Monday, 29 September 2008

The little team that could

How else could the season end?

Its like the team squeezed down the essence of the year and filled it all into game 162, just to show the world, if they didn't know already, what these Rays are all about.

A come-from-behind, battling, never-give-up, blown save, extra innings, come-back-again, amazing defense, unlikely hero win. A story that has almost become the norm rather than the exception this season. Indeed, I can barely remember a single win out of the 97 (yes, ninety-seven) this year that hasn't either been come-from-behind, battling, or involved an unlikely hero. Its just the way things happen these days when you're watching the Rays.

Consider that the Rays, in a final warm-up before the playoffs (how great does that sound?!) used 8 pitchers and 14 position players.

Consider that Detroit took a 5-0 lead in the fourth.

Consider that the comeback started with Rocco Baldelli breaking up what was a four-inning perfect start from Zach Miner with his fourth homerun of the season, a 432-foot bomb.

Consider that it continued with platoonists such as Eric Hinske (a 2-run homer), Jonny Gomes (a 2-run double) and Ben Zobrist (an RBI-single) getting the key hits.

Consider that David Price, Dan Wheeler, Troy Percival and Trever Miller pitched a combined 4 2/3 innings out of the 'pen and gave up but a solitary hit.

Consider that Edwin Jackson made a relief appearance for the first time this year, blew a save, and was rewarded with a team-record tying 14th win.

Consider that Jason Hammel came in for the 11th to claim his second save of the year.

And consider that the winning homerun was hit by a shortstop who, in the first 280 at-bats of his career had connected for 3 longballs, but, in 193 trys this year has mashed 11 of them. Ben Zobrist has been a phenomenally important backup this year. We all expected him to be useful off the bench for his versatility, but I really don't think anyone expected him to become a threat with the bat.

But then none of this was really expected. How could a bullpen that, a year ago, put up numbers that were the worst the majors had seen in 50 years, become one of the league's best by adding an out-of-retirement, oft-injured closer, a (no-offence to Mr Miller) journeyman lefty, a failed, soft-throwing starter and an inconsistant 30 year-old Australian? That's not your typical recipe for success. And yet somehow, for these Rays, it worked.

The last few days have been great for me, reading article after gushing article on how amazing these Rays are, how they have come from nowhere, how this story is as unbelieveable as any baseball story has ever been. I think that to say the 2008 Rays have turned some heads would be the understatement of the century.

But what else can you say?

Perhaps the baseball world didn't believe it was possible. Perhaps us Rays fans didn't believe it was possible. But Joe Maddon believed. And he wasn't afraid to show it. He went public, and instilled that belief in the team. A team that has no super-stars (although a few with the potential to become super-stars) has outplayed the big boys. They've finished atop the East, ahead of the payroll-pacesetters in New York and Boston. They've done it with a payroll that is not only the second-lowest in baseball, it is less than half of the average payroll.

So yeah, this little team has turned a few heads.

Here's hoping we turn a few more this October.

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Thanks Yanks

Ok, so its not quite the way that we wanted to clinch it, but...

Thursday, 25 September 2008

One is the magic-est number...

Or perhaps even the magic-eAst number.

One win in Detroit (or a Red Sox loss) will do it. One single game between the Rays and the AL East crown. If that doesn't get you a little bit excited, well, I don't know what does.

A four game sweep of the Orioles, including the franchise's first ever sweep of a doubleheader (in fourteen attempts), means that with four games to go the Rays have a three game lead over Boston and the top is within touching distance. Today we have a tough 1.05 ET start time against the Tigers, and, if we can't pull out the win there then we have another shot at claiming the top spot tonight, if the Indians can beat Boston at Fenway.

But I'm pretty sure I know how the team would prefer to win it. For themselves, on the field in Detroit. With all their heroics so far this year, it would be the most fitting way.

How we came to be in this position today is a perfect dichotomy the Rays' season. Long odds, but a never-give-up attitude. Its amazing the results that it can achieve.

