“Just a bad start, everything was up, they ambushed him,” manager Ron Gardenhire said, referring to starter Cole De Vries’ two-inning, eight run outing in Game 1 (emphasis mine).
“They ambushed him,” continued the skipper, “the first pitch of the game was what? A double?”
Yes, it was. Brandon Jennings was on second base less than a minute into the game.
And the third batter, BJ Upton, took him deep.
The ambush didn’t end in the first, either; the first five batters in the second reached, and Matt Joyce doubled, effectively ending his start.
“It was a flat-out ambush job out there tonight,” said De Vries, echoing his manager.
“They were jumping on me early, not really allowing me to get on my game plan and kinda threw me off a little bit.”
And the ambushing didn’t cease in the second game.
Game 2 starter Nick Blackburn allowed Jennings to single up the middle, and Upton took him deep.
And then Joyce, not wanting to miss out, took him deep in the next at-bat.
“It was just those first guys; those first three guys just kinda ambushed me,” said Blackburn.
After awhile, he settled in, though, and began locating his pitches. This allowed him to go into the seventh inning.
“Early on, the first 10 pitches, I just didn’t quite get ‘em there,” he said. “That’s sometimes how the game starts off. Guys don’t always come out painting right out of the game, and unfortunately, they were swinging.”
After the start, he had a conversation with Scott Diamond, the Game 3 starter, about how to attack the Rays.
“I…have talked to him [about] pretty much what he’s seen over the last couple of nights,” said Blackburn. “He’s a smart pitcher, and I know he’s already got his game plan.”
Diamond was ambushed as well, but he was prepared.
“I talked to him about certain pitches that he had thrown in certain counts,” he said about the conversation with Blackburn. “He made the comment that he had the rough first inning, but then began to move the ball around.
“Tampa really seems to make adjustments quickly.”
Every time he was attacked, he fought back.
The first batter he faced, Jennings, took him deep.
After that, Upton popped up and Longoria hit into a double play.
In the second inning, Keppinger led off with a home run.
After that, Pena grounded to third, and Ryan Roberts and Sean Rodriguez struck out.
“I don’t think I threw some of those pitches with as much conviction as I should,” he said, “so that’s the kind of a regrouping in the dugout and just getting back to what makes me successful.”
In the third inning, he walked Upton with two outs, but snagged a comebacker from Zobrist.
In the fourth, Longoria led off with a single, but Keppinger grounded into a double play and Pena grounded out.
“A couple double plays that we turned today,” he said, “they were huge in helping me go as deep as I did.”
In the fifth, his defense would help him out again. Roberts and Rodriguez hit doubles with no outs, allowing a runner to score to tie the game, but got Upton to ground into a 6-4-3 to end the inning.
“[He] did a super job of keeping us in the ballgame in some big situations where they had runners at the corners,” said Gardenhire, “he got a double play, he made pitches when he had to, popped a couple guys up.”
In the sixth, he struck out Zobrist and Longoria and allowed Keppinger to get a double (on the play that Span injured himself), but got out of the inning by striking out Pena looking.
In the seventh inning, Roberts led off with a single, but he was caught stealing in a phone number rundown (1-3-6-3-6-3-4 for those keeping track at home) and got Rodriguez to fly out and Jose Lobaton to ground out.
That would be his final inning of the night. He threw 95 pitches.
“We saw Diamond had to battle through a day,” said Gardenhire.
“Physically, I felt fine,” said the pitcher, “but it was a smart decision take me out right there just because the top of the order was coming around again and Jennings had my number all game.”
It was from the bench that he saw the team give up four runs to seal the deal.
Jennings scored the go-ahead run.
All quotes were obtained first-hand.
Tom Schreier writes a weekly column for TheFanManifesto.com.
Follow me on Twitter @tschreier3.