While not entirely rested from the debacle that was Wednesday night’s trip to see the Charlotte Stone Crabs play in the FSL championship game (post forthcoming), I still ventured forth to the ol’ Trop to catch some big league action Saturday night.
It was worth it.
It was Matt Garza figurine night, and, strangely, the real Garza was on the mound pitching.
(I believe it to be much more fun to watch Matty on the mound in person than on the tv primarily because you see far less spit emitting from his mouth when you are sitting 30 rows away.)
I’ve never done a post where I include pics of a trip to a ballgame, so I hope that this is effective. I have seen many of your posts so I’ll be pretty much imitating the mix of pic and story.
It was Hispanic Heritage night at the Trop and there were all things latino in attendance from mariachi bands to maraccas to beautiful Latin Ladies parading around the stadium.
Throughout the game players were announced alternatively in English and Spanish, which was different and, therefore, kind of neat.
I bought a few things at the team store (lots of clearance stuff): a World Series hoodie–yeah, we need those alot down here in Florida–and a Jonny Gomes t-shirt. Still love the guy. Still miss the guy.
Pedro Guerrero was there signing autographs. I wasn’t terribly enthused as I can recall his days in St. Louis haunting the Cubbies.
I was there early with some friends and was sporting an ensemble of Evan Longoria jersey and Charlotte Stone Crabs hat. I love that hat. Very cool.
There were some strange sights at the stadium. This guy must have thought it was ’70s night instead of Hispanic Heritage night. He was decked out in brown suit, butterfly collared shirt, and…mutton chops. Weird.
Eventually it was game time and we made our way to our seats on the third base line. The crowd was amped up and the first inning provided lots of fireworks.
Longo got a hit (that’s him at first).
Ben Zobrist came through too.
The Rays plated player after player after player after player, with Akinori Iwamura ending the inning after 4 runs had scored and the Rays had batted around.
We certainly gave Matty a nice margin of error to work with.
He wouldn’t need any but one of those runs.
Garza was dominant throughout the night, striking out batter after batter and helping the crowed to get coupons for a free pizza the next day when he hit the 10 strikeout mark.
The crowd was raucous every time Garza set down a Blue Jay, and I found my own voice strained before the night was over.
Joe Maddon eventually lifted Garza in the 8th inning
–nobody knows why, really–and the bullpen made it hold up with Russ Springer getting a nice strikeout,
Randy Choate ending the 8th, and Dan Wheeler locking it down in the 9th.
The result? A nice 4-0 Rays win.
Of course, the game was peppered throughout by the usual stuff that just makes me laugh:
Raymond being Raymond
(Raymond is on top of the dugout in the Lucho Libre outfit)
The Chik-Fil-A “Find the Cow” contest
and the Pepsi race (Aquafina won).
I love that stuff…
The Rays win was memorialized, of course, by the Trop’s roof being lit orange, and that was that.
It was a perfect night for a less than perfect team in a not even perfect season. But no matter what, it was fun.
And much more so because I could get home BEFORE 2:30 AM!
The only downfall of the night?
Garza’s arm was missing!!!
Luckily, the real Garza’s arm was on display all Saturday night at the Trop, and the Rays were able to ride it to a needed victory.
Toronto, that is.
Wow, what a difference a week and a half makes.
Just when things might have been looking rather bleak, the Rays have come out and, in their last 10 games, rattle off 8 wins.
That makes them the hottest team in the American League right now!
In fact, when fans and experts alike were looking at the team’s upcoming road trip as being extremely difficult and fraught with peril, our guys have done nothing more put together two impressive wins.
Rays 12, Blue Jays 7
None other than Roy Halladay took the mound for the Blue Jays to kick off the Rays’ 7-game road trip. And immediately it looked like it was going to be a loss.
Jeff Nieman was not sharp at all, giving up a Rod Barajas grand salami right away in the game.
I’ll admit, I was cursing at the tv and ready to walk away. Glad I didn’t!
The Rays rallied to beat up the Doc and put together an impressive 12-7 win. The guy who had no business getting a win, our default ace, improved his record to a more than impressive 12-5.
You gotta imagine this guy is going to get some serious consideration–maybe along with Scott Feldman of the Rangers–for the Rookie of the Year award.
Carlos Pena remained hot by going yard for number 35 and Ben Zobrist knocked out his 23rd.
