Results tagged ‘ Carl Crawford ’

High Noon Rays versus Rangers Showdown

 


 

Did we possibly see the Texas Rangers today accidentally awaken a sleeping Rays ball club. Could the Rays offensive explosion in the 8th and 9th innings tonight be a by-product of the outstanding pitching performance being provided tonight by Rays starter Matt Garza. With this sudden burst of often elusive firepower coming from all sides of the Rays line-up, could this game prove that the heart and soul of this Rays squad is still very much alive and pumping some extreme energy ?


Tonight’s game truly looked like a team slowly awakening from a slumber of the lumber when the once offensively dormant Rays finally pushed across their second run of the American League Divisional Series in the top of the 6th inning. Could this Rays team have finally wiped the sleep dust out of their eyes and become the solid hitting machine this team needs for the rest of this series. Or could tomorrow be more of a return to form of Games 1 and 2 anemic Rays offense. Interesting sidebar point in this ALDS series is that the home team has not won a single ballgame, or been in a position to win after the 8th inning.

19 other times in modern baseball lore, an American League club has gone down 0-2 in a ALDS with only 4 teams (1995 Mariners, 1999 Red Sox, 2001 Yankees and 2003 Red Sox) having the stuff to fight back from the brink of defeat to solidify themselves and eventually take the ALDS series. Interesting enough, the 2001 Yankees were the only team (before the 2010 Rays) to fall behind 0-2 at home. Could it be a great omen that the 2001 Yankees completed their ALDS comeback and went on to win that season’s World Series?.

Before tonight’s 6-3 Rays victory, the Rangers had outscored the powerless Rays 11-1 and out hit the usually potent Rays offense 19-8 over the first two games of this ALDS. Tonight the Rays belted out a 11-6 hit advantage over the Rangers, and made the red clad Texas crowd take their brooms back home under their arms. The anemic Rays were truly pitiful at Tropicana Field, hitting a paltry 1-13 ( .077) with 9 strikeouts with runners in scoring position before tonight’s offensive awakening.

Tonight the Rays were 3-9 with Runners in scoring position, a massive improvement with the Rays trio of Carlos Pena, B J Upton and John Jaso all providing key hits to score or provide insurance runs to show support for the 4 Rays pitchers that took the hill tonight. It was a solid team effort from a team that looked puzzled and bewildered before they boarded a charter flight to Texas after Thursday afternoon’s contest.

Rays hitters produced an impressive 11 for 37 ( .336) mark tonight as the Rays saw a total of 173 pitches, 50 pitches more than the hometown Rangers. To throw a quick comparison with their prior two performances, in Game one the Rays saw 136 total pitches and only managed 6 hits with one Rays Ben Zobrist getting 2 of those hits and their only run. Game 2 saw the Ranger pitching staff throw 135 pitches with only 2 hits with only Willy Aybar hitting an extra base hit (double).

 

The way the Rays offense woke up today was remarkable since the rays offense had only produced 3 extra base hits and a solo run ( Zobrist HR) before the Rays produced 5 extra base hits tonight, including Home Runs by Carl Crawford (solo) and Pena (3-run HR). How dramatic was the Game 3 turnaround of the Rays? According to the Elias Sports Bureau, only one other team has begun a preliminary postseason series (ALDS/ALCS) with no more than 1 run and no more than 8 hits in their prior two contests (2009 Boston versus Los Angeles Angels). Tonight that statistic is just dust in the wind as the Rays kept from being swept and sent packing by the Rangers.


Finally this Rays team is beginning to hit the ball like the American League East Champions. All along you knew the power and the strength was within them, but now they are bringing it to the plate and providing more than enough ammunition to defeat the Rangers. But the hard work is far from over. Will the Rays formulize an effective hitting and pitching scheme on Sunday to provide the fourth losing game in this ALDS for the home squad.

The Rays will be sending rookie right-hander WD-40 (Wade Davis) to the mound tomorrow afternoon with a chance to again take the Rangers to the Trop. for a one and done possible rematch of lefties David Price and Cliff Lee in the decisive Game 5.

Some within the Rays republic have questioned the idea of starting Davis in this key Game 4, but I feel he has more than shown his maturity and value throughout this 2010 season. Davis has been one of the most solid rookie pitchers in the American League in 2010, but might have to throw the game of his career to get the Rays in solid position to win this contest.

But going into this game, Davis’s had won 7 of his last 8 starts, with only a non decision to blemish his record since coming off the DL. His only non decision came in Game 162 with Davis’s start last Sunday in Kansas City on the last day of the regular season. Since July, the Rays have won 9 of his previous 13 starts. Davis finished the MLB season leading all AL Rookies in ERA (4.07), winning percentage (.545) and was second in innings, starts and strikeouts behind only Baltimore rookie pitcher Brian Matusz.

More importantly, Davis has been gaining more consistency and control as he took the mound in his last 7 starts, and finally seems to be very comfortable in his MLB skin. That bodes well for the Rays, and a solid first five innings could prove to be a vital key to a possible Rays win. If Davis can keep this game close or possibly scoreless and let the Rays offense get their new found hitting on track, this series could definitely be headed for a fifth and final contest.

 

That has to be the front and center the motivational centerpiece for the Rays right now. If they take their new offensive awareness to Rangers starter Tommy Hunter tomorrow, then their fate will definitely rests in their own hands. But if they falter, it is going to be a long Fall and Winter for the Rays 25. But the ice has been cracked, the Rays once lifeless bats have been awoken to bring about a Game 4 old fashion Texas showdown.


Game 4 will officially begin just past high noon (12:07 pm CST) in the Fall Texas sun, but it will be definitely hotter and more humid with every hitter from both team’s who step in the Batter’s box tomorrow. Both squads desperately need a victory for another step towards bringing another page of history to their respective franchises. If the Rangers win, it will be their first postseason series win in their club’s Washington/Texas history.

