Fairbanks OK after scare, but solid night from 'pen spoiled late

June 19th, 2024

MINNEAPOLIS – couldn’t dodge the baseball, but it looks like he dodged a bullet.

Fairbanks had to leave the game after a comebacker from Carlos Correa struck the righty’s thumb on his throwing hand in the bottom of the ninth of Tuesday’s 7-6 loss to the Twins at Target Field. But he and the Rays appear to have avoided a worst-case scenario after X-rays came back negative postgame. Fairbanks is listed as day to day with a right thumb contusion.

Fairbanks had been on a roll since coming off the IL on May 11 before being charged with the loss Tuesday. Before his outing against the Twins, his ERA in that span was 0.56 and his WHIP was 0.88, ranking him among the best closers in the American League. That's why it felt like everyone held their breath when Correa’s 103.6 mph base hit ricocheted off Fairbanks’ bare hand, which was near his glove as he attempted to make the play.

After Correa reached base, Fairbanks consulted with the Rays’ training staff and coaches before throwing three test pitches from the mound. The Rays decided to be cautious with their closer, and Fairbanks left the field for X-rays and treatment.

“He just kind of lost circulation there in his thumb area, but I think he’s going to be OK,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “I’m optimistic. For him to be able to throw three balls there like he did off the mound, he should be OK.”

Phil Maton was called on to replace Fairbanks, taking over with runners on first and second and two outs in a tie game. Pinch-hitter Carlos Santana slapped Maton’s third pitch into right-center field, allowing former Ray Manuel Margot to scamper home from second as the winning run.

“Looked like [Maton] made a pretty good pitch,” Cash said. “Santana’s a good hitter though, and found a space in the outfield. Tough situation to put Phil in right there. When Pete comes in the game you’re banking he’s going to be able to get through that inning one way or the other. Unfortunately the comebacker got him.”

It was part of an up-and-down night for the bullpen -- mostly up, though. It started when Kevin Kelly retired Royce Lewis -- one of the game’s hottest hitters -- on a comebacker to strand the go-ahead run at second in the fourth inning.

Brandon Lowe led off the fifth with a homer before a long-awaited rainstorm arrived in Minneapolis, leading to a one-hour, 23-minute delay. When play resumed, Josh Lowe hit a solo homer, giving the Rays a 6-4 lead.

Shawn Armstrong came on and had an immediate hiccup, however, allowing a solo homer by Max Kepler on a pitch that was thigh-high on the inside corner. He then walked Correa, who came around to score on a sacrifice fly to tie the game.

“Terrible location to Kepler. Good hitter’s going to hit bad pitches. Other than that, obviously the Correa walk, you can’t do that whenever it’s that close of a ballgame, so just poor execution,” said Armstrong, who had allowed just two earned runs over 13 1/3 innings in his last 11 appearances. “Like we say, baseball’s going to baseball, but today I didn’t do my job in the fifth inning and I’ve got to be better next time.”

The rest of the bullpen came up big to keep the game tied until the ninth. Colin Poche posted his sixth consecutive scoreless inning. Garrett Cleavinger shook off a couple of rough outings with a 1-2-3 seventh. Jason Adam worked around a two-out single in the eighth. And if Fairbanks had fielded Correa’s ball cleanly, he could have stranded a leadoff single in the ninth.

“They have a lot of different looks. It’s not that easy,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said of the Rays’ bullpen. “Because they have guys with good stuff. I mean, they have guys that, they’re different, they’re just all kind of different from the pitchers you normally see.”

All in all, the Rays relievers retired 11 straight batters to give the offense a chance. It’s what their teammates have come to expect from them.

“Our pitchers rarely give up multirun leads or any leads, honestly. Any time we get the lead, whether it’s 1-0 or 10-0, I think they’re the best at the job and doing what they do,” Josh Lowe said.