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.

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