If the Rays are victorious, they are still on track to become only the fifth team to come back from 0-2 to be in line to possibly win their once lop-sided ALDS series. It is time for the Rays ultimate “Feel the Heat” motivational scheme to further push the Rangers new fangled “Claws and antlers” into the background. Sounds like the perfect Texas mano-on-mano style gunfight. Wonder if the Rays will come firing blanks or multiple bazooka rounds in this high noon showdown?

I Miss Him Already!

 
 

He is one of those people who could fade into the background at a party and become part of the wallpaper. He has always seemed to be point-on when it comes to staying out of trouble and not projecting a highly-paid bad boy. He has always been a role model, but maybe the rest of the Nation is just getting a glimpse of this great person we have known since 2002.


Has it really been 8 MLB season sine he graced the Trop’s turf with his uncontrollable chaos running style, but smooth as silk stroke and acceleration towards any base. Have we really seen the last of him on Thursday afternoon, or will there possibility be a return engagement in 2011? How much have we gotten accustomed to his sudden speed and grace flowing in the outfield making hard plays looking routine that even a one game rest for his weary bones makes the Tampa Bay Rays look like an entirely different team.

The solid image of him just standing in the Batter’s Circle before a plat appearance just portrays speed and grace with every pore of his body. How fitting that in possibly his last season to grace a Rays uniform he was selected by the local media as the Rays 2010 Most Valuable Player. Ever since that first jog out into the outfield in Toronto he has slowly and silently become the glue that holds this team together.

 

Even when the Rays were victimized by opposing pitching, you knew he would get a critical hit or make a play that stood out as a beam of light towards the stands. He is the kind of guy you could give your son his name based on him as a person as well as a ballplayer. He is the kind of guy you would hang out with if he was not making millions on the ballfield, and possibly play with on a Adult Softball team.

Has he gotten so woven into the sports fabric of this Tampa Bay community that when he departs and plays elsewhere, when he returns to Tropicana Field he will still get a louder ovation and applause with the sound of his name echoing over the loudspeakers than any current member of the Rays?

He has become that iconic Rays player you hope is not just once in a lifetime. His way of playing the game has never been questioned or seen as rebellious.


He has played the game to his own tune, and that melody rings loud and true to the man beneath the uniform. No matter if he is thrilling us with plays or being a spoken voice of his comrades, his voice is one of the most respected voices ever in that Rays clubhouse. And he earned that honor by doing it the right way. Defending his teammates in every instance, being a silent but deadly team leader in that Rays clubhouse. A voice respected, admire and seen as a true inner voice to the distress or extreme joy within those walls. He has been the voice of the Rays without even knowing it.

 

And I was one of those 35,000+ chanting his name in Tropicana Field in the eighth inning on Thursday night. Immediately upon hearing the cheer and chanting start I rose to me feet and celebrated in mass the career that will transcend time in my mind. To celebrate a man and a player that might be the first to wear the Rays colors into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Applauding a man who will always be solid in my mind as the model of the perfect Rays player.


You might have noticed I have not put his name once into this post. Not once have I uttered his nicknames or even tried to write his name. Because it pains me to do so. His possible departure aches me within with a pain that I do not want to acknowledge until that last moment. For his name will always make me smile, always make me remember Rays moments, but mostly it will remind me of what a great human being, father and key component to any organization. He will that bright sunburst until he hangs his cleats up for the last time.

 

He started as a keystone to this revival of this franchise. Was here with the strife and pain of getting better and winning those close ones. He celebrated titles and possible advancements that we only dreamed of for this club. He was the guy we all wish we could trade places with for one day. I got to end this now because there is a problem with my eyes.

For some odd reason there is liquid beginning to pool in my eye sockets and it is not customary for me to display this emotion. But that is the biggest reason to be a life long fan of this guy. He makes you believe through his actions, words and lifestyle that the true athlete is no dead in this culture. That there is still at least one guy who will lay it all out on the field each night, strive to be the best and not utter the complacent “me” when discussing his sport. 


 

Once in a lifetime you meet someone or see someone who can transcend the norm and become one with the ongoing heartbeat and rhythm of baseball. May fahter used to tell me tales of Stan Musial and Mickey Mantle and their times in St. Petersburg. But I have my own icon of what I think is the perfect baseball player, for me, his name is Carl Crawford, and I miss him already and he is not even gone.

What is Your Favorite 2010 Rays Moment?

 


 

As I was waiting for the Tampa Bay Rays plane to arrive Sunday evening at St. Petersburg/Clearwater Airport Rays game day emcee Rusty Kath was asking a few smaller Rays fans an important question for possible bobbleheads and assorted prizes. It was a simple question: “What was your biggest Rays moment in 2010?”


The question seemed so simple at first thought, but instantly there became a avalanche of special Rays moments throughout the season, including about 10 Rays moments that kept appearing again and again in my mind based on their place in the Rays scheme of things this season, and their importance to the overall Rays clinching their second American League East title in three seasons. And I guess the best place to start is in April and work our way back towards today.

 

April 6th

This was the Rays home opener against the Baltimore Orioles, and was set with pomp and circumstance normally associated with the first home game, but something felt different this year. It was not the two-colored flaming spirals in the Rays infield before the game, it was something brewing beneath the surface of this contest.

It was Carl Crawford’s eight consecutive Opening Day spot in the line-up, and possibly his last as a member of the Rays. But it was his play on the field that separated this day from any other this season.

Crawford sealed the Rays victory with a 2-run walk-off double that tore the feathers from the Orioles for a 4-3 loss. It was classic Crawford, and instantly this image came to mind as the reason I am going to miss C.C.


 

 April 17th

Was a special moment in Rays history as the day I truly began to believe that Rays closer Rafael Soriano was going to be something special in 2010. Not only did Soriano help save the Rays completion of the prior night’s suspended game, a 3-1 Rays victory. Soriano also got his second save of the day in the Rays 6-5 win in the high cap of the unexpected doubleheader . To win one game in Boston is a great thrill, to win back-to-back within 12 hours of each other is a moment to remember.


 

May 2nd 

This game evolved into a special home moment for the Rays Republic as Rays starter Wade Davis and Royals starter Zack Greinke both threw 7 scoreless innings each with Greinke only making one mistake. But that one mistake ended up being the only run scored in the ballgame when Greinke left up a fastball to Evan Longoria that he deposited in the Leftfield stands for a 1-0 Rays victory.


