Tagged: Willy Aybar

Speedy Post: Rays/Red Sox Game 2

 

So…last night stunk.

How else do you describe an 8-5 loss?

And it wasn’t that close.

The Rays find themselves 2 games behind the Red Sox for second place and 3 games out of first.  Nobody said that the AL East was going to be easy, but the Rays as of late have made everything look more difficult than it needs to be.

The Rays send righty Matt Garza to the mound tonight with the hopes of earning a split in the truncated 2-game series.  He has done well and done poorly in two starts against the Red Sox, but there is something tonight that Garza has going for him.

Nobody on the Red Sox team who might start tonight has faced the spitfire righty, emphasis on the SPIT.

In fact, only 6 guys on the Red Sox roster have any at bats against Garza and only Adrian Beltre is hitting over .261 against him. 

In other words, Garza is due for a good start in a big game against a tough team tonight.  As long as the youngster can keep his emotions in check, of course.  That certainly seems to have been a challenge for the Rays as of late.

The Red Sox will send Daisuke Matsusaka to the mound.  The Rays have had moderate success against the guy with the exaggerated windup, though Ben Zobrist (no hits), Jason Bartlett (.143), and BJ Upton (.077) have had significant struggles.

I would expect to see John Jaso behind the plate (he’s a lefty and has yet to see Matsusaka), Reid Brignac at SS (he has yet to face Matsusaka), and either Kelly Shoppach (.400) or Willy Aybar at DH (.333) tonight. 

Will BJ start?  Who knows?  He didn’t start yesterday, but he did end up getting into the game late.  Manager Joe Maddon said it was not a punishment, but, well, we can all read between the lines. 

No matter who starts, the Rays will have to be patient.  Matsusaka thrives when opposing batters jump on his early pitches.  If the Rays hold back and wait for their pitch, work the count, draw some walks, I think we will see them even the series and get to within one game of second place yet again.

But if the Rays’ hitters are overly aggressive and Garza struggles with his emotions, we can expect another ugly game, for sure.

Utter Domination

Rays 9, Yankees 3

And it wasn’t that close.

David Price, the Rays’ phenom 24-year-old lefty, led the team against the invaders from NYC and gave them more than they could handle. 

The offense didn’t want to be outdone, so they put their best bat forward and put up 8 earned against the Yanks’ big offseason acquisition, Javier Vazquez

In the end, there was not much to complain about. 

If you are a Rays fan, of course.

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Price Was Scary Good

Price went out and simply gave the Rays his longest–and one of his more solid–performances of his young career. 

        7 2/3 IP    3 ER    7 H    3 BB    7 K

Through 6 innings, however, Price threw only 66 pitches.  Aside from a double in the 2nd that brought home 2 runs by Alex Rodriguez, there was nothing scary. 

When he reached the 8th inning, Price admitted he began to press a bit, which led to a bases-loaded jam and another run given up.  But Lance Cormier came into the game and ended the frame with a strikeout.

It was an almost-effortless performance from a guy who is the Rays’ NUMBER 4 PITCHER!

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Big Inning: The 4th

The Rays almost batted around in the bottom of the 4th against Vazquez.

A few doubles, a few singles, a stolen base from BJ Upton, and a huge blast from Carlos Pena gave the Rays all the runs they would need for the rest of the game (5). 

While the home run was fun, I was more excited about the double that just eluded left-fielder Marcus Thames’ glove from the bat of Jason Bartlett.  It was one of those moments that you were hoping would happen (him missing the catch) and it led to two big runs.  Whew!

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Sleeping Bats Awakened–Look Out!

Pena had been hitting terribly this season.  And he had been suffering from a power outage, with no balls of his bat threatening to leave the yard.  It was nice to see him take one out against a tough pitcher like Vazquez.

The other area the Rays are getting no production from is DH.  I am going to lay off the Burrell Bashing–for now–and simply say that Willy Aybar’s big 2-run home run in the 6th was a respite from worrying about what to do with the DH position.  After striking out horribly earlier in the game, it was great seeing him rip one down the line and out. 

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Today’s Game

The Rays are going to have a tough one against the Yanks and CC Sabathia.  Even though CC got knocked around pretty good by the Red Sox on Opening Day part 1, everybody knows he is a tough hombre. 

