We saw a gem of a game last night (posting this to the day of the game on the following morning). The Guardians came to town and opened a three game series against the Rays.
To start things off, we were a bit conflicted. The Guardians are our team, and the Rays are our second team. Who to root for? Everyone else pulled for the Guardians but I donned my Rays hat and pulled for the home town team. Why? First, we're in St. Pete. Second, and probably more importantly, the Guardians sold at the trade deadline (including Ace pitcher Aaron Civale, to the Rays...and he started tonight). That's a huge signal to me (and the players) that ownership doesn't believe the team has it this year, and they're taking actions to support that lack of faith. Indeed, the starting lineup for the Guards included several players I've never heard of. They've given up on 2023. Meanwhile, the Rays are a legitimate contender this year, and bought at the deadline to solidify that. The Rays still believe, and the Guardians don't. That contrast is clear at the ownership level, and I suspect it will become more clear on the field in coming weeks.
The game itself was incredible, too. Back and forth, with a lot of scoring. And long! More than two and a half hours of baseball, which is rare these days without extra innings.
And speaking of extra innings, we nearly had some free baseball. The Guardians scored four runs in the top of the ninth to tie the game, thanks in large part to some lousy pitching by the Rays closer and some equally lousy catching (several passed balls that let runs in). So, to the bottom of the ninth we went, evened up. Wander Franco of the Rays promptly settled it though, two pitches into the home half with a walk-off home run. Wild finish to a ball game. Certainly the craziest finish I've ever seen in person.
This photo shows the first pitch of the game. Looking back at it, I remember another strange aspect of this game. The Guardians started off with two, back-to-back lead off bunts. Rays pitcher Civale (who played for the Guardians just two weeks ago) botched his fielding assignment on the first one, letting Steven Kwan reach base. In the photo, you can see Kwan showing bunt as Civale prepares to release the first pitch of the game. Second batter Andres Gimenez then bunted Kwan over to second. So the game started almost as weirdly as it ended.
Let's go Rays.