 

June 8th

This contest displayed the versatility of the Rays as a great offensive and pitching team as Rays starter Jeff Niemann 2-hit the Toronto Blue Jays in a 9-0 shutout of the birds at Tropicana Field. The night was highlighted by 2 Home Runs by Carlos Pena., one a Grand Slam. Niemann has his bid for a No-Hitter broken up in the top of the sixth inning by Toronto shortstop Mike McCoy.



 

June 19th

This road game during the InterLeague schedule will be remembered for a lot of reasons. First it was an away contest against the Florida Marlins in which 15,000 Marlin Air Horns tortured the Rays players eardrums for the entire contest. But it might have been the true signal that the Rays patience at the plate was beginning to return dividends as the Rays got 4 walks in the 11th inning, including 2 with the bases loaded to secure a 9-8 win.


It was also the night that saw the debut of Rays usual starter James Shields as he came in for one scoreless innings of relief and picked up the win on this night. Rays reliever Andy Sonnanstine also got his first Major League Baseball save on this especially extra noisy night (I am bringing my Marlins Air Horn to Game 1 of the ALDS tomorrow).

 

July 26th

This date will probably be set in stone by many among the Rays Republic as the most important night in Rays pitching history. On this night, Rays starter Matt Garza produced the Rays first No-Hitter against the Detroit Tigers. More amazing was the fact Garza and Detroit starter Max Scherzer were trading No-No bids until Rays slugger Matt Joyce hit a Grand Slam to provide the needed punch to seal Graza’s gem.


Garza threw 120 pitches on the night with 6 strikeouts and one lone walk to Tigers Rightfielder Brian Boesch in the second inning to eclipse the chance for a Perfect Game. The entire night Garza seemed on a different plane and was constantly bombarding the strike zone pushing 80 of his 120 pitches across the plate for strikes.

 

August 1st

This extremely exciting Sunday afternoon game against the New York Yankees where Alex Rodriguez was still hunting for his 600th career Home Run. He did not start in the contest, but came on as a pinch hitter and was struck out looking to end the 7th inning by Rays starter James Shields. It also signaled the coming drama between the Yankees and the Rays as the Rays pulled within one game of the Yankees after this 3-0 victory at Tropicana Field.


 

August 10th

During this road game start the Rays Republic got to see some of the immediate future for the Rays on the mound. Rays rookie Jeremy Hellickson took the mound in this contest at Comerica Park against the Detroit Tigers and gave up a lead-off hit to Austin Jackson before he then retired 18 straight Tiger hitters enroute to his second straight Rays win. Hellickson threw 7 inning and got 7 strikeouts and the Rays countered by getting 8 runs on 9 hits, including 4 doubles, to defeat the Tigers 8-0.


 

August 28th

This game was the contest at Tropicana Field against the Boston Red Sox that saw both Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria flirt with a possible cycle in the same game. It was also the game that B J Upton hit a tying Home Run in the 8th inning, then Dan Johnson hit a walk-off Home Run that pushed the visiting Red Sox to 5 ½ games behind the Rays for the American League Wild Card. It signaled the beginning of the end for the Boston club as they never got closer than 5 ½ game again to the Rays in 2010.


 

September 13th

In this premier contest we saw two of the American League’s best left-hander going against each other to try and prop each other up as favorite for the 2010 American League Cy Young candidate. Both Yankee starter C C Sabathia and Rays starter David Price traded zeros for 8 innings each before each left the ballgame.

It wasn’t until the bottom of the 11th inning when pinch hitter Reid Brignac sent a solos shot into the Rightfield stands that either teams blinked in this 1-0 walk-off victory.


So there are 10 possible candidates for my greatest moment in Rays 2010 history. I truly think Garza’s No-Hitter is the top pitching moment of 2010, but as a team, there is still another moment I truly feel has to be added to this list.

October 3rd, might be the biggest team based moment of 2010. As a team the Rays stood solid and would not break after going down early to a 2-0 deficit. With the bases loaded, Rays reliever Chad Qualls got a well deserved double play ball that got the Rays out of the inning without further damage.


The Rays ended up scrapping together an impressive top of the 9th inning rally when pinch hitter Rocco Baldelli single to leftifield, then stole second base ( his 1st SB of 2010). Rays catcher Kelly Shoppach then put down a great ball down the Third Baseline that Royals Third Baseman Wilson Betemit misfired a throw to First Base for an error and Baldelli scampered in to score. Rafael Soriano then converted his 45th save of the season as 8 Rays pitchers combined for the 3-2 victory.

 

The win cemented the Rays clinch of the 2010 American League East title with an exclamation point needed going into the playoffs instead of question marks. The victory solidly put all discussion to bed that the Rays backed into the post season as A L Champs, plus gave the Rays Home field Advantage throughout the American League segment of the post season. 

The gutsy extra inning win completely embodies the Rays mantra of “WIN- What’s Important Now”. It also helped send the Rays homeward so they could host the Texas Rangers instead of travel straight to Minnesota to begin the American League Divisional Series tomorrow afternoon.


Those are my special Rays moments of 2010 so far. With the post season about to get into full swing in 24 hours, possibly more fantastic Rays moments could be added to this list before the Rays take their last at bats, or final place in the field in the 2010 Playoffs.

Hopefully I have 3 more champagne celebrations to cover, and a parade downtown to photograph. The time is upon us for greatness to arrive. It is time to show the rest of the country what Rays Republic fans have known all season long, it is never over against the Rays until that last Umpire’s call.

 
 
 
 
 

Second Time was Just as Sweet!

 
 

 

You could feel the moment beginning to pulsate within the Teflon roof of Tropicana Field. It was the top of the ninth inning with Tampa Bay Rays closer Rafael Soriano heading to the hill. With the sound of the sledgehammer hitting pure steel, your heartbeat synched solely with that one loud clang for several moments before someone shook you and you were forced back into this realm of reality.


