Classic Rays versus Red Sox Game

 

               Red Sox 4,       Rays 3


Michael Dwyer / AP

This One Did NOT Hurt As Much

Every season you have games that will come down a test of wills at the plate. In last night’s game, Jonathan Papelbon won this first face-off of the season against the Rays. But even if you are a Red Sox or a Tampa Bay Rays fan, you had to enjoy this game for the pure pleasure of it being a ever-changing affair from the first pitch on. There was everything you want in a featured baseball game on ESPN.

You have the tale of the struggling hitter, the emotional pitchers from both teams, the outfielder who replaced a former Fenway legend who is making his own legacy, and you had a scattered amount of hits and runs to keep everyone interested until the last out. Heck, even the ninth inning pinch-hit by Carlos Pena had me at hello. Coming into that at bat, Pena was 1 for 3 against Papelbon with a home run. There was that instant anxiety that Pena, the MLB home run leader could take any pitch yard on him.

And there was the fact that Papelbon is usually at his best in this kind of scenario. Even with the count 3-2, you had to imagine what was going to happen next in this game. The only thing that spoiled it for me was the strikeouts. I know I am being a bit critical here, but I wanted to see the Boston defense step up and show their teeth or their obvious weakness tonight. When Dustin Pedroia left the game with a gimpy hammy, you knew the pressure would fall upon the Red Sox shoulder even harder to win this first series from the troublesome Rays.

But in the end, it was the flamboyant closer thrusting his fists and doing his best Joba Chamberlain impression. I am only hoping that the next time a Ray hits a homer off Papelbon, he gets the same greeting as Joba after Aubrey Huff took him yard on Sunday. This was the Rays 20th game against the American League East opponents , with two more on tap before they finally greet another A L Central opponent at home this next coming weekend. I mean let’s think about the game in a really abbreviated form.

The Red Sox ace, Josh Beckett had given up 25 runs and 44 hits since his Opening Day win over the Rays in Fenway. He had blossomed to a 8.13 ERA. He was ripe for the picking, and the Rays did not take full advantage of a guy who was having trouble with his fastball. But that is the game. You never know where your offense or your pitching will be at any moment.

The game did begin with a classic National League style run production after Carl Crawford got on base with a slap single to Mike Lowell at third base. Pat Burrell hit a nice slow rolling RBI-single to deep left and Crawford did what you have to do when he scored on the play. He bowled over Jason Varitek like we were taught in Little League. It was not a locomotive collision, but it was the classic side punch to get him off the plate and send a message slam. The Rays wanted this game, and even a great catcher was not going to stand in Crawford’s way tonight.


Michael Dwyer / AP

And what was even better, Willy Aybar, who gracefully pushed a catcher in Minnesota and cost the Rays a run in a Rays loss got a front row seat to it. Aybar now can see with his own eyes what playing the Rays way really means. You go all out no matter what…..even into a catcher. You might remember in Spring Training 2008, Elliot Johnson blew Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli to the backstop with a massive slam. Ironic that it was also seen as a catalyst by the Rays of the potential and the power of this teams confidence in 2008.

I hope the message got through to people on that bench. The emotion and the confidence is still within that roster, they just have to physically bring it to the surface, and the win will pile up again for the Rays. I heard a guy last night complain about B J Upton’s lack of aggression at the plate. Well, if he had really seen his last 10 at bat this series, you would see the slow evolution of his swing and that he is not long for a huge game. He needs to outwardly display that confidence, then the team will also respond accordingly.
 

People do not visualize that Upton is a key component in the Rays machine.  Without him 100 percent on-board and showing his abilities, this time is running on 7 cylinders. Great illustration of this was Upton’s blast down toward the leftfield corner in the fifth inning for a double. Then Crawford hit a bloop single in front of Jason Bay for an RBI single. With that RBI, Crawford is now tied with former Rays Aubrey Huff for the team RBI record ( 449). But if Upton needs to have a example of what it takes, he only has to look towards the On-Deck circle to Crawford.

Earlier in the year Crawford was beginning to slump a bit, but now he is one of the hottest hitters in baseball. And to add to that fire is the fact he is also the most feared man on the base paths right now. Of course in Boston they throw a few well phrased adult superlatives with his name, but that comes with success. Considering the fact that there are three players who have not hit their stride yet ( Dioner Navarro,Pat Burrell, Upton), this team is only 3-games below .500 right now. That is only 3-games off last years pace, and we have a harder schedule in 2009.

So we leave the confines of Fenway with out first losing series of the year against the Red Sox.  But this time, even the Red Sox Nation have to agree that this series was one of the best in the history of these two divisional rivals. Not just for the Rays huge win on Sat., but for the close games that could have gone either way with a few breaks. The best thing about this ever growing rivalry is that it is not going to die down anytime soon. Both teams are loaded in the minors, and they both will find incredible ways to beat the other team today, tomorrow and in the immediate future.


