The Tampa Bay Rays have officially won their first ever playoff game, knocking off the large market Chicago White Sox 64 to take game one of the Division Series at Tropicana Field. This home victory obviously marks the Rays’ home territory as their own and gives them important early momentum in such a short series. Despite a home run from the last guy in the White Sox power laden lineup who would be expected to hit one, Dewayne Wise, Rays starter James Shields pitched 6.1 innings and gave up three runs, all on the home run. He left with the bases loaded in the seventh inning, but Grant Balfour came to his aid with strikeouts of Juan Uribe and Orlando Cabrera, who defiantly (and moronically) kicked dirt at Balfour before being silenced by the Terminator. With enough run support to win, Shields escaped that final jam and propelled Tampa Bay to its first playoff victory.
The story of the game, however, was the Rookie of the Year at third base. Right there in front of candidate Alexei Ramirez, Longoria took the very first pitch he saw in the postseason, a get me over fastball from Javier Vazquez, and rocket launched it into the left center field seats. This put the Rays up 10. Later, tied at three, Longoria made his second trip to the plate. After a strike, Vazquez hung a curveball dead center, which Longoria exited stage left for another home run. The ball did its little turn on the catwalk before landing in the left field seats. “Evan Almighty” became the second player in MLB history to hit home runs in his first two playoff plate appearances. The other was former third baseman and current Durham Bulls hitting coach Gary Gaetti, with the 1987 Minnesota Twins. The Rays took a lead they would never surrender, with Longoria adding fuel to the fire with an RBI single in his third time up. Carl Crawford returned to the starting lineup and had his own RBI hit after regaining some of his timing in Instructional League games. The fact that he can swing a bat at full strength at this point is a product of the advancement of the modern medical field. Carlos Pena who writes his very own postseason blog left the game early with blurred vision, but is expected to play in the second game.
ESPN must be paying their anchors to continuously find ways to make fun of Rays crowds. Scott Van Pelt, upon the opening of the 11:00 SportsCenter, said that “a bunch of fans going to see the Rays at Tropicana Field for the very first time” were at the game, adding a sadistic sarcastic smile. He did go on to say it was good of the fans to fill the dome, but then added that they were “a bunch of new fans who probably had to have the ground rules explained to them.” Even as recently as earlier this season, that one might have worked. But Rays attendance jokes became passe when they won their playoff spot in front of another capacity crowd. Their attendance increased by more than 25% this year, counting all those early games. To his credit, Steve Levy recognized this and steered clear of Rays fan shots on later editions of the show.
With that win, the Rays now carry the series advantage into the next game along with that home field advantage. Scott Kazmir, long regarded as the ace of the pitching staff, gets the call for game two against veteran left hander Mark Buehrle. Offensively, some of the Rays (Longoria) need to keep what they did yesterday going, and that’s all they should need. I’ll be watching every minute of it, just as I did the first game. Until that win is nailed down, go Rays.