ST. PETERSBURG — You don’t go to a ballpark expecting to see history. You just sort of hope for it.
Maybe a player hitting for the cycle, or an outfielder going over the fence for a game-saving catch. Possibly a ball being hit where none had landed before, or a pitcher flirting with perfection.
Or perhaps what happened at Tropicana Field on Saturday night.
It wasn’t record-setting in the sense of baseball’s usual standards or accomplishments. It wasn’t going to lead SportsCenter or be heralded in too many headlines across the nation.
Yet it was amazing, all the same.
A half-dozen Rays pitchers turned in a performance that was, literally, for the ages. In a 13-inning 1-0 victory against the Tigers, the Rays registered 24 strikeouts without giving up a run or a walk.
Nowhere in the last century of box scores will you find an outcome quite like that. In 2017 the Dodgers and Yankees both had extra-inning games with a record 26 strikeouts but didn’t throw a shutout. The 2004 Angels struck out 26 but lost 1-0 in 17 innings, and the 1971 Athletics once punched out 26 but gave up 11 hits and one walk in a 1-0 victory that covered 20 innings.
Tampa Bay’s combination of power (24 strikeouts), efficiency (zero walks), effectiveness (three hits) and outcome (no runs) had a one-of-a-kind vibe by the end of the night.
“Remarkable,’’ manager Kevin Cash said.
It didn’t necessarily feel that way early in the evening. The game started routinely enough, with the Tigers and Rays trading outs in rapid succession for three innings. Yet slowly, almost imperceptibly, it changed from a game with subdued action to a night of mounting tension.
“I know we struck out as many times as I’ve ever seen in a baseball game,’’ said Detroit manager Ron Gardenhire, who has been in professional baseball continuously for the past 40 years.
Rays starter Ryan Yarborough racked up a career-high 10 strikeouts through 6⅓ innings, then things really started humming. Chaz Roe, Nick Anderson and Emilio Pagan combined to strike out eight consecutive Tigers, from the seventh to the ninth.
It will never be recorded this way because Detroit got lone hits in the fourth, fifth and seventh, but Tampa Bay pitchers hurled 10 innings of nonconsecutive no-hit ball during the night.
“Yarbrough started off with a bang, pounding the zone,’’ said Pagan, who threw two hitless innings. “He constantly had them in 0-2, 1-2 counts. And the bullpen kind of fed off that and everybody was in plus-counts most of the time. There wasn’t a lot of three-ball counts, and when you’re doing that with the stuff that we have, that’s when you’re going to see the strikeouts start to add up.
“That was a lot of fun.’’
And all of this was happening in the context of a 0-0 game with the Rays having been caught earlier in the day by Oakland in the race for the American League’s second wild card.
That lent a sense of urgency in the Tampa Bay dugout, where Cash made five pitching changes, used two pinch-runners, two pinch-hitters, emptied his bench and lost his designated hitter.
And while their pitchers were shredding Detroit’s lineup, the Rays were repeatedly falling short on offense. They were 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position before pinch-hitter Mike Brosseau finally drove in Eric Sogard from second with two outs in the 13th with a well-placed drive to right-center.
“You don’t win many games like we just won tonight,’’ Cash said. “They had to be perfect, and they were perfect.’’
On its best days, baseball crosses a line between expectation and incredulity. We all take comfort in the game’s familiarity, yet we forever hope to see something remarkable.
Through 13 innings, through 13 pitchers, through 3 hours and 39 minutes, that’s what the Tigers and Rays gave us Saturday night.
John Romano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @romano_tbtimes.