ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — There are few solo acts in baseball, save the once-every-blue-moon no-hitter, or a player who hits for the cycle, or a defensive display so unbelievable that it lives through time on highlight reels or blooper tapes. This is a game that’s more chorus than a lone voice bellowing into a megaphone, and if all parts work in unison, they make music of their own.
Sunday, the Tampa Bay Rays’ bullpen received its first test since living an 18-inning grind Friday night/Saturday morning. Left-hander Enny Romero, in his major-league debut, gave his team an admirable 4 2/3 innings (no runs, one hit and four walks), before Rays relievers took the task of muting the Baltimore Orioles’ bats and sprinted with it.
A tale of the tape, from Tampa Bay’s 3-1 victory at Tropicana Field:
* Brandon Gomes: 0.2 IP, no run, no hits, no walks and two strikeouts.
* Wesley Wright: 0.1 IP, no runs, no hits, no walks and one strikeout.
* Jamey Wright: 1.1 IP, no runs, no hits, no walks and one strikeout.
* Joel Peralta: 1.0 IP, no runs, no hits, no walks and no strikeouts.
* Fernando Rodney: 1.0 IP, one run, two hits, no walks and one strikeout.
“It’s a game of confidence,” Jamey Wright said. “When you have it, it’s a beautiful thing. Pitching is contagious, just like hitting is. You want to be the guy who comes in there and follows up the next guy and does something even better than the guy that was in there before you.”
Who knew what to expect from the bullpen after the series opener between these teams? The Rays used 11 pitchers that night/morning, all had a hand in what was their best victory this season, given the stakes and drama. Only Rodney lifted a finger Saturday evening, after right-hander Alex Cobb toasted Orioles hitters for 8 1/3 innings.
That fact allowed Sunday to be an afternoon of exceeded expectations, both from Romero, who became the 21st starter to make his majors debut with the Rays, and from the bullpen, which allowed no hits until Danny Valencia singled to center field off Rodney with two outs.
Like most acts in baseball, there was collective credit due for the Rays’ third consecutive victory: Cobb, for his outing Saturday; Romero, for his command during a debut that made him “nervous and happy”; the bullpen, for emerging with a second wind following their marathon less than 48 hours earlier.
“Cobb really permitted those guys to look as good as they did today,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
“When the games are that close, you can’t assume anything. For the most part, most of those guys did not move their arms today. … When you get expedient outs, that really permits bullpen guys to (go longer).”
The bullpen’s work, for the most part, was quick and efficient. Gomes threw nine pitches, Wesley Wright five, Jamey Wright 14, Peralta seven and Rodney 21. Those five helped the Rays’ bullpen ERA improve to 1.50 this series. As a result, Baltimore’s American League wild-card hopes are flailing.
A byproduct of the performance means Alex Torres, who threw 2/3 of an inning in the series opener, should be rested for the finale Monday. Jake McGee and Jake Odorizzi, both used Friday night/Saturday morning, also were given more time to rest. Maddon anticipates that Peralta and Jamey Wright, two grizzled veterans, should be fine after their help Sunday.
“Everybody’s pulling in the same direction,” Gomes said, “all hands on board right now, just trying to go out there and do whatever our job is that day and take the next day whenever it comes.”
This series has given Tampa Bay reason to anticipate the days ahead. A sign of the times: Shortly after their victory, players in the Rays’ clubhouse gathered near televisions and watched Justin Maxwell’s game-ending grand slam in the 10th inning at Kauffman Stadium that lifted the Kansas City Royals over the Texas Rangers, one of Tampa Bay’s closest threats in the wild-card chase.
Baseball is a game of small moments, of individuals joined to chase group goals. The Rays’ collective effort Sunday was the latest example.
“I think it’s a very good bullpen,” Romero said, standing near his locker after a memorable day.