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…
Doesn’t time fly?! So RAP was a bit AWOL through most of August for one reason or another, not least of which the two week holiday that I’ve just taken. Having been to the States in February it wasn’t anything exciting – rather just a fortnight back at home in Basingstoke, escaping work, seeing friends and family, all that sort of thing.
And while it was a much-needed and enjoyable break, baseball-wise, it was highly frustrating. Because while we do have broadband at my mum’s house, it has been pretty rubbish. So for the last two weeks I have been able to keep up to date with everything thats been happening in Rays-world, but haven’t actually been able to see any of it. Hence, no writing.
But after getting the train back up to Edinburgh yesterday (6 hours, but cheaper than flying), I arrived home just in time to watch the Rays completely blitz the Orioles for their third consecutive double-digit score, and ninth series sweep of the season. The Yankees are heading to the Trop tomorrow, and I shall get back to proper blogging then (well Wednesday or Thursday, depending on when I watch the game). But for now, for me as much as for anyone else reading, here’s a lightning recap of all the action since my last post…
12/8/08 – TB 1 – OAK 2
With Evan Longoria now on the DL, the Rays lose a tight one, unable to capitalise on solid pitching from Kaz, JP Howell and Grant Balfour.
13/8/08 – TB 3 – OAK 2
A twelfth win of the year for Andy Sonnanstine, backed by homeruns from Carlos Pena (his 22nd) and Eric Hinske (17).
14/8/08 – TB 7 – OAK 6 (12)
Runs-a-plenty in the last game I watched before heading south. Cliff Floyd went 1-2 with 4 walks, 4 runs and plenty of hustling around the basepaths. Troy Percival sprained his knee and headed to the DL, Grant Balfour couldn’t manage to close the game out, but a twelfth inning homer by Pena sealed the series win.
15/8/08 – TB 7 – TEX 0
Matt Garza threw a brilliant 2-hitter, as Pena, Hinske, Willy Aybar and Gabe Gross all went deep to support him. It wasn’t all plain sailing though, as BJ Upton was very publically benched in the 6th for a lack of hustle.
16/8/08 – TB 0 – TEX 3
The shutout tables were turned as the Upton-less Rays managed only three hits off of Texas starter Matt Harrison.
17/8/08 – TB 7 – TEX 4
BJ returned with 3 hits, a homer, 2 runs and 3 RBI to help Scott Kazmir to his 9th win of the year. Carlos Pena belted his 25th homer of the season, but the big talking point is Joe Maddon’s decision to intentionally walk Josh Hamilton with the bases loaded in the ninth. Its just the fifth bases-loaded IBB in MLB history, but Joe is vindicated as Dan Wheeler strikes the next batter out to preserve the win.
18/8/08 – LAA 4 – TB 6
A thirteenth W for Sonny, helped by homers from Hinske and Cliff Floyd. The Angels try and mount a comeback, but Balfour, Bradford, Miller, Hammel and Wheeler secure things in relief.
19/8/08 – LAA 2 – TB 4
James Shields gave up just 2 runs in 8 innings of work, and was rewarded with win number 11 thanks to Willy Aybar’s 2-out, 2-run single in the eighth.
20/8/08 – LAA 5 – TB 4
No sweep, but another series win, against the AL West pacesetters. An RBI-double by Carlos Pena tied things up late, but the Angels battled for the winning run in the ninth.
22/8/08 – TB 9 – CWS 4
Edwin Jackson became the latest Ray to celebrate win number 10, thanks to some persistant hitting. Carlos Pena hit his team-leading 26th homer, Ben Zobrist went deep as part of a 3-RBI day, and Rocco Baldelli belted his first homer since May 3, 2007.
23/8/08 – TB 5 – CWS 3
Scotty K put up a strong showing early, but left with a 6-inning no-decision as the Rays waited until a 4-run eighth to claim the lead. Jason Bartlett continued his hot August with a 3-4 day, while Aki Iwamura and Carlos Pena drove in 2 runs a piece.
24/8/08 – TB 5 – CWS 6 (10)
Rocco went deep in the top of the first, but the White Sox wouldn’t go away, and eventually came through thanks in part to a questionable interference call in the bottom of the 10th.
26/8/08 – TOR 6 – TB 2
The Rays stranded 11 baserunners as Roy Halladay finally managed to record a W against Tampa Bay at the fourth attempt.
27/8/08 – TOR 0 – TB 1
Matt Garza shut out the Jays on 6 hits over 7 2/3 innings, and Grant Balfour and Dan Wheeler did the rest. Carlos Pena’s 27th homerun of the season was the only score.