I was torn whether to stay up and watch last night's game. I really want to see us clinch the Division live, but I was shattered and having to be up for work at 7am does not make staying up through the night watching baseball the best of ideas in any case. Still, although the chance was an outside one, I thought I would at least see how things started out before I made my decision. After an inning and a half, at 12.40am, I went to bed. The Rays were 5-0 down in Baltimore and the Red Sox were 4-0 up at Fenway. Edwin Jackson had struggled massively in the first (again). The win-loss combination needed to cinch looked very unlikely.

As it turns out, I just about made the right decision. I'm tired enough this morning anyway, so who knows what I would have been like if I'd watched the whole game. Although, I missed out on something special. Another special Rays performance in a season filled with them.

Because, after Jackson gave up another run in the bottom of the second, the Rays bats got to work. 5 runs in the fourth. 2 more in the sixth. And a four-spot in the eighth. E-Jax, after giving up 6 consecutive hits to start the game, got the win. An 11-6 final, and one step closer. Meanwhile, the Red Sox just about held on to win 5-4, meaning I should (hopefully) be good from here on in. Today's game starts at 6pm UK time, so I will probably miss the first inning on my way home from work, but otherwise I'll be watching the Rays every step of the way. How could I not?!

It hardly needs saying, but the series against an O's team that looks like its started the off-season already went as well as could have been hoped for. Monday night David Price made his much heralded first MLB start, and far from being overawed, was simply outstanding. He left with a no-decision after 5 1/3, having given up a couple of runs on 4 hits with three K's. But that doesn't tell the whole story. He held Baltimore hitless through the first four, and looked every bit the big-leaguer. He is, I would think, an absolute lock for the rotation next year. As for this year, he'll pitch a couple of times in relief over the weekend, and how he does will likely determine whether he's on the roster for the ALDS.

Tuesday's double-header was a case of the expected. Certainly in game one. James Shields went his almost metronomic 7 innings, holding the O's to just 2 runs and striking out 8. A combination of Fernando Perez and Jason Bartlett did most of the offensive damage as a 5-2 final gave Shields his franchise record-tying 14th win of the year.

The nightcap wasn't nearly so comfortable, but was refreshingly familiar. Mitch Talbot made his first major league start and went 4 1/3, giving up 3 runs. Then the bullpen stepped in, and although they allowed a couple more O's to score, kept things close enough until the Rays hitters found their stroke. Which, in a bout of deja vu, they did in the eighth, scoring 6 times to equal the final 7-5 margin - the deciding runs coming on a 2-run Dioner Navarro single. Jeff Niemann got the win in relief, and pitching MVP JP Howell picked up his third save of the year.

And so that's where we are. Four games left. Magic number 1. And two games behind the Angels if we want guaranteed homefield throughout the playoffs. That'll be the tough one - but if you can be certain about one thing, its that these Rays aren't going to give up.

Sunday, 21 September 2008


"Its about 9 guys, playing hard for 9 innings, to take one of the 8 playoff spots."

So said Joe Maddon of his t-shirt design, back in Spring Training. And we laughed. Sure, we admired his ambition and his coinfidence, but frankly I think we'd have been happy with a season in which we didn't lose 90 games. A .500 season would have been awesome. And a winning season the stuff of dreams.

Joe Maddon is a smart man. He thinks before he speaks, and he doesn't go in for hyperbole. But he knows baseball.

And I will never doubt him again.

'Cos the Rays are going to the playoffs.

And the win that sealed it was a perfect example of the mantra that the Rays have lived by all season. It saw 5 pitchers limiting the Twins to two consolation runs late on. It saw 6 batters drive in runs. And, of course, it saw a myriad of sparkling defensive plays, from Evan Longoria, from Fernando Perez, from Rocco Baldelli, from Dioner Navarro and from Carlos Pena.

Before the game, the local chapter of the BBWAA announced their team award winners. Their selection of team MVP pretty much sums up the way the season has gone. It wasn't Pena with his 31 homeruns and 98 RBI. It wasn' Longoria with his 25 homers, 82 RBI and spectactular defense. It wasn't Navarro with his team-best .292 average and immense play behind the plate. It wasn't any of our starting pitchers, all with at least 11 wins.

