Rays Take Both at Home, Heading to Chi-town for Winner
I can not tell you how much eletricity and energy is rolling through the catwalks and walls of the Trop. right now. I sometimes feel like I am living in a dream instead of sitting here in the Bullpen Cafe looking on as the Rays take a 2-0 lead in this best-of-5 series against the Chicago White Sox. the crowd has been intense, and the cowbells have been in full force in this series.
I was checking on a few stats with the Elias Sporting Bureau and found out that the Rays are the first team in major league history to win its first 2 games of its playoff history, overcoming a deficit of at least 2 runs in their wins. I also found out a few other great facts about this high-charged series. During the 2008 season, the Rays won 28 games after trailing by at least 2 runs, the most in the major leagues this year.
I can tell you that this team has always been a team that never counts itself out until the last out in the 9th inning. that should bode well for them in the coming weeks as the baseball gods will be testing this young team. Lets just hope that this young squad can keep up this scoring-by-committee approach all the way to the last game of the year.
I was listening to the deafening noise last night near the end of the game, and Rusty, the Rays MC, announced that the crowd noise was the 3rd loudest in MLB history last night. The Rays magical number to have their ticker tape parade is : 9 wins
Coming into last night, Scott Kazmir has had a few mixed reviews in his last 5 starts for the Rays. If his 37 pitches in the first inning did not scare you, here is a fact that will about last night. In his 124 career starts, Kazmir has thrown over 35 pitches in the first inning only once. He did it as a rookie on September 19, 2004 at Toronto in his 5th start of his career ( 38 pitches).
I have been critical of Kazmir lately that maybe he has not been warming up like he did in the beginning of the year. But I was sitting right behind him and was watching him warm up and he was doing all the things that he did in prior years to get warm and loose on the sidelines. Maybe it is just a case of nerves for Kazmir, because after the first couple of innings he calms down and seems to hit his marks better.
Last night’s first inning was no different. Kazmir hit Orlando Cabrera with the first pitch of the game. It is also the 11th time in the playoffs that the lead-off batter has been hit in a game by a pitch. Nick Swisher then was walked on 5 pitches to put the first teo men on base for the White Sox. Jermaine Dye then hit a soft looper to left to load the bases with no out in the 1st inning.
Kazmir then gave up an RBI single to Jim Thome, and a sacrifice fly to Alexi Ramirez to put the White Sox up 2-0 early in the game. Kazmir then got out of the inning when Juan Uribe struck out, but had given up 2-runs on 3-hits in the inning.
Scott Kazmir,Part Deux
After the 1st inning, Scott Kazmir gave up only 5 hits the rest of the night. He effectively shut down the White Sox powerful offense by finally getting his slider and change-up to pick apart the corners of the plate. In the first inning, Kazmir was all over the plate high and low and could not get a consistant grip on the strike zone. In the 2nd inning, the only batter to reach base was Swisher on a walk, but he was stranded on base that inning.
After that, Kazmir spread out the hits to retire the White Sox 1-2-3 in the 3rd inning, and giving up a lone hit in the 4th-6th innings. For the day, Kazmir gave up 2-runs on 8-hits and got 4 strikeouts in his 84 pitch outing. For his efforts, Kazmir earned his first post season victory and helped the Rays take a 2-0 lead in the series.
Alot of people had forgotten about the basestealing presence of Crawford in this series. Since this was only the 2nd game since his return after a finger surgery, most thought he would be silient on the bases and just try and regain his edge in later rounds of the playoffs. But in the 8th inning, with Evan Longoria at the plate, Crawford stole his first postseason base of his career. Octavio Dotel had just come on to relieve Mark Buehrle in the inning. Crawford stole the base on a 1-2 count to Longoria and set up the Rays 4th run of the game.
B J Upton
Coming into this contest against Buehrle, B J Upton had gone 5-13 this year against the White Sox starter, and he again became a thorn in the White Sox’s side. In the 8th inning, Upton hit a sharp ball into centerfield for a tirple , and put the lead-off man on third with no outs in the inning. For the night B J might have only gone 1-4, but his triple produced the 4th run of the game to secure the win for the Rays.
White Sox Error
In the 2nd inning, Rocco Baldelli hit a screaming liner to second base that Alexi Ramirez gloved for the first out of the inning. Willy Aybar had hit a single to left to lead-off the inning and was scrambling back to first base to avoid a pick off play. Ramierez overthrew first baseman Paul Konerko and the ball rolled into the camera well in the Rays dugout. Aybar was awarded 3rd on the error and the Rays had a man on 3rd with 1-out in the inning. Aybar ended up scoring on Dioner Navarro’s single to right to score the Rays first run of the game.
Just when you were wondering who might step up to the plate for the Rays in this game, Akinora Iwamura came up and hit a blast to leftfield to score Jason Bartlett and put the Rays up for good 3-2. Iwamura went 1-4 on the night, but like Upton, his timely hit produced the needed runs to put his club in contention for the win. After Aki’s blast the crowd chanted his name until he came up on the dugout steps and tipped his batting helmet to the crowd.
Not to be lost in this series is the play of Rocco Baldelli. He was not expected to start this game, but when given the opportunity he presented the Rays with more reasons to count on him this post season. In the 8th inning, after an RBI single to right to score Crawford, Baldelli was on first with 2-outs. When Navarro hit a bloop single into a group of White Sox players, Baldelli headed around second with a full head of steam.
Baldelli blew past the stop sign by third base coach Tom Foley and scored just ahead of the throw from shallow centerfield. And that is the reason that Baldelli could be a huge difference in a game this post season. His aggressive style and calculated risks make for a winning combonation on the Rays.
Grant Balfour again came on to relieve the Rays starter tonight and the first man he faced was Cabrera, who he had a shouting match with on Thursday night. Balfour got him to ground out to second on 3 pitches and the events of the prior night seemed to be in the past for both players. Balfour ended up throwing the last two outs of the inning, but gave up 2 hits in the outing.
J P Howell came out in the middle of the 7th and got 6 of the 7 men he faced to go down in the innings. In the 8th inning, Howell got all three White Sox outs on called third strikes. Over the last 7 seasons, the White Sox have only struck out three times looking one other time.
In the 9th inning, Chad Bradford came on and gave up a lead-off single to Dye before he was retired on a double play ball 5-4-3 to set up the last out of the game. Bradford then got White Sox slugger Thome to strike out on three straight pitches to earn his first post season save.
Fast Plane to Chi-town
With the Rays leaving within the hour for Chicago on their chartered flight, the team had to make haste as it got ready to fly tonight to the windy city. This made it easier to have a warm-up and pratcie on U.S. Cellular’s Field before playing their first road game this year.