 

 

Rays starter David Price had done his job for eight solid innings, and now the Rays All Time saves leader was not out there to collect another save, but to be one with a moment that will be in Rays fan’s minds for a long, long time. Soriano did not have to be inserted into the game with a 5-0 score and no chance of a save opportunity, but somehow, it just seemed right that the guy who anchored the backend of the Rays success this year should get a front row seat to the celebration carnage.


 

 

And even before Home Plate Umpire Joe West got a chance to throw a vocal note to the final pitch thrown by Soriano past Baltimore Orioles hitter Adam Jones, the Rays dugout and Bullpen were half way to the pitcher’s mound. Celebration was in full force in St. Petersburg that night with veterans like Carlos Pena and Carl Crawford taking special moments to collect all the sights and sounds of this cherished event.


 

 

With a scheduled Team meeting at the pitcher’s mound, the entire team collected and embraced, high-fives all around brought the evening to its ultimate climax, but there was a second act yet to be played out upon the turf of Tropicana Field. As the Rays employees were herded into their own special corral just to the west of Home Plate to be a part of the celebration, the first bottle of champagne was open by Rays First Base Coach George Hendricks who then made sure Rays Manager Joe Maddon, who was being interviewed in full view of the entire stadium at the time, got the first taste of the bubbly.


 

 

Sweet nectar of the God’s streamed down Maddon’s fresh new Rays playoff cap and upon his Carolina Blue plaid lettered T-shirt to commemorate the moment. Just as quickly, players began to filter out of the Rays clubhouse holding their own bottles of Domaine ste Michelle champagne looking to celebrate and salute a moment 161 games in the making. B J Upton and Crawford were the first to rise to the top of the Rays dugout and spray the home crowd while others looked for family members or friends to celebrate this historic Rays moment.


 

 

 

Then slowly, but surely, the team made its triumphant march down the First Base sidelines with bottles in hand spraying the crowd and offering a few swigs to those special fans and friends assembled to bring a final end to the first primary goal of this Rays team. I took my usual photo space down by the Rays Bullpen secondary clubhouse entrance and began to shoot the impending celebration stampede heading my way. I had to put down my camera as player after player came by and let me have a small slice of that moment with them.


 

 

Willy Aybar immediately doused me with champagne right after I congratulated Upton and Grant Balfour and then I saw the biggest smile on the faces of both Evan Longoria and David Price who earlier that day were going through some personal damage control after some unusual comments by the pair.

 

 

I yelled at Longoria that “this was the first of five celebrations” and he looked at me and said” I truly believe that.” Price then shook my hand and I told him I was proud of his actions today and every day he has been here.


 

 

Suddenly, the players sea seemed to part for a moment and one of my oldest baseball friends on the team presented me with a ¾ full bottle of champagne and quickly he disappeared in the exuberant posse. I quickly took a long and deep swig of that nectar and immediately passed it to a friend who took her own dose of delightful bubbly and I thrust the bottle to the air. A few players saw this and also cheered and pointed to me as I took in this second celebration, and immediately remembered just how far this team had come in 2010.


 

 

How only one National Media guru had predicted the Rays to be in the post season at all, and a shot at getting the divine prize of another American League East title was still sitting on the mantle waiting for the Rays to claim it for themselves. That celebration will have to wait until Kansas City, but tonight we were toasting to the success and the finalization of putting the Red Sox out of our rearview mirrors knowing that the New York Yankees were the only foe in our sights of another A L East crown.


 

 

And there was something soothing about this second time. Something that did not have me nervous or pacing like in 2008. Maybe it is the pure fact we have been here before. That we have scaled the mountain in recent times and could again hike it with the ultimate result this time…winning it all. Tonight was the symbolic starting point to that journey. A celebratory exclamation point to the 2010 season, but the Rays still have some walking to do along this dark path.


 

 

Tomorrow might be the last home game, but the team still has one more goal in mind, one giant moment yet to savor and enjoy…One more celebration before the season ends. But that is for us to ponder tomorrow, tonight is the time to celebrate, enjoy and totally let the pressures of the last few weeks pour down your body like the droplets of champagne.

 

 

Now is the time to show the emotions and the feelings that have been bottled up waiting for this glorious moment. I think it is time for me to finish this bottle of champagne and then look to the heavens knowing this is the first of five celebrations.

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.

The Master and the Protege`


 

I might be romancing the situation a bit here, but I hope the moment Desmond Jennings entered the Rays Clubhouse today Carl Crawford went over and welcomed the young Rays rookie to “The Show”. Over the next few weeks, its seems more than likely that Crawford will be a wealth of information and knowledge that could help Jennings make his adjustment as a Major Leaguer easier. Crawford could provide an essential network of past experiences and mishaps and provide the guidance and inspiration needed while Jennings becomes secure in his new role, and before Crawford passes the torch to the young outfielder.


It is now, with just 30 games left that I am finally bring it out in the open that Crawford might never again don a Rays cap after 2010. unless it is during an introduction speech during a blustery Summer day in Cooperstown. You have to wonder if Crawford will soon begin to reminisce and look across the Rays clubhouse and envision his own fresh experiences after being called-up in 2002.

That was when former Ray Leftfielder Greg Vaughn saddled up next to Crawford and began to be a positive force during his first taste of the Major Leagues, and Vaughn began to mentor Crawford through his new adventure, and also how to leave a positive impression with grace and dignity knowing that the franchise would be in great hands with the young rookie.


 

In those early days, Crawford used to pull on the number 8 D-Rays jersey with the zeal and enthusiasm not unlike a child waking up on Christmas morning. The whole MLB World was vibrantly new and fresh to his then young eyes, and from that first moment on July 20, 2002 we knew as Rays fans we were witnessing the first passing of the Rays outfield torch from Vaughn to Crawford. It is amazing the similarities between Crawford ( LF ) and Jennings ( RF ) as they anchor the opposite ends of the Tropicana Field outfield during Jennings MLB debut this evening.


