Monday, 12 May 2008

Two from the Jays, and an Angels sweep

What is it, a week since I last wrote something? Well, while I basically haven't seen the Rays play in that time, we have, I think it is fair to say, had a good week.

It started with the Rays taking two of three up in Toronto, the third game a 13-inning spectacular that, despite Troy Percival blowing his first save of the season, saw the players keep on battling, finally being rewarded with the win thanks largely to a grand-slam from Dioner Navarro (who is still swinging a hot bat).

Then the AL West-leading Angels came to the Trop. And, well, they're not leading it now they've left. Here's the game highlights, in reverse order.

Game three last night saw Andy Sonnanstine struggle a bit on the hill, allowing 5 runs on 8 hits in 5 innings. But our hitters seem to appreciate that the pitchers have been keeping them in the game when the bats have been cold so far this year, and saw yesterday as an excellent opportunity to pay them back. Cliff Floyd, back off the DL, went 2-4 with 2RBI, and Aki Iwamura, Carl Crawford and BJ Upton all rapped out 3 hits a piece. CC was the star of the show, stealing 2 bases and belting a sixth-inning 3-run homerun to put the Rays on top for good. JP Howell pitched 3 innings of scoreless relief to get the win, and Perci picked up his 9th save of the season to seal an 8-5 win.

Game two on Saturday was more in keeping with most of our wins of late - great pitching complimented with just enough offense to get us over the line. And the guy throwing strikes for the the good guys was Scott Kazmir, which just makes things even sweeter. Kaz put his shaky season debut behind him, and threw 6 strong shutout innings, giving up only 3 hits while striking out 6. He was backed up with some outstanding relief from Trever Miller, Troy Percival and, in particular, Dan Wheeler, who really continues to impress. All the runs that the pitchers needed came on an Evan Longoria groundout in the first and a Carlos Pena sacrifice fly in the eighth.

Now game one, and this is the game that I intend to watch this evening. Because if James Shields' previous start at the Trop was outstanding, then this one was simply phenomenal. Shields took just 92 pitches to throw his second consecutive complete-game shutout at home. Having allowed 2 hits last time round, this time he gave up but a solitary single in the third. Only one other batter reached base, a hit-by-pitch in the fourth, but he was then wiped out on a double-play, meaning Shields faced only 28 batters in his gem, one over the minimum. He racked up eight strikeouts, and moves his record to 4-2 on the year.

He was made to sweat on the win though, and was getting ready to pitch the tenth when Evan Longoria came to the plate with a man on in the ninth. Jon Garland had pitched 8 shutout innings for Anaheim, but reliever Speir threw a pitch that Longoria liked the look of, and one-swing later it was game-over. Evan's first walk-off homerun. I saw a great stat in (I think) the St Pete Times - apparently it was just the 4th time in MLB history that a pitcher has got the win thanks to a walk-off homerun in the ninth after allowing no more than one hit. And he deserved it.

All that takes us 2 1/2 games clear of Baltimore and New York in second place in the East, and at 21-16 just a game and a half back of Boston. We are 5 games over .500 for the first time ever. And I know its still early, but it sure is fun to be winning!

The test though comes to town tonight in the shape of the Yankees. Matt Garza gets the nod for the Rays, and he will go up against Andy Pettitte. I probably won't watch the game until tomorrow, because while I would like to stay up, I am feeling pretty dreadful with a good ol' case of man-flu, and I don't think a late night would help that much!

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