This weekend was one strong statement after another from the Rays, who swept the Baltimore Orioles by scores of 143, 109 and 104. The 34run outburst marks the most runs ever scored by Tampa Bay in a three game series. After Friday night’s vicious beating, the team was set to host the FOX Saturday Baseball Game of the Week, and the bats were ready.
The big game gave Rays fans several heart attacks, beginning with Jay Payton’s first inning home run. Then Aubrey Huff stole a 32 lead with a three run home run, his 30th of the season and seemingly his 30th against the Rays. The score was 73 Orioles through the top of the fifth inning when the Rays cut the lead in half, then proceeded to take an 87 lead in the next inning, fueled by Carlos Pena’s two run double. Tied 88 later on, Rocco Baldelli was hit by a pitch to drive in another goahead run. The Rays led by one run, and in stepped Dan Wheeler to face the top of the order and get the save. He struck out Brian Roberts and Payton, bringing up Nick Markakis. Wheeler served up a beach ball that Markakis promptly hit to the moon, angering some Rays by stopping to watch the orbit. Tie game yet again. This set up some bottom of the ninth inning heroics once again from the team that already had nine walk off wins. Pena reached base with a one out walk, bringing up Baldelli. With 34,805 fans watching him live, he promptly hit a 10 pitch right down the third base line into the corner. Left fielder Lou Montanez took a slightly roundabout path to the ball, then fired to Huff as Pena rounded third base. Huff basket caught the throw and took forever in relaying to the plate, allowing Pena to slide in safely with the winning run. The Rays won 109, and Wheeler was spared. Iwamura had one of five multihit games for the host Rays, leading the way with three of the team’s 13 hits. It looked like a dropoff was inevitable.
But, of course, the offense picked up right where it ended the previous game. They completed the sweep behind James Shields, winning easily in front of another strong crowd of 32,379. Baldelli had three hits, the first two doubles into that same left field corner, and a walk. But one offensive moment of glory trumped all others in this landslide win…
Jason Bartlett hit a home run.
Yes, Rays fans, it is possible, and now it has been accomplished. Bartlett took a 10 pitch from Jamie Walker into the first rows of the left center field seats for his first home run in Tampa Bay, only taking 370 atbats to do it. Jim Johnson beaned him on the very first pitch of his next plate appearance with a high fastball, which both Joe Magrane and I (and probably many more) thought was deliberate. Bartlett was 4for4 with three singles and a perfect way to top them off. Congratulations with everything else you have done this year, this was a nice finishing touch. Now please do it again. At least before the season is over.
The expansion to the 40man roster begins tomorrow, with a few players likely coming in immediately. Joe Maddon says he will probably want a catcher (most likely 1998 Devil Ray Mike DiFelice), an outfielder (Fernando Perez?) and a utility player (Elliot Johnson?). Durham is going into the International League playoffs, so some of their players will finish out the season there before coming up to Tampa Bay. David Price may start one of those playoff games, but it shouldn’t be too much longer before he joins the Rays. Hopefully he handles all the expectations and lives up to the hype.
The Rays get the New York Yankees, currently 12½ games out of first place (Boston is 5½ games back), Tuesday to start a three game series at Tropicana Field. Every Rays fan who can possibly get to these games needs to get tickets to jack up the Yankee hatred and support this team. There will be large crowds, but we need large Rays crowds. This is Tampa Bay, and it needs to look and sound like it. Until the Yankees are vanquished, go Rays.