Saturday, 26 April 2008

Have I mentioned the battling?

Boston Red Sox 4 - Tampa Bay Rays 5

Wow, that was quite a game. A proper big-league battle. It went well into the night over here, but was more than worth staying up for - the Rays' first extra-inning game of the season was also the best contest so far.

It started out in the bottom of the first with Carl Crawford doing what he does best, tripling to centre. There is just no better sight in baseball than CC rounding first, looking up, and turning on the afterburners. Its just flat-out fun. He scored on a sacrifice fly by BJ Upton, and the Rays were off.

Unfortunately, so were the Sox in the top of the second, as Matt Garza, making his first start back from the DL, struggled mightily, allowing three runs and throwing 40 pitches by the time he got out of the inning. Still, I think that Garza could fit in well at the Trop if the battling qualities he showed are anything to go by, as he shut out the Sox for the next three innings, leaving after five with a respectable line of 5IP, 5H, 3ER, 3BB, and 1K. Not amazing, but satisfactory for his first start back.

By the time he left, the Rays were back in the lead, thanks to more of that battling hitting I've been talking about all week - and you know that when you're up against Tim Wakefield you need to battle! We pulled one back in the third, an RBI-single from Evan Longoria (who then added his second stolen base of the season). That scored Jonny Gomes from second, but it ought to have been a two-run effort, as BJ Upton had just been called out stealing third, despite having comfortably beaten the tag. Two more runs came in the fourth, CC adding his second triple of the game (he obviously heard of my surprise that Thursday's was his first of the season!), scoring Aki. CC then scored himself on a fielding error by former Ray Julio Lugo.

Turning it over to the bullpen, unfortunately the lead didn't last long, as JP Howell gave up a run right back in the top of the sixth. He settled down though, and pitched 3 good innings, before turning it over to Dan Wheeler in the ninth. And talk about handling big-time pressure. Wheeler has been the pick of the 'pen so far this year, and showed that again last night. Catcher Kevin Cash singled to lead off the inning, and then one out later Dustin Pedroia reached on a mental lapse from Aki Iwamura - charging a softly hit grounder, Aki was caught in two minds about which out to go for, and ended up getting neither as Cash stopped on the basepaths, and Aki paused, double pumped, and threw late to first, rather than flipping it to second for the easy force out.

Not that that phased Wheeler of course. Nor did the fact that he now had to face David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez with two men on. A pop up from Ortiz, and then one of the best-pitched at-bats you'll see this year against Ramirez, who came to the plate 3-4 on the game. Two beautiful sliders that Manny got out in front of made it 0-2. A fastball up that Manny took brought the count to 1-2. And then with Manny sitting on the slider, Wheeler went back upstairs with the heat, getting the huge strikeout.

The Rays then left the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth - but only just, Eric Hinske ripping a shot to deep right-centre, only to see it fade and JD Drew catch up with it on the edge of the track.

So, extra innings, and the bullpen get another chance to star. And star they did. Gary Glover comes in in the tenth with a couple of men on. Ground ball, double play, nicely done. Scott Dohmann comes in in the eleventh with a couple of men on. Ground ball, double play (a 3-6-1 beauty at that), nicely done.

Step forward the batters. CC adds his third hit of the game, a single, to open the inning. He steals second (his second steal of the night). BJ Upton walks. Nathan Haynes steps to the plate, having earlier entered the game as a pinch-runner. The BoSox are thinking nothing but bunt. Haynes takes a massive swing at the first pitch, but misses. The Sox are still thinking bunt. Haynes takes a swing again, this time ripping the ball through the infield, allowing CC to motor around for the winning run.

With so many outstanding performances on the mound and at the plate, it might surprise you to hear that my player of the game went 0-5. Jason Bartlett still hasn't got his swing in gear this season, but his play at shortstop last night was simply outstanding. His range is superb, and two of the backhand plays he made last night are up there among the very best that you will see all season. The Rays defense in general was excellent, particularly in the outfield, where both CC and Upton made awesome full-length diving grabs.

The win takes us up above .500, at 12-11, and ahead of the Yankees in the AL East. To be honest though, its not so much the record - though considering all the injuries we've had, it is impressive - but rather the way we're playing that's the real positive. We're getting the fundamentals right, and not giving up when the going gets tough. That is a good combination.

Tonight is going to be very interesting, as Edwin Jackson makes the start against Clay Buchholz. Which Jackson will turn up? Who knows?! But he needs a good one, so I hope he can deliver.


Anonymous said...

Just making sure I wasn't going nuts; did you also hear rumors that Kaz was going to make his first start of the year this weekend? I might be going nuts, but I'm really hoping that he'll start Tuesday (and get pushed back I guess), because I'm going to see the Rays-Birds game at Camden Yards Tuesday. Really pumped about it too.

Anonymous said...

And one other thing. I was looking over your MLBlog and saw your little biography thing and couldn't help but read thinking "how is this guy a Rays fan?" And now... I can NOT believe your dad is a Birminghm Barons fan. I'm a Montgomery Biscuits fan. And a Rays fan. From Virginia. Haha. What weird team affiliations. Just thought I'd give you a heads up that if you're a Barons fan too, I'm going to have to stop reading your blog. :)

Johnny said...

I've not heard anything about that, as far as I'm aware Kaz is going to make a start for Durham on Monday, and then start for the Rays in Boston on May 3/4. Being in Scotland does mean that I miss out on some Rays rumours though!

And its not so much that my dad is a Barons fan, its more that he happened to be living in Birmingham at the time! He's up in Seattle now, and follows the Mariners - though he's much more a football (Seahawks & Bama Crimson Tide) than he is a baseball fan. And I can reassure you that I pay no attention whatsoever to how the Barons are doing!


Anonymous said...

John, am I to understand you were watching Friday night's game live? If so, that's most impressive.

I only caught the last inning, but had the pleasure of watching it in my local Red Sox bar, where I got a thumbs down from a bartendress in a Papelbon shirt after it was over.

Johnny said...

I was indeed David, it finished a little after 4am, one of the latest finishes I've watched live. Hopefully tonight's game will be a little quicker!