The Rays are sending out youngster Wade Davis, who will make just his 7th start of his young career.  He had to work hard to beat out Andy Sonnanstine for the 5th starter job, so it will be interesting to see how he fares against a tough Yankee club.

I’m excited.  Can you tell?

Five Battles to Watch for in Spring Training

As Spring Training approaches (not fast enough, despite my Indianapolis Colts’ moving the Bowl of all Bowls), there are several areas on the Tampa Bay Rays that are in need of shoring up.  These five areas certainly “ray-se” concerns among fans, and failure for Andrew Friedman and company to address them may result in a long summer for the Boys in Blue.  

Here are the five key areas of consternation heading into these few weeks before pitchers and catchers report:

DH

Rays fans loved Pat Burrell in 2009.

He did an amazing job of keeping those in attendance at the Trop cool every night as the human oscillating fan. Hearing Dwayne Staats announce, “Swing and a miss,” with regards to Burrell never got old. Wait…it did.

No folks, “The Bat” was far from a fan fave-the typical fate of so many .221, 14 hr, 64 RBI guys making 9 million dollars. As of this moment Burrell is still a Ray-not for lack of trying, though. While the much maligned Milton Bradley’s name was bandied about as a possible replacement at DH, nothing happened. Tough to know whether that was for the best or not.

The question remains, though: Who will fill the DH role in 2010? There is no clear cut answer. It seems unlikely that Tampa Bay will look to free agency to find a Burrell replacement. The addition of closer Rafael Soriano and the resigning of Kelly Shoppach pretty much ate up the petty cash lying around Stuart Sternberg’s office. Promoting from within might occur, with Willy Aybar itching for a chance to play every day. A Burrell trade could happen too, but the price tag for the 33-year-old veteran might be a little high for most teams.

Perhaps Rays fans should prepare for another breezy summer inside the Trop.

 

2B

This position was occupied by several people in 2009.  Akinori Iwamura was certainly one of the Rays’ most beloved second basemen of all time (sorry, Brent Abernathy).  However, he is now gone, doomed to the Sarlaac Pitt.  Other second basemen of 2009 include Reid Brignac, Joe Dillon, Willy Aybar (what an experiment in futility that was) and the great Ben Zobrist.

While Zobrist may very well become the Rays everyday 2B in 2010, there could be a problem should Zorilla be moved to right field instead. Brignac probably will not be the every day answer-though it would be neat to see him break camp as the starter so we can see what he can do with consistent at bats-so the Rays might just consider the recently acquired Sean Rodriguez.

Side Note: I know that every team wishes they had a player with the last name “Rodriguez” simply so they can take that player’s first initial and add it to “Rod,” ala “A-Rod.”  But, seriously, Rays fans, let’s please avoid calling him S-rod, ok?

Rodriguez has some serious pop (easily 20 hr power) and shouldn’t be a defensive liability should he take over the 2B position.  I am sure that the Rays see him as a long term answer at that spot in the infield, but it will remain to be seen if Andrew Friedman and Joe Maddon will give the youngster the green light coming out of Spring Training.  If he can win the job when the team breaks from Port Charlotte, many things would be cleared up as Zorilla’s move to right would be set.

 

RF

Should S-Rod (oops!) take the 2B competition, the question of who will be the next right fielder becomes simple arithmatic.

Zobrist’s bat and strong arm at the corner outfield position would be a perfect fit.  He would seemingly complete one of the better outfields in the majors and finally settle the revolving door that the Rays have had at that position for years. 

However, if Zobrist were forced to man the 2B position because Rodriguez was not ready for the majors and Reid Brignac was, well, the same ol’ Reid Brignac-a move that Maddon may not frown upon as much as may be thought-then the Rays could potentially be in trouble in right.

In the offseason they unloaded one of the Gabes (both Kapler and Gross were really one entity in 2009, but the Kap has stuck around for about a million in 2010) which means more playing time for Kap-should he earn it.  But his struggles with righties means that the Rays will have only 1/2 of a right fielder-not ideal.

Right fielders in waiting (for how long is to be determined) might be Matt Joyce, Justin Ruggiano, Fernando Perez, and Desmond Jennings, but it is difficult to determine whether or not any are ready to be with the big club.  Jennings, Ruggiano, and Perez may be better suited for CF, which limits thier contributions to RF to a simple “fill in” status from time to time. 

