Say it slowly.
Say it again.
The 2008 American League Champions are the Tampa Bay Rays.
Playing for the 2008 World Series title will be the Tampa Bay Rays.
Seven outs away, and coasting to a five-game win, to a game 7 decider against the defending World Champion Red Sox. I cannot begin to tell you how nervous I was last night. As it turns out, I was far more nervous than anyone wearing a Rays uniform…
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…
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…
What a miserable sporting weekend.
Six major events/sports that I followed, and a positive outcome in two of them. Andy Murray beat Rafael Nadal to make the US Open final, and the Alabama Crimson Tide beat Tulane, despite a pretty unimpressive display.
But the Seattle Seahawks opened with a miserable loss to Buffalo. Lewis Hamilton won the Belgian F1 Grand Prix, only to be demoted to third because of a steward’s decision that can only be described as abysmal. And while the English football team did record a win in their opening World Cup 2010 qualifier, they managed just a 2-0 margin against Andorra, a country with a population (about 70,000) that is barely two-thirds as big as Basingstoke. Impressed I was not.
And then there were the Rays.
There are certainly easier ways to a sweep.
Not letting a (admittedly impressive) rookie one-hit you into the seventh inning for one. Not having your closer blow a save with his first pitch, and then give up the go-ahead run to the first batter in extra-innings for another. And not having your shortstop get hurt in trying to put together a second comeback after the first two have occurred.
But who wants the easy way, right?
2-0 down, and nothing to show apart from an Evan Longoria infield hit is where the Rays found themselves at the seventh-inning stretch yesterday…
Hmmm, its almost a whole week since my last post, and for once its not because I’ve been terribly busy. Rather, its because of the particularly unispiring run of performances that have been put in. A four-game series split on the road in Kansas City, and the first two in Toronto also shared.
Its all been the same old story to be honest. Solid pitching, dazzling defense, and no hitting worth speaking off. Actually, a couple of bits, such as a couple of homers from Carlos Pena, and a 2-triple game from Carl Crawford (who added another last night), were pleasant moments, but by and large its been a struggle. The highlight of the trip so far has without question been in the field – Jason Bartlett returned…
Expected news from the Rays yesterday, as the announcement was made that CC’s option for 2009 has been picked up, while Rocco Baldelli’s has been declined. Obviously given his situation, the decision over Rocco’s option is no surprise – though like many fans I’m sure I do hope that we haven’t seen him in a Rays uniform for the last time.
Of course picking up CC’s option was an even bigger no-brainer. At $8.25million, he will still be one of the biggest bargains around, and I for one hope that he will be in St Pete for years beyond this current contract. Though for the stat-watchers there is obviously a big question mark hanging over him this year – his 5-year streak of increased batting average is getting tougher and tougher to keep going. It was up to .315 in 2007, and you know what, I think the smart money could be on a .316+ year in ’08!
We’ve also signed Dan Wheeler to a 2 year extension which, considering the cost – $10m – is an encouraging sign that the bullpen is a serious focus. Its one of the last pieces of the puzzle, and Wheeler is the sort of solid pitcher that we need to have around for the late innings.
Meanwhile, tonight Matt Garza makes his Rays debut, and I am looking forward to it. Midnight first pitch UK time, so whether I watch tonight or tomorrow is still to be decided – it will probably depend how awake I need to be for work in the morning!
In other news, I have set up a parallel Rays from across the pond over on Blogspot. The thing I’ve always liked about MLBlogs is the traffic that can be generated for even a relatively obscure blog like mine, but at the moment I’m not convinced that thats going to continue to be the case. So I figured that while I see how things play out, I may as well take advantage of the easy customisability (possibly not a real word) on offer there and start cross-posting to see which I prefer. Hopefully if things work out, and the issues here are sorted then I will continue the main Rays-watching here, and add in some more wider-baseball world posts over there. But we shall see.