Moment of Rays and Yankee Clarity


 

When I was young, my Father used to tell me there would be these moments in my life where everything seems clear and clarity will be at its zenith for a time. Last night, in the mass chaos of extra innings, mutual outstanding pitching performances and the hustle and bustle of players clamering on their teammates like 10-year olds celebrating a Little League title, the moon, stars and heaven seemed to align perfectly to enlighten myself and the 26,906 other witnesses to one of the most fabulous baseball games in 2010.
 

I can easily sumize that the collective crowd last night saw just pinch of everything possible in one baseball game unfold at different moments that evening. The advertised pitching match-up not only lived up to its hype and banter, but it quickly expanded to promote the unforgiving fact that the first mistake by either club could possibly turn into the deciding momentum shifter. And no one in their right mind would have selected a true rookie to deliver the final blow in this contest.

What all of us saw before us last night was a barn-burner pitcher’s guessing game to their last pitches between two of the most dominating southpaws in the American League. Both trying to get destiny to give them a wink in deciding who would get a “bump up” in the American League Cy Young race. We saw the wily veteran presence of New York Yankee starter C.C. Sabathia going not only for a knockout blow in the Cy Young race, but trying to hit the 20 win plateau for the first time in his career.

 

On the other side of the coin was this year’s wunderkid, Tampa Bay Rays pitcher David Price who not only got the nod of rival Yankees Manager Joe Girardi over one of his own pitchers for the start of the 81st All-Star Game, but has seen his own stock rising as quickly as the donuts as Price tries to keep the wins comings to (maybe) become the first Rays pitcher EVER to record 20 wins.


This incredible pitching match-up was only the 11th time in the last 10 years that two 17+ win starters squared off in a contest. It was the first time since 1985 that both pitchers had 17+ wins and went 8 scoreless innings each in the same contest. The last time was Sept 11,1985 when ex-Rays, the NY Mets pitcher Doc Gooden went up against St. Louis Cardinals hurler John Tudor, who ended up throwing a 10 inning shutout that night. Gooden threw 9 innings and was lifted for a pinch hitter in the bottom of the ninth inning. Met reliever Jesse Orosco gave up a solo shot to Cesar Cedeno for the lone Cardinal run.

As if you need to boosting the hype of this match-up any higher, was the fact that both Sabathia (19 wins) and Price (17 wins) were ranked 1 and 2 in the American League in victories at the time. This was also only the second time either had faced the other in a regular season MLB game. The first time was Sunday, Oct. 2, 2009 also at Tropicana Field, when Sabathia was trying to post his 20th win for 2009. Price and the Rays derailed that days chance at Sabathia 20th win mark with a 13-3 final that was highlighted by B J Upton’s cycle of his career.

Tonight’s match-up quickly materialized into a showdown between the uncharacteristic impatient Rays, who were trying to jump on Sabathia pitches early hoping for mistakes across the plate, and Price’s inability to get the Yankee hitters to take tasty swings just outside the zone. The tables oddly turned 180 degrees tonight as the Yankees seemed to be playing the Rays usual game plan of staying patient at the plate and looking for misguided morsels to hit, while the Rays, who struck out 14 times (Sabathia had 9 K’s) just seemed to be hoping for mistakes, but getting odd calls and mismatched pitches to start any type of rallying point.

This contest definitely fits into the category of an instant baseball classic moment as two young hurlers went about their craft chiseling and honing the strike zone all night long with Sabathia turning out a nice piece of furniture for his efforts, while Price fashioned his own great masterpiece himself in the process. But each pitchers path in this pitcher’s duel took different path, but each did not benefit with a chance for a win in the end.

Back and forth the game went as both teams made strides that bordered on the verge of breaking the game wide open, but their counterpart team’s defense simply made the obvious holes smaller and performed their own feats of magic to take this game long into the night. And that was surprising because the game seemed to be going at a record pace, but suddenly hit a bit of molasses patch and instantly went to a baby’s crawl.

 
Chris O’Meara/AP

More amazingly is the fact that if Rays leftfielder Carl Crawford had not gotten thrown out of the game by Home Plate Umpire Tom Hallion for arguing balls and strikes, this game could have conceivably gone on for even longer. When Crawford was ejected in the bottom of the ninth inning, Rays rookie infielder Reid Brignac went into the game and assumed Crawford’s third slot in the line-up.

Brignac waited for his possible chance to make a big difference in this contest, and had to anxiously wait until the bottom of the 11th inning after the Rays squandered a bases loaded opportunity with two outs to end this contest in the bottom of the 10th as pinch hitter Brad Hawpe struck out. That set the stage for Brignac to lead-off the 11th inning with Yankees reliever Sergie Mitre taking the mound.

Brignac worked the count to 3-2 before sending a screamer 383 feet into the Rightfield stands for the Walk-off winner. As the Rays assembled for the “team meeting” at Home Plate for Brignac, certain key facts instantly came out about the blast. Brignac became the first AL player to hit a walk-off homers in extra innings for a 1-0 score since former Rays hitter Aubrey Huff did it against the Rays on May 9, 2007. Brigs was also the first rookie to blast a solo shot to win a 1-0 game since the L A Dodger’s Russell Martin did it on August 13, 2006 against the San Diego Padres.

Most people would think the fact it marked the first time since June 13th that the Rays held onto sole possession of first place in the AL East would be the defining moment in this game. But there were many flashes of brilliance and moments of clarity in this contest. It showed the best two lefties in the AL right now matching pitch-for-pitch in a game with neither getting a chance to capitalize. It saw another Rays bench player come out of the dugout and perform an inspirational moment for all of us to remember deep into the Winter.

 
J Meric/Getty Images

Most of all this contest showed the true essence of the heart, soul and determination that neither of these teams are expecting the other to back down or go quietly into the night for the duration of the 2010 schedule. In the end, the team that their former owner, the late George Steinbrenner once told me that “the pesky Ray keeps his Yankees honest on the field” found a way to cement another solid performance in all of our hearts. If this keeps up, Tampa Bay will go through a boatload of Pepto by Wednesday night by followers of both teams.

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