Rays outlast Indians 9-2 in marathon
By JOE SMITH
Times Staff Writer
CLEVELAND — The Rays’ marathon series opener with the Indians on Friday night was so long, it started in May and ended in June.
In between, there were three rain delays totaling nearly five hours, post-game fireworks before the first run was scored, and a seventh-inning stretch (yawn) that came around last call at the local bars. But Tampa Bay held on for a 9-2 win in front of the passionate fraction of 29,603 that remained at Progressive Field for the final out at 3 a.m., with another game set to start in a little more than 10 hours today.
“I’m really proud of our guys,” manager Joe Maddon said. “That was about as cool a win as I’ve experienced in professional baseball.”
The Rays’ sixth-straight victory matched their season high, giving them an American League-best 18-10 mark in May and helping them pull within two games of first-place Boston in the AL East.
James Loney had two homers, including a two-run blast in Tampa Bay’s five-run third, to lift the offense. And veteran Jamey Wright’s bullpen-saving, three-inning effort — in relieving lefty starter Matt Moore — began a group effort that held the Indians to just one hit.
“Jamey Wright was the hero of the night,” Maddon said. “He set the whole thing up.”
Considering the Rays (30-24) arrived in Cleveland in the early hours Friday morning, Maddon was hoping — despite the fact rain was in the forecast all night — they wouldn’t have a similar fate to the Thursday night Cardinals-Royals rain-delayed game that went past 3 a.m.
But that’s exactly what happened.
When first pitch was pushed back from 7:05 p.m. to 9:02, it marked the start of a long night. The teams played for 16 minutes, getting to the top of the second inning before it was delayed again, for 13 minutes. They tried to resume, for all of three minutes, but the game was stopped for another long delay at 9:34 p.m, with Moore walking off the mound and ending his 11-pitch outing.
The Rays players killed time during the second lengthy delay by playing Golden Tee video game in the clubhouse, watching other games on television, and keeping loose. Wright was following his family’s trials in Oklahoma dealing with the aftermath of the tornadoes, even bringing his phone out into the bullpen to keep tabs.
“Everybody is safe,” he said.
Meanwhile in Cleveland, fans in attendance on $1 hot dog night stuck around, cheering loudly when the Orioles’ walkoff win over the Tigers was shown on the JumboTron, putting the Indians in a first-place tie in the AL Central. They chanted “We want baseball!” and “Let them Play!”
“It was pretty incredible,” Maddon said of the fans.
But Maddon, aware of his worn-out bullpen and Moore out of the game, said “if (the game) had been called off I wouldn’t have been upset.” Maddon said there were a few moments where the game was in jeopardy, but the Indians really wanted to play, and both teams knew the forecast for Saturday wasn’t much better.
Maddon took a slow walk around the outfield grass around 10:30 p.m., noticing the “spongy” conditions, But when Maddon joined Indians manager Terry Francona to take a final lap an hour later, it had improved enough for them to feel comfortable playing.
“We don’t make excuses,” Maddon said. “We were told to play, so we played.”
It was a no-brainer Moore would not return, though Maddon said it’s possible he could pitch Sunday or during the Tigers series, they haven’t decided. Wright was given 15-minute notice he’d be stepping in, and filled in admirably with four hitless innings, striking out four.
“As far as Matt one inning, cause of the rain and everything, I can’t imagine it working out any better than it did,” Wright said. “They make you wait around until midnight, you want to go out there and beat up on them. and I’m glad it worked out.”
The Rays got more than enough offense with a two-out, five-run rally off Indians lefty reliever Scott Barnes in the third. With one on, Matt Joyce ripped a two-run homer into the rightfield seats, his second homer in as many games but just his third hit off a lefty this season. Kelly Johnson walked, then Evan Longoria hit an RBI double off the wall in left-center to make it 3-0. Loney followed up with a two-run homer of his own. It was the first time two Rays left-handed batters hit a home run off a lefty pitcher in the same inning since Aug. 12, 2011, against the Yankees’ CC Sabathia.
Wright would last until the fifth, when he walked Nick Swisher, then allowed Mark Reynolds to reach on an error. Josh Lueke replaced Wright, and two batters later, Yan Gomes knocked in a run with a sacrifice fly. Ryan Raburn, a former Durant High and University of Florida standout, then ripped the Indians’ first hit, an RBI double off the wall in right, cutting the Rays’ lead to 5-2.
After two innings by Lueke, lefty Cesar Ramos took over for the final three, picking up his first career save.
“It was fun,’ Ramos said. “It’s unbelievable to be playing baseball at this time, but it was a big day.”
Tampa Bay got another insurance run on the second homer of the game by Loney, a solo shot in the eighth. It was Loney’s third career multi-homer game, first since Sept. 7, 2007, at San Francisco while with the Dodgers.
“There was a lot of life on our bench,” Maddon said. “We came out swinging the bats.”
The Rays weren’t done yet, however, adding three more runs in the ninth on five hits, including RBI singles by Yunel Escobar, Ben Zobrist and Sam Fuld.
“It was very awkward way to do this,” Maddon said. “But if you’re going to stick around that long, you might as well win it.”
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.