No, it was a guy who has hit .280 with 1 homerun and 33 RBI. Jason Bartlett. A guy who, along with Matt Garza, we received in a trade last winter for Delmon Young. And you know what, without his defense, and without his spark, I don't think we'd be in this position right now. And I guess that makes a pretty good definition for the Most Valuable Player.


The way this week started though, you wouldn't have been betting on the celebrations that the Trop saw last night. Monday's loss to Boston wasn't just ugly, it had the potential to be mentally destroying. When your ace takes the mound, in a huge game, and gets tagged for 6 hits, 4 homeruns and 9 runs in just 3 innings, you've got a long way to bounce back. By the time the 13-5 defeat was done with, Scott Kazmir's confidence was shattered, and the Rays were in a virtual tie for first place in the East for the first time since the All-Star break.

So how do you come back? You send your number 5 starter to battle with your rival's ace. As it turns out, its a masterplan. For the second time in a week, Andy Sonnanstine went toe-to-toe with Josh Beckett, allowing just a single unearned run in 6 innings. Balfour, Howell and Wheeler did their thing, kept it shutdown, and let the walk-off happen like it has so many times already this year. Tuesday night it was the turn of Dioner Navarro, his walk-off single (it would have been a ground-rule double had he not been mobbed on the basepaths) the margin in a 2-1 win.

So, Wednesday, and a massive game. Heading out, the Rays would either be tied with the Sox, or have a 2-game lead. And, perhaps more importantly, it would decide the season series - a Rays win would seal the matchup 10-8, giving them the edge if the AL East were to go to a tiebreaker. And the Rays would have to deal with their nemesis, Tim Wakefield.

Unfortunately for the Sox, they had to deal with Joe Maddon. After the success of the non-switch hitting switch hitters against Mike Mussina last weekend, Joe had Willy Aybar and Fernando Perez repeat the act against Wakefield. They responded by both hitting homeruns off the knuckleballer - according to Elias, the first pair of switch hitters to both hit homeruns from the wrong side (ie righty v righty) in the same game since division play started in 1969. Gabe Gross went deep as well, and the Rays coasted to a 10-3 win. Yeah.

After those two feel-good wins, Thursday was another loss that threatened to be disheartening. We knocked the Twins starter out in the first, putting up a 5-spot, but couldn't shake the pesky Minnesota hitters. Evan Longoria became just the second Ray (after Jonny Gomes) to hit three homeruns in a game, but it wasn't enough as closer de jour Dan Wheeler had a rare meltdown, allowing four runs as the Twins fought back to a 11-8 win.

Still, if at first you don't succeed, and all that. Friday night the Rays took until the second to knock the Twins starter out the game, but thanks to a great start from Edwin Jackson (7 IP, 7 hits, 5 Ks, 1 run), this time there were no late game fireworks. Evan Longoria added 3 RBI to his series output, while Carlos Pena had four of his own, three of which came on a history-making homerun - originally ruled a fan-interference double, it became the first ever call to be overturned by video replay. An 11-1 win, and a game away from history.

And, wouldn't you just know it, that it was Scott Kazmir, after getting shellacked in his last start, who came up big yesterday. 6 shutout innings, 5 hits and 5 strikeouts, and the Rays' winningest ever pitcher was rewarded with the W. The win that sends the Rays to the postseason for the first time ever.



Joe Maddon had it right all along.

Well, not quite. The nine innings and eight teams is right. But the number of players, well he was way off. This season has been the ultimate team effort. And its been even better to watch as a result of it. From the mohawk-fever thats sweeping the clubhouse, to the beards for Rocco earlier in the year, to the never-ending stream of shaving foam to the face victims, its been a joy. There was a great quote from Scott Kazmir in the St Pete Times yesterday - "We got Mohawks and everything. We might as well do dugout chants." And you know what, he's right. Rather than the highly-paid professional athletes that they are, the Rays have played more like a bunch of mates playing for some high school team, wanting to win not for themselves, but rather for their friends. Its a great attitude to have, and no small part of the Rays' success this year.

