I’m not even sure why I still get surprised at games like last night’s. I mean, this is just what the 2008 Rays do. They take a situation where they’re supposed to fold, supposed to be overwhelmed, and they come right out swinging their bats, making their pitches, and generally taking the game right to the opposition. And they keep winning. Its a crazy, crazy thing that these Rays have got going on.
With Jon Lester making the start for the Sox, the prospects for a Rays win weren’t exactly promising. Not only had Lester not been beaten at Fenway since April, but he had never lost to the Rays (indeed, Boston had never lost a game to the Rays in which he pitched) and he was working on an impressive 20+ inning streak of postseason baseball without allowing an earned run.
But its the Rays. The 2008 Rays. So you can throw all that out the window.
It all started fairly innocuously. After a first inning that Lester sailed through 1-2-3, Evan Longoria led off the second with a walk…
Andy Sonnanstine over Edwin Jackson?
I think it would be fair to say that there are not many managers in the big leagues that would make that call. Fortunately for the Rays, Joe Maddon is one of them.
So it was Sonny who went last night in Chicago for game 4, and by the time he left with two outs in the 6th, Joe Maddon was once again looking like the smartest man in baseball. Ok, so 5 2/3 innings isn’t the longest outing of the season, and he did give up 2 homeruns. But the way he was pitching, it was almost as if those homers were peace offerings so the White Sox hitters didn’t feel too bad about getting totally out-played by a man who doesn’t trouble 90 on the radar gun…
Scott Kazmir was asked in the lead up to yesterday’s game which Scott Kazmir would show up for game 2 of the American League Division Series.
“Hopefully the good Scott Kazmir”
Uh-huh. With the bases loaded and nobody out in the top of the first, the good Scott Kazmir was looking like a distant dream. (Just for the record, I don’t agree with Harold Reynolds’ assertion that Kaz hit leadoff man Orlando Cabrera on purpose in retaliation for Thursday’s war of words. I think it was a pure lack of control early on.).
By the time Scotty K had gotten out of the first, he had thrown 37 pitches and faced 8 White Sox hitters. The good (nay, amazing) news was that he had limited them to just two runs…
I’m willing to bet that there’s not many people out there who had remembered that Gary Gaetti hit homeruns in each of his first two postseason at-bats.
Something tells me that you’re going to remember that Evan did it.
Because this 22-year-old rookie is a bit special. I mean, he missed a whole month of the season through injury, yet still led all rookies in homeruns. He hit three longballs in one game, just a couple of weeks after his return from a fractured wrist. And now this.
First pitch – homerun. Third pitch – homerun. Then an RBI single, a walk and just for good measure a stolen base. Just your average sort of day when your name is Evan Longoria…
Or perhaps even the magic-eAst number.
One win in Detroit (or a Red Sox loss) will do it. One single game between the Rays and the AL East crown. If that doesn’t get you a little bit excited, well, I don’t know what does.
A four game sweep of the Orioles, including the franchise’s first ever sweep of a doubleheader (in fourteen attempts), means that with four games to go the Rays have a three game lead over Boston and the top is within touching distance. Today we have a tough 1.05 ET start time against the Tigers, and, if we can’t pull out the win there then we have another shot at claiming the top spot tonight, if the Indians can beat Boston at Fenway.
But I’m pretty sure I know how the team would prefer to win it. For themselves, on the field in Detroit. With all their heroics so far this year, it would be the most fitting way…
So, the Tigers have had to wait until August to get a firsthand look at Evan Longoria. Two games into the series, and I think that it is fair to say that they now believe the hype. He followed up a homerun on Friday night with a 3-5, 3 RBI effort last night, including his team-high 21st homerun of the season, a number that ties Jonny Gomes’ team rookie record. He obviously continued his sharp play in the field as well, and swiped his seventh base of the season to boot. If you haven’t jumped on the bandwagon yet, then seriously, whats stopping you?!
That steal came on the back-end of a double steal, led by Carl Crawford – his first stolen base for 18 games. But while he hasn’t been swiping much of late, CC has found his bat stroke a bit more, not to mention his wheels out of the batters box. He tripled on friday night, to make it 5 three-baggers in 6 games, and move his AL-high mark to 10. I’ve said it before, but there is no play in baseball that is more fun to watch than CC flying around the bases on his way to a triple…
As it turns out, Zack Grienke is a pretty good pitcher indeed. Not quite good enough to stop the rolling Rays, however.
From a offensive show friday night, we moved to a pitching spectacular last night, with probably the rotation’s biggest surprise this year, Andy Sonnanstine, on the hill. I don’t think Sonny would be offended if I were to say that he was the least of the Rays’ five, in terms of pure natural ability. But he does have something really very special. A knack of getting the job done…
You know something? You just can’t not watch this team. You can’t stop, you can’t look away, not even for one second.
Because every pitch, every swing of the bat, every bit of glovework could be the one. It could win the game. Even a game that looked out of reach. And maybe even a series against the World Champions.
At 3AM last night (UK time, obviously!), the Rays were 4-1 down. Kaz had lasted only 5 innings with an elevated pitch count, and through 6 innings the hitters had picked up only 3 hits between them. I had to be up for work at 8. I was only watching live at all because well, lets face it, Kaz v Dice-K, Rays going for the sweep, how can you not watch live? And as Jonny Gomes struck out, leaving a man aboard to end the 6th, going to bed looked a pretty good option.
However, before I get to my good decision, and those last 3 innings, lets have a quick recap of games 1 and 2…
What a play that was.
So, last night I just about managed to watch the whole of Tuesday night’s series opener against the Cubs, and boy am I glad I did. It was a truly fantastic game of baseball that had just about everything. I mean, the first eight innings were entertaining enough, but the top of the ninth… Wow, just wow.
Scott Kazmir got the start, and was pitching pretty well – he didn’t allow a hit through the first four innings, but was throwing a lot of pitches. By the time he came out for the fifth, the Rays were 1-0 up thanks to a Cliff Floyd homerun. Unfortunately, Kaz couldn’t get out of the inning, allowing three hits and a run, and leaving with two outs and the bases loaded, having thrown 110 pitches on the night.
Thats ok, here come the cavalry. Grant Balfour, who has been solid since getting called up…
At the moment, its really fun to be a Rays fan. Really, really fun. And its not just because of the winning either. I mean sure, thats a very nice bonus after 10 years of losing, but it is just a bonus. Because this team is just flat out great to watch.
Its a very strange combination that we’ve got going at the moment. Its part never-say-die battling, and part super-clutchness. I can’t think of any other way to explain it…