BOSTON – Emilio Pagan’s first trip to Fenway Park has gone pretty well so far.
Before Friday’s game was rained out, he got to poke around the historic baseball cathedral, including a trip inside the Green Monster where, following the local custom, he signed his name on the wall.
Saturday, he left a different kind of mark.
With his Rays bullpen mates seemingly headed for another implosion, Pagan saved the day, and the game, getting the final three outs so they could escape with a 2-1 win, and some revenge for Boston’s sweep last weekend at the Trop.
“It’s my first time (here), I don’t think it can go much better,’’ Pagan said. “It’s a lot of fun.’’
Pagan has reason to feel good.
This is a guy who didn’t get to save a game during his first two seasons in the majors, with Seattle and Oakland.
A guy who didn’t make the Rays opening day roster, starting the season in Triple-A.
And a guy who has stepped up while the other relievers have struggled, saving the Rays last three wins.
Saturday’s was certainly the biggest given the setting and the circumstance.
And his reaction on the mound, arms clenched, mouth open, after striking out Mitch Moreland – who hit a grand slam off him last year - was telling.
“Emotion got the best of me, I guess,’’ Pagan said. “Let out a little bit of a scream. Didn’t really know where I was. But at the same time it was a lot of fun.’’
The Rays needed everything Pagan had, as a game that started with a homer on the second David Price pitch by Yandy Diaz, his team-high seventh, and included six shutout innings from Charlie Morton, turned way too tense.
And as much satisfaction as there may be in the Rays’ majors- best 17-9 record, there also needs to be concern over how they are going to keep it up given the lack of dependable relief.
Either the guys they have are going to need to be more consistent, or they’re going to have to start looking at getting some new guys. There are a few more in-house candidates to try, but at some point they may have to start looking elsewhere. And as long as Craig Kimbrel remains unsigned, that possibility should at least be considered.
Consider Saturday that they needed to use five relievers to get the final nine outs to protect what was then a 2-0 lead.
Chaz Roe got the first call, getting an out to start the seventh, but walking the No. 8 hitter before getting the second out. Adam Kolarek came in and took care of his business, striking out Andrew Benintendi.
The bigger issue, and cause for concern, surfaced in the eighth.
Manager Kevin Cash went to one of his high-leverage guys, but Diego Castillo, in his first action since Sunday, was again not sharp. He gave up a leadoff homer to Mookie Betts, got Mitch Moreland on a deep fly out and, most troubling, a four-pitch walk to Xander Bogaerts.
Cash then went to the other half of the occasionally dynamic duo, Jose Alvarado.
But the hard-throwing lefty, who also hadn’t pitched since Sunday, gave up a single to lefty-swinging Rafael Devers, putting the tying run on third and the go-ahead run on first. Alvarado struck out rookie Michael Chavis, then walked Steve Pearce, who worked a tough nine-pitch at-bat, to load the bases.
The Rays caught a bit of a break in that Sox slugger J.D. Martinez, who was scratched from the lineup due to back spasms, wasn’t able to pinch hit. Instead, Alvarado got to face lefty Jackie Bradley, and struck him out to end the threat, though by throwing 21 pitches, he was done for the day.
Cash said there were some reasons for the lack of sharpness. “With Alvarado and Diego, we knew we had to give them some time off with the workload they had last weekend,’’ Cash said. “Then with the off-day and then the rainout, now we’re teetering on what’s too much off time. They both came out blowing 99-100 miles an hour, maybe a tick erratic. Jose came in and ultimately made some big pitches to Jackie Bradley.’’
But the Rays were fortunate Pagan came in and made bigger ones.
“He’s been a huge impact,’’ Cash said. “He seems very under control.’’
Even then, the ninth wasn’t without drama. Pagan gave up a leadoff single to Christian Vazquez. He struck out Benintendi.
Then the Rays turned a bad break into a good one, as Betts’ popup drifted in the wind out of Diaz’s reach behind first, but he was positioned to grab it on the bounce and get the force out at second. Pagan took it from there, settling his own personal score with Moreland.
“It’s been kind of crazy the last few days,’’ Pagan said. “It’s a lot of fun. I closed in college and I closed in the minors. That’s not to say I’m a closer or whatever, but it’s definitely fun whenever you get the opportunity. We’ve got a lot of guys that can do. I’ve been fortunate to get the last three opportunities.’’
And they’ve been fortunate he’s stepped up and handled them.
Contact Marc Topkin at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.