Monday, 4 August 2008

Tigers swept, now questions to answer

Detroit Tigers 5 - Tampa Bay Rays 6 (10 innings)

There are certainly easier ways to a sweep.

Not letting a (admittedly impressive) rookie one-hit you into the seventh inning for one. Not having your closer blow a save with his first pitch, and then give up the go-ahead run to the first batter in extra-innings for another. And not having your shortstop get hurt in trying to put together a second comeback after the first two have occurred.

But who wants the easy way, right?

2-0 down, and nothing to show apart from an Evan Longoria infield hit is where the Rays found themselves at the seventh-inning stretch yesterday. But, then the fight kicked in. A run was pulled back in the seventh. But then Grant Balfour gave up a hit (surprising enough) that went over the fence (shocking - his first homerun given up all year), and it was a 2-run lead again.

No worries. Kyle Farnsworth on to pitch for the Tigers, and Eric Hinske takes him deep, 3-2. An out later, and its BJ Upton batting with a man on. He takes a pitch and drives it over the fence in deep left-centre, his first homerun for over a month, 4-3 Rays lead. Sweep on.

Not so fast though. Troy Percival comes in, and on his first pitch gives up a game-tying homer. He's still 24-27 in save opportunities this year, but has become rather prone to the longball. Still, he gets through the rest of the ninth. The Rays can't score in the bottom, however. Perci comes back for the tenth, and its deja vu all over again, as he gives up a second lead-off homerun. The Rays must come from behind again.

So they did. Willy Aybar draws a lead-off walk. Then came a nasty, and potentially costly sequence of events. Jason Bartlett tries to bunt Aybat over, but gets hit on the finger. He had to leave the game, and although x-rays have showed that there is no break, its certainly a big worry. Our run of form around the All-Star break showed just how big a loss he is when injured. Shawn Riggans took over the at-bat for JB (as the last position player on the bench), and first pitch gets drilled in the chest by a fastball from Rodney. Ouch. He went down, and things looked really nasty. But catchers are tough, and he eventually made his way down to first. And next batter, he made it to second, as Aki bunted the runners over. Upton walked to load the bases, and Carl Crawford shot a single through the infield to tie the game. Evan couldn't get the run home, but Carlos Pena worked Rodney to a full count, before taking ball four to walk in the winning run.

An important win, with both the Red Sox and Yankees also victorious, but one that was a lot tougher than it ought to have been. I don't lay the blame for that totally on Perci, but his recent trend of giving up homeruns is definitely worrying. And blowing saves has consequences - not always losing games, but with Bartlett getting hurt in extras, the knock-on effect is potentially huge. Evan Longoria will play shortstop tonight, and I guess possibly tomorrow as well, but hopefully Bartlett won't miss any more than that. Fingers very seriously crossed.

One interesting titbit from the game - Trever Miller came on to get the last two outs in the tenth, and so was the pitcher of record. The win was his first w/l column number in 121 appearances - a MLB-record span of games without a decision. Congrats on a long awaited W Trever.

Tonight, Matt Garza starts against the Indians, and is up against Cliff Lee. That is going to be one tough game for the Rays. But, with all due respect to everyone else involved, the biggest matter of interest right now for many Rays fans is whether #5, Rocco Baldelli will be in the lineup. We do need a right-handed bat... Truth be told, I'm not sure whether he's going to be activated or not. But having him in the lineup would be a huge boost for the team.

If he is activated, then of course someone will have to make way for him. And it is pretty certain that that someone will be Jonny Gomes. I'm not sure if Jonny has any minor league options left, or if he will have to be waived, but either way no-one will be more disappointed than me to see him depart. He is such a likeable player - a true feel good story in every sense, combined with hustle and the epitomy of team-spirit. His presence will definitely be missed in the clubhouse - and around the city I think as well. It can't be a coincidence that the Rays annually run a 'Take Jonny to School' competition for local kids. But he just hasn't done it with the bat this year, and I fear that watching a called third strike as a ninth-inning pinch-hitter last night will be his last action as a Ray.

I hope it isn't, a clubhouse can never have enough Jonny Gomes.

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