Youthful Rays appear rattled in Game 1 rout

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Technically, the Rays went errorless in Friday’s 12-2 loss to the Red Sox. Which just further demonstrates how silly judging things based on errors can be.

After three innings without allowing a hit, Matt Moore gave up a Dustin Pedroia single to start the fourth with the Rays up 2-0. David Ortiz followed with a long drive to the warning track in right. Wil Myers had the ball lined up, only to let it drop at the last minute. He thought someone called him off, though center fielder Desmond Jennings did no such thing. The incident happened in front of the Red Sox bullpen, but if a reliever was trying to throw Myers off, it wasn’t captured on camera. Maybe a fan called for the ball, though with all the noise, it’s hard to see how that would have gotten through. Myers, himself, didn’t seem to have any idea who called him off. Perhaps we’ll find out after the game (And we did, Myers said he wasn’t called off, just that he saw Jennings out of the corner of his eye and gave up on the ball).

The ball ended up bouncing over the fence for a double. And the floodgates were opened. With the score tied 2-2, Stephen Drew hit a little grounder to James Loney’s right that the first baseman handled. Moore was just a smidgen late getting over to cover, then compounded his mistake by realizing too late that Jonny Gomes was trying to score from second. That made it 3-2. Jacoby Ellsbury later reached on a strikeout/passed ball. The inning ended at 5-2.

The follies kept coming in the fifth. Mike Napoli should have been thrown out easily trying for second on his shot off the Green Monster, but Sean Rodriguez’s throw was poor and he was called safe (though he appeared to be out anyway). An intentional walk followed, then came another double, again poorly played by Rodriguez. That resulted in Moore’s exit. After the second out of the inning, Will Middlebrooks was intentionally walked. Ellsbury then hit a shot back up the middle that ricocheted off Wesley Wright’s glove and past Yunel Escobar at shortstop. 8-2.

Four more runs followed in the eighth.

Myers, the AL Rookie of the Year favorite, heard it all game after his miscue and finished 0-for-4.

Moore, a 17-game winner in the regular season, ended up allowing eight runs — seven earned — in 4 1/3 innings. Maybe only three of those runs were truly earned, but the fourth-inning mental error loomed large.

The Rays will probably put Moore in the pen for the rest of the series now, though he likely won’t be available until Game 4. Because of the two off days, Game 2 starter David Price can come back and pitch if there’s a Game 5.

World Series Preview: We have come to the proverbial “pivotal Game 2”

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Some fun facts in the wake of the Nationals stealing one on the road from Gerrit Cole and the Astros last night:

  • Before last night the Astros hadn’t lost a Cole start since July 12 and hadn’t lost a Cole start at home since May 22;
  • Juan Soto became only the fourth player to homer in the World Series before turning 21. The others who have done it: Miguel Cabrera, Andruw Jones and Mickey Mantle. Cabrera’s 2003 Marlins and Mantle’s 1952 Yankees won. Jones’ 1996 Braves lost;
  • 18 of the last 22 teams to win Game 1 of the World Series have gone on to win it all.

Those first two are just neat trivia. The last one is a bit more foreboding for the Astros. The last two, I guess, can go together in that the World Series in which Andruw Jones homered at age 20 was also a World Series in which the team which won Game 1 — and Game 2 for that matter — lost, with the 1996 Braves falling to the Yankees. Encouraging on some level? I dunno. What do you do when your invincible hero gets beat up by a kid? You reach a bit, I suppose.

You also turn to the next hero and hope for better things:

The GameWorld Series Game 2: Washington Nationals vs. Houston Astros
The Time: 8:08 PM Eastern
The Ballpark: Minute Maid Park, Houston Texas
The Network: Fox
The Starters: Stephen Strasburg vs. Justin Verlander

The Upshot:

Another night, another fantastic starting pitching matchup, with two Cy Young Award candidates — really, if either of them finish lower than second in the voting in their respective leagues it’ll be an upset — facing off.

There is obviously pressure on Justin Verlander here, as it’ll be a Very Bad Thing if the Astros fall down 0-2, at home no less, in this series.

But there is also pressure on Stephen Strasburg. Not just in a “every game in the World Series is laden with pressure” way, but in a “the Nationals really, really need him to go deep into this game” way.

Washington won last night, but they did so in a way that reveals one of their weaknesses. Max Scherzer got the win but he labored, only going five innings on over 100 pitches. Because Dave Martinez really only has two relievers he can trust in Daniel Hudson and Sean Doolittle, he made the bold move to use presumptive Game 3 starter Patrick Corbin for an inning of relief. It worked and, since he only threw 21 pitches the Nats can probably call it a defacto bullpen side session between starts and can count on him in Game 3. But Martinez, not wanting to stretch Corbin, also had to use Tanner Rainey — who gave up a run — as a bridge to Hudson — who gave up a run — and Doolittle. The two big guns each had to go longer than an inning.

Which is to say that the Nats would really prefer not to have to rely too much on their bullpen this evening. Or, if they do have to do that, they’d really prefer it not to be a close game, so they can maybe get some of their lower leverage arms some work to save the higher leverage arms for later. There are only so many starting pitchers you can press into service when you’re playing a best-of-seven series over nine days.

The one they have going tonight, though, is a good one who is 3-0 with a 1.64 ERA in the 2019 postseason. He has also given the Nats nineteen innings in his three starts, so there’s reason to believe he can do exactly what is needed to be done here. It’s just a matter of executing.

As for Houston: if Stephen Strasburg shuts them down and Justin Verlander can’t get the job done, hoo boy, they’re in some serious trouble. They will have fired their two best bullets to no effect and will have to go on the road with their third starter, albeit a better-than-usual third starter, and Brad Peacock/bullpen arms in the first two games in hostile territory. Not what you want.

But, as is the case with Washington and Strasburg, the Astros should have confidence in their co-ace. Tonight’s start will be Verlander’s 30th career postseason appearance. He’s 14-9 with a 3.26 ERA in the playoffs and. While his 1-2, 3.70 ERA this postseason is not a Verlander-esque line, he has still held opposing batters to a .205 average and a 1.07 WHIP. Not bad given the level of competition and the pressure. He’s going to be tough for Nats hitters to deal with. And, if he’s smart, he’s not gonna give Juan Soto a good pitch to hit all night.

It’s an overused phrase in sports, but we’re facing the proverbial “pivotal Game 2.” An Astros win — especially one that has Strasburg leaving earlier than he planned — essentially re-sets the series. A Nats win — especially one in which the Nats bullpen can be re-set — puts Houston in a big hole.