Joyce was a big part of last year’s Edwin Jackson trade, a trade that Maddon has consistently said may work in the Rays favor despite Jackson’s double digit wins and All-Star appearance in 2009 and Joyce’s almost season-long stint at Durham.  Will this be the year that Joyce shows his own All-Star potential and takes the right field spot by force? 

If Rodriguez could take over 2B and Joyce was the every day RF (or at least could platoon with Kapler) then that might give Maddon the option of using Zobrist as that super-sub again-something that certainly worked in the past.  Perfect scenario?  Maybe, maybe not.  It would seem that Zobrist would prefer to have his position staked out beforehand so he could maintain his focus throughout the long season. 

This might be the most contentious position battle as we near spring training.  However, the emergence of either Joyce or Rodriguez will clear everything up quickly.

 

5th starter

The Rays seem to have gotten their money’s worth (we hope) in the Scott Kazmir deal.  Adding the highly touted Sean Rodriguez and the potential of lefty Alex Torres and infielder Matt Sweeney (the biggest Sweeney) has put the Rays in a great position for the future.

However, after moving Mitch Talbot to Cleveland in the Kelly Shoppach trade (he was the player to be named later) the Rays find themselves potentially a little thin in big league ready starters.

Sure, the rotation looks fine at the top with James “Big Game” Shields and Matt “Just As Big Of A Game” Garza.  Spots 3 and 4 should be fine with David Price and Jeff Nieman, especially if both build on their 2009 performances.

But where do the Rays go from there?

At the moment the 5th spot is manned by Wade Davis, but he was hardly consistent in his 6 starts last season in spite of his 2-2 record and 3.72 ERA.  While he struck out an impressive 36 in 36 1/3 innings, he also had games where he simply blew up. 

If Davis does win the 5th spot, who do the Rays turn to should somebody or, God forbid, two somebodys get injured?  In the wings stand Jeremy Hellickson (he might be ready sooner than we think-hopefully) and-<gulp>-Andy Sonnanstine.  Not exactly a scenario that inspires great confidence.

The likelihood of the Rays adding a 5th starter via free agency seem small, though veterans such as Vicente Padilla and Joel Pineiro might be interesting (both would likely expect more than the Rays could afford).

At the moment it seems that Joe Maddon’s squad will be content with the arms they have and head into Spring Training hoping for two things: 1) that those aforementioned arms remain healthy; and 2) that one of the guys in camp really stands out to claim the 5th spot.

Rays Beat Red Sox–Twice In One Game!!

What a strange night.

What a long, strange night.

What a long, long, long strange night.

The Rays took down the Red Sox in 13 innings “last night” (actually early this morning) thanks to two long balls–one of which was a walkoff–by future Hall of Famer (if you believe Sports Illustrated!) Evan Longoria.

It was an amazing end to an epic ballgame.

Of course, it was the second time in the same game the Rays had won.

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Win #1

The MLB rulebook has some wacky guidelines inside of it.  None so wacky as the “dead ball” rule that affected–greatly–the Rays in the 8th inning of last night’s ballgame.

The  inning started well for the Rays.

 

Longoria tied the game up with a long ball to straightaway center field to lead things off.

Ben Zobrist then walked.

When Willy Aybar stepped in to sacrifice bunt, all hell broke loose.

It was like something out of a horror novel. 

I think this guy had something to do with it!

Aybar’s bunt was fielded by pitcher Josh Bard, who promptly threw the ball over the head of first baseman Victor Martinez.  Zobrist was running the whole way as the ball rolled into the Rays’ bullpen.  By the time JD Drew threw his hands up to concede that he could not find the ball, Zobrist was on his way to home with Aybar heading to third.

At worst, the Rays had scored the go-ahead run and had a guy at 3rd with nobody out.  Right?

Wrong.

Apparently the umpires ruled that as soon as the end result of the play was determined, the start of the play could be suspended.  It is the “dead ball” rule.  As soon as the ball rolled into a Rays’ player’s equipment bag, play was stopped.  Which means, that there is no advancing.  Which means, where the players were when the play’s momentum was going is where they stayed.

