As part of a Game of Thrones Season 7 cross-promotion, the Tampa Bay Rays defeated the Boston Red Sox in three of the games in a hard-fought four-game series with playoff implications and playoff intensity at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida, heading into the All-Star break.
In so doing, the Rays (47-43) pulled into a second-place tie with the struggling New York Yankees in the MLB American League East. Despite the three losses, the Red Sox (50-39) still lead the AL East by 3.5 games.
Season 7 of Games of Thrones, which consists of seven episodes (down from 10 in previous seasons) is set for its HBO premiere on July 16, 2017.
In addition to some pre-game mock swordplay on the field with actors and the Rays mascot on the Game of Thrones theme, in Game 3 of the Rays-Red Sox matchup, fans in attendance received an Evan Longoria “House of Longo” Game of Thrones bobblehead and were also able to pose for pictures at one of the entrance gates in a replica of the Iron Throne.
The Trop also modified the scoreboard pictures of each player to fit the Game of Thrones concept.
Rays longtime third baseman and fan favorite Evan Longoria, the 2007 AL Rookie of the Year, was drafted By the Rays in the third round of the 2006 MLB Draft with the third pick overall. This season, Longoria is going with a full, Game of Thrones-like beard. He is also known for his distinctive walk-up music, “Down and Out” by Tantric.
In Game 1 of the July 6-9 series, Red Sox ace and All-Star Chris Sale (11-4) struck out 12 Rays, but wound up with the loss in a 4-1 Boston defeat after giving up a home run to left fielder Perter Bourjos in the 5th inning (breaking up a 1-1 tie) and a devastating, two-run home run to light-hitting catcher Wilson Ramos in the 6th.
Rays rookie Jake Faria, who is undefeated at 4-0, got the win in six innings of work. Closer Alex Colome recorded the save. “[Sale] became the first Red Sox pitcher to strike out 10 or more in 12 games before the All-Star break, surpassing the 11 games of Pedro Martinez in 1999,” ESPN detailed. Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts was hit on the hand by a pitch in the first inning and left the contest, but he returned for Game 3 after the swelling subsided.
In Game 2, the Red Sox offense came alive in an 8-3 win over the Rays, in a game that featured two stellar double plays in the infield by Boston, the first on a bunt play with Rays’ runners on second and third with just one out in the second inning.
Second baseman Dustin Pedroia, centerfielder Jackie Bradley Jr., and DH Hanley Ramirez all homered for the Sox, the first two off of Rays starter (and loser) Jake Odorizzi. Sox starter Drew Pomeranz (9-4) got the win. Pomeranz, who pitched six innings in this outing, is 6-1 over his last 10 starts. Lights-out closer Craig Kimbrel blew away the Rays in the bottom of the ninth on three strikeouts.
In Game 3, last year’s Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello of the Red Sox was the hard-luck, complete-game loser in a 1-0 contest. “Though he fell to 4-11 after being outdueled by Alex Cobb, [Porcello] limited the Rays to one run on six hits over eight innings, striking out seven and walking none,” WEEI explained.
The Rays scored the game’s only run after a Sox double play was overturned on a replay appeal, and a subsequent sacrifice fly by catcher Jose Sucre scored left fielder Steven Sousa Jr. from third.
The Red Sox loaded the bases in the top of the ninth. In a questionable move by Sox manager John Farrell, however, he allowed left fielder Chris Young (a righty) to bat against the right-handed closer Colome, instead of sending up lefty Jackie Bradley Jr. (who had the day off) to pinch hit. Young popped out to end the game.
Game 4 was another intense pitching matchup, this time between former Rays ace David Price and All-Star Chris Archer. Pedroia hit a two-run homer in the seventh off of Archer to put the Sox up 3-2. However, in another questionable move, Farrell brought in reliever Matt Barnes, who is having lots of problems getting the ball over the plate, to pitch the bottom of the seventh. Barnes walked the first batter he faced, pinch hitter Mallex Smith.
Joe Kelly relieved Barnes later in the inning, and Smith scored from third on a sacrifice fly by DH and All-Star Corey Dickerson to tie the game. Many Red Sox fans believe that Farrell should have sent in the usually overpowering Joe Kelly to start the inning and leave Barnes on the bench.
In the bottom of the eighth, however, with Kelly still on the mound, second baseman Brad Miller — who is just off the disabled list — blasted a two-run homer over the center field wall, making the score 5-3, and it was essentially game over, although Boston threatened in the eighth and the ninth.
— Tampa Bay Rays (@RaysBaseball) July 9, 2017
Several potential Red Sox rallies were thwarted by solid Rays defensive plays and Sox base-running blunders by Hanley Ramirez.
ESPN summarized the highlights, including All-Star Mookie Betts’ first-inning home run.
“Mookie Betts homered on Archer’s third pitch of the game to set a Red Sox record with his 11th career leadoff homer. …Archer, who gave up three runs and eight hits in 6 2/3 innings, and one-time Rays ace David Price both had effective starts. Price allowed two runs and five hits over six innings. He entered with a 19 1/3-inning scoreless streak against his former team… Longoria got his 53rd RBI, his most at the All-Star break since 2013 (52), on a third-inning sacrifice fly.”
Reliever Brad Boxberger got the win, and the otherwise-reliable Kelly took the loss.
If present trends continue, the Boston Red Sox, Tampa Bay Rays (despite their modest payroll), and the New York Yankees could all be in the hunt for the playoffs, and the American League “throne,” right to the end of the 2017 season as they seek a World Series title against the eventual National League winner.
[Featured Image by Robert Jonathan for the Inquisitr]