And its architect? Joe Maddon of course.

Thursday, 18 September 2008


The Rays have it.

A lot of it.

And I love it.

I'll do a full series recap over the weekend at some point, but for now all you need to know is we won.


Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Ugh (again)

Yes, I did watch the game (well most of it).

And no, I don't want to talk about it.

Monday, 15 September 2008

The future arrives...but the present is disappointing

First the good.

David Price.

Major league debut, your team's last ever game at Yankee Stadium, in the middle of a pennant race. Nervous?

Price certainly didn't look it as he came out of the 'pen to start the third inning against the Yankees. He retired the first big league hitter he saw, Xavier Nady, with his first pitch, and retired the next five straight before giving up a homerun to Derek Jeter. He didn't let that affect him though, and eventually left after throwing 5 1/3 innings, striking out four and allowing 3 hits.

Not perfect, but given the time and situation, just about as good a major league debut as you could hope for. I think David Price is going to do good things for us.

Still, overall the Rays' final trip to Yankee Stadium was a disappointment. Game one was a solid 7-1 win behind a great outing (8IP, 5hits, 6Ks, 0R) from James Shields. Evan Longoria returned to the lineup with 2 hits and 2RBI, while Justin Ruggiano took advantage of a rare start by going 3-4 with a pair of doubles. Joe Maddon's plan of stacking the lineup with rightys against Mussina (to the point of having switch-hitting Ben Zobrist and Fernando Perez bat right-handed) worked a treat, as he was knocked out after 5, and beaten by the Rays for the first time this year.

The evening game however was not quite so good. It started well, as Ben Zobrist hit his second grand slam in a couple of weeks to give us an early lead. Unfortunately he then turned from hero to villain late on, as his throwing error on what should have been a routine double play let the Yankees get back on terms, and go on to win 6-5.

Then there was yesterday, and as good as it was to see Price, there was a reason why he came into the game to start the third.

Edwin Jackson had, as we say in England, a 'mare. 2 innings (his shortest outing for over a year), 6 hits and 6 runs. A grand slam to Alex Rodriguez in the first and, after Fernando Perez had gotten the Rays back in the game with a three-run shot of his own (a first big league round-tripper for the increasingly impressive centrefielder), he surrendered a two-run blow to Jason Giambi. And that was pretty much it. We had a few chances to get back into the game, but just couldn't capitalise, and so now we head back to the Trop with just a single game lead over Boston.

Which should make the upcoming three game series with them pretty interesting... It kicks off tonight with a fascinating matchup between two aces who can't keep their pitch count down - Scott Kazmir and Daisuke Matsuzaka. I am already tired this morning due to listening to the Seahawks past midnight yesterday, and I'll have to be up early again tomorrow for work, but, never-the-less, I am extremely tempted to stay up and watch that one. If ever there was a time for Scotty K to come up big, this might just be it...

Saturday, 13 September 2008

I like the Price...let's play two!

Rainout last night. Day/night doubleheader today, with the first game starting in about an hour and a half. James Shields will be pitching game one, and Matt Garza in the nightcap. Thats a pretty good 1-2 punch right there.

But, if that is good, then what about the trio of arms that the Rays added to the bullpen last night.

Joining the team on Monday will be Mitch Talbot and Jeff Niemann. Not bad. I think there are many teams who would be happy enough to have that pair of arms in their 'pen.

But, and no disrepect at all as they are quality pitchers both, their recall is hugely outshadowed by the guy who has joined up with the teams ahead of today's contests in The Bronx.

He is here.

David Price has arrived.

He'll be available from the 'pen today, and with the doubleheader I would not be surprised to see him make his Major League debut. Exciting.

Also rejoining the Rays in New York is Jonny Gomes, and he's gone right into the lineup for game one against Mike Mussina. You know how big a fan of Jonny I am, and I would like nothing better than to see him play a big role for the team down the stretch.