Crawford, being one of the Rays clubhouse leaders will take the young outfielder under his wings and show him some of the paths to greatness in this game. Not because Crawford has to, but because it is in his personality to want the best for his teammates, and for the guy who will immediately be under pressure in the Spring of 2011to emulate everything that Crawford has meant to this team. Since Crawford’s own MLB debut for the Rays versus the Blue Jays in Toronto on July 20, 2002 we have seen the swift outfielder evolve and mature into the consummate professional he is today. This unique bond of each debuting against the same foe just seems perfectly fitting tonight.

It is a bit weird at times knowing in your own mind that you are seeing the on-going maturation process of one player, while maybe also saying a silent goodbye to another over the span of the next 30 games. Hopefully we will see a few flashes of brilliance with Jennings that will ease the thoughts and tears of a Crawford departure. Sure it is not written in stone yet that Crawford will definitely head to a greener turf in 2011. But the stark realization that Crawford might have finally been transported into Vaughn’s own 2002 role to show the young rookie just what it means to play at this highest level day in and day out.

 

I can not think of a better player amongst the Rays to mentor, or even coax Jennings along during the rest of this season. Crawford has traditionally been one of those stoic Rays players who do not evoke bizarre headlines or any type of tabloid tales about his whereabouts or his after game activities. His own code of secrecy bonds perfectly with his low key personality and makes him a great example of playing the game with class and respect on and off the field. Hopefully Jennings can recognize that Crawford’s genuine admiration for the game and for his team is only a fraction of the hope Crawford has that Jennings can fill the void left within this team if Crawford does decide to permanently vacate his Rays locker at the end of the 2010 post season.


Tonight we will see the infant phase of the transformation. The night for Jennings will be filled with stomach butterflies, nervous energy and anxious moments. Each ball hit to him tonight will either feel like it is suspended in slow motion towards his glove, or seem to be coming at him like a rocket. Every single pitch will seem to be magnified and each plate appearance will seem like only seconds and evaporate in front of him way too soon.

Tonight after Rays starter David Price throws his first pitch, Jennings nerves will ease a bit, the entire crowd setting of Tropicana Field will become more secure and inviting as Jennings settles into his Major League career. Tonight we will witness the beginning of one great Rays players’ career, and might also begin to realize we will also start a proverbial countdown of another Rays players’ tenure in their Rays uniform.


 

I think somewhere in the distance, Greg Vaughn will be proud of the exciting player and Rays leader Crawford has become. Hopefully the first person Jennings sees after each plate appearance and who ultimately crosses paths with him as they enter by the dugout rail will be Crawford. Eager to talk about the inning, the pitcher on the mound, or just clowning around a bit to cut the tension and nerves a bit because that is what veterans do for rookies, ease then into their next great moments. And with each small piece of knowledge and advice, hopefully a little more of the flame and the passion of playing at this level will be ignited in Jennings.

Why am I Surprised this Happened Tonight

 
 

I am not sure why I am taking this Tampa Bay Rays attendance smack down so personally. For some reason I firmly believed a question was positioned towards two of the Rays high visibility team members and they drank the usual media Kool-Aid being portioned out by the St. Petersburg Times and a few other local fish wraps.

For some reason the Times doesn’t provide the information that the Rays have drawn an astonishing 8th best attendance in the MLB based on per capita numbers. I bet if the Yankees ( or any other team ) was born here 13 years ago, they would have about the same attendance numbers based on the Tampa Bay regional per capita population (4,028,749 -2008 estimate).


I guess I take it a bit personally since I have only missed one game in the last two seasons, and will (hopefully) hit a perfecto ( 81 games) when the Rays finally end their 2010 home schedule on Wednesday, September 29th. What internally pains me so much is the fact that the hidden agenda or despicable propaganda of the Times finally got funneled down into the Rays clubhouse, and Carl Crawford and Rays Manager Joe Maddon might have been a bit nudged to take a huge swig of the addictive Kool-Aid without knowing it.

For some reason the local media thought it was a great idea to take the focus off a great Toronto versus Rays game and turn the immediate focus towards the blue-seat monsters that tend to gobble up Rays fans and make them invisible for their Monday night contests. Is it any wonder that the Times or any of the other media monglers took it right to Crawford and Maddon tonight knowing that there was visibly less than the announced 11,968 fannies in the seats tonight. Why did the Times have to go and beat this decaying dead horse carcass over and over again tonight.

I am not proud of the Rays attendance tonight, but I also have a bit more class and respect for those faithful Rays fans that hit the ticket takers every night and have to keep hearing this same old song being played by the Times whenever they can get a chance to pop that song and dance online for everyone else in the World to see again and again. I personally know who the economy and unemployment have trashed this Tampa Bay region and have made even the most loyal Rays fan winch and rethink their usual obsessive passion for attending multiple Rays games.

 

To keep pushing this same drawn out issue fully down people’s throats when they have enough troubles away from the Trop’s doors. I was told today about at least 1,000 people who either bought their tickets online, or got them from friends who thought Sunday’s Rays game was still at 1:40 pm instead of 8 pm. I wonder how many of those fans actually stayed in the St. Petersburg area waiting for the Trop’s doors to open at 6:10 pm. My guess is that a good percentage of them either tossed their tickets, or tried to find someone in the local sports bars to purchase their tickets and call it a day.


I can firmly predict within the next 48 hours even if the Rays draw 30,000+ to the final two games of this home stand, someone on the current local media “blogs” in the Tampa Bay area fish wraps will condemn the fans and want immediate answers or solutions. It saddens me that this region and the devoted fans of the Rays have to keep hearing this trash day after day when they fulfill their end of the bargain. Sure the oil spill doesn’t extend within the doorways of Tropicana Field, but it has kept people away.

If you take the three dates of low Rays game attendance this season, the immediate factor that leaps out at you is that all three were games held during the times when Tampa Bay area schools were in session. The previously low points in Rays crowds were during a stretch from April 27th and 28th when the announced attendance was 10,825 and 10,691 respectfully during an Oakland A’s series. I went back into my blog posts that month and also found that I addressed this same factor back on April 28th and I wrote a blog post about media negativity. When will this evil cycle of the Times badgering this issue end?