So, Zobrist was brought back to third, Aybar to second, and the winning run was taken off the board.  (I say “winning run” because we all know JP Howell would have closed out the 9th!!!) 

3-2 Rays became a 2-2 tie. 

Announcers Dwayne Staats and Kevin Kennedy were livid. 

Staats: “I mean, C’mon!!!!”

Kennedy: “That is just a poor judgement call!”

Staats: “Aren’t they even paying attention!?”   (THE BEST LINE OF THE GAME, IN MY OPINION!)

Kennedy: “There is pretty much no reward for the error with this call!”

Sure, the Rays won.  But it was in spite of ridiculous umpiring.

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The Real Win: Walkoff Style

There’s really not alot I can add that you haven’t seen on Sportscenter already. 

Last night’s game was just amazing in its scope, not to mention is dramatic ending.

Longoria’s walkoff was somewhat unexpected.  He had battled all game long, striking out and homering and little else.

With two outs in the 13th and Michel Hernandez on 3rd, I was just hoping for a base knock. 

Longo worked the count rather clumsily before getting a rising fastball that he clocked high and deep into the left field seats.

When he raised his hands in exultation (not showing up the Sox at all) it was a fitting end to a hard fought ballgame. 

It almost HAD to end this way.  A single up the middle would not have sufficed.

And thus we have the latest chapter in what has become a fierce–and FUN–rivalry

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The Real Win: Pitching

Matt Garza outdueled John Lester in the game, though neither pitcher got much run support.

Garza went 7 innings, giving up 2 runs on 3 hits and striking out 6.  He received a no decision in a game he pitched well enough to win.  I’m scared that Garza might have caught whatever disease has been plaguing James Shields this season where neither can get any run support from the offense!

Lester went 6 innings, giving up 1 run on 3 hits and striking out 10.  The Rays made it easy on the lefty, flailing away at the junk he was throwing and getting blown away by the heat.  The Rays hitters had no discipline at the plate, led by FOUR STRIKEOUTS by both Longoria and BJ Upton and three K’s from Willy Aybar.

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The Real Win: Missed Opportunities

The Rays had the leadoff man on base in 6 of the final 7 innings.  Yet it took them to the 13th inning to win it.

They had been ranked 4th in the majors in scoring when the leadoff man gets on base.  In those situations they are able to score 54% of the time.  However, that stat was thrown out the window by poor plate discipline and making poor swings.

As mentioned, the Rays struck out 10 times.  Many times with runners in scoring position.  At one point, the Rays were poised to win the game if Upton merely put the ball in play.  The result: he struck out to help end the threat.

Pat Burrell, put on the bench by Joe Maddon in favor of Willy Aybar (cheers to that!), pinch hit in that fateful 8th inning.  With fans hoping for a miracle, Pat “The Bat” swung at the first pitch–on the outside portion of the plate, of course–and easily grounded to 3rd to end the inning.

In the 7th inning Dioner Navarro hit into a rally-killing double play on, you guessed it, the first pitch. 

Rays hitters need to get their acts together.  We can’t rely on Longo to win every game.

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The Real Win: Two Stars Give ‘N’ Take

This game seemed to revolve around two of the bigger stars in MLB: Longoria and Dustin Pedroia. 

Both gave alot to their respective teams, and both hurt their teams.

Longoria continued his dominance of the Red Sox.  He’s hitting around .350 with 6 homers and 22 RBIs in 11 games against them this season.  And let’s not even get started on his domination of Sox pitching in last year’s ALCS.

Longoria struck out his first 3 times up, 4 times in all.  He looked goofy out there trying to solve Lester.  However, he made up for it by turning a key double play with the bases loaded and spearing a rifle shot down the line by Kevin Youkilis that surely would have given the Red Sox the lead in extras.

Oh, and there are the two dingers, one of which was a walkoff.

Pedroia put his team up 2-0 with a homer to left early in the game.  He did not strike out and went 3-6. 

However, with the bases loaded in extra innings and only 1 out, he let down the Nation by grounding hard to–yep–Longoria who stepped on the bag at third and threw him out at first.  Inning, and rally, over. 

It’s something interesting how the stars of a game can control almost every facet.