Oh yeah, and theres the small matter of Evan Longoria being back in the lineup.

With a Rays-Yankees doubleheader and a Boston-Toronto twin bill, today is going to be a big day. I could not be more excited.

Joe Maddon's lineup for the opener (according to the St Pete Times) is stacked with righties to face Mussina - Bartlett (SS), Zobrist (2B), Pena (1B), Baldelli (DH), Longo (3B), Gomes (LF), Perez (CF), Hernandez (C) and Ruggiano (RF).

Lets go Rays!!!

Friday, 12 September 2008

Net lagged: The Rays effect

You know the story. A nightmare start to the roadtrip. More injuries. A struggling offense.

And then the Rays effect takes over.

Due to one thing and another, I've just finished watching Wednesday night's game three of the Boston series. I watched games one and two on Wednesday and Thursday, hence the longer than usual net lag delay. But, in the end, it was worth the wait.

After arriving in Boston, things started with a scare as reliever Juan Salas had an epileptic seizure. He's fine, and back with the team, but its harldly a calming way to start a crucial series. Then the game came, Edwin Jackson gave up three runs in the first inning, and things looked grim. E-Jax knuckled down though, and went 6 more scoreless. Unfortunately, the hitters couldn't get anything going against Jon Lester, and a 3-0 loss was the result. Making things worse was BJ Upton leaving the game with a tight quad - he missed games 2 and 3, and its unclear when he'll be back in the lineup. With a bit of luck, it might be tonight. Also heading for injury central was Shawn Riggans, who has had to have an operation on his knee, possibly ending his season.

Game one over, and things were not looking good.

But thats where the Rays effect kicked in.

To cover the ever-increasing list of injuries, Dan Johnson and catcher Michael Hernandez were called up. Johnson would have made the game 2 start against Dice-K, but arrived in Boston just 20 minutes before gametime.

Still, things started well. Scotty K was pitching nicely, and the hitters knocked Matsuzaka out after just 5 innings. We took a 3-2 lead into the bottom of the eighth, where Dan Wheeler faced Jason Bay (1-18 off of Wheeler in his career) with a man on. Homerun Bay was the result, and a 4-3 Red Sox lead. It looked for certain as though we were going to lose top spot in the East.

But, the 2008 Rays bring a different hero every night. And Tuesday it was the turn of Dan Johnson. First Rays at-bat, facing Jonathan Papelbon, pinch hit homerun, tie game. That was followed by a double off the Monster from Fernando Perez, and an RBI-double by Dioner Navarro.

And that was it. Suddenly the Rays had won, and restored their lead to 1 1/2 games. You just can't keep this team down.

And so to last night's game. Andy Sonnanstine going toe-to-toe with Josh Beckett. And Sonny did his part superbly, 7 innings, 1 run, 4 hits, 7 strikeouts. His best outing for quite some time.

The game was tied at one when Sonny left, and there it stayed. Through the eighth, ninth, tenth, eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth. Dan Wheeler, Grant Balfour, Chad Bradford, JP Howell (2 innings) and Trever Miller. One by one they took their turn and sent the Red Sox back to the dug out.

And finally our hitters got the breakthrough. With 2 outs in the fourteenth, and Mike Timlin on the mound, Aki Iwamura lined a 3-0 pitch up the middle for a single. Rocco Baldelli followed with a single of his own. And then Carlos Pena ripped a ball to opposite field, over the Green Monster, a three-run homerun. 4-1 Rays.

Hey, but if you thought the fun was over, you'd be wrong. Because in came Perci for the save opportunity. The previous night he had battled for the save, giving up just a walk. Wednesday, he had nothing. A hit, 2 walks and nobody out was the line when Joe Maddon came to get him with the bases loaded. A stiff back was apparently to blame, but I will repeat myself from last time, and say I just don't trust him out there anymore.

Still, its the Rays, so time for another hero. Enter stage left Jason Hammel. Hammel has not been pitching well of late. He had never recorded a save before.