28/8/08 – TOR 2 – TB 3
Edwin Jackson allowed only 1 run in seven innings work, while Cliff Floyd and Willy Aybar both homered to secure a 9th consecutive series win.
29/8/08 – BAL 3 – TB 14
The Rays set the Trop alight as they broke out the big bats against the Orioles and secured win number 82, and the first ever winning season in style. Cliff Floyd had a 3-hit, 5-RBI night, but the star of the show was Ben Zobrist who connected for his first ever MLB Grand Slam in the 4th. Gabe Gross and Shawn Riggans also went deep, and Scott Kazmir became the fifth Rays starter to hit the 10 win mark.
30/8/08 – BAL 9 – TB 10
Saturdays game is one that I intend to watch this evening, largely because of the way it ended. Runs, lead changes and hits galore, the win was finally sealed in the bottom of the 9th in walk-off style – the 10th of the year. And it was made even sweeter because the player who laced the game-winning double down the left field line was Rocco Baldelli.
31/8/08 – BAL 4 – TB 10
And so to yesterday’s game, which made the long trip back up here seem worthwhile. James Shields gave up just one run in seven innings work, Rocco carried on where he had left off on Saturday, by drilling two more doubles down the line as part of a 3-3 day. Shawn Riggans also hit a pair of two-baggers, but the star was Jason Bartlett who capped a 4-4 day with his first home
run in a Rays uniform.
And so thats it. Up to date. Roster expansion call-ups have started, and for the first time ever, the Rays are making moves with the postseason in mind. The injured Jae-kyuk Ryu was called up and placed on the DL, a small move that could mean big things if we do indeed make it to October baseball. With Ryu and Chad Orvella on the DL, it means that we have two roster spots available to players who weren’t in the majors before the August 31st deadline. And that means the possibility that David Price could be here when things are on the line. An exciting prospect indeed.
Catcher John Jaso and outfielder Fernando Perez were also called up, and Troy Percival activated, while Juan Salas was optioned so that Perez could be added before the deadline. Salas should be back on Tuesday.
A 21-7 record in August, with CC, Perci and Longoria all out of action was absolutely fantastic, and I really hope that we can carry the momentum down the stretch run. Longoria should be back soon, but as has been the case all year, when one player is out, you can be sure that another will step in and come up big. Jason Bartlett has been red hot all month, while Ben Zobrist has proven himself to be the utility player that every team longs for. I couldn’t be happier about how either of them have done. Then there’s Willy Aybar who has filled in admirably for Evan at third, and Cliff Floyd, Eric Hinske and Pena who have taken up the power-hitting and run-producing slack with Evan and CC out. And theres Rocco of course. I reckon a championship ring for him would be a feel-good story that would match even a Cubs pennant!
And lets not forget Joe Maddon. I hope the players don’t falter, because Joe has been on top of his game every single step all season. When I saw that he had walked Hamilton with the bases loaded, it actually didn’t surprise me. Conventional wisdom isn’t what has gotten us this far, and I’m sure that isn’t going to change now.
Yankees on Tuesday. The Red Sox next week. The big games are coming up. And I can’t wait.
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…
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…
That, was a better win. Ok, so we allowed Baltimore to score the same number of runs as on Saturday, and we scored fewer ourselves, but believe me it was a better win.
Take James Shields. Like Edwin Jackson the night before, he wasn’t at his best. But unlike Jackson, Shields didn’t let it affect him. He battled superbly, showing exactly the kind of determination that you want to see from a top-of-the-rotation pitcher. He ended with a no-decision, but make no mistake, if it wasn’t for him knuckling down and working through the innings…
What is it, a week since I last wrote something? Well, while I basically haven’t seen the Rays play in that time, we have, I think it is fair to say, had a good week.
It started with the Rays taking two of three up in Toronto, the third game a 13-inning spectacular that, despite Troy Percival blowing his first save of the season, saw the players keep on battling, finally being rewarded with the win thanks largely to a grand-slam from Dioner Navarro…
Don’t worry, I’m changing the record – last night wasn’t a battling performance by the Rays. It was a simply brilliant performance. And it rounded off one of the best series I have ever watched – not just because the Rays swept the BoSox; not just because of how well the Rays played; but because it was some of the highest quality baseball you will see.
Ok, so the bats for both teams were somewhat quiet. But that was for no other reason than the outstanding pitching that was on display…