Matt Joyce Powers Tampa Bay Rays to First Victory with Walk-off Blast

Yossi Feins@TheRaysRanterContributor IIIApril 4, 2013

April 3, 2012; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays right fielder Matt Joyce (20) is congratulated by teammates at home plate after he hit a walk off home run against the Baltimore Orioles during the ninth inning at Tropicana Field. Tampa Bay Rays defeated the Baltimore Orioles 8-7. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Rays won a thriller Wednesday night, coming back to defeat the Baltimore Orioles, 8-7.

Jeremy Hellickson made his season debut and was roughed up pretty badly.

The Orioles jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the top of the first, as Chris Davis went yard with two outs for his second three-run home run in as many games.

Hellickson settled in after the first inning, allowing just one baserunner up until the sixth, which is when the action in this game really started.

Davis' red-hot bat went back to work in the top half of the inning, lining an RBI single to make it a 4-0 game.

The Rays responded in the bottom half in a huge way, though, as Orioles starter Wei-Yin Chen ran into trouble after five strong scoreless innings. Following a Desmond Jennings double, Ben Zobrist knocked in the first Rays run with an RBI single. This brought right-hander Luis Ayala into the game.

Evan Longoria was the first batter he faced, singling to put runners on the corners. Shelley Duncan followed, despite Joe Maddon having the lefty-swinging Matt Joyce as an option on the bench. Duncan skied a game-tying, three-run homer, handing Baltimore's usually lights-out bullpen a rare blown save.

Hellickson went back to work in the seventh but would find himself in the midst of another Orioles rally. Nate McLouth laced an RBI single to give the O's the lead back. With one out and two men on, Kyle Farnsworth came on in relief to clean up the mess. Farnsworth ended the inning with just four pitches by getting Manny Machado to ground into a crucial double play.

Helly finished the night with 6.1 innings pitched, allowing five earned runs on eight hits, one walk and two strikeouts.

Pedro Strop, who had a terrific year in 2012, took the mound for Baltimore in the bottom of the seventh. Joyce's pinch-hit bunt single against the shift started what would be a three-run rally for Tampa Bay. The three runs were scored on a wild pitch, a James Loney double and a Zobrist single.

Down 7-5, the Orioles began to chip away against the Rays' bullpen in the eighth. After retiring the first two batters, Joel Peralta let up a bloop double to Davis (yes, Chris Davis yet again) and then an RBI single to Matt Wieters.

In the ninth inning, Fernando Rodney came into the game, hoping to record his first save of the 2013 season after an incredible 2012 campaign and an outstanding spring. A shocker to Rays fans, he wasn't able to do so. What killed him was the leadoff walk to Nolan Reimold, where Rodney was clearly ripped off by the homeplate umpire:

The seventh pitch should have been called strike three. The first pitch, which was also called a ball, was in the strike zone as well.

The next batter was Brian Roberts, who smacked a game-tying double into the left-field corner. Rodney went on to retire the next three batters.

It was a big surprise to see both bullpens falter in this ballgame, as the two 'pens were so impressive in 2012 and were expected to be fantastic again this season. It hasn't been a good start at all for Tampa Bay's bullpen this year, as it blew leads in both games of this opening series. Hopefully, it's nothing more than an early-season fluke.

With the game tied at seven runs apiece, Joyce led off the bottom of the ninth against Tommy Hunter. On a 3-1 count, Joyce crushed a fastball into the left-center field seats to cap off a thrilling win.


Game Notes

  • The Rays' defense stayed very sharp again Wednesday night, making all of the routine plays. Longoria made two more nice plays at third.
  • Chris Davis went 4-for-4 with two runs and four RBI.
  • Jennings, Zobrist, Longoria and Joyce all had two-hit ballgames.
  • The Rays compiled 14 hits but didn't have a single walk or stolen base.
  • The Orioles didn't lose a single game on a walk-off last season and posted a historic 29-9 one-run game record. The Rays were 1-6 in that category in 2012.
  • Joyce's walk-off homer was the first walk-off hit of his career.
  • Here's a full boxscore

Roberto Hernandez will be on the hill against right-hander Miguel Gonzalez Thursday in the rubber match of this three-game set. First pitch is at 3:10 p.m. ET.