Rays Chase Kluber In Second, Win Thriller In Walkoff

After getting past Kluber early, Rays need ninth inning comeback

Coming into Monday night’s series opener between the Tampa Bay Rays and visiting Cleveland Indians, nobody would have guessed that Tampa Bay opener Diego Castillo would outlast Indians starter Corey Kluber.  When Castillo did just that, nobody would have guessed that the ballgame would end up tied in the top of the sixth.  They took the lead in the seventh, and the Rays looked destined to eventually fall 5-4 on a wild night in St. Petersburg.

Then Tommy Pham came up with two outs and placed a seeing-eye single between first and second.  That set the stage for Ji-Man Choi.  Choi lept on the second pitch and took it deep to right field.  It was the Rays’ ninth walkoff win of the season, a 6-5 affair that had all the feel of a playoff game.

The 2018 Tampa Bay Rays:  Go figure.

“It was my first walk-off home run and that was awesome,” said Choi through a translator after the game.  “I was just thinking at the plate, ‘Just come to me, so I can bring the win for the team,’ and it happened and I just felt great.”

It was a slow, deliberate game as both teams went deep into their bullpens to keep the game close.  Rays fans might not have expected playoff intensity at any point in the season, but they certainly got it Monday night as Cleveland geared up for an October to come and Tampa Bay tried to continue hanging on to their slim postseason hopes.  The affair had the feel of a postseason game, especially late as both teams brought in pitcher after pitcher to get critical outs and keep it close.  In the end, the Rays had to survive a fantastic performance from the Indians’ bullpen to earn the win.

“I think winning creates a lot of things,” said Kevin Cash after the game.  “Sometimes you can tell a lot about the club or your team or your players when losing goes on.  Not one time do you see them come in moping.”  The Rays have been through it this season, but they just keep keeping on, hanging on the periphery of the Wild Card race with every win.

Rays rally in second, stun Kluber

Corey Kluber came out on Monday night looking every bit like a two-time Cy Young Award winner.  The Indians’ ace struck out three of the first four batters he faced.  From there, Kluber picked right back up where he started.

The Indians’ righty, as usual, displayed dominant stuff.  His slider in particular was visible from quite a distance, and nobody watching it could figure out how to put bat on such a ball.  It was obvious to everyone, immediately, that runs would not come as easily against Cleveland as they did against Baltimore.

That was little matter to the Tampa Bay Rays, who have had a thing for defying odds in 2018.  With Cleveland up 1-0 in the bottom of the second and Kluber apparently cruising, Joey Wendle ripped a ball in the gap between center field and right, legging out a triple.  Willy Adames promptly singled him home.  Two batters later, Kluber threw a pitch on the outside half to Jake Bauers and the rookie got full extension on the ball, blasting a home run to right to put the Rays up 3-1.

Nick Ciuffo followed with a double.  Mallex Smith walked on four pitches.  Pitching coach Mickey Callaway went out to the mound.  Tommy Pham beat out an infield single to short.  Just like that, the Tampa Bay Rays batted around for the eighteenth time this season.  Then, Ji-Man Choi got hit in the hip with a pitch.

Corey Kluber did not last as long for Cleveland as Tampa Bay’s opener Diego Castillo.  The two time Cy Young winner’s final line:  1.2 IP, 5 H, 4 ER, 1 BB, 4 K.  It was not exactly what Terry Francona had in mind.

Beeks gets headliner duty

After Diego Castillo opened up for the Rays, going two innings while surrendering one earned run, manager Kevin Cash called for Jalen Beeks to get “headliner” duty (the long reliever following an opener).

Beeks seems custom-built for the headliner role, at least for now while he continues to develop into a starting pitcher.  The young lefty is still seeking consistency, and that’s where this more relaxed role helps.  On a rough night, there is no obligation to leave him in to absorb an extra inning or get to a certain amount of pitches, yet on a good night he could stay in to get eighteen or more outs.

Part of what Beeks needs to learn to develop into a full-fledged starting pitcher is how to be efficient with his pitches and with his innings.  He was given a lesson in this Tuesday night, having to rebound from a leadoff walk to Greg Allen just to get through his first inning of work scoreless.

In all, it was not Beeks’ best night, and Kevin Cash noticed that early on.  After surrendering a single, a double, and a bloop double in the fifth, Cash came out and got Beeks.  The lefty threw 2.1 innings, surrendering four hits and one run.  He left with the Rays in good position, leading 4-2, as Ryne Stanek came in.

Aggressive approach leads to a lot of strikeouts

The Rays were happy to go after the Indians’ pitching staff on Monday night, and while it paid dividends in chasing Kluber early, it also led to a lot of players walking back to the dugout.  Tampa Bay struck out on Monday night and they struck out often.  Home plate umpire Carlos Torres rung up Rays hitters sixteen times on Monday night.

Up next for Rays

The three game series against the Indians continues Tuesday night at 7:10.  It will be a matchup fans will likely see several times in the future, as Tyler Glasnow takes the hill for Tampa Bay against young Cleveland righty Shane Bieber.

Glasnow is coming off the shortest start of his career, and the shortest start for the Rays all year excluding openers.  The tall righty was chased after just 0.2 innings last Wednesday against Toronto, The Rays would go on to lose the game 10-3.  On Tuesday night, Glasnow is likely to be rested and motivated to bounce back from his rough outing last week.


Josh Donaldson is also likely to be a part of the game on Tuesday night, making his Indians debut after a waiver-season trade deal Cleveland made with the Toronto Blue Jays.  MLB’s approval of the deal has been questioned by multiple organizations, with the Indians adding a major piece just before the deadline to add a player that can still be eligible for the postseason.  The deal has been done, and with Donaldson returning from injury, the baseball world will very definitely be watching.

Tim Williams has been covering sports since his days as a student at Northeastern University covering events such as the Beanpot. In the thirteen years since, he has covered college hockey, the NFL, Major League Baseball, the PGA Tour, and the National Hockey League. A native of the Tampa Bay area, Tim has returned home after living much of his life in the northeast, including sixteen years in the Boston area. These days the Managing Editor of Sports Talk Florida can be found on Florida's golf courses when he's not working.