Thursday, December 14, 2017
Tampa Bay Rays

Rays vindicated defensive shift helps secure final out of win over Tigers (w/video)

DETROIT — You could see what Alex Colome did to help the Rays to a tense and much-needed 3-2 win over the Tigers on Saturday that snapped a three-game losing streak as he coolly and calmly, despite some calamity, got the final five outs.

Same with how Chris Archer got the Rays started the right way, battling impressively with his fastball and slider through six innings in a showy duel with Michael Fulmer.

And pretty much all that happened in between rookie Daniel Robertson and Mallex Smith rapping key hits, Steven Souza Jr. working a great at-bat to start the winning rally in the seventh, and Jumbo Diaz getting some rather, well, large outs.

But there was something you didn't see that factored in heavily to the ending, leading not just to the elation of the victory that improved the Rays to 36-35 but some satisfaction and vindication for the aggressive shifts they use in positioning their defense.

Enough for manager Kevin Cash to open his postgame media session by saying, "How about those shifts? They seem to work a little bit once in a while."

Here was the situation:

The Tigers had the tying run on second with two outs in the ninth, the product of a bouncer by ex-Ray Mikie Mahtook getting under third baseman Evan Longoria's glove, a sac bunt that the Rays needed a replay review to get a safe call at first reversed, and a flyout.

With pull-hitting lefty Alex Avila hitting, the Rays had some decisions to make as they set up their shifted defense. At the start of the at-bat, they had shortstop Tim Beckham holding Mahtook at second.

Here was the key move:

Third-base/infield coach Charlie Montoyo went up to Cash and bench coach Tom Foley in the dugout and suggested they move Beckham over to the first base-side of the bag, where Avila was more likely to hit it, even though it meant Mahtook, as the tying run, would likely take third, which he promptly did.

"We felt it was more important at the time to cover more ground toward the pull side," Cash said. "I think that shows how much confidence we have in Alex Colome. We'll give up 90 feet to get (the tying run) to third, trusting that if we put the guys in the right spot, we can make a play and he'll make a pitch."

Colome made a pitch, an 88 mph cutter that Avila could only roll over and hit to the right side.

And the Rays made a play, Beckham barely having to move, to seal the win.

"That situation, I want the ball hit to me," Beckham said. "They had me positioned perfect, and he hit it right to me."

There have been plenty of times when the shift seems to backfire against the Rays, when there is, as former manager Joe Maddon used to say, bad geometry, and those tend to stand out and get pointed out.

And there is some occasional chirping from the pitchers and infielders, as recently as after Friday's players-only meeting, that they don't need computers to tell them where to play and can do just as well being instinctive.

But Rays front-office officials and the coaches are adamant the shifty business works more often, considerably more often, actually, and that was evident as they talked, even boasted, about the win.

Obviously for that to work, it's imperative that Colome pitch well, and as usual, he did, logging his 19th save, tying for the American League lead. Having not worked since last Sunday, Colome told his bosses he needed some action Saturday, figuring on an inning at most.

"He wanted to pitch (Saturday), regardless," Cash said. "I don't know if he wanted to pitch that much."

The saves of more than one inning have been problematic at times for Colome, and Saturday had the potential to go wrong. He came in with the tying run on second in the eighth and had to work hard to get Alex Presley and Nicholas Castellanos out. Then the ninth started badly when Longoria didn't make the play on Mahtook's ball, which was scored a hit, then the bunt almost going awry if not for the replay reversal.

"I'm not thinking about the error on the ball from Longoria, I'm just thinking I have to try to make better pitches," Colome said. "Never nervous. If I'm nervous, I can lose the game. I just try to do my best every time."

It worked out for the Rays on Saturday. A lot did.

Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.

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