Michael Dwyer / AP

De-Fense, De-Fense

For some time, one of the biggest improvement over the Rays in recent years has been their commitment to their defense. Well, you have to give a huge amount of style points to the Rays last night, because their defense kept them in this contest. For one of the first games in recent memory, the Rays did not complete a single double play on the Boston hitters. But then again, the Rays defenders did keep their base runners to a minimum  thanks in part to a former Ray.

Nick Green has been removed from the Rays system for a few years, but he still has a fond place for the Rays. I do not think that was on his mind when he tried to stretch two single into doubles last night, but the Rays will thank him for the outfield assists and the outs. The first one came in the third inning off a hard hit ball bouncing off the Green Monster in leftfield that Crawford took fast and threw hard and true to the base to nab Green for Crawford’s team leading third assist of the year.

But then again in the fourth inning Green again tried to test his former infield teammate Ben Zobrist when he hit an RBI-single in the fourth inning to rightfield, and Zor-illa turned and fired a strike to nab him for the second time tonight to also get his second outfield assist of the season. Bartlett did not have to move an inch to take Zobrist’s throw in and tag Green in time to end the fourth inning on that play. I think the rest of the American League can attest to Upton and Gabe Gross having the rocket arms on this team, but Crawford and Zobrist will get their shots to disprove their own detractors this season. 

But the Rays defense was not perfect tonight either. Crawford almost got the Rays into early trouble when he overthrew to second base on a double by Jason Bay in the second inning. The ball went high and wide from Bartlett and the Rays had to scramble to get it before Bay knew what had happened on the play. But the Rays did have a helper in some of the defensive troubles tonight. The Red Sox secret weapon for years has been the Green Monster.

Several times in the game the wall made its presence known and take simple balls off it and transform them into directional switching ricochets that made the Rays scramble a bit. But every team has that home field advantage, but in Boston, it is a huge green painted wall that grins every time a ball hit it.


www.tbo.com

Pink Cleats almost become Verboten

I actually love the fact that MLB celebrates the holiday of Mother’s Day the way they do every season. I mean I remember a few years ago if you bought a certain dollar amount in the Team Store you got a make-up bag and small pillow embroidered with the pink ribbon and the MLB logo. Well, my  mother had passed in the last year, but I gave the pillow and the case to my daughter’s mother and she loved the thought, but she is a hockey fan. Oh well, such is life.

But the fact that the teams were a sea of pink wristbands and stretchable bands everywhere on their arms and wrists was amazing. And the pink bats were out on force with players suing them throughout baseball on Sunday. And with those bats being collected again and being offered on MLB.com’s auction site will bring in more great amounts of funds for the possible final solution to this  cancer that has taken so many of the people we love and know from our lives. 

Among those who are expected to wear the pink Reebok cleats are twelve players from the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays, as well as the game’s umpiring crew and the entire Red Sox staff including Manager Terry Francona. Players “getting their pink on” include David Ortiz, Jonathan Papelbon and Tim Wakefield of the Red Sox and Gabe Gross, Grant Balfour and James Shields of the Rays, along with other players from both teams.

But I love the fact that MLB and the MBL Player Union finally let the player where those Reebok cleats with the pink striping in the game yesterday. There might not have been a huge display of the pink shoes, but thanks to Rays reliever Joe Nelson, it might not have even happened if not for his insight and call to the union about the exclusion of the shoes. You see, Nelson doesn’t get a pink bat, and his armbands can not adorn his body and arms on the mound. All he would have had to honor his mother-in-law that day would have been the glue able ribbon on his uniform top.

But after consulting the union and getting a ” we will work it out” response from the union on the Reebok situation, he was able to put on those pink striped cleats and show his support for this awesome cause. The original reason that the cleats were forbidden to be worn on the field was an outside of MLB sanctioned charity getting the proceeds from the future auction of these shoes. By the union and MLB taking into consideration the multiples of players and families that might be effected by exclusion of this display of support and honor, I commend MLB and the Player’s Union for their quick and positive actions.  The charity to be honored with the cleats is the Avon Foundation for women.

Most of the time this kind of decision-making can not be made on the fly. For the league and the union to step up and get a fast resolution and supportive stance will be a huge win-win for them in not only the public’s eye, but in the players too. Way to Go MLB and MLBPA for your insight and gracious admittance of this sign of support for guys who do not get to go to bat, or hit the mound during the game. You know their mother’s love you for it.