You can bet that the Rays will get a bit of a shock on September 9th when the Rays Season Ticket holders Postseason money is suppose to be into the team that there will be a marked decrease in people buying the possible 10-game postseason packages. I know for a fact that a few of the people I have spoke with would love to be a part of the Rays run in October, but their finances will prohibit their involvement. But I guess then we will have to endure another Times propaganda slam that “we do not care about this team and are a bunch of fair weather fans and might have finally fallen off our bandwagon”.

 

But that is what the media has been doing for years. When I took my first journalism class in college, they called these type of tactics “yellow journalism” that originated in the 19th Century and newspapers produced sensational stories that were produced to excite or anger the public more than to inform them. Sometimes media people forget that the story is not in the lack of people in the seat at Tropicana Field, but why they are not there.


Understandably school kids will be absent, which goes along with their parents also not attending. If you go out on the streets wearing a Rays cap, like I do every day, you know people are talking about the team and are excited. Sure I am ashamed that some night we creep back into vintage before 2007 Rays attendance figures, but that is to be expected both when school is in session and the economy is tragically taking a little bit more from each and every one of us every day.

I have hidden my financial heartbreaks all season long to support my team, and take it as a personal attack when the Times and other news sources begin to beat this again and again into the ground not providing any remedies or solutions, but pushing the issue like they understand it all. I am one of those people who pay for my own tickets before the season begins and have them in my possession from the Rays Opening Day to their last out of their final contest.

If I had not bought those tickets before the season began, I would certainly be one of those people the Times would be berating tonight.

I want the local media to do an experiment for me. Pop down out of your Carolina blue Press Box seats for one game and sit in the seat with the fans and you will see the energy is there. That the spirit of those following this team are not lost or forsaken, but are audibly alive and well.
 
My father told me once that the best things in life should be based on quality, not quantity. But for some reason, the Times and the other media members seem to dwell on this “quantity” issue more than the “quality” of baseball being played in the field, and the increasing “quality” of the type of fans who will always be here to support this team.

Special Moments within Moments

 


Steve Nesius/AP

The Red Sox series did a few things for the Tampa Bay Rays. Not only did it create a scenario where the Red Sox would have to go 23-8 to even catch the Rays now, it also brought about some personal celebrations within the Rays clubhouse. Some of these moments show the longevity, commitment and great feats accomplished by a few of our favorite Rays. But it also silently rewarded a guy who has been viewed as a liability for the wrong reasons.


It was great to see James Shields win his third game in a row after getting demolished in Rogers Centre against the Blue Jays. Especially enlightening was the way Carl Crawford still seems so humble as his name is written next to some of the true icons of the game and still he has that “aw shucks” mannerism to him. But hidden behind all of this was the celebration of the big “10”. Former Rays DH Pat Burrell hit this lofty plateau on my birthday (ironically).

 

Most Rays Republic members have mixed emotions about Gabe Kapler being on this Rays squad. Some point to his ability to play the outfield with zest and gumption as a perfect model of the consummate professional baseball player. Others nag and argue about his diminishing skills at the plate and his usefulness to this Rays squad has passed him by. I am centered in both camps a bit knowing that 10 years of playing in this league can take a lot out of you, but Kapler is a player that remains “old school” in hustle and demeanor, and that never gets old. But even as the team brought in a chocolate cheesecake to commemorate the moment.


But a confectionary treat should also be brought in for Rays starter James Shields who got to the top of the Rays pitching mountain with his 56th career Rays victory in his 145th career start. It has been classic Shields over the last two weeks after his out of character homer fest in Toronto, and that bodes well for the Rays. Not only has Shields turns his game around, but he is also closing in on a dubious Rays seasonal record. Shields currently has 29 Home Runs allowed, which is tops in the American League, and that total is within 3 of the Rays club record of 32 Home Runs allowed by Tanyon Sturtze back in 2002.

 

Even with a 6-2 record now over his last 8 starts, Shields has also shown a bit of his advanced age (28) this year on the mound, but his 13-11 record is very misleading. He has thrown 10 strikeouts in 5 games this season, and also was on the other end of the Dallas Braden Perfect Game against the Rays. As the cocky veteran on the Rays staff this year, Shields has also established his legacy here in Tampa Bay by finally rising to the top. But another Rays has been on top for quite a while, and we might be seeing the twilight of his Rays adventure.


There is no denying that Carl Crawford is a humble and timid person off the field. The guy is soft-spoken and polite to the end. So when he hit his 100th Home Run last night to push himself past Fred McGriff and into the third spot in the Rays all time Home Run list, you knew he would not want a big thing made out if the event. And the same thing happened twice this year as Crawford jumped over the 400 stolen bases mark, or even hit his 100th triple. This same guy will probably be the first player to enter the Baseball Hall of Fame wearing a Rays cap ( hopefully an old 2002 model ) and you would think he was only selected as Employee of the Month at your local Publix.

 
Steve Nesius/AP

But that is what you love about C C, that he is caught up in the numbers or the historical significance of it all right now. Crawford is definitely the type of guy who will reflect on it after his job is done maybe this off season on the accomplishments and events that have transpired over his Rays career with admiration, but the whole enchilada has not hit him yet. The iconic baseball names like Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Lou Brock, Frankie Frisch, Kenny Lofton, Paul Molitor and Tim Raines, who pushed beyond that 100 HR,100 triples and 400 stolen base mark like Crawford also had that humble gene close in their minds and heart.


People will remark soon about this team as winners. They will embrace them again as playoff contenders, but one of the greatest things to me about this Rays team is the way each player melts into the whole stew of doping it the “Rays Way”. You have a wily veteran (Kapler) who might be seeing the sunset of his professional career hit a high water mark of 10 years of MLB Service while watching the kids win nightly. You have a pitcher young in age, but older in his leadership ability and effort (Shields) while guiding this team again towards the path of remembrance.

And then you have the still swift feet of Crawford, who might soon find these same feet walking out of his Rays clubhouse for the last time after their playoff run. Each celebrating a different special moment this season, but all collectively staying true to the Rays mantra of “WIN- What’s Important Now”. Last night’s series victory over the Red Sox might be a special moment in the melting pot of the 2010 Rays, but within that cauldron of bubbling goodness is the feats of Kapler, Crawford and Shields each going in their own singular directions, but within the path of the Rays destiny.

