Monday, 28 April 2008

Sox sweep!

Boston Red Sox 0 - Tampa Bay Rays 3

Don't worry, I'm changing the record - last night wasn't a battling performance by the Rays. It was a simply brilliant performance. And it rounded off one of the best series I have ever watched - not just because the Rays swept the BoSox; not just because of how well the Rays played; but because it was some of the highest quality baseball you will see.

Ok, so the bats for both teams were somewhat quiet. But that was for no other reason than the outstanding pitching that was on display.

And in that regard, it would be totally amiss of me if I were to start anywhere else than with Mr James Shields.

As I've mentioned before, Shields has been far from at his best in his first few starts of the season, struggling at times, and really having to fight to get decisions. Well, I think it is safe to say that last night he was at his brilliant best. He simply dominated the Red Sox from first to last, taking just 98 pitches to throw his first career complete-game shutout. He gave up just two hits and a walk, and faced only 29 hitters. He struck out 7. The win takes him to 3-1 on the season, and lowers his ERA to 2.54. But none of those numbers describe just how good he was yesterday.

Giving a bit more of a hint to that is the pitcher he had to face, Josh Beckett. Beckett too was outstanding, striking out the first five Rays hitters he faced, and going on to collect a personal best 13K's in 7 innings work. He only gave up 4 hits himself, but thanks to a bit of luck, and to a star in the making, that was all the Rays needed to ensure that Shields' masterpiece was rewarded with a W.

The bit of luck came in the third inning. Jason Bartlett singled to lead off the inning, and got the chance to set off around the bases when Beckett threw wildly trying to pick him off. The ball bounced up into the right field bullpen, and Bartlett dashed round to third, where Tom Foley was showing the stop sign. Bartlett showed himself to be a good heads-up baserunner though, as rather than stopping at the bag and catching his breath, he rounded it and looked back across the diamond to find the ball. And when he spotted it, he liked what he saw, as JD Drew had thrown it nowhere near any other Boston fielder, and it was rolling back towards the infield, letting Bartlett take off once again and easily make it home to put the Rays one up.

In a game like yesterday's one run always looked like being enough, but its nice to give your ace a bit of a cushion when he's throwing a game like Shields was. That cushion came with Evan Longoria leading off the seventh. In his first two times up, Evan had looked a bit overmatched, striking out both times. But third time's the charm, and he stuck with it, found a 2-2 curve to his liking, and belted the ball into the seats in left-centre. It was a pretty good day all round for Longoria, as he also continued to excel with the glove at third, making a few nice plays including two in the ninth as Shields sealed the shutout.

The Rays third run came in the eighth, after Jason Bartlett was hit on his helmet by a pitch from Manny Delcarmen. He stayed in the game, stole second, and one out later made the win safe as he scored on a Carl Crawford double.

That's six in a row for the Rays, and back-to-back series sweeps for the first time since 2005. And I hope you will forgive me for including the AL East standings here, but I shall make the most of it while I can, and point out to anybody who's listening that the Rays are currently tied for FIRST place in the division. Ok, so I don't imagine its going to last for very long. But if we carry on in this sort of form, anything is possible!

Day off today, and then its off to Baltimore on Tuesday to take on the Orioles. Jason Hammel will be making the start, one of three of our pitchers whose place in the rotation is very much on the line. He's worked hard so far this season, and definitely has a real shot at staying. And, if his attitude is anything to go by, then he may well do it - this quote from the Rays' site to me sums up the perfect attitude for a pitcher under pressure to perform: "I want to be a part of this, this is awesome. But I'm not thinking about that, I'm thinking about keeping the ball down." Wise words.


Anonymous said...

Wise words indeed by Mr. Hammel. It's interesting, how our pitchers have developed, last year, when Hammel started, I would not even want to watch the game, but this year, he's got a sub-4.00 ERA, so I'm happy to watch any game that he pitches in. This pretty much holds true with all of our young pitchers. I'm happy to say that this will not be a easy decision for Maddon; who to kick out of the rotation. It does breed competition, and that's good, but saying goodbye to one of our pitchers... It probably won't be all too nice for us fans either.

Johnny said...

Yeah, it being such a tough choice is definitely a good thing - but potentially losing one of the current rotation wouldn't be great. I guess that means its likely that Andy Sonnanstine will be the guy to miss out, as he still has options...