They looked like the Rays we love.
They looked like a team that wanted to win.
Most importantly, they looked like a team ready for October.
Rays 7, Blue Jays 3
The story here was twofold:
1) Carlos Pena hit out two to give him 37 on the year and, more importantly, 200 for his up and down career.
Not too bad for a guy who had trouble latching on to a team before he landed in Tampa Bay.
2) James Shields finally got some run support! And, apparently, he celebrated with……some ice cream.
As has been well documented in the Cowbell, Shields is a guy who never seems to get any help from his offense. Well, they scored 6 runs in the first 3 innings for the guy, and he made it stand up. That is definitely help.
I didn’t catch much of this game, but it was nice to see our guys follow up a great performance with one that was just as good.
The Rays will send the suddenly reliable Scott Kazmir (7 of his last 8 outings have been 6 or more innings!) to the hill against the guy we have seen too many times this year, and whose name I am getting sick of trying to spell, Marc Rzepczynski.
Kaz’s ERA is still a nightmare at 6.17, but his record is over .500 for the first time in a long time at 8-7. He is trying to regain the “ace” label and, I have to admit, he has looked like one as of late.
One of the biggest knocks I’ve had against this guy is the fact that you can’t count on him. He’ll go 4 innings as likely as he’ll go 6. 7 is pushing it.
But lately he has been giving the Rays, and the Rays’ bullpen, plenty of innings.
They won’t need a whole lot tonight considering we have an off day tomorrow. Hopefully Scotty can give us a solid outing, though, and we can complete the sweep.
The Rays remain 3 games behind those darn Red Sox. It would be nice to see them pick up a game there tonight considering the difficult series they are going to have to endure in Detroit over the weekend.
But you take what you can get.
The Rays’ offense has been clicking, albeit via the long ball.
Again, you take what you can get.
What I’m most proud of is the fact that this team is showing some serious resiliance. They are not backing down. And when people are counting them out, they are showing them that they are right back in.
Sweep ’em guys!
This was a bad day.
On my end, unforeseen circumstances kept me from my plan to head over to the Trop to catch the game.
I’m wondering if that was such a bad thing.
The Rays mounted little offense today behind a decent pitching performance from David Price, falling to the Rangers and Scott Feldman 4-0.
It is a day that, hopefully, will not be looked on as being to big when considering our playoff chances.
The Rays–and their fans–came into today’s game riding high off of the 10-inning walkoff win last night. Carlos Pena’s amazing performance in that game gave the Rays faithful reason to believe in this defense, this pitching staff, and this offense.
Today, only 2 of those 3 showed up to the ball park.
Carl Crawford and Gabe Kapler turned in exceptional defensive efforts, making important diving catches today, and David Price threw 7 strong innings (3 hits, 3 runs, 4 K’s).
But the offense managed only 5 hits today, and 2 of those 5 were marginal errors that were ruled hits.
A great big goose egg displayed the runs they scored today, only the 6th time they’ve been shut out this season.
But what makes the lack of hitting and scoring runs difficult to swallow is the fact that the Rays hitters showed no discipline whatsoever today. Instead of a patient approach that can often be effective against young pitchers, the Rays looked like inexperienced hitters all day long. They flailed away at poor pitches and watched the good ones go right by.
How about 15 strikeouts!?
That will cause any team to go down.
And while 11 of those strikeouts came from Feldman, the Rays also allowed Darren O’Day to strike out the side in the 8th and Frank Francisco to strike one out in the 9th.
Sweep Would Have Been Nice
Everybody loves a sweep, of course.
But when it comes at the end of a 9-game home stand to make the home team go 7-2 in a heated playoff race, it means that much more.
So what does it mean when it doesn’t happen?
And what does it mean when it doesn’t happen against a team you are fighting for a playoff spot?
And what does it mean when it doesn’t happen just before you leave home to go on an extremely difficult 9-game road trip?
This was a missed opportunity, no doubt.
The Rays have absolutely stunk on Sundays this year. It’s difficult to figure out why. It is one of those things that teams go through, I guess.
I hate it.
They just can’t score on the 7th day of the week. On their last 8 Sunday games, they have scored just 18 runs.
That’s about 2 a game.