Just to let you know, the Florida Marlins also received batting gloves and cleats from Easton this week to wear on Sunday during their game against the Colorado Rockies. These items are also going to be made available in a future auction to benefit the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. Marlins stars Hanley Ramirez, Luis Gonzalez and Cody Ross, who wear Easton goods during the season will be the highlighted players wearing the pink-hued accessories. It is just a great thing that so many of the games best have taken the time to honor not only their mothers’ today, but a chance to eliminate a horror that plagues women daily all over the world
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12 Comments

Rays – It was a great series! I am very glad to take a break now from the Rays and the Yankees! Nick Green was not at his best last night – but he has done a good job for us at SS. I loved all the pink last night and I loved Jason Varitek’s catchers equipment! That will also be auction off for charity. (He did the same thing on St. Patrick’s Day with his green equipment.) Without a doubt – the Red Sox and the Rays have a really rivalry going.

Julia
http://werbiefitz.mlblogs.com/

Sounds like the Rays and Red Sox had a nice series. I didn’t follow to many teams this weekend. I was pretty busy and just trying to watch my Giants or get the play by play on my phone. Really cool to see a lot of players with the Pink gear on.

~ King of Cali
http://kingofcali.mlblogs.com/

Julia,
I will say that there is a subculture in this area that beckons for a rivalry, and I am all for it.
The great thing is that most of the fans have stayed pretty calm and not gone overboard this season. It has been a refined and defined set of series with either team possible of a sweep or even getting blown-out.
That is the making of some future fun.

Rays Renegade

http://raysrenegade.mlblogs.com

I am curious if this year they might have a darker blue for the Father’s Day equipment.
Not to sound rude, but that baby blue colred wristband doesn’t send the signal of “chick magnet” anymore.
Sorry, I had to have fun with it, and I am a two-time Dad, so I am allowed.
It is awesome to see the iwde spread support by every team in the league. Spells well for the unity in finding not only a cure, but supporting the survivors of these crippling and humbling aliments.

Rays Renegade

http://raysrenegade.mlblogs.com

You know what’s funny – my husband and I were watching the end of the Rays-Sox game last night and he thought for sure that Papelbon was going to blow it. I said offhand, “Nah, he’ll probably strike out the next three guys.” Umm…yeah.

I do hope that Papelbon (and K-Rod) for that matter will be greeted with the same response that Joba has gotten. Mostly, I just don’t think it’s fair that he’s been singled out. I think people don’t respond to Papelbon because they think he is certifiably insane.

Be careful what you wish for in terms of a rivalry with the Red Sox. Their fan base could drive even the most stoic person up the wall.

I am not scared of the Red Sox Nation, or the Pinstripe Platoon or maybe even the Oriole Air Force.
I have stood by these guys wearing that Tampa Bay jersey since their first game, and I will be there ( hopefully) for their last one too.
I have had to take on Boston and NY fans vocally and physically to get respect for our home field. Plus I am among those who have been born in St. Petersburg, Florida, and will defend it to my last breath.
That is just the way I feel about it all.
I have invaded Yankee Stadium and Fenway with my Rays gear and might have encountered some early strife, but by the end of the game, I had a few friends too.
I am a Rays fan, nothing else will do for me………….sorry.

Rays Renegade

http://raysrenegade.mlblogs.com

I’m having a live chat right now, you should check it out.

http://thewrightway.mlblogs.com/

I tuned in at the end of the game, Renegade. Talk about tense! Watching Upton at the plate after Pena and Longoria took a seat was hard, even though I didn’t even have a rooting interest. I could read his lips as he muttered to himself, “Come on, baby,” only to strike out. Wow.

http://janeheller.mlblogs.com

Yeah, he almost had one, but fate was not on his side that night.
But that is the type of game I do not mind losing.
The ones where you know they both left it all out there on the field and will be physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted.

Rays Renegade

http://raysrenegade.mlblogs.com

Thanks Wrightway,
but I am not online at the same time as your chat. Since we had an off day today, I went out and treated myself to a nice dinner that did not come off the value menu, or even has a straw involved in the soda portion of the meal.
I am also trying to think of a title or subjext to write about on Tuesday since I will not a usual blog.
Maybe a potpourri of odd stories around baseball………hmmmm

Rays Renegade

http://raysrenegade.mlblogs.com

I liked the pink cleats a lot, too, but our announcer said they were for “breast awareness day”. Funny, I didn’t think a lack of breast awareness was such a big problem, at least not for most guys I know :)-Erinhttp://plunking-gomez.mlblogs.com

Erin,
If you announcer stated that, he must have had a business man’s luncheon at Hooters that morning.
I am totally into what you are saying, since I am single……….breast awareness is keen to me.
But I am so glad that Breast Cancer Awareness day went off with such a positive note and can be responsible for loads and loads of donation and auction winnings thanks to MLB and their players.
I remember my father once saying that he gives to charities because it might be his dollar that brings the cure or a method of recovery.
And that is why I give generously myself.

Rays Renegade

http://raysrenegade.mlblogs.com

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