Tuesday, 7 October 2008

ALDS game 4 - "He is a winner"

Tampa Bay Rays 6 - Chicago White Sox 2

Andy Sonnanstine over Edwin Jackson?

I think it would be fair to say that there are not many managers in the big leagues that would make that call. Fortunately for the Rays, Joe Maddon is one of them.

So it was Sonny who went last night in Chicago for game 4, and by the time he left with two outs in the 6th, Joe Maddon was once again looking like the smartest man in baseball. Ok, so 5 2/3 innings isn't the longest outing of the season, and he did give up 2 homeruns. But the way he was pitching, it was almost as if those homers were peace offerings so the White Sox hitters didn't feel too bad about getting totally out-played by a man who doesn't trouble 90 on the radar gun.

Apart from those two longballs, all the offense that Chicago generated in those first 5 2/3 innings was a single and a walk, neither of which would damage the Rays in any way. Sonny was at his brilliant best, getting ahead of the hitter, painting the edges, daring them to put the ball in play. And they did. And the Rays defense ate it all up. Truth be told, there wasn't even that many difficult plays to be made - the highlight was a leaping catch at the wall from Gabe Gross to rob AJ Pierzynski in the first. Otherwise, it was soild, steady and surefooted. Indeed, had this not been a potential series-clincher, then it is very likely that Sonnanstine would have carried on after giving up a first-pitch homer to Jermaine Dye. He'd only thrown 75 pitches, and was still looking good.

But when you've got a bullpen like the Rays, why take the risk?

So in came JP Howell. And then, four outs later, came Grant Balfour. And six outs later the Rays were celebrating again. Over the series, the Rays 'pen pitched 11 2/3 innings and gave up 1 run. Just one.

Such quality pitching allowed the Rays to win a best-of-5 series against the hardest-hitting team in the AL while scoring a total of just 21 runs. Each of their three wins needed just 6.

Last night the mantra was score early and score often. Rays had a runner cross the plate in the first, third, fourth (2), fifth and seventh. Persistance pays off. Both times the Sox pulled a run back, the Rays came right back and cancelled it out in the top of the next frame. They never let the Sox feel like they were getting close. It was glorious to watch.

And it had gotten started in a very pleasing way indeed. BJ Upton, fresh off a homerun sunday, came right out swinging again last night, and connected with one out in the first for his second homerun in three at-bats. Two innings later he made it 3 from 4 as he belted another Gavin Floyd offering over the fence in straight away centre. BJ has been playing with a torn labrum in his left shoulder this year, which goes a long way towards explaining his power drop-off compared with last season - but he looks like he might be finding his stroke at just the right time. Which could be absolutely huge for the Rays.

After the Upton power outburst, we got back on with scoring in the conventional Rays way - get on, run the bases, clutch hits. An RBI-double from Cliff Floyd, an RBI-single from Dioner Navarro and a pair of RBIs from Carlos Pena, and the Rays were sitting pretty. Carlos had quite a day, going 3-4 with his 2RBI (one particularly sweet, having come after BJ was intentionally walked so that the Sox' lefty could get to Pena), as well as his first two-stolen base game for, well probably longer than he can remember. He also managed to get picked off once as well - its not often that the name Pena dominates the baserunning section of the boxscore! Fortunately some semblance of normality was also around, as Carl Crawford also swiped a pair of bags. CC hasn't missed a beat this series despite his hasty return from the DL. Its great to have him back.

But despite all the great contributions, and the headlines that BJ will undoubtedly get, in my mind game 4 belongs to Andy Sonnanstine. Kaz, Shields and Jackson have the stuff, Shields has the consistancy and control. But don't overlook Sonnanstine. He has something perhaps more important than stuff, consistancy or control. He has the knack. The knack of getting the W on the board. Joe Maddon made sure everyone knew it in his post-game interview - "This is typical. He's been a winner all his life... He is a winner. He is well thought-out. And again, you have a lot of faith in him. The guys love playing behind him."

Sonny is a winner.

And so are the Rays. A 97-game winner. And now, a postseason series winner. Their first, but hopefully not their last.

Next up are some more Sox. We know these Sox well. They are the Red Sox. Game one of the American League Championship Series is on Friday night. It's at Tropicana Field. And it's Boston against Tampa Bay. Who would have thought it?!


Anonymous said...

Congratulations, John. You sure know how to pick em.

Best of luck the rest of the way!

Johnny said...

Hey, thanks Matt - good to see you!

Michael Norton said...

congrats again!

Johnny said...

Thanks Michael - I'm bouncing off the walls here waiting for the Sox series to get started! Just can't wait anymore...