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Three Keys to Last Night’s Game

1–Bartlett must set the tableYES.  While he struck out twice, Bartlett did a great job for the second consecutive game in the leadoff spot, reaching base 4 times!  He should be there again tonight.

2–The bottom third of the order must produceNOPE.  Upton, Navarro, and Kapler went a combined 2-10 and struck out 4 times.

3–The Rays must get off to a nice start.  NOPE.  Garza started well, but the offense–as usual–lagged behind.

Result: 1 of 3=WIN (though it shouldn’t have)

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Looking Ahead To Tonight’s Game

    VS   

Tonight the Rays will send David Price (4-4, 5.10) to the mound against Brad Penny (7-5, 5.07).  On paper, this looks ugly.

It probably will be on the field, too.

Penny has never done well against the Rays, going 2-3 with a 5.06 ERA.  He is not the LA Dodger Penny who pitched so well in his All-Star seasons.  He is losing his stuff and struggles often.

Price will face the Red Sox for the first time since the ALCS last year when he shut down Boston in Game 7, sending the Rays to the World Series and the Sox home to weep.

A win tonight just might create some tears of joy for this Rays fan. 

A win tonight gets us within 3 of the wildcard. 

A win tonight will turn this season on its ear.

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Three Keys to Tonight’s Game

1–BJ Upton needs to stop moping and start hitting.  Upton was said to be crestfallen before yesterday’s game after learning that he would not be leading off anymore.  Did not not see this coming?  His OBP is .318!  Now he needs to refocus and do some damage from the 7 spot.

2–Price needs to stay on the mound.  If he goes only 4-5 innings again, after the marathon game for the bullpen last night, the Rays are in trouble.

3–Rays hitters must chase Penny.  For the same reason as #2, if the Red Sox starter can get out of the game early, that should spell success for the Rays late in the game.  They are late-game specialists, after all.

GO RAYS!

Rolling Rays Ramp Up For Red Sox

    VS   

Blood is in the water.

It’s Shark Week.

Da-Dumm…Da-Dumm…

(I have a petrifying fear of sharks, so I hope you appreciate the trauma that went into putting up this picture)

No!  Not on the Discovery Channel.

It’s do or die week at your local Trop where the Rays are getting ready to take it to those pesky Boston Red Sox in a series that’s bigger than a Great White!

The Rays can smell that wildcard berth.  Now they just need to catch it. 

A good showing against the wild card’s owner will be a step in the right direction!

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Both Teams are on Fire!

A scorching Red Sox squad comes to St. Pete.  They have won 4 in a row and 7 of their last 10.  Sure, they’ve beaten up on the lowly Baltimore Orioles as of late, but the hallmark of a good team is that they beat who they’re supposed to beat. 

And this is definitely a good team.

The Rays are no slouch, either.  They are coming off of a series in which they beat the Kansas City Royals in 3 our of 4 ballgames.  Again, we KNOW it’s the Royals, but see above for explanation of good teams beating bad ones.  The Rays have won 6 of their last 10 and might have found their stroke yesterday afternoon against the likely Cy Young Award winner this year in Zack Greinke. 

They touched Greinke up for a season-high 6 runs in 5 innings.  Guys who never hit the KC hurler were touching him up.  Carl Crawford, Jason Barlett, Carlos Pena, and Gabe Kapler all had key hits in the game, making it one of Greinke’s worst.

Let’s hope those bats stay hot tonight.

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Pitching Matchup

The Rays are sending Matt Garza (7-8, 3.69) to the hill against John Lester (9-7, 3.90). 

Garza is coming off a matchup with the Yankees in which he matched Joba Chamberlain pitch for pitch all game long.  The Rays dropped that game, but Garza stood out as the tough luck loser.  We might have to call him “Big Game” Garza with the way he continually puts forth solid performances yet receives no run support (like his buddy James Shields).

But tonight Matty should fare well, if the numbers tell the story.  He’s had three starts against the Red Sox this season, going 2-0 with a 1.66 ERA.  Not too shabby.

Lester has been on a roll lately, seeing his ERA drop from 5.09 in early June to its current 3.90.  This is a guy who gives the Rays fits–as most lefties do–so it’ll be interesting to see how our lefty specialists Willy Aybar, Jason Bartlett, and Gabe Kapler do.

