Saturday, 7 June 2008

Don't mess with us

Due to various things going on (the most significant being my return to footballing action after a couple of years of not playing - a decision that my leg muscles are still not convinced was a good one) I got to watch exactly five innings of the Rays-Red Sox series. And, considering it resulted in a second Fenway-sweep of the year, thats not a bad things.

But one of the five innings was inning two of game three, perhaps the most significant of the series. I had seen, of course, the highlights of the controversy in game two. Now, maybe I'm biased, but Coco Crisp's slide on Aki was completely unjustified. It was out of order.

Just in case you haven't seen it, let me recap. Crisp had stolen second earlier in the game, a play on which, in receiving the throw, shortstop Jason Bartlett had blocked the bag with his knee. Maybe it was intentional, but Bartlett doesn't strike me as that sort of player, it looked to me more as though he was just getting in position to catch a slightly off-line throw. Whatever. Crisp jammed his thumb sliding in, and did not take it well.

So, fast-forward a couple of innings, and Crisp is stealing again. This time, Aki is covering the bag, and the throw has Crisp out comfortably. But he slides through, taking out Aki with a raised forearm, the sort of slide that would be over-the-top if he was trying to break up a double play. Understandably, the Rays were far from impressed, and Joe Maddon let everyone know when he went out to the mound later, getting in a shouting match with Crisp in the Boston dugout.

Now, game three, and everyone knows whats coming. Even Crisp. At some point, a pitch is coming inside. (This is a part of baseball, by the way, that I find rather childish, and that it is accepted by all does not reflect well on the sport as a whole). Anyway, Crisp comes up in the second inning, and the pitch from James Shields does indeed hit him. Now Shields, even the NESN commentators (who managed to completely overlook the Sox players misdemeaners) acknowledged, did it the right way - he kept it low, well away from Crisp's head. It was intentional, but meant to send a message, and not to injure.

So that should have been the end of it, warnings all round, controversy over, on with the game.

But Crisp, showing himself to be a petulant child, decided that while it was ok for him to take out our (innocent) second baseman, no-one is allowed to come after him in return. He took a couple of steps up the line, and then charged at Shields.

I imagine you've all seen what followed - Shields took a swing and missed, Crisp connected, before being taken down by Dioner Navarro. Then came the cavalry, led by, who else, Jonny Gomes. As he demonstrated in the Shelley Duncan incident in Spring Training, Jonny is not one for letting his teammates get targeted. He led the charge, and along with Aki and Carl Crawford got some shots in on Crisp. Elsewhere, evidently, Edwin Jackson and a couple of Sox got into things, while the Boston third base coach slammed Shields to the ground (an action for which he has escaped punishment).

Now, I'm not one for encouraging fighting, but I for one could not be happier with the way the Rays reacted. It sent a clear message - mess with us, and we will stand up for ourselves, and stand up for each other.

I hope Crisp is pleased with himself though. He turned a minor incident (if you can even call it an incident) into a full blown fight and 8 suspensions. That his is the longest, at 7 games, hardly makes up for that. I would be entirely happy if I never have to speak of him again.

The suspended Rays are - Shields (6 games), Gomes and Jackson (5 games), CC (4 gamess) and Aki (3 games).

That all rather overshadowed the baseball, which as I said I saw little of, so can't really comment on where the Rays came up short. But it is a disappointment - we're going to have to win at Fenway eventually, and with them missing Big Papi, this was a prime opportunity.

Still, on with the action, and while I have been typing this, I have been watching the first game (from last night) of our weekend series in Arlington:

Tampa Bay Rays 12 - Texas Rangers 4

And Scott Kazmir clearly picked up in June where he left off in May. He went 8 excellent innings, giving up 6 hits and 2 runs, striking out 6 and looking really on top of his game. He is just a joy to watch. Al Reyes came in to pitch the ninth, and gave up a couple of runs - but by then our hitters had put the game out of reach.

It was a story of timely offense early on, giving Kaz plenty of room to work with. A massive homerun from Evan Longoria tied the game up in the fifth, before BJ Upton also sent one over the fence an inning later to put the Rays ahead for the first time. The lead was extended when Cliff Floyd scored on a wild pitch, and then further by an Eric Hinske sacrifice fly, and another big homerun, this time a two-run shot from Dioner Navarro.

Things were really blown open though in the ninth, when an RBI-triple from CC, a Texas error, a two-run homer from Hinske and a two-run single from Jason Bartlett added six more runs to give the score a far more lopsided final than might really have been warranted.

Still, it was a great way to bounce back from the Boston series, against a tough Texas team. I really don't think I can overstate how good the Rays' team spirit is.

Elsewhere this week, you will have course seen the Rays took high-school shortstop Tim Beckham with the number one overall pick in the draft - and then followed a few rounds later by taking his older brother as well. As always, its a bit of a lottery, but the scouts seem to be very excited about Beckham, so I shall be following his progress with interest.

Tonight, the Rays send Andy Sonnanstine to the hill for game two against the Rangers. I doubt I shall get a chance to see any of it, and I'm not too sure about tomorrow's game either, as I am playing in my work's football tournament - wisely or not. Hopefully I will both manage to last the whole tournament without collapsing, and get home in time to watch some baseball as well. Wish me luck!

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