Thought processes and conversations started under the tilted cap of Tropicana Field. Someday everyone will know the Rays play in St. Petersburg, Florida, not TAMPA, or the fictitious city of TAMPA BAY.
A Vital Dose of Redemption and Realization
By now the whole baseball World knows that the Tampa Bay Rays lost twice last night. They lost the chance to push themselves past the New York Yankees and visualize the 2010 team dream, but that revelation is mute right now. They lost the whole bag of marbles last night against the dreaded Red Sox and their Southpaw boy wonder Jon Lester. The Rays further lost within their own misguided intention and advances than by simple game action.
But that is what this series is all about. It is either going to be a time of redemption (for the Red Sox) or realization (for the Rays). Redemption in the fact that some of the walking wounded among the Boston roster are seeing that odd shaped roster beginning to cement itself and play as a define and articulate unit, much to the chagrin of the home town Rays. Redemption that a Wild Card reclamation is as close as 6 simple games, and made closer with the knowledge both the Rays and New York Yankees are not playing at their highest levels.
Redemption that as their own newspapers and bloggers have not screamed out the battle cry yet that this 3-game vacation into the sunshine can make or break their 2010 season, even with 32-odd games to follow. Forget that the Rays have 24 more games against the American League East over the course of the rest of the season, including another foray at Fenway in the near future. Tonight’s win showed the Rays hopefuls that the Red Sox machine might seemed broken and battered, but it can still rev its engines at full RPM’s when needed.
Realization by the Rays that this team is sometimes too slow to adjust and submit to changes at the plate as pitch after pitch goes by outside the zone and gets called for a strike. The Rays managed to suffice in the “Rays Way” for almost 6 innings before adjusting their game and swinging at those borderline calls that had been called by Home Plate Umpire Gary Darling all night long. It took too long for the Rays to up their game and swing at those pitches 6 inches off the plate that got the arm action of Darling and saw countless Rays rallies die an instant death with a still cocked bat at the plate.
Forget the double plays by Evan Longoria and B J Upton in the first and third inning that equalized any sense of control issues with Lester by giving the Rays freebie base runners than have them dissolved instantly by a solid ground ball hit to either Marco Scutaro or Adrian Beltre, who quickly dished the ball off to second and first to squash any Rays rally like a bug. A brief realization by the Rays that Lester and Boston catcher Victor Martinez were not always on the same page, but not utilizing it to their advantage to get more than one solo run in the stressful bottom of the fourth inning.
Here was the Rays trying to produce runs via the “small ball” approach, but Lester was pitching outside to try and eliminate a bunt down the line, or even a solid contact with the ball. By the time the Rays realized and circumvented their approach, it was already the bottom of the fifth inning, then base running malfunctions became the letter of the day. First it was Sean Rodriguez being completely hung out to dry by Lester on a steal attempt of third base with two outs that further complicated the Rays game plan.
But the huge exclamation point on the “missed it by that much” game performance of the Rays is best illustrated in the base running of Upton , who began the bottom of the sixth inning by walking, then getting a smooth and clean steal of second base off of leftie Lester before committing the ultimate game faux pas on a single to centerfield that former Rays farmhand Darnell McDonald scooped in shallow centerfield then tossed a grenade to Martinez who got Upton at mid-body on his feet first slide into home. Aggressive base running is one thing, and hustling and seeking the plate in an instance where the ball was maybe 40 yards above the top clay of the infield is suicidal at best.
Love the aggression, hated the result. But that is just another realization that night that maybe they were playing this game a click slower than the Red Sox. But this series already is showing high signs of a epic struggle for redemption by the Red Sox and the Rays did not have the ammo to fight back tonight. Six times in this contest the Rays either tried to get a man to third, or he advanced to either score or get thrown out. Six times the Rays had a honest and realistic chance to post more runs, but something jammed the Rays own engine every time, but once.
So I guess it is only right to tip your cap towards the players and fans wearing the big “B” on the cap tonight for playing the hands that were dealt to them and capitalizing on Rays mistakes or offerings. It was not as if either pitcher was brilliant, even though they both combined for 18 of the 24 strikeouts in the game. Fitting still was the last out, a called strike on pinch-hitter John Jaso that looked a few inches below and outside the strike zone to most in the stands.
An instant realization by the Rays that they let this game get away from them. But it also gave the Red Sox a realization that this series, and this season might just be beginning to heat up. I think I am going to bring a tube of sun block to the game tomorrow night because I some burning to be done, hopefully it will be the realization that the Red Sox might have woken a sleeping Rays giant. Or maybe it is the Rays this time who will seek a redemption for their play on Friday night.
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