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Lineup Issues

Yesterday Joe Maddon employed a drastically different looking lineup against KC’s Greinke.  He moved Bartlett to the leadoff spot (BJ Upton was getting the day off) and put Aybar at DH instead of Pat Burrell

BJ and Burrell have been hitting in the .230s and .240s most of the season. 

The Rays promptly scored 10 runs in yesterday’s game.  Against a likely Cy Young winner.  Maddon was questioned incessantly about whether he might put out the same lineup today.  He said he’ll take a bike ride to think about it.

Apparently he agreed that he was a genius yesterday. 

Today will be the most drastically different lineup that Joe has put out all year! 

Here it is:

Jason Bartlett  SS  (he loves lefties)

Carl Crawford  LF

Evan Longoria  3B

Ben Zobrist  2B

Willy Aybar  DH (hitting in Pena’s 5th spot!)

Carlos Pena  1B  (he will never complain, but his drop to 6th must hurt.  He’s hitting .214 though!)

BJ Upton  CF (he might complain)

Dioner Navarro  C

Gabe Kapler  RF  (love this guy)

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Three Keys to the Game

1–Bartlett must set the table for the offense.  For Joe’s plan to work, Jason must get on base.  He does not have the speed of BJ, but he can still disrupt pitchers on the base paths.

2–The bottom third of the order must produce.  With BJ moved to 7th in the lineup, this has the potential to be a run scoring part of the order.  Navi and Kapler must see pitches, give BJ a chance to run, and make the most of their swings.

3–The Rays must get off to a nice start.  Momentum is big in Rays/Red Sox matchups.  The crowd at the Trop can go either way.  Garza needs to shut ’em down early.

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This is only a 2-game series, but there is alot at stake.  The Rays have to bring their A game to the stadium against these Sox if they want to climb two games closer to the wildcard.

This could be a perfect series for the Rays.  It is only 2 games, so they only have to deal with the terrible pressure the Red Sox bring to town for a short time.

If things go well, the Rays could emerge from this series only 3 games out of the wildcard spot. 

And then things will really get interesting.

Da-Dumm….Da-Dumm…

(I’m serious!  Sharks give me the shakes!)

Nieman Was Dealin’; Rays Were Stealin’

This game was OVER.

Until it wasn’t.

Two nights in a row Bobby Jenks let the Rays have hope.  That is one night too many.  This team is built for the comeback, and boy did they.

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First, the Lineup

What was Joe Maddon thinking? 

(I KNOW it’s an old picture, but it fits don’t you think?) 

The Rays’ skipper put out a lineup that was missing two of its biggest hitters and filled in with bench players who do not get a whole lot of at bats.

And it worked!

To be honest, the Rays had mustered only 1 run on 4 hits up until the 9th inning.  And those Rays he put into the game were able to go only 1/9, the lone hit being a single. 

But Joe Dillon, Willy Aybar, and Gabe Kapler (LOVE that guy!) were able to help the defense and Jeff Nieman keep the game close until regulars Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, and Gabe Gross entered the game in the 9th.

In the 9th, all hell broke loose for the Rays–in a good way. 

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The Fateful 9th Inning

Bobby Jenks entered tonight’s game in the 9th in much the same way he entered last night’s game: he had a 1-run lead, but he was starting the inning fresh and clean.

The Rays entered the 9th inning in the same way too–LOOKING TO WIN THE BALL GAME.

He immediately gave up a rocket to Jason Bartlett

Nice, we have some speed on board.

Jenks then “plunked” Evan Longoria (it grazed his jersey and ended up hitting the umpire with more force than Evan).

Ok, now we’ve got a guy in scoring position.

Ben Zobrist, who was looking to extend his 10-game hitting streak, did just that with a rocket up the middle. 

But since it was a liner Bartlett had to stop to make sure it went through.  He could not get doubled off in the 9th.  So he didn’t score, but

Bags are loaded with Pat “the Bat” Burrell up. 

The fans were busy booing their closer when Burrell walked to force in the game tying run.

A dramatic moment that was lost on nobody sitting on my couch (um, me). 

Carlos Pena entered the game to hit for Willy Aybar and launched what looked like a patented high fly grand slam to left.  Instead, it turned into a sac fly double play (Burrell drew the throw as Longo scored). 

