Sunday, 6 July 2008

And Sonny makes 10

Kansas City Royals 0 - Tampa Bay Rays 3

As it turns out, Zack Grienke is a pretty good pitcher indeed. Not quite good enough to stop the rolling Rays, however.

From a offensive show friday night, we moved to a pitching spectacular last night, with probably the rotation's biggest surprise this year, Andy Sonnanstine, on the hill. I don't think Sonny would be offended if I were to say that he was the least of the Rays' five, in terms of pure natural ability. But he does have something really very special. A knack of getting the job done. At 4.31, his ERA is the highest of our rotation (rather impressively so, considering the relative respectability of the number), yet he has now become just the third Ray ever to win 10 games before the All-Star break. Somehow, he manages to give up his runs in games when we score plenty, and in games when we don't, he shuts the opposition down.

It was a case of the latter yesterday that brought him number 10. Painting the corners, pitching to contact, and trusting the defense (and rightly so!), Sonny went 7 strong innings, giving up just 5 hits while holding the Royals scoreless. JP Howell came in for the eighth, and after giving up a lead-off walk, struck out the side. I can't begin to tell you how much I hope that JP gets the call for the All-Star game. He is easily the most deserving on the club, and while I think that Navvy is the more likely to make it, nobody should underestimate just how valuable Howell has been this season. Top class.

Grant Balfour came in the pitch the ninth, taking his turn in the current closer-by-committee bullpen. And he carried on his excellent form, picking up his 3rd save with two K's and a soft liner to Upton in center.

That sealed our 8th shutout victory of the season (3 complete games, 5 combined), which was safe thanks to some hustle, patience and clutch hitting in the second. Cliff Floyd led off the frame by chopping a ball towards short. He took off down the line, and made it to first safely for his fourth infield hit of the year. He was followed by a single to right by Dioner Navarro, before Hinske and Zobrist were retired without advancing either runner. Step forward Aki Iwamura, who battled Grienke before stroking a double that scored Cliff and Navvy.

With Sonny on form, that was enough, but in the seventh Ben Zobrist added an insurance score, belting a homerun just over the fence in left - his third consecutive start with a longball. After Reid Brignac's encouraging debut on Friday, the short-term shortstop-by-committee looks to be coping pretty well, and its very encouraging to see the power that Zobrist has been developing recently. He belted the homer right-handed, having drilled a triple left-handed a couple of innings before, an effort that only just fell short of making a splash landing in the Rays tank.

With Boston losing, the win puts us 4 games clear now at the top of the East, and this afternoon James Shields will go to the hill looking to continue our 6 game win streak.

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