Yankees Win Round 1
Best thing about the New York Yankees right now, they are fighting to stay afloat in any playoff situation. But the reality is that if the Toronto Bluejays can win their next 2, and the Yankees lose 2, it is pretty much all over for the Yankees. I know it has been over 11 seasons since the boys from the Bronx have had to make dinner reservations in New York come October 1st.
But the reality is that this team has been pitching weak all year and has gotten some great spot action, but without Mike Mussina, this team would be fighting the Orioles for the cellar. But we all know that this is just a bump in the NY road, and it will be patched by and ready to go in 2009. But then again, the Rays will also be re-loading and will not take on a huge amount of salary that the Yankees will need to offer to get the big guns to finish this transition. While other teams rebuild, the Yankees reload.
Speaking of reloading, it was a great sight to finally come to the Trop and get mobbed by Blue and White, without pinstripes on them. For one of the first times in recent memory, the Rays fanbase came out and supported the cause last night. Every time a Yankee chant started, the cowbells or boo’s were loud and proud. The team did not back down to the Yankees intimidation tactics, or the usual trash talk in the stands. And I only saw a small handful of security-aided situations compared to the usual Yankee series. Maybe the Yankee fans are finally deciding they will have more fun, and be heard more at home than at the Trop. I can not say I will miss them, but it does give more room to the Rays fans to cheer on their team.
I love to reward hustle and aggressive measures by a player. I think that for us to go far in the playoffs we will have to think outside the box and come up with a few surprises for the rest of the year. But, some of the surprises I saw last night will not fly come playoff time.
In the 2nd inning, Willy Aybar lead off the inning with a single to left and was standing on first when Eric Hinske hit a monster liner to deep centerfield. Aybar raced past second and looked towards Third Base Coach Tom Foley who put up the “stop” sign for Aybar.
Eric Hinske being the aggressive bull that he is, was rolling past second with his head down and did not see that Foley had held Aybar before both players were a few feet apart from each other near 3rd base. Aybar had to committ to home becasue Hinske would never have been able to retrack to second base in time. Aybar sprinted to home, and could have made it had he put a shoulder into Yankee’s catcher Jose Molina.
What is so upsettting is that this set the tone for the Rays night. A few miscues and a few odd errors and the game was not in the Rays’ hands anymore. With Johnny Damon playing centerfield, you know you can run on the guy. He is Johnny Damon, but he is also not the same player who has a rifle attached to his arm anymore. I think if Foley had sent Aybar, it would have given the Rays an early pump of energy that they needed in this contest.
Hinske did go 2-3 on the night, with an additional single to center in the 4th inning. Carlos Pena also got into the action early going 2-4 on the night and getting his average almost back to the .250 mark for the season. Pena walked in the first inning, and had an single in the 3rd inning to put B J Upton in scoring position. Carlos also had a double into the right-center gap, but was stranded on base for the Rays.
Cliff Floyd got the scoring started for the Rays on a single to right that scored Upton in the 3rd inning to bring the score to 3-1. In the 7th inning, Gabe Gross hit a nice ball down the line into the rightfield corner for a double.
Shawn Riggans then doubled into left to score Gross and make the score 6-2. Rocco Baldelli came up to bat for Cliff Floyd in the 7th inning and New York countered by bringing in Joba Chamberlain to face Baldelli. Baldelli was at the plate with Riggans and Akinora Iwamura on base for the Rays. Baldelli swung at the first pitch and hit a grounder to short that Jeter flipped to Cano for the force out at second base.
Matt Garza did not seem totally comfortable on the mound last night. The early runs by the Yankees probably did not help in that matter, but the Home Plate umpire’s strike zone also may have contributed to the situation. All night long, Home Plate umpire Brian Runge’s strike zone seemd to be moving and expanding or shortening depending on the pitch.
Several pitched balls were called strike that were clearly beyond the black of the plate and Garza’s frustration mounted. To add further fuel to the fire was the play in the 5th inning on a lightly hit ball in front of the mound hit by Robinson Cano. Garza picked up the ball and tossed it a good 5 feet above Pena’s head for his 1st error of the year.
Garza ended up going 5 innings and gave up 6 runs on 5 hits and striking out only 2 Yankees all night. Garza ended the night by taking his 8th loss of the season. Last night’s game was Garza’s 50th career start. He also came into the game 12-4 against the AL East this season, and was 7-2 at home this year. His last start against the Yankees was the May 12th game to win the opening game of the series , which the Rays ended up winning 3 out of 4 games at home against the Yankees.
Several plays during the game helped set the tome for the Rays loss. Willy Aybar’s play at third base when he sat back waiting on the ball to come to him gave Derek Jeter a single. Jeter then stole second on a close play by Riggans to Iwamura at second.
Aki could not hold onto the ball, and had Jeter by two steps for the out. Jeter then scored on Jason Giambi’s sacrifice fly to center in the 4th inning. B J Upton made a play to get Jeter at home, but the ball was high and the tag could not be made in time.
Sometimes I get sick of bringing this point up in my blogs. The Rays have a great offense and can stand toe-to-toe with any team in the league. But we have a major concern and issue with our hitting with men in scoring position. Last night the Rays out hit the Yankees 12-9. But the kick was that we stranded 10 men on base that could have helped lower the score.
This is not the first time, or maybe the last time this will come up, but it does need to be addressed. The Rays play a more National League style of play on the bases at times, and it has been to their advantage most nights. Last night was just a night where the ball was hit to people and the hits did not come at the best of times for the Rays.
Jason Hammel ended up celebrating his birthday by giving up Alex Rodriguez’s 30th homer of the night, and moved A-Rod into 12th on the All Time Home Run list with the blast to left-centerfield. Not the kind of present he was expecting last night.
It is not that Hammel only pitched 21 pitches in the inning, 18 for strikes, it is that the blast put the dagger into the Rays last night. Hammel has had the odd job of finishing or mopping up games for the Rays lately. That can be a blessing or a curse to some pitchers. It seems this is not the calling for this Young pitcher, and it might end up costing him a roster spot in the spring of 2009.
I do not want to end this blog on a negative or somber note today. I want to commend B J Upton for his play last night in the game against the Yankees. In the 2nd inning, Upton prevented an extra base hit, and maybe homer by Rodriguez by sprinting and catching a ball a few feet from the deep centerfield wall. the play was n amazing display of Upton’s speed and gifts in the outfield.
Also, Upoton had two plays at the plate last night in the game. The first never had a chance to get to the plate in time, but it was a rocket online and to the plate to show he does have the ability to get you if he has the right circumstances. The second was a play on Jeter in the 4th inning that was a bit high and outside, but did get to the plate.
This will set in the minds of the team’s we will be playing the rest of the year that Upton does have the ability to get outs from his centerfield position. This could be a great intimidating weapon down the line for the Rays the rest of the season