He has now. A sacrifice fly scored one run, but a strikeout and a shallow fly followed, and the Rays had sealed a 4-2 win, a 2 1/2 game lead in the East, and our first series win at Fenway since 1999.

What a series. The belief is back. The Rays Rotating Hero policy (tm) is back. And we're off to New York tonight. Let's go Rays.

Incidentally, I see that from tonight will be letting you choose between the home and away TV feeds. I cannot tell you how pleased I am (assuming it works properly!) that I'm going to be able to watch the rest of the season with Dewayne Staats, Joe Magrane and Todd Kalas. Awesome.

Monday, 8 September 2008


What a miserable sporting weekend.

Six major events/sports that I followed, and a positive outcome in two of them. Andy Murray beat Rafael Nadal to make the US Open final, and the Alabama Crimson Tide beat Tulane, despite a pretty unimpressive display.

But the Seattle Seahawks opened with a miserable loss to Buffalo. Lewis Hamilton won the Belgian F1 Grand Prix, only to be demoted to third because of a steward's decision that can only be described as abysmal. And while the English football team did record a win in their opening World Cup 2010 qualifier, they managed just a 2-0 margin against Andorra, a country with a population (about 70,000) that is barely two-thirds as big as Basingstoke. Impressed I was not.

And then there were the Rays.


Last week they lost 2 out of 3 to the Yankees (the one win coming behind an excellent outing from Scott Kazmir). This weekend they got swept in Toronto. And heading to Fenway, where we've lost 6 out of 6 this season so far, we're just 1 1/2 games ahead of the Red Sox.

Now I know that sometimes you're going to lose ballgames. But the manner of defeat, particularly games 2 and 3 against the Blue Jays, has been particularly disheartening.

Yesterday, the hitters couldn't manage to scrape together a single run in support of an(other) excellent outing from Matt Garza, who himself gave up just one score over 7 innings. A 1-0 shutout (against an admittedly hot Jays team), is never a nice way to lose a game.

But even that is a fair way short of the crippling blow that Saturday's loss has the potential to be. Shutout through eight, we trailed 3-0. James Shields had given up a run in the first, second and fourth, before allowing just a single hit over the next four innings. We'd threatened several times, notably against reliever Scott Downs in the eighth, but had come up with nothing.

But then there was that wonderful Rays fighting spirit. With a man on, Rocco Baldelli steps in to pinch hit against closer BJ Ryan, and drills a ball over the fence in left. Willy Aybar walked, and was replaced at first by Fernando Perez. Perez (who has looked impressive so far) stole second, and motored round to score and tie the game on an error by Jays' second baseman Joe Inglett.

Dan Wheeler pitched a scoreless bottom of the ninth (with a huge thank you to a stunning piece of defense from Jason Bartlett), and the game headed to extras. 10th inning scoreless. 11th inning scoreless. 12th inning scoreless.

Fernando Perez got on base, showing off his speed to beat out a potential double play ball. He moved up on a John Jaso ground out, and raced home on a Dioner Navarro single to give the Rays the lead for the first time at 4-3. And it stayed at that score going into the bottom half, with Troy Percival coming out of the 'pen.

6 batters later and it was all over. A walk-off Grand Slam by Greg Zaun. A pretty devastating loss.

Now, I don't want to have a go at Troy Percival for making a mistake, for having a bad outing. It's only his fourth blown save of the season, and the first game that he's pitched in that the Rays have lost. For the most part when he's come out of the 'pen with the game on the line, he's got the job done. But since about mid-season, every time he pitches you feel like it's a bit of an adventure. He'll probably get the three outs, but you're almost certain that someone's going to get on base. Probably more than one person. And you feel like there's a pretty decent chance that at least one run is going to score.

Whether or not a team should have one designated 'closer' is a debate for another day. But looking at the Rays' 'pen right now, if someone told me that we had a one-run lead, and needed to get the last three outs, Perci would not be top of the list. Not by a long way. Don't get me wrong, I know he has the ability to do it. But I just don't trust him to do it anymore when the heat is on.