And if you remove newbie Gregg Zaun’s grand slam from last Sunday’s 5-2 win against the Toronto Blue Jays, then you have the Rays scoring 14 runs in 8 games.
Under 2 per game.
In those games the Rays have gone a terrible 2-6!
Again, maybe it’s just one of those things. But it sure would hurt if “one of those things” kept us out of the playoffs.
Maddon Not Concerned
In Joe’s postgame conference he gave off a very nonchalant attitude.
When asked if he was worried about the team’s offensive inconsistencies as of late, his answer was a short “No.”
When asked about the upcoming road trip being make or break, his answer was again, “No.”
As usual, Joe kept things positive.
–“I’ll take 2 out of 3 from any team any time.”
–“Our effort today was fabulous.”
–“That was the best pitched game against us all season long.”
–He also heaped tons of praise on Price for keeping the team in the game and saving the bullpen.
Joe’s approach has worked the last two years. But let’s hope he’s talking to his guys with a little more ugency in the clubhouse.
Maybe it’s the new hair that’s helping him stay mellow.
I felt that this series was big for the Rays.
Luckily, it was not a devastating series for us. Sure, instead of picking up 3 games on the Rangers we picked up only 1, but the other way around would have really hurt.
So we’ll take a 6-3 home stand and hope to make it a 6-3 road trip. It’ll be tough. Roy Halladay awaits us at the Rogers Centre tomorrow night and the Yankees are also lurking out there.
When the Rays get back to the Trop next week I think we’ll have a good idea of what kinds of plans to make for October.
He deserved it. The new 38-year-old catcher for the Rays got the pie in the fact he deserved after delivering an 8th inning PINCH HIT GRAND SLAM that put the game out of reach and allowed the Rays to beat the Toronto Blue Jays 5-1.
There were alot of elements that went into making this game a successful one for the home team, but the biggest moment had to come in that fateful 8th inning when Gregg Zaun almost non-chalantly took a Brandon League fastball over the right field wall.
And just like that, the Rays have won 2 in a row.
The Rays went into the bottom of the 8th after watching one of the best 3rd Basemen in the league make a diving play on a hard hit ball from Rod Barajas.
Evan Longoria must have gotten his guys fired up.
The Rays loaded the bases with one out against reliever Brandon League, whose split finger fastball and 96 mph heater were really getting the Rays’ hitters off stride.
Gabe Gross pinch hit with his robust .480 career average with the bases loaded (you read that right–I did a double take too!) and proceeded to strike out.
That brought up pinch hitter Zaun, who used to play with League when they were both with Toronto.
The Rays’ new catcher worked the count full before uncoiling a very leisurely swing on an inside fastball and sending the ball out of the ballpark.
The Trop erupted!
It was unbelievable.
You couldn’t tell anything special had happened by looking at Zaun’s face, though, as his placid countenance never changed throughout his jog around the bases and entrance to the raucous dugout.
It was something, though. Maybe that spark a beleaguered team had been waiting for.
The Blue Jays then hit BJ Upton, which caused a stir and invoked a warning from the home plate umpire. Cito Gaston did not appreciate the quick trigger and came out to argue a little bit, but nobody was ejected.
Joe Maddon was also upset about the play and wanted to get in his 2 cents.
It’ll be interesting to see if anybody remembers this HBP next week in Toronto when these two teams get back together.
Matt Garza did not make things easy on himself today. Not at all.
He went only 5 1/3 innings, throwing 103 pitches. His line was solid:
5 1/3 IP, 1 R, 8 H, 2 BB, 7 K
However, he found himself in dire straits several times throughout the game. He left 2 on in the 1st inning in which he threw 30 pitches. He left the bases loaded in the 3rd. And he left 2 on in the 4th.
He was downright lucky he did not give up more than 1 run. Lucky to be backed up by solid defenders, that is.
BJ Upton helped to keep the game scoreless in the 3rd when he uncorked a solid throw to home plate from center field on a sac fly that should have scored a run. He also made a great throw to home that beat the runner, but did not get Blue Jay out because of a solid collision at home plate.
Garza deserved the win, though. Hopefully this will build his confidence for his next outing against the Texas Rangers.
Weird Play at the Plate
As mentioned, Dioner Navarro got bulldozed by Lyle Overbay on a play at the plate in the 5th inning.
