With two high-powered offenses clashing tonight in St. Petersburg, you wouldn’t be at fault for expecting a shootout in a game between two of baseball’s best teams. But, the baseball gods love little more than subverting expectations, so tonight’s Braves-Rays contest ended up being a 2-1 affair, settled by a Sean Murphy two-run homer trumping a Wander Franco solo shot, and a bunch of good pitching. Charlie Morton, Tyler Glasnow, Elvin Rodriguez, and the Braves’ backend relievers made it a tough night to be a hitter, and in the end, the Braves got their 59th win of the season in a brisk two hours and 19 minutes of play.
Both Glasnow and Morton dealt in this one. For Glasnow versus the Braves’ bats, it was a very Glasnow-y outing. He put together an 8/1 K/BB ratio in 5 2⁄3 innings, but was doomed by Sean Murphy barreling a homer the other way after Matt Olson and Brandon Lowe turned a hard grounder into a reach-on-error. That was really the only blemish, though, as Glasnow struck out six of his first nine faced, including a four-strikeout (Marcell Ozuna reached on a wild pitch for strike three) second inning. The Braves did nothing with a leadoff walk in the third, an inning before Murphy’s homer.
It was also a very Glasnow outing because he left with an injury — cramping in his non-throwing hand. That departure immediately followed an Olson single that snuck through up the middle, and brought on Elvin Rodriguez, who just dominated the Braves in relief. Rodriguez ended up getting ten outs in a row with five strikeouts. The five Braves that he didn’t strike out all made pitiful, easily-retired contact, too, with the exception of Austin Riley, whose lined barrel to left found a glove instead of grass. It was the first time the Braves were held to two or fewer runs since June 11.
Back in his old stomping grounds, Morton didn’t quite do what the Glasnow-Rodriguez combo achieved, but because the first-inning homer to Franco he allowed was a solo shot, the Braves won anyway. Morton finished his night with a 6/2 K/BB ratio in 6 1⁄3 innings of work. He did a nice job getting through the sixth, which started with batter number 19, thanks to a double play despite a leadoff single, and was chased by an infield single with one out in the seventh. A.J. Minter came on and was met by pinch-hitter Manny Margot. After an 0-1 count, the runner took off from first and was gunned down by Murphy on a close play; it was Murphy’s second caught stealing of the game. The pitch was another swinging strike, and Minter closed out the frame with a third consecutive whiff.
Overall, Morton was fine, and was both benefited and hurt by grounders in this one. He was really bailed out by a few bad swing decisions, like Randy Arozarena flying out in a 3-1 count to start the seventh. That said, he clearly kept the Rays guessing enough, with lots of weak contact in non-pitcher’s counts, to hang in there.
Nick Anderson walked the leadoff guy in the eighth, and allowed a two-out infield single to put the tying run on second, but then got Franco to ground out to Olson. In the ninth, Raisel Iglesias got two quick outs before Harold Ramirez, whose infield single chased Morton, pulled a grounder down the left-field line for a double. The Braves have been burned by not playing Austin Riley on the line so many times it seemed like this one would also come home to roost, but Iglesias easily struck out Taylor Walls on four pitches to end the game.
For the Braves, it was another victory in a summer that’s been chock full of them, even if this one deviated from the usual script of bashing other teams over the head. For the Rays, who are still winless in July, it was the same kind of loss they’ve suffered repeatedly on their now six-game losing streak: just one play away from a measure of salvation.
The series continues tomorrow with Spencer Strider set to duel Taj Bradley.