The view from Deep Left Field on Wednesday’s 9-4 Blue Jays win in Oakland:
The Blue Jays went into the eighth inning down 3-2, and over the course of the final two innings scored seven runs, doing it on just four hits – three singles and a double.
The fateful eighth started with a leadoff walk to Reese McGuire, just called up earlier in the day. Jonathan Davis immediately came in to pinch-run, and moved up 90 feet on Marcus Semien’s single. Bo Bichette followed with a double-play grounder to second, but he beat the relay to first, putting Blue Jays on the corners for Vladimir Guerrero, Jr.
The 1-1 pitch to Vladdy went to the backstop, allowing Davis to score the tying run, so the A’s decided to just put Guerrero on intentionally from there, bringing up Teoscar Hernandez, who watched Bichette steal third before driving him in with a single to give the Blue Jays the lead.
Randal Grichuk, fresh off an appearance on the Deep Left Field podcast, followed with his third hit of the night, driving in Guerrero, and Cavan Biggio shook things up with a safety squeeze bunt to cash the inning’s fifth run.
In the ninth, the Blue Jays took advantage of back to back leadoff walks to score a couple of big insurance runs, with both runners coming in to count on a Guerrero double that was scalded over the head of left-fielder Mark Canha who, despite starting the play about 320 feet from home plate, barely had time to move.
Robbie Ray walked 45 batters in 52 1/3 innings last season, split between the Blue Jays and Diamondbacks. His lack of control helped him to a 6.62 ERA and an ugly WHIP of 1.897. He never pitched more than five innings and allowed four runs or more in over half of his starts.
That Robbie Ray has been nowhere to be found in 2021, and the current version put a loud exclamation point on his resurgence with another strong six innings Wednesday night.
The lefty gave up a couple of solo homers among the five hits he allowed, while striking out nine and, more notably, not walking anybody.
It was the third straight start in which Ray did not issue a free pass, something he had never done before over his eight seasons in the major leagues.
Ray hasn’t walked a batter since he put the Royals’ Michael A. Taylor on base with two out in the third inning in K.C. back on April 18th. It was Ray’s sixth walk of the game – in a span of just 16 hitters – and it has been his last so far.
Since that last base on balls, Ray has thrown 19 innings, facing 79 batters, none of whom have reached without putting the ball in play.
With the score tied 2-2 in the bottom of the sixth, Oakland got a leadoff double from (Lazer) Ramon Laureano. A ground out by Matt Olson moved him to third with one out, so the Blue Jays chose to play the infield in for the next hitter, Sean Murphy.
The strategy, of course, is to keep the run from scoring on a ground ball. The risk is that playing in cuts down the range of the infielders, not leaving them as much time to get to any ball that’s not hit right at them. You’ll often see hard-hit grounders get past infielders who are playing in before they can even react, grounders that would have been turned into outs in normal depth.
That’s not how the move backfired on Wednesday, though.
Murphy got the tiniest piece of an 0-2 fastball at 96 miles per hour, enough to just doink it into no man’s land behind second base. It was too shallow for Grichuk to make a play on from centre field and, with the infield playing in, too deep for either Semien or Bichette to get back to.
With the infield at normal depth, it’s probably an out, but the likelihood of a ground ball in that spot is much higher than the chances of a duck snort like the one Murphy hit.
It was a huge run at the time, but rendered moot by the Jays’ five-run eighth.
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