Upton’s throw arrived just as Overbay did, and while the Rays catcher did not drop the ball, the collision allowed Overbay to score the run.
It was weird, though.
Usually you see catcher and runner collide and somebody go flying somewhere.
That didn’t happen. Instead, the guys hit each other and neither one moved. They just hit and stayed where they were, like both hit a brick wall.
These are during the big hit.
These are right after they hit. It looks like Overbay is still sliding, but he’s just stunned on the ground, not moving. Navi is stunned standing up, not moving.
Navi was off balance just enough that he couldn’t reach down to make the tag. Overbay, on his back, simply reached over and touched the plate for the safe call.
Navi then hobbled around a little bit. He stayed in the game, but I’m a little worried.
Like I said, it was weird.
Three Keys to the Game
1–Rays’ hitters have to get to this kid right away. NOPE The Rays only scored 1 run against the Toronto starter before he left the game.
2–Run, run, run. NOPE The Rays did not steal any bases in the game. That was a big reason why the Blue Jays’ starter pitched so well.
3–Keep hitting. YEP and NOPE Only 2 doubles and 1 homer against 7 singles. I wanted to see the Rays manufacture some runs today, but they scored 4/5 of their runs after a grand slam.
1/2 out of 3=RAYS WIN?
WEIRD, BUT WE’LL TAKE IT!
Wild Card Update
The Rays’ weekend was not only successful because they won the series against the Blue Jays. It proved to be successful when looking at the thing foremost in the mind of all Rays players and all Rays fans.
We picked up two games on the Red Sox!
However, with the Rangers leapfrogging the Sox for the wild card lead, we, in effect, picked up only 1 1/2 games.
Either way, we’ll take it!
Thanks to the Texas Rangers’ potent lineup, the Rays find themselves 3 games behind the Sox and 3 1/2 games behind the Rangers.
Looking ahead, the schedule seems to favor the Rays immenesely:
Rays: 3 games against the Orioles
Red Sox: 3 games with Toronto
Rangers: 4 games with Minnesota
If we are going to make a move, this is the week.
The Rays get a day off tomorrow before fighting with the Birds of Baltimore.
This was a nice series for our Boys in Blue. Taking 2 of 3 after losing to the best pitcher in baseball is a nice way to get through a weekend.
Now we have to see them do the same or better against the O’s.
It’s been awhile.
In fact, the Rays haven’t been able to call themselves winners in exactly a week, not since they beat Seattle 10-4.
Whew, glad that 5-game losing streak is over. It was starting to feel like the old days.
But with that great win comes great….hunger. I’m expecting the taste of winning has whetted our guys’ appetites so that the hits can keep on coming.
The REAL Hitting Arrived
The Rays’ offense finally showed up to the ballpark Saturday night. It was as of our guys finally remembered the type of hitting that got them to the Series last year.
–They put together a clinic on patience, walking 5 times.
–They knocked 12 hits around the park.
–They scored 8 runs.
–They stole 2 bases.
–And they did it all WITHOUT A SINGLE HOME RUN!!!!
That is the hitting I’ve been waiting for. Our guys have relied too much on the long ball over the last month or so, and to see them getting 12 hits against Brian Tallet, a guy who has NEVER had any success against the Rays this year, makes you feel good.
In order to end this 5-game losing streak the Rays relied heavily on their best hitters.
The top three in the order, Jason Bartlett, Carl Crawford, and Evan Longoria, did more than what a top three should be expected to do.
–They scored 5 runs between them.
–They knocked 5 hits.
–They drove in 5 RBIs.
It seems that lately one of our top three are hitting, while the other two wait their turn. It was nice to see all of those guys working together at the same time for once.
The Pitching Worked
Scott Kazmir turned in a rare quality start, going 6 1/3 innings and giving up 3 runs on 5 hits while striking out 7.
It was a pitching performance that impressed everybody in the stadium. In fact, Cito Gaston, the Blue Jays’ manager, said that “He looked like his old self….He had good stuff.”
Not too bad, Scotty.
If Kaz can continue to pitch like this I can see the Rays starting to inch ever closer to that top wild card spot.
What’s Happened During the Losing Streak
It’s tough to say that one losing streak, especially one as modest as a 5-gamer, could ruin a season, but this one is darn near of that magnitude.