The Red Sox are Coming, The Red Sox are Coming!

 
 
Chris O’Meara/AP
You could just sense that something was coming. Your ears would begin to burn and vibrate with increasing velocity, and you could just feel the barometric pressure beginning to rise the minute the Red Sox plane landed. This was going to be the series where the Red Sox laid it all out on the Trop’s turf and by heck or high water would make their ultimate 2010 stand to reclaim a spot in the 2010 playoffs.

At first you were not sure if it their first attack was an ambush at you from the Northeast, or maybe a flanking move from their Spring home in the South (Fort Myers), but you knew that the Red Sox Nation’s spirits were going to be flying sky high the minute they opened the doors for this decisive 3-game series. And you know every swing and every pitch will have viewers in the seats in at home pulsing towards the television feeling every ebb and tide of this series this weekend.

With the Red Sox sitting just beyond the Rays grasp right now in their own divisional fight, it is imperative that they gain ground this weekend, or finally face the horrific truth that they will need allies to get back into either the American League East race, or get a helpful nudge into the American League Wild Card top spot. With word spreading like wildfire that Boston second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who has been a thorn in the Rays side all year pretty much done for the year, another viable weapon is taken out of the Red Sox arsenal.

And with around 35 games to go before the end of this season, the Red Sox will have to start an incredible push of possibly going on a unheard of 20+ winning streak, combined with some timely Rays losses to again be in a visible position to fight another day after October 4th. So what are a few key situations to keep in mind during this weekend series?

Chris O’Meara/AP

Red Sox Starters versus Rays Offense.

Rays have hit the combined Red Sox pitching staff with some consistency this season. But hold only a .226 opponents batting average against Boston this season. The key elements will be how the Boston starters hold the top of the Rays line-up plus adjust their pitching throughout the game. B J Upton is the only Rays hitter to hit more than one Home Run against Red Sox pitching this season, but the Rays have been patient and posted 53 walks.

Evan Longoria is not having a tremendous year versus Boston pitching this season, but has been on a bit of an offensive tear lately, which could work into his favor. With Carlos Pena now back behind Longoria, teams will have to pitch to Longoria more “straight-up” than pound his wrists and outer zones with the ball. Carl Crawford is definitely someone the Red Sox will want to keep off the base paths, but he has gone 8-23 (.348) at Tropicana Field this season against Boston with 13 total bases.

But in Boston’s favor is their first strategic move of the series, even before they landed in Tampa Bay when they scratched Daisuke Matsuzaka who was experiencing “back stiffness” on Wednesday and instead penciled in Jon Lester to start Friday night’s game. Granted, if you want someone with more spine, I would go to Lester too. The move might seem a bit hasty to some, but Lester holds a seasonal .182 opponents batting average over the Rays head, and a .052 ( 1-19) mark hitting in his only start in the Trop this season.

With a more solid chance to take a win in the first game, the Red Sox have pitcher Clay Buhholz ready to go Saturday night and holds a .261 average against the Rays this season. Combine that with 8 Rays strikeouts in their 23 plate appearances and you get a pretty provocative one-two punch to begin this series. But the problem is that this is a three game series, and John Lackey has not performed all that well within the roof of Tropicana Field this season. Lackey might be the Wild Card entry in this weekends games as the Rays hit him for a .308 average with 4 walks in his only Trop. Appearance.

 
Chris O’Meara/AP

Rays runners against Red Sox catchers

With the Red Sox catching crew decimated by wild injuries right now with former Texas backstop Jarrod Saltalamacchia out with a leg infection and Jason Varitek not able to run effectively yet on his injured right foot they are down to Victor Martinez and ex-Ray Kevin Cash. The Rays have stolen 22 bases off the Red Sox in 2010, and have only been nailed once by a Red Sox catcher. With the Rays possibly amping up their usual small ball offense this weekend, being a catcher on this Boston team right now might be one of the most stressful spots outside of their Bullpen. But the Red Sox also can not forget Ben Zobrist (6 SB) or Carl Crawford (7 SB) at any moment this weekend.

Another unknown factor for the Red Sox to consider is that the Rays have garnered 53 walks off the Red Sox in prior games, and the Rays now have more patient hitters like Dan Johnson and Matt Joyce in the line-up to bolster the Rays chances of base runners. This segment of the weekend series might play out the biggest in the end. If the Red Sox can stagnate the Rays running game along with their small ball tendencies, it could be a huge blow to the Rays usual game plan.


 
Chris O’Meara/AP

Rays starters versus Boston Hitters

This is another area where the Red Sox might have a bit of the surprise factor as they started three outfielders in their game on Tuesday night who have limited at bats against the Rays this season. Former Rays prospect Darnell McDonald has appeared in only 5 contests between the two teams, but sports a .455 average in 3 games at Tropicana Field this season. Daniel Nava has played in four Rays vs. Red Sox games and is hitting for a .333 average with a triple. The third member of their unknown outfield from that night, Ryan Kalish has not faced the Rays this year.

But even with weapons like Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis sidelined until 2011, this Rays pitching staff will have to be cautious. The Red Sox still have their power options in their line-up with both Adrian Beltre and David Ortiz, who both have 2 Home Runs in the Trop this season healthy and ready to go Friday night. But the Rays are also sending their best weapon to the hill on Friday night to combat the Red Sox bats.

 

Rays Pitching will have to “Set the Tone”

American League Cy Young hopeful David Price, who has held the Red Sox to a .258 average in his only 2010 start against Boston on July 7th at home before the All-Star break. Working in Price’s favor is that in that lone start against Boston this season, he posted 10 strikeouts in the game. But Price has been more impressive since the All-Star break and this Lester versus Price match-up might be a pitcher’s duel until someone blinks.