WE HAVE THE LEAD!

CC walked and promptly stole second to put runners at 2nd and 3rd.

That was when Jenks had had enough and ended the inning on a weak Gross groundball.

But the damage was done.

In typical Rays style!

Rays up 3-2.  Good times!

HappyDog.jpg image by sxy2385

JP Howell would enter in the bottom of the 9th to close things out.  He’s not officially the closer, but he has appeared in that capacity 4 of the last 5 games.  What else do we call him?

Our closer entered the game and did what he does best: SHUT.  THEM.  DOWN. 

The White Sox managed only a weak grounder up the middle and that was that.  Howell struck out 2 of the 3 batters he retired, all the while making sure pinch hitter Dwayne Wise wasn’t going to try to steal second. 

The fans booed.

Let ’em.

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Nieman the Dealin’ Demon

How’s that for a nickname? 

Jeff Nieman was amazing tonight.  He went 8 STRONG innings, walking NONE, giving up only 2 runs on 8 hits.  He threw only 100 pitches in this outing and earned his team-leading 9th win. 

This guy is making Andrew Friedman look like a genius for unloading Jason Hammel instead during spring training. 

The tall Texan intimidated batters, blowing them away with his 94+ mph fastball.  They couldn’t catch up to it.

Then he baffled the Sox hitters with his ankle-breaking curve.  Hitters could not figure him out.

Especially Alexei Ramirez and Scott Podsednik, who both struck out twice against the Rays’ 6’10” hurler.

This was an outing that helps guys like Nieman get out of the shadow of the other Rays super-rookie (David Price) and garner some attention for himself for Rookie of the Year honors.

He was that good.

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The Rays entered the game 15-19 against left handed pitching. 

They shouldn’t have won tonight.  Not with their lineup being dominated by Sox Clayton Richard.

They shouldn’t have won tonight.  Not with the dominant Bobby Jenks entering the 9th with a 1-run lead (and boy oh boy was he booed tonight–not too classy Sox fans).

They shouldn’t have won tonight.  Not with two of their best players gettiing most of the night off.

But the Rays DID win. 

It was their best steal of the season.

In It Til the End: Rays Just Can’t Pull Off Another Comeback

Gawl-ee.  I HATE losing to the Sox.  White, Red, don’t care.  I hate it. 

The Rays and White Sox tried to give everybody in the crowd–and in my home–a heart attack tonight as their battle went right down to the wire. 

“Down to the wire” almost doesn’t do it justice.

The Rays battled throughout the entire game to get to within 1 run.  In the 9th, Bobby Jenks came on to close it out for the Sox.  He got two quick strikeouts and then couldn’t end it.

Three consecutive baserunners reached base, Pat Burrell via a walk, Willy Aybar with a hit to left, and Gabe Gross with a walk.

Jenks could not finish the game!

It was set up for another dramatic Rays victory!  One base hit from our next batter, one of our best batters in Jason Bartlett, would put the Rays up 5-4 and allow JP Howell to close the game for us. 

4 wins in a row were waiting for us.  Right there.

Jenks worked the count to 3-2.  Bartlett fouled off the 6th pitch.  The 7th pitch was wide of the plate.  It was going to be a tie game!!!

But Bartlett swung.

And he missed.

Darn.

What a game.

Meaningful baseball in Tampa Bay in July.  For two consecutive years  Wow.  What HAVE we been missing!?

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The Pitchers

David Price was NOT the David Price we saw defeat Roy Halladay and the Blue Jays 11 days ago by allowing only 1 run in 6 innings while striking out 7 and walking 1.

This David Price went 6 innings, giving up 4 runs, walking 2, and striking out 6.  It was not a terrible performance, but it wasn’t enough to get the Rays the win.

He gave up three home runs to Paul Konerko (no, don’t worry, only one of them was fair) and a few dink and dunk hits here that led to his, and the Rays’, demise. 

 

He was “supported” by the long ball and little else.  The Rays hitters were only able to muster 3 runs, all via the deep fly.

Price was outpitched by the Sox Gavin Floyd.  He went 7 strong innings, striking out 7 Rays and giving up only 3 hits and 3 runs.  Floyd did the job the Rays needed Price to do.  He bent, but didn’t break. 

