Friday, 3 October 2008

ALDS game 1 - Welcome to the postseason Mr Longoria

Chicago White Sox 4 - Tampa Bay Rays 6

I'm willing to bet that there's not many people out there who had remembered that Gary Gaetti hit homeruns in each of his first two postseason at-bats.

Something tells me that you're going to remember that Evan did it.

Because this 22-year-old rookie is a bit special. I mean, he missed a whole month of the season through injury, yet still led all rookies in homeruns. He hit three longballs in one game, just a couple of weeks after his return from a fractured wrist. And now this.

First pitch - homerun. Third pitch - homerun. Then an RBI single, a walk and just for good measure a stolen base. Just your average sort of day when your name is Evan Longoria.

Needless to say that, despite the nerves, I enjoyed last night's first taste of Rays' playoff baseball. Taking the lead on Evan's first homer really settled things down, although they were unsettled again in the top of the next inning thanks to some patented White Sox offense. James Shields had started well, but worked into a little bit of trouble in the third and paid the price, giving up a 3-run homer to Dewayne Wise. Add to that the fact that Carlos Pena had been taken out of the game already due to some blurry vision (he's expected to be back and fine today), and the nerves were full on again.

But hey, this is the Rays. Battle, battle, and battle back some more. Bottom of the inning, Jason Bartlett singles. Aki Iwamura follows and drills a ball over Ken Griffey Jr's head for a RBI-triple. 3-2. Upton can't get him home, but Pena's replacement at first, Willy Aybar, can, with a sacrifice fly to left. 3-3. And next up? Well, its Evan of course. 4-3. And just like that, Shields is back on top and we're laughing.

The Rays tacked on a couple more in the fifth through RBI-singles from Longoria and Carl Crawford, while Shields breezed through until the seventh where he again hit trouble. He had loaded the bases with one out when the the call went to the 'pen for the Aussie. And a good call it was too. He struck out Juan Uribe, and then, after a bit of a shouting match, struck out Orlando Cabrera too. You've got to give credit to Cabrera, I don't think I'd want to get Grant Balfour mad (well madder...), but the Aussie had the last laugh.

Balfour's 2/3 of an inning were huge, but JP Howell's perfect 8th was just as important, striking out Anderson and Dye, before getting Thome out on a weak grounder. Howell doing what he has done best all season long.

That took things into the ninth, and Dan Wheeler. Wheels seems to have learnt the art of closing from Troy Percival, delighting in making things interesting. And he did that, battling a long at-bat with Paul Konerko, which saw the White Sox first baseman try to walk on ball three before eventually connecting for a crushed homerun down the leftfield line. Credit to Wheeler though, he didn't let it get to him, and came right back after the next hitter (Griffey!) and the next and the next, setting them down confidently and preserving the Ray's first ever playoff win. Oh yeah.

Tonight, Scott Kazmir faces off against Mark Buehrle in game two. Its going to be a massive test for Kaz - going up against the majors' biggest homerun team, having given up four longballs in two of his last three starts. Here's hoping that Scotty will thrive under the playoff spotlight and perform at his best. You know I'll be watching and cheering him on.

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