, 7.9 SO/9, and career-low -0.2 fWAR he posted across 54 2/3 innings during his last healthy season.

While it’s not immediately clear what kind of performance the Royals can expect from Storen in spring training, they’re not exactly in a position to be choosy. Their bullpen ranked dead last among all MLB teams with a collective 5.04 ERA, 4.85 FIP, and -2.2 fWAR last year, and still appears to be in a state of flux as they approach Opening Day. Skipper Ned Yost told reporters Wednesday that he intends to eschew the traditional closer appointment in 2019 and will instead utilize a combination of right-handers Wily Peralta and Brad Boxberger, lefty Tim Hill, and various others as he tackles high-leverage situations in the future.