Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Number 50

Over a week since I last posted anything, but things at work have now pretty much moved into laid-back summer mode, so hopefully I shall be getting back to something like normal here. In the meantime, lets try to get up to date with all things in Rays-world.

I shall start very briefly with yesterday's game, which I haven't watched yet. In fact, I had intended to avoid the score until I sit down and watch it this evening, but the problem with being the story in baseball is that it is now all do easy to accidentally see a headline giving away what happened... So all I shall say for now is that win number 50 is in the bag, and the Rays are happy atop the AL East. And indeed the whole of Major League Baseball. Its a nice place to be.

And the way we've gotten there? That's been pretty nice as well. I've managed to catch a fair bit of the action - squeezed in between various other things, not always neccessarily in the right order - and it has been largely encouraging.

Actually, the first series since my last post did not really turn out that way. After sweeping the Cubs, the Astros came to town and took two of three - a real anticlimax after a fantastic series with Chicago. The highlight was Saturday's game, partly because of another Gabe Gross walk-off hit, but mostly for the awesome St Pete Pelicans throwback unis that the Rays were wearing. Very smart indeed!

Still, the Rays have overcome one setback after another this year, and so headed on over to Miami with the disappointment put to one side - and left three days later with it completely forgotten, thanks to a comprehensive sweep. Standout in that series was unquestionably Matt Garza's stunning one hitter - unfortunately the one hit he did give up was a seventh-inning solo homerun, denying him a shutout, but it was a real display of what Garza is capable of. Top class.

Then it was off to Pittsburgh, and two more wins (out of three) to round out the first half of the season. There, James Shields became the first Rays pitcher for quite a long time (I would imagine!) to get a chance to pinch-hit. He was also the only Rays hurler to pick up an RBI during interleague, though the best batting effort was again from Andy Sonnanstine, who went 2-5 with a couple of walks. Meanwhile in the Pittsburgh series, Jonny Gomes had his (and probably the team's) best at-bat of the season so far, fouling off pitch after pitch with a full count, before finally drilling the 15th pitch over the fence for his 6th homer of the season. Its when he has at-bats like this that you get all the more frustrated at his mammoth fresh air swings. He's got such great power that he really needs to realise that he can get results without screwing himself into the ground through over-swinging.

And though, Jonny, Garza, Gross et al all had their moments, it was without doubt Evan Longoria who was the key factor in the Rays move back to the top. What a week he has had. Homeruns, hits, runs batted in, a stolen base, great defence - seriously, with the skills that he has demonstrated I don't think there is anything left that he can do to surprise me. What a star he is going to be. Over the last week, he's taken the team lead in homeruns (15) and RBI (47), and raised his batting average to .267. Oh yeah, and he's become the first Rays rookie (and second Ray of the year, following Shields) to win the AL Player of the Week award. All-star, Gold Glove, Rookie of the Year to follow, perhaps?!

Anyway, as things stand, the Rays are 50-32, a game and a half clear of Boston at the top of the East, and sitting pretty with the best record in the bigs. Our 49 first half wins are the most ever by a team who finished with the worst record in the previous season. We've got a winning record at home, against the National League, against the AL East, against the AL Central, against the AL West, in extra-inning games and in 1-run games. The only split we don't have a winning record in is road games - where we're 19-19. And just if you were wondering, our magic number is 78.

Garza on the hill against Rays' nemesis Tim Wakefield tonight. I hope to manage to avoid the score until tomorrow evening, wish me luck...

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