During this last week the Rays have fallen to 11 1/2 behind the Yankees for the AL East lead. With only about 5 weeks or so remaining, that lead is pretty much insurmountable.
Then again, if a man can eat a 12-pound hamburger in a Boston deli (Man vs. Food on the Travel Channel, good show), then anything is possible, right?
Worse yet is the fact that our guys have fallen further behind the Red Sox in the wild card. While they did pick up a game last night to be just 4 behind, they were at one point only 1 1/2 games back. Ther is certainly a sense of urgency right now.
LET’S GET EATIN’ BOYS!!!!
The Pitching Matchup
The Rays will hope that Matt Garza will be able to make a 1-game winning streak into a 2-game winning streak today against a team that he has dominated this year.
The guy’s got a 1.91 career ERA against the Jays and an 11-7 career record at the Trop, so things look good.
That’s one reason why I picked him up for a start on my fantasy team today–good numbers.
Toronto will throw that guy whose name nobody can pronounce, Mark Rzepczynski. Unfortunately, he dominated the Rays a few weeks ago too.
Who’ll blink first?
Three Keys to the Game
1–Rays’ hitters have to get to this kid right away. Rzepczynski was really good against the Rays, but he only went 6 innings. If the Rays can heighten his pitch count then they might be able to get into that beleaguered Blue Jay bullpen early.
2–Run, run, run. With a kid on the mound, it is imperative the Rays’ base stealers (Bartlett, CC, BJ) get on and make him nervous.
3–Keep hitting. Let’s focus on singles and doubles. Homers are nice, but singles and doubles cause death by a thousand cuts. Let’s do that.
The Rays will see the Blue Jays as soon as next week, so a strong showing here will go a long way towards building their confidence for that series. Plus, it sets them up nicely for a showdown with the Baltimore Orioles, a team that they should beat up on this week.
Wins are key.
We’ve got to get as many as we can now.
I would hate to forget what winning tastes like….again!
The Rays had beaten the Blue Jays and ace Roy Halladay three consecutive times this season.
There would not be a fourth.
The home crowd was raucous on a Friday night, welcoming back the Rays from an arduous–and unsuccessful–West Coast road trip. We received BJ Upton posters and with them came a little bit of hope that we would see a win tonight.
I was happy to be in attendance, excited to see some in-person baseball for the first time in a while.
Well, hope was crushed, happiness was scattered, and the excitement left right around the 2nd inning.
My friend Ginny at The Watercooler said she wished she could have been there tonight.
Be happy you weren’t.
Blue Jays 5-2.
Halladay owned the Rays tonight, throwing 8 innings and giving up only 1 earned run while striking out 7. He walked none, which is strange for a pitcher against the Rays because while they might strikeout alot, they also walk alot.
Halladay had it going.
James Shields was not sharp at all tonight.
I can’t tell you how he was missing with his pitches, having been there in person and not seeing replays and such on tv, but with the way the Jays were rocking him it seemed he had little to no command out there.
Lyle Overbay took him deep in the 1st, and Adam Lind did the same in the 3rd.
Both Halladay and Shields threw 111 pitches, with Shields throwing more strikes than Doc. However, the better pitcher showed his fact tonight and he was not wearing Rays blue as Halladay diced the Rays lineup every which way.
Guess he’s not too worried about his trade status anymore, huh?
As usual, the Rays were ineffective in the batter’s box. While they outhit the Blue Jays 9-8, they were easily outscored. Typically, the Rays did a great job of getting hits when they did mean anything and finding a way to knock themselves out of an inning.
One way they disappointed was on the basepaths. Carl Crawford and BJ Upton both were throwing out trying to steal (when was the last time both guys got a CS?). CC was thrown out in the 1st trying to make something happen, no biggie there.
BJ was gunned down, though, in the 8th inning after Gregg Zaun had homered to make the game 5-2. So instead of a man on 1st with none out, there was nobody on with 1 out. Needless to say, nothing else happened that inning and the Rays went easily in the 9th.
I don’t mind the aggressive running. When the bats aren’t working you’ve got to do something to manufacture runs.
My problem is that when we get opportunities, we blow them. In the 4th Carlos Pena and Pat Burrell struck out (as usual) consecutively to end a rally. BJ’s CS ended a potential rally too.
We aren’t good enough to waste chances, but our hitters continue to do just that.