Buchholz against Garza will have the same effect as the Lester vs. Price match-up in that two very selective pitcher will be wheeling and dealing until someone leaves a ball up and over the plate. And that was the case in Garza’s only start against Boston this season. He got rocked with 4 Home Runs in the outing and gave up 13 hits and 11 runs in the Red Sox’s 11-3 spanking of the Rays back on May 26th. But Garza has seemed more in control of his pitches in recent outings and better equipped for this pressure filled match-up.
Last, but not least will be James Shields coming in on the Nationally televised ESPN Sunday Night Baseball telecast against Lackey.

Shields has had his up and down moments recently, but he always seems to have a special 6th gear for Boston games. Shield has only faced the Red Sox three times in 2010, but held them to 4 hits and 2 runs and a .143 average in his only start against them at Tropicana Field on May 26th. Working in Shields favor is he is 2-1 against Boston this season and has held Boston to no Home Runs at home.


This series is going to be a bit of a :do or die” scenario for the Red Sox. They do not want to have to rely on any of the other American League East rivals to help their cause. This series might be all about the pride and the resolve of the Red Sox to show they can overcome and set the Rays down to get back into the Wild Card race.

If the Rays were to slip past Boston and sweep them in this home series, it could effectively put Boston near the double digit mark behind the Rays. This is going to be a great series, and one worth watching on ESPN on Sunday night.

Got to Know When to Hold ‘Em

 


 

 During their 13 year existence, the Tampa Bay Rays have always had trouble with their foes in the American League West. Coming into this recent three game series against the Texas Rangers, the Rays have gone a combined 187-277 against this division. The Rays do have a few bright spots in 2010 so far as they swept the Seattle Mariners this season, plus won in Anaheim for the first time since 2008. It is paramount right now that the Rays rise up and throw down their own gauntlet towards this division that has always been a thorn in their side. And it all began again in an upcoming ten game AL West swing beginning with a trip into Tropicana Field by the Texas Rangers.


The Rangers come into Tropicana Field as the American League West division leader, and a threat to the Rays surge to again hold onto first place in the American League East. The Rangers came in with the simple thought that if they could beat the Rays in their own house, they could effectively put some seeds of doubt in the Rays minds before their West Coast road trip. The Rangers wanted to play their own special brand of Texas Seven Card Stud with the Rays hoping that Texas could out hustle the Rays with a few well placed losses that would eventually bring these two squads back together in the American League Divisional Series in October, with the Rangers holding the momentum card.

With the Rangers beating the Rays in two of their three games under the June heat in Texas, the team came into Tropicana Field wanting to show the Rays that Texas had the might and the winning hand to take this critical late season series. As the first cards were dealt on the night of the first contest, with both Texas and Tampa Bay going with their left-handed “Aces”. The Rangers sent to the mound the cunning Cliff Lee, while the Rays sent cool-handed David Price and it was soon evident that this game would be an instant classic.

 

It was a match-up of two of the better left-handed pitchers in baseball going at it with each and every pitch. And the game was a classic pitcher’s duel until Lee flinched first in the bottom of the fifth inning to give up two Rays runs. Both teams fought back and forth before Lee showed his final hand and the Rays put 6 earned runs on the Texas southpaw who had lost this third straight game against the Rays this year. In the end, the Rays had converted the better hand with their Ace (Price) giving them the top card to take this first of three games.


And in the second game, The Rays put up a second “Ace”, Matt Garza on the mound to oppose the 9-1 record of Texas starter Tommy Hunter, but the Rangers were easily out hustled in this contest. The game quickly t
urned into the Rays favor in the bottom of the first inning as the Rays spotted three quick runs on the board off Hunter and never looked back in this game. The Rays “Kings” Evan Longoria and Carl Crawford went a combined 6-9 with 6 RBI and the Rays went 6-15 with runners in scoring position in taking the second game of the series. The final score of 10-1 showed that the Rays had the winning cards on that night with their ace in the hole, Garza going 7 inning with 10 strikeouts and surrendering only 5 hits.

But it was in the third game, which was played as a matinee game where both squads brought this game to another level and fought tooth and nail to the final out. The Rays sent their third “Ace” in a row to the mound in this contest James “Big Game” Shields who finally got some of his control back and gave up only 4 hits in his seven innings of work. Even though Shields did not shut out the Rangers, he did have one of his best performances of the season’s second half tonight to give the Rays the much needed series sweep. But Shields also got some tremendous run support from the Rays as they posted 8 runs in this final game. And that is huge as the Rays were averaging 3.13 runs per game for Shields in 2010.

 

The Rays ended up playing some amazing offensive cards against the Rangers in this three game series. And within the grasp of this series a few things did end up happening. The Rays are again in a tie for the American League East crown with the New York Yankees, and the Rays have also seen Longoria and Crawford emerge from their recent struggles. By out hustling the Rangers with their own cards, the Rays showed that they might be dealing the best cards of the season right now. Combined with the Longoria and Crawford offensive explosion, B J Upton is also riding high on a 9-game hitting streak to help the surging Rays.


The Rays next two series against Oakland (4 games) and Anaheim (3 games) could be just as critical as these first three games against the Rangers. The Rays have played twenty games against the A L West division during the 2010 season, going a unprecedented 14-6, but have gone a combined 3-3 in journey’s to Anaheim and Oakland, which also included a May 6th Perfect Game by A’s starter Dallas Braden. For once in the past few season, the Rays have a bit of an edge on this division, but again the team will have to play their cards close to their vest. They will begin on Thursday night by sending Rays “Jack of all trades” Andy Sonnanstine, who has performed great in relief starts to the mound.

For the Rays to finish off this 10 game A L West stretch in a positive light, the cards have to play right for the Rays. So far with a 3-0 start to this stretch, things are looking extremely positive to begin this road trip. But a losing record on this road trip might damage the Rays cred to both stay atop the A L East race, and have one of the top records in baseball. This road trip could also illustrates or expose a few kinks in the Rays armor heading into other crucial battle with their A L East rivals. Every game can hold a vital part to the Rays quest to again go into the Playoffs, or secure another A L East crown. Hopefully the Rays “Kings” and “Aces” are ready to again throw down the superior cards…or the Rays could fold.
 
 

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