Price bent, and started to splinter a little bit.

The Rays bullpen did its usual amazing job, giving up no runs in the final 2 innings.  In their last 4 games the ‘pen has allowed only 1 run.  Not too bad.  This bullpen has certainly been a strength for the club, as it stands at the best in the Americna League and third best in the Majors. 

It’s a shame it is getting used so much.

One disturbing stat is that the Sox were able to get the leadoff man on in 6 of the 8 innings they hit.  Those types of numbers almost always lead to a fat L.

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The Hitters

The Rays were able to put together only 3 hits while Price was in the ballgame.  Granted, they were of the home run variety, but 3 hits in 6 innings is something for an opposing pitcher to be proud of, not hitters. 

Ben Zobrist extended his hitting streak to 10 games (way to go Ben!) with a dinger in the 2nd innings.  And boy did he hit it.

 

Carl Crawford put his own spin on the home run ball by slicing a ball deep into right field.  Scott Podsednik jumped the fence (guess he was trying to do his best Carl Crawford At The All Star Game impression) and the ball ricocheted back into center field. 

That’s all CC needed. 

He turned up the motors and raced around for his first inside-the-park home run since April of 2005.  In the dugout he was sweating buckets, but smiling nonetheless.

Our reigning Rookie of the Year, Evan Longoria, rounded out the Rays’ scoring by simply LAUNCHING one into the left field seats.  The ball was high and got out of there in a hurry.  That made it 4-3 and gave all Rays fans hope that another comeback was on the way.

Alas, it was not to be.

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The Defense–or, WHY IS WILLY PLAYING 2ND BASE!?

Strangely, the defense was a big disappointment tonight.  Sure, all of the White Sox’s runs tonight were earned.  But the Rays had 3 errors, with Willy Aybar in the middle of them all.  Surely, part of the reason is that Willy was playing second base tonight.

In the 1st inning Scott Podednik stole second.  Michel Hernandez’s throw was a little bit in the dirt and skipped into center field.  Podsednik went to third base and eventually scored the game’s first run.

Where was the backup when the ball skipped by Jason Bartlett?  Willy was standing there, but he didn’t field the ball.  Hernandez got the error, but Aybar could have helped.

Early in the game Aybar couldn’t dig the ball out of his mitt to turn an important double play.  This allowed the Sox to score another run later in the inning.

In the 7th, Aybar outdid himself.

The situation was tense because Grant Balfour was trying to work out of a jam.  He got the ground ball he needed for the first out of the inning from Alexei Ramirez.  Aybar booted it.  Podsednik moved to third and suddenly the Rays had runners at the corners with nobody out.

The next batter was Jermaine Dye.  Balfour induced a foul ball fly from Dye, something that could be fielded for the 1st out of the inning.  Dye has been mashing the ball as of late, after all.  So this was a big play!

Willy overran it. 

Luckily, Dye struck out on the next pitch.  Balfour then got Konerko to ground into an inning-ending double play that Aybar WAS able to get out of his mitt.

For every Aybar mishap, though, there was Zobrist in right holding a runner at third on a fly ball because of his rifle arm and Longoria diving towards the third base line to snag a grounder and step on third to prevent another run from scoring.

Aybar did not do us any favors tonight, though.

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Three Keys to the Game

Price’s pitch count and pace.  YEP/NOPE.  Price worked at a decent pace at the start of the game, but slowed considerably in the 2nd and 3rd innings.  That was when things got hairy and the pitch count mounted.  He was out by the end of the 6th.

Play Raysball–run, take pitches, scratch out runs.  NOPE.  The Rays played LONGball, with the White Sox actually taking a page out of the Rays handbook and running and scratching out runs.

Get to the bullpen early.  NOPEFloyd went 7 strong and then the Sox were able to turn it over to their effective setup guys (22 holds between them!) and closer (22 saves!).

2 1/2 out of 3 NOPES=Loss 

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What a game.  You almost didn’t mind losing one like this because it was so entertaining! 

Almost.

The road will not get easier from here as the Rays take on three straight lefties in the next three games.  The Rays are 15-19 against lefties.

Nobody said it would be easy, did they?

(Happy Birthday Jen