I'd turn to Grant Balfour. I'd turn to Dan Wheeler. I'd turn to JP Howell. Hey, right now I'd feel happier with Chad Bradford or Trever Miller out there.

I'm sure Maddon will stick with Perci. But he must realise the effect that seeing Perci head for the mound has on us Rays fans, and presumably the team. We've got 21 games left, and we cannot afford to blow a lead late on in any of them. Can we trust Perci under that pressue? I just can't anymore.


Monday, 1 September 2008

A sweep return

Doesn't time fly?! So RAP was a bit AWOL through most of August for one reason or another, not least of which the two week holiday that I've just taken. Having been to the States in February it wasn't anything exciting - rather just a fortnight back at home in Basingstoke, escaping work, seeing friends and family, all that sort of thing.

And while it was a much-needed and enjoyable break, baseball-wise, it was highly frustrating. Because while we do have broadband at my mum's house, it has been pretty rubbish. So for the last two weeks I have been able to keep up to date with everything thats been happening in Rays-world, but haven't actually been able to see any of it. Hence, no writing.

But after getting the train back up to Edinburgh yesterday (6 hours, but cheaper than flying), I arrived home just in time to watch the Rays completely blitz the Orioles for their third consecutive double-digit score, and ninth series sweep of the season. The Yankees are heading to the Trop tomorrow, and I shall get back to proper blogging then (well Wednesday or Thursday, depending on when I watch the game). But for now, for me as much as for anyone else reading, here's a lightning recap of all the action since my last post...

12/8/08 - TB 1 - OAK 2
With Evan Longoria now on the DL, the Rays lose a tight one, unable to capitalise on solid pitching from Kaz, JP Howell and Grant Balfour.

13/8/08 - TB 3 - OAK 2
A twelfth win of the year for Andy Sonnanstine, backed by homeruns from Carlos Pena (his 22nd) and Eric Hinske (17).

14/8/08 - TB 7 - OAK 6 (12)
Runs-a-plenty in the last game I watched before heading south. Cliff Floyd went 1-2 with 4 walks, 4 runs and plenty of hustling around the basepaths. Troy Percival sprained his knee and headed to the DL, Grant Balfour couldn't manage to close the game out, but a twelfth inning homer by Pena sealed the series win.

15/8/08 - TB 7 - TEX 0
Matt Garza threw a brilliant 2-hitter, as Pena, Hinske, Willy Aybar and Gabe Gross all went deep to support him. It wasn't all plain sailing though, as BJ Upton was very publically benched in the 6th for a lack of hustle.

16/8/08 - TB 0 - TEX 3
The shutout tables were turned as the Upton-less Rays managed only three hits off of Texas starter Matt Harrison.

17/8/08 - TB 7 - TEX 4
BJ returned with 3 hits, a homer, 2 runs and 3 RBI to help Scott Kazmir to his 9th win of the year. Carlos Pena belted his 25th homer of the season, but the big talking point is Joe Maddon's decision to intentionally walk Josh Hamilton with the bases loaded in the ninth. Its just the fifth bases-loaded IBB in MLB history, but Joe is vindicated as Dan Wheeler strikes the next batter out to preserve the win.

18/8/08 - LAA 4 - TB 6
A thirteenth W for Sonny, helped by homers from Hinske and Cliff Floyd. The Angels try and mount a comeback, but Balfour, Bradford, Miller, Hammel and Wheeler secure things in relief.

19/8/08 - LAA 2 - TB 4
James Shields gave up just 2 runs in 8 innings of work, and was rewarded with win number 11 thanks to Willy Aybar's 2-out, 2-run single in the eighth.

20/8/08 - LAA 5 - TB 4
No sweep, but another series win, against the AL West pacesetters. An RBI-double by Carlos Pena tied things up late, but the Angels battled for the winning run in the ninth.

22/8/08 - TB 9 - CWS 4
Edwin Jackson became the latest Ray to celebrate win number 10, thanks to some persistant hitting. Carlos Pena hit his team-leading 26th homer, Ben Zobrist went deep as part of a 3-RBI day, and Rocco Baldelli belted his first homer since May 3, 2007.

