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.

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