Saturday, 5 April 2008

Taking advantage

Tampa Bay Rays 13 - New York Yankees 4

After the frustration of wednesday night, last night's game at Yankee Stadium was a joy to watch for a Rays fan. It wasn't just a question of getting a W in the books against the Yanks (though that is always nice), but it was the way we went about it.

It started off well in the top of the first, with CC stealing second, moving over on a ground out, and scoring on a Cliff Floyd single.

The third was probably the most pleasing inning we'll see for a while - with Ian Kennedy struggling, the Rays hitters properly took advantage. All too often it seemed last year that when the opposition starter didn't have his best stuff we would score maybe one or two, but miss out on a big inning through impatience at the plate. Last night was different though. Aki Iwamura (who reached base all five times he came up) led off with a single, CC grounded out, Pena walked, Upton singled home CC and Floyd walked, loading the bases.

That should have brought Dioner Navarro to the plate, but instead up came backup catcher Shawn Riggans for his first at-bat of the season, and his first ever with the bases loaded. Far from being over-awed, Riggans worked a 3-1 count, and then belted a bases-clearing double out to right centre. That knocked Kennedy from the game, but Eric Hinske greeted his replacement with the first of his two doubles, scoring Riggans and pushing the Rays lead to 6-0 after 3.

Maybe that should have been that, but with the Yanks getting back at the Rays on the bottom of the inning the win was far from secure. Until the eighth that is, when, with two outs, we put the game well beyond the reach even of the big Yankee bats. The inning started innocuously, Cliff Floyd adding an insurance run with his second homer of the year, sandwiched between two groundouts. Then things got fun. Hinske doubled. Haynes singled. Jason Bartlett singled, scoring both. Aki singled. CC singled, scoring Bartlett. And for the final exclamation point, Carlos Pena ripped a three-run upper decker. 13-4, game over. Adding runs when the pitcher is struggling. That has got to become the rule rather than the exception for the Rays.

Our pitching, on the other hand, was a delight. Andy Sonnanstine was quite exceptional - save for a very shaky bottom of the third. Sitting watching our scoring seemed to knock him off his stride as he gave up four runs straight back. But he regrouped, and retired the last 10 batters he faced, ending with a line of 6 IP, 6 H, 4ER, 4K, and the W. In relief, Trever Miller was solid, while Dan Wheeler and Scott Dohmann were superb. Wheeler took just 4 pitches for the three outs in the 7th, and Dohmann was simlarly efficient in shutting down the 9th. Very pleasing all round, and I hope that there will be plenty more to come from them.

The only downside of the night was the bizarre incident that was the cause of Riggans' pinch-hitting exploits. Apparently, Dioner Navarro slipped going into the dugout, badly cutting his throwing hand. So badly, in fact, that he's been placed on the DL, promoting Riggans to starter, and seeing the return of original-Devil Ray Mike DiFelice, after an absence of 7 years, as his backup.

Day game at the Stadium today, Edwin Jackson will be making his season debut for the Rays, weather permitting. Also worth looking out for - Jonny Gomes will be making his first start of the year, while young utility infielder Elliot Johnson will be making his ML debut.

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