What else can Joe Maddon do except run guys in situations where running might not be the best idea?
Three Keys to Tonight’s Game
1–Rays’ hitters must be aggressive, or be passive, I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know!!! NOPE Since there is no good way to measure this except in Win or Loss, we have to fail the Rays here.
2–Shields must get strike 1. YEP Shields threw plenty of strikes, but his command was so far off at times that it didn’t matter. After the first 3 innings he had given up 5 runs, and with the amount of run support he typically gets, well, it was game over, man.
3–More hits, less homers. NOPE The Rays hit one dinger tonight, and had 8 other hits. But they scored their only other run via the sac fly. So those other hits were pretty much meaningless because they did not cash in.
RESULTS: 1 out of 3 correct=LOSS
The Rays probably faced their most difficult opponent of the next 9 games tonight in Halladay. That is a good sign. He’s out of the way and now, maybe, the wins will start to come.
It is pointless to dwell too much on the hitting negatives from a game against one of the best pitchers in baseball.
However, we have to be depressed a little about the poor outing by our own ace.
His inconsistency is indicative of where this team is headed.
And we’ve got 5 losses in a row to prove it.
It’s enough already.
I can’t take it.
It’s time to get a winning streak going. To start becoming relevant in this playoff chase.
The Rays are welcoming the Toronto Blue Jays to the Trop this weekend. They do so with arms wide open because the Jays just might be what the doctor ordered. They are a team that is disjointed and unfocused, and they are coming to our house.
The Jays will throw THE MAN Roy Halladay (12-5, 2.78) against the Rays Friday night.
The Rays have only beaten the Blue Jays in all three of the games in which Hallday has pitched, most recently in the extra inning Rays win in which both Halladay and Matt Garza threw complete games and dominated the other.
The Rays were just a little better.
Let’s hope they’re a little better tomorrow too.
James Shields (7-8, 3.79) will look to improve on his recent bout of inconsistency by toeing the mound against a team he has faced twice this year. In one start he lost 5-0, but pitched 7 innings. In the other start he pitched 7 innings as well, but the Rays lost 3-1.
For some reason Shields has entered the grey area between ace and unreliable starter. The Rays seem to have alot of those right now (see Scott Kazmir and David Price).
A solid pitching performance tomorrow night will go a long way towards giving this squad a little more confidence as they come off a West Coast trip that was anything but fun.
They need Shields to come up big Friday night. He is a great Tropicana Field pitcher, so we should be able to count on him.
Three Keys to Friday’s Game
1–Rays’ hitters must be aggressive, or be passive, I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know!!!
It can be confusing. There is no good way to beat Halladay. How the Rays have done it 3 times this season is beyond me. With a pitcher like him, you choose a strategy……..and then throw it out the window.
2–Shields must get strike 1. I have noticed that Shields tends to miss with strike 1 too often. For a guy who relies on his changeup, missing with strike 1, and thus removing the change from the at bat for the next few pitches, is grounds for danger.
3–More hits, less homers. Halladay won’t be beaten by the long ball. The Rays have relied on this too much the last two weeks (more on this in a future post). Let’s string together some singles and doubles and see what happens.
Win, Baby, Win
(This might be the new go-to pic for Rays wins!)
The next six games will serve as a great opportunity for the Rays to climb out of this funk and get back into the playoff hunt. They face the Blue Jays for 3 and the Baltimore Orioles for 3 after that.
The Blue Jays come in having lost 2 in a row and splitting their last 10 games down the middle (5-5). They were beat up by the surging Yankees pretty good too.
Add to the mix the fact that they are reeling a little bit from various factors. They were unable to move Doc Halladay, the fans have begun to turn on them, and the clubhouse is a place where hope goes to die.
Players in the Jays dugout have been questioning management about the lack of movement on Halladay’s part and the loss of 2-time All Star Alex Rios to the White Sox for nothing. (He was claimed off waivers a few days ago) Lyle Overbay voiced his displeasure at losing such a talented young man for nothing in the papers recently.
This is a team that has lost its way.
An equally lost team is the Orioles. They have lost 7 of their last 10 and seem to have passed all of their players through waivers, most notably Aubrey Huff, Melvin Mora, and Danys Baez. Nobody feels safe in that clubhouse.
Perfect time to lower the boom.
Let’s burn ’em up, Rays!