On the mound, Chris Sale was, well, sailing. He was shutting out the Rays, who had only one hit. He had struck out 11. He was in command. And the Rays? All they could offer was light-hitting shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera and his .203 average. What was there to fear?
Well, there was this. Cabrera hit the ball out off the yard, leading the Rays to a 2-1 comeback win on Sunday afternoon.
Cabrera had only three hits in his previous 10 games, for crying out loud. He had only one extra base hit in his previous 18 games. He was hitting the second-lowest in the majors (.135) with men in scoring position.
This is the strange kind of stuff that happens on a baseball field. It was Cabrera’s fir since May 19, and his first off a left-handed pitcher since last August. But Cabrera launched a 1-1 pitch into the seats that changed the afternoon, allowing the Rays to sweep the White Sox. It was Tampa Bay’s 11th win in their last 15 games.
Who would have thought this? Cabrera was on pace for a five-home run season; he has had at least 14 in each of past four seasons. His average was at a career low. He had become one of those good-field, no-hit types that you often see at the position.
Blink, and suddenly, Cabrera is getting dunked by his son Meyer and David DeJesus and teammate Joey Butler is tossing peanuts at him.
“I know he hasn’t performed offensive the way he wants to, or the way he’s capable of,” said manager Kevin Cash. “But when you can get big knocks like that, it erases some of the tough games.”
Cabrera says he has confidence that, by the end of the season, his numbers will be where they usually are. In the meantime, he’s playing a pretty mean shortstop. Coming into Sunday, he had only two errors in 191 chances and a .990 field percentage that led the AL shortstops.
“He’s the best shortstop in the American League defensively,” Cash said. “We want the ball hit to him. He’s showing pretty good range now.”
“There’s nothing better than when you do something to help the team win,” Cabrera said. “As soon as I hit it, I knew. It was awesome.”
The Rays, who finished with only five hits, pieced together a decent pitching performance of their own when Nathan Karns threw six innings of one-run baseball. Relievers C.J. Riefenhauser, Steve Geltz and Kevin Jepsen all threw one perfect inning of relief baseball.
Karns did much of his damage with the most change-ups he has thrown all year. Oh, and with a defense led by, who else, Cabrera.
“If he’s not the best shortstop in the American League, he’s there at the top,” Karns said. “He made a play in the hole to get the guy at second, a Jeter throw. Look at the numbers. They speak for themselves. He’s a quality shortstop. I really enjoy having him back there. When he has the ball, it’s pretty much an out for me.”
The Rays play Washington Monday at 7:10 at the Trop with Erasmo Ramirez on the mound.