By Morris Phillips
OAKLAND — With openers, featured pitchers, defensive shifts and situational hitting, the Tampa Bay Rays had their analytics game working on Sunday afternoon at the Coliseum.
All that number crunching, along with a heavy dose of bat dexterity, meant bad news for the A’s, 8-2 losers in the finale of their 10-game home stand. The A’s finished their lengthiest stint at home this season with an underwhelming 6-4 record that could have gained some juice with a win over wild card leader Tampa Bay in the series finale.
“It’s frustrating from my end that we could have taken a series from a team ahead of us in the standing,” said starting pitcher Brett Anderson, who was lifted during the Rays’ big fourth inning that broke the game open.
The Rays took control with three runs in the third, and five runs on seven hits in the fourth, but they built momentum in the first inning courtesy of Ryne Stanek, baseball’s premiere opener in 2019. Stanek has already started 22 games for the Rays, assuming the task of navigating the opposing teams’ meat of the order the first time through, while never lasting as long as the first two innings of a ballgame.
The hard throwing Stanek isn’t averse to walking a batter or two (18 walks allowed in 43 2/3 innings) to get to a favorable matchup. On Sunday, in his 51st stint as an opener in the last two seasons, he looked comfortable in the face of adversity, facing five batters in the first, allowing a hit and a walk, and striking out three, including an inning-ending punch out of Ramon Laureano with two runners on.
Then after throwing 26 pitches in the first inning, issuing a four-pitch walk to Mark Canha leading off the second, Stanek was gone.
But Ryan Yarbrough, the featured pitcher, picked Stanek up immediately, assuming a baserunner in the second, then pitching six innings in an innocuous manner as possible, befitting a guy asked to neither start or finish a game
“It was big to give our bullpen some time off and take a big day like this into the off-day,” manager Kevin Cash of Yarbrough.
Yarbrough allowed a run on five hits in his six innings, but the key spot came right away, facing Matt Olson with runners on second and third with two outs and the first run of the ballgame in. Olson had previously homered against Yarbrough, adding to the tension of the moment.
But with the shift deployed and second baseman Joey Wendle playing in shallow right, Olson was retired by the aggressiveness of the defense.