St. Petersburg, FL – Wander Franco hit his first career walk-off homer as the Tampa Bay Rays avoided a disheartening disastrous defeat after a ninth inning implosion by Pete Fairbanks and Robert Stephenson.
Holding an 8-5 lead in then ninth, Rays closer Pete Fairbanks was wild thing incarnate. He walked the first two batters then hit Ramon Laureano on a 3-2 pitch to load the bases. He then uncorked a wild pitch allowing the first Guardians run to score. He did strike out a pair of batter, but uncorked a second wild pitch allowing another run to score. After issuing his third walk of the inning he was replaced by Robert Stephenson who threw a wild pitch of his own allowing the game-tying run to score.
Wander Franco was able to not let the negative feeling fester as his homer leading off the bottom of the ninth gave Tampa Bay the 9-8 victory. Robert Stephenson (2-4, 4.17 ERA) picked up the win as Tampa Bay improved to 70-48 on the year.
Nick Sandlin (5-5, 3.65 ERA) takes the loss for the Guardians who fall to 56-61.
At the end of the year, it’s often said it’s not how a team wins games, just how many. This was a night where the adage holds true. All wins are good, including this one.
The game had the feel of a little league game that you would watch at your local diamond rather than a MLB product. Tampa Bay committed 3 errors, walked six batters, hit a batter, and threw four wild pitches – three of which resulted in runs as the Guardians tied the game in the top of the ninth.
Cleveland was just as sloppy committing a costly error that led to a pair of runs in the seventh as well as issuing six walks. The game would have been quite a boost for the Guardians who had an opportunity to cut the deficit in the AL Central to 1.5-games with Minnesota’s 13-2 loss to the Phillies.
Tampa Bay threw 174 pitches in the victory, Cleveland was slightly more economical throwing just 132 pitches. The numerous pitches results in a game time of 2:55 in front of 19,625 fans, many who stayed for the Lee Brice concert that followed the game.
Asked if the victory and how it unfolded with Wander Franco’s walk-off was big given what transpired in the ninth, Manager Kevin Cash added some levity saying “Pretty big, you guys (media) would have been asking how tough was the loss and I would have said, ‘it’s pretty tough loss’ so yeah, I’m glad I’m not answering that question.”
Ramon Laureano plated the first run of the game for the Guardians with a single scoring Andres Gimenez in the top of the third inning. Tampa Bay responded by scoring three times in the bottom of the third. With one out Josh Lowe singled and promplty stole second., his 23rd theft on the season. Christian Bethancourt walked and Mr. Reliable Yandy Diaz delivered a RBI double scoring Lowe and tying the game. Wander Franco followed with a single scoring both Bethancourt and Diaz putting the Rays up 3-1.
Cleveland cut the lead to 3-2 on a two-out RBI triple by Stephen Kwan scoring Brayan Rocchio who had reached on an infield single to open the inning.
Aaron Civale was removed after five innings allowing the two earned runs on seven hits whiles striking out two and walking one. He threw 91 pitches with 60 for strikes.
Jake Diekman replaced him and couldn’t find the strike zone walking the first two batters and nine of this first 10 pitches were balls. Christian Bethancourt’s errant throw behind Brayan Rocchio allowed him advance to third. Myles Straw delivered an RBI single scoring Rocchio tying the game at 3-3.
Steven Kwan grounded a ball to Wander Franco in deep short. Franco, with only one play to make fired the ball to Isaac Paredes at third base for the first out of the inning. Diekman allowed an RBI single to Andres Gimenez that gave Cleveland the 4-3 lead.. It looked as if Diekman had escaped the inning on a groundball double play off the bat of Jose Rarmirez but Yandy Diaz dropped the relay throw from Brandon Lowe. It was the Rays third error of the game. Jose Ramirez stole second but Diekman retired Kole Calhoun to end the threat and keep the Guardians lead at 4-3.
Randy Arozarena led off the bottom of the sixth with a double and charged up the crowd posing with arms crossed toward the fans in Randy Land located behind the left field wall. Isaac Paredes followed by delivering a souvenir to Randy Land belting his 23 home run of the year. and the Rays recaptured the lead at 5-4.
The homer ended the evening for Cleveland starter Xzavion Curry who was charged with five earned runs in five-plus innings of work allowing six hits while striking out one and walking two. Daniel Norris entered the game for the Guardians and struck out pinch hitter Manuel Margot, Harold Ramirez, and Josh Lowe to end the frame.
Colin Poche replaced Jake Diekman with the Rays leading 5-4 in the top of the seventh and for the first time in the game a Rays pitcher retired the side in order.
Norris opened the bottom of the seventh walking Christian Bethancourt. It was the second time Bethancourt walked marking his first multi-walk game of his career. He struck Yandy Diaz out before walking Wander Franco and Brandon Lowe to load the bases. Randy Arozarena scaled a ball through Andres Gimenez who was charged with the error. Both Bethancourt and Franco to scored extending Tampa Bay’s lead to 7-4. Norris was replaced after walking Isaac Paredes to reload the bases.
Manuel Margot was robbed by Gimenez on a diving stab but the Guardians were unable to turn the double play and Brandon Lowe scampered home and the Rays giving the Rays a 8-4 lead. Tampa Bay scored three times in the bottom of the seventh without the benefit of a base hit, walking four times, an error, and a fielders choice.
Jason Adam replaced Poche and worked the eighth inning allowing a solo homer to Myles Straw that cut the Rays lead to 8-5. It was only the sixth homer of his career and first since August 6, 2021.
Pete Fairbanks entered the game in the ninth to protect a three run lead. He walked the first two batters, hit a batter, and uncorked a pair of wild pitches allowing two runs to score. He was unable to nail down a victory for Tampa Bay and after walking Bo Naylor was replaced by Robert Stephenson.
Stephenson immediately delivered a wild pitch as Cleveland scored the game tying run and the go-ahead run moved up to second.
All was saved by Wander Franco who belted a leadoff homer in the bottom of the ninth giving the Rays a 9-8 victory. It was Franco’s first career walk-off homer and his 17th of the season.
On The Mend:
Tyler Glasnow threw a truncated bullpen on Friday afternoon and reportedly had no ill-effects. However, the ever cautious Rays have moved Glasnow’s return slated for tomorrow to Monday in San Francisco against the Giants. Josh Fleming, on the 60-day injury list (elblow), was mentioned by Kevin Cash as a possible addition for Saturday’s game.
The Tampa Bay Rays and Cleveland Guardians play the second of three on Saturday afternoon at 4:10 p.m. The Rays will send Shawn Armstrong (0-0, 1.15 ERA) to the mound and will utilize a bullpen day (possible Josh Fleming in bulk role). The Rays will face their third straight rookie starter as Cleveland will start Gavin Williams (1-3, 2.90 ERA).