Choi Sends Rays to 12th Straight Home Win on Walk-off Homer; Rays 6, Indians 5
Bob Toth | On 10, Sep 2018
With a runner at second base and two down in a one-run game against Neil Ramirez in the seventh, Ji-Man Choi blasted a 3-2 two-seamer deep to right, but hooked it foul before dropping the bat at the plate in frustration. He lofted the next pitch to center to end the inning.
He got to drop the bat again in the bottom of the ninth, but after carrying it nearly all the way to first base before beginning a slow and animated trot around the bases as his two-out, two-run home run off of Indians closer Brad Hand gave the Tampa Bay Rays a shocking 6-5 walk-off win from St. Petersburg.
In a game that featured 15 pitchers and 357 pitches thrown, Corey Kluber was chased in the second inning, outlasted by Kevin Cash’s “opener” Diego Castillo. The Indians fell behind when Kluber allowed seven of nine men to reach in the second, only to fight their way back and take the lead in the bottom of the seventh without a hit in doing so.
The Indians knocked in a first inning run against the hard-throwing right-hander Castillo. Michael Brantley walked, moved to second on a wild pitch, advanced to third on a groundout by Jose Ramirez, and scored on a single by Edwin Encarnacion.
Kluber struck out three of the first four hitters that he faced before things took a drastic turn for the worst. Joey Wendle tripled to the gap in right-center and scored when Willy Adames won a seven-pitch battle by singling his teammate in. Brandon Lowe struck out looking for the second out, but Jake Bauers blasted a 3-2 cutter over the middle of the plate deep to right for a two-run shot to make it a 3-1 game. Nick Ciuffo doubled and was joined on the bases on a four-pitch walk by Mallex Smith. Tommy Pham kept the inning going by legging out a chopper off of the plate for an infield single to load the bases. Choi was hit in the back leg by a 1-2 Kluber offering to force in another run, bringing manager Terry Francona to the mound for reliever Tyler Olson. He struck out C.J. Cron swinging to leave the bases full.
Olson’s impressive day on the rubber included three more strikeouts in a perfect third. Oliver Perez started similarly in relief in the fourth, striking out the first two batters before a double by Smith and an intentional walk of Pham. Smith was thrown out trying to steal third to end the inning.
The Indians left a pair in the top of the third against Jalen Beeks and stranded another in the fourth after Melky Cabrera was hit by a pitch with one out. In the fifth, they were able to put something together to get back on the scoreboard. With one down, Francisco Lindor singled and moved to third on the next pitch on a double by Brantley. J. Ramirez followed by swinging at the next pitch and popping it up into no-man’s land in shallow center, where the ball dropped in safely for a hustle RBI-double, making it a 4-2 game. Beeks was removed for Ryne Stanek, who struck out Encarnacion, and Adam Kolarek retired Yonder Alonso on a grounder to third.
Perez made it three strikeouts in an inning and a third by striking out Choi to start the fifth. Dan Otero got the next two and the Indians bats got back to work against Kolarek.
Cabrera singled to start the inning but was forced at second on a fielder’s choice off of the bat of Jason Kipnis. Yan Gomes moved him to second with a single. With no one warming in the Rays’ bullpen, Francona went to his bench, bringing on Brandon Guyer for Greg Allen and the move paid off as the left-hander masher crushed a changeup deep to center over the head of Smith, scoring both base runners to tie the game at four. Kolarek retired the next two batters to leave the go-ahead run in scoring position.
J. Ramirez manufactured his own run in the seventh against Chaz Roe to give the Indians their first lead since the second. In an eight-pitch at bat to lead off the inning, he was hit by a slider. He stole second before Encarnacion struck out for the first out and picked off third with a head first slide with Alonso at the plate. Alonso grounded to second, but the throw to the plate was too late to nab the diving Ramirez, who slid in safely around the tag to put the Indians ahead, 5-4. Rajai Davis replaced Alonso at first and stole second before a two-out walk by Kipnis, but Roe retired Gomes on a bullet liner up the middle to leave two men standing on the base paths.
N. Ramirez took the mound in the bottom of the seventh and walked Ciuffo, but his pinch-runner was stranded at second after a stolen base.
The Indians left two men on in the eighth and another one in the ninth, while Cody Allen got out of his jam in the bottom of the eighth. Adames walked with two outs and was able to advance two bases on a wild pitch that clipped catcher Gomes in the neck/ear before bouncing towards the backstop. Lowe walked, but Bauers grounded out to Kipnis to leave it a one-run game.
Hand was moving quickly through the ninth before things turned in the favor of the Rays. Pinch-hitter Carlos Gomez fouled out to first and Smith was cut down on three straight strikes for the second out. Hand got ahead in the count 1-2 against Pham before a slider low in the zone was called a ball. Pham singled the next pitch to right and two pitches later, Choi drove the game-winner over the fence in right to give Tampa a 6-5 win.
The Indians dropped their second straight and their third on their seven-game road trip to fall to 81-63 on the season and 37-35 on the road. Despite the loss, the Tribe’s magic number to clinch the AL Central dropped to four with a loss on Monday by the Minnesota Twins. The Rays moved to 79-64 on the year (including a 45-24 mark at home). It marked the ninth time this season that the Rays have celebrated a walk-off victory at home.
Kluber rapidly crumbled in the second, but got off of the hook for the loss when his teammates tied the game and later took the lead. He lasted just five outs and was charged with four runs on five hits with a walk and four strikeouts. An extremely elevated second inning pitch count made the timing of the move relevant to not overexert the struggling starter. The Indians bullpen had allowed just one hit in seven innings of relief before Pham and Choi struck through against Hand in the ninth. For the Tribe’s closer, it was his first loss and first blown save with Cleveland.
No Rays pitcher lasted longer than Beeks’ two and one-third innings of work. Jaime Schultz, the final pitcher in the contest, got the win with a scoreless ninth inning. Four of seven different Tampa Bay pitchers allowed runs.
The Indians had ample opportunity to score, but as has been a common thread of late, the team left men scattered all over the bases. Twelve men were left on base and the team combined to go 3-for-15 with runners in scoring position.
The Indians activated Andrew Miller from the 10-day disabled list on Monday and he worked a scoreless inning in his return. Cleveland will do the same Tuesday with third baseman Josh Donaldson, who will make his Indians debut and start in the middle game of the series at the hot corner.
Game two of the three-game set from Tropicana Field is scheduled for a 7:10 PM ET first pitch on Tuesday night. Right-hander Tyler Glasnow (1-5, 4.64 ERA) will be opposed by fellow righty Shane Bieber (9-3, 4.63). Glasnow took the loss against the Indians two starts ago in a quality effort, but allowed seven runs while retiring just two batters in his most recent start. Bieber made his own quality start in a win over the Toronto Blue Jays last week, allowing four runs (three earned) to win his fifth road start against no losses.
Photo: Joseph Garnett Jr./Getty Images