Friday Night SmackDown on Minnesota

The Tampa Bay Rays are now one victory away from a playoff berth.  They could win their spot as early as today on FOX.  Last night’s game was televised on ESPN, and I was proudly there live in the usual Rays gear.  Section 141 in left field was absolutely hopping with Rays fans looking to celebrate the accomplishments of this amazing team.  This game provided the perfect forum for this.

Edwin Jackson was flodded with early run support, but as it turns out it was just an added bonus to his incredible pitching performance, arguably the greatest of his career to this point.  Given the job he did against the Twins combined with the game’s heightened magnitude, he answered the doubts of Rays fans everywhere and may have outdone his dominant shutout of the Rangers in 2007, if only because that game was lost in the shuffle of that season before it even started.  Jackson only allowed one earned run, on a sacrifice fly, in 7.2 innings pitched.  The standing ovation he received as he left the field — spurred on by Joe Maddon’s timely removal of him from the game — was long, loud and well–deserved.  He got himself into only a few jams and escaped almost all of them with a zero on the scoreboard.  He also made one of the defensive plays of the night when he ran out into the infield dirt to retrieve a loose chopper on the infield, then ran to first base himself to retire Justin Morneau.  He showed both his athleticism from his days as a star high school outfielder and his top potential out on a Major League mound.  Congratulations, Edwin — even if you don’t start a playoff game, this was your night at Tropicana Field.

A historic moment took place in the fourth inning of the Rays’ eventual 11–1 beating of Minnesota.  Carlos Pena, hitting with two runners on base, blasted a pitch from Boof Bonser up and apparently just over the right center field wall for a home run.  From my outfield point of view, and those of everyone in that section of the stadium, the ball clearly traveled over the yellow line before bouncing back onto the field.  As everyone in the section, and thousands throughout the dome, signaled home run, the umpires called it a double, ruling fan interference.  We knew it had to go to instant replay, and Joe Maddon made that point abundantly clear.  So sure enough, three of the umpires made the journey back to the video monitor to review this.  After over four minutes, which felt like ten, they returned and umpire Gerry Davis made the final ruling: home run.  The dome instantly exploded into another round of cheers as MLB history was made and Pena got his 31st home run.  It turned out the call was right and the celebration was justified.

Delmon Young now plays left field for Minnesota… for those of you who remember the 2007 team, he was a rookie right fielder for us after having been the #1 overall Draft pick in 2003.  He underperformed slightly and didn’t show the player development the team wanted out of him.  More importantly, his attitude made him a locker room cancer, with a series of events culminating in Joe Maddon benching him for most of the season’s final game due to not running out a ground ball.  He’s back in Tropicana Field for this series, and being situated not far behind him in row CC (about ten rows up), I had a field day with this.  After he misplayed Akinori Iwamura’s leadoff triple, I reminded him that was one reason he was traded: he couldn’t catch fly balls.  I also informed him that Matt Garza is better than him and cheered every out he made.  At one point, Iwamura caught him off first base after a line drive and doubled him off.  I just had to tell him that if he knew how to run the bases, he would still be on our side.  Finally, I made some comment about picking up his medal in bat javelin.  He turned his head upon hearing it, which is about the only smart move he made all night.  Some others in our section also had a little fun with him.  It’s always fun to see guys like him take their verbal beatings.

Today is the day the Rays can enter the playoff field with a win (or White Sox and Yankees losses, but they need a win more than anything) and celebrate a large milestone in this season of franchise firsts.  It’s live on FOX and I think it’s our time.  We’re on the national stage, what better timing is there?  Until we join the Angels and start chasing a division title, go Rays.

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