23/8/08 - TB 5 - CWS 3
Scotty K put up a strong showing early, but left with a 6-inning no-decision as the Rays waited until a 4-run eighth to claim the lead. Jason Bartlett continued his hot August with a 3-4 day, while Aki Iwamura and Carlos Pena drove in 2 runs a piece.

24/8/08 - TB 5 - CWS 6 (10)
Rocco went deep in the top of the first, but the White Sox wouldn't go away, and eventually came through thanks in part to a questionable interference call in the bottom of the 10th.

26/8/08 - TOR 6 - TB 2
The Rays stranded 11 baserunners as Roy Halladay finally managed to record a W against Tampa Bay at the fourth attempt.

27/8/08 - TOR 0 - TB 1
Matt Garza shut out the Jays on 6 hits over 7 2/3 innings, and Grant Balfour and Dan Wheeler did the rest. Carlos Pena's 27th homerun of the season was the only score.

28/8/08 - TOR 2 - TB 3
Edwin Jackson allowed only 1 run in seven innings work, while Cliff Floyd and Willy Aybar both homered to secure a 9th consecutive series win.

29/8/08 - BAL 3 - TB 14
The Rays set the Trop alight as they broke out the big bats against the Orioles and secured win number 82, and the first ever winning season in style. Cliff Floyd had a 3-hit, 5-RBI night, but the star of the show was Ben Zobrist who connected for his first ever MLB Grand Slam in the 4th. Gabe Gross and Shawn Riggans also went deep, and Scott Kazmir became the fifth Rays starter to hit the 10 win mark.

30/8/08 - BAL 9 - TB 10
Saturdays game is one that I intend to watch this evening, largely because of the way it ended. Runs, lead changes and hits galore, the win was finally sealed in the bottom of the 9th in walk-off style - the 10th of the year. And it was made even sweeter because the player who laced the game-winning double down the left field line was Rocco Baldelli.

31/8/08 - BAL 4 - TB 10
And so to yesterday's game, which made the long trip back up here seem worthwhile. James Shields gave up just one run in seven innings work, Rocco carried on where he had left off on Saturday, by drilling two more doubles down the line as part of a 3-3 day. Shawn Riggans also hit a pair of two-baggers, but the star was Jason Bartlett who capped a 4-4 day with his first homerun in a Rays uniform.

And so thats it. Up to date. Roster expansion call-ups have started, and for the first time ever, the Rays are making moves with the postseason in mind. The injured Jae-kyuk Ryu was called up and placed on the DL, a small move that could mean big things if we do indeed make it to October baseball. With Ryu and Chad Orvella on the DL, it means that we have two roster spots available to players who weren't in the majors before the August 31st deadline. And that means the possibility that David Price could be here when things are on the line. An exciting prospect indeed.

Catcher John Jaso and outfielder Fernando Perez were also called up, and Troy Percival activated, while Juan Salas was optioned so that Perez could be added before the deadline. Salas should be back on Tuesday.

A 21-7 record in August, with CC, Perci and Longoria all out of action was absolutely fantastic, and I really hope that we can carry the momentum down the stretch run. Longoria should be back soon, but as has been the case all year, when one player is out, you can be sure that another will step in and come up big. Jason Bartlett has been red hot all month, while Ben Zobrist has proven himself to be the utility player that every team longs for. I couldn't be happier about how either of them have done. Then there's Willy Aybar who has filled in admirably for Evan at third, and Cliff Floyd, Eric Hinske and Pena who have taken up the power-hitting and run-producing slack with Evan and CC out. And theres Rocco of course. I reckon a championship ring for him would be a feel-good story that would match even a Cubs pennant!

And lets not forget Joe Maddon. I hope the players don't falter, because Joe has been on top of his game every single step all season. When I saw that he had walked Hamilton with the bases loaded, it actually didn't surprise me. Conventional wisdom isn't what has gotten us this far, and I'm sure that isn't going to change now.

Yankees on Tuesday. The Red Sox next week. The big games are coming up. And I can't wait.