There Once Was a Losing Streak

I have been away for a few days, focused on school as the semester winds down and waiting for my teams to start winning.  The Rays fell on a few days of hard luck following that home opening victory.  They lost three games consecutively to the Yankees and White Sox (and the Braves lost every day too, so it felt more like a six–game losing streak to me) before finally beating Chicago 6–5 in last night’s matchup.

Tuesday night’s game was close until the top of the ninth inning.  Dan Wheeler let a 3–2 deficit balloon to 7–2, mostly on the strength of a Derek Jeter home run.  From there the loss was academic.

Wednesday night’s game was more about the lacking bullpen and the continued theme of wasted chances.  Grant Balfour and J.P. Howell teamed up to blow the save before Troy Percival came in for his usual tank.  The Rays lost again, 4–3.

Thursday opened up the Division Series rematch with the White Sox.  A few late–inning scoring chances were thrown away by the lackluster Rays bats, and despite a much–improved outing from Jeff Niemann, they lost 2–1 behind an early Jermaine Dye home run.

Friday was looking like more of the same.  After Jason Bartlett’s double tied the game at two in the middle innings, James Shields promptly allowed home runs to Carlos Quentin and Dye to make it 5–2.  The bottom of the sixth inning was a possible turning point in the Rays’ season.  With the bases loaded against fireballing left–hander Matt Thornton, they opted to pinch–hit Ben Zobrist for Gabe Gross.  (Keep in mind that Gross tagged Thornton for a walk–off home run on June 1, 2008.)  Batting from the right side, Zobrist turned on an inside fastball with his lightning line drive swing and…

GRAND SLAM!

The Rays’ second grand slam of the season turned around an otherwise anemic effort to drive in runs.  They went up 6–5 as Zobrist once again hit a home run at the right time.  (The two–run go–ahead blast off A.J. Burnett last July, the 11th inning of the final regular season game last year, the three–run shot in Baltimore, etc.)  They reloaded the bases before stranding everyone to end another threat.  Troy Percival came in in the ninth inning and scared everyone into cardiac arrest by way of a hit and a walk.  He actually retired the first two batters harmlessly, then got jobbed on a few outside corner pitches by umpire C.B. Bucknor, who kept a narrow strikezone all night.  After former Brave Brent Lillibridge stole two bases, Josh Fields popped the ball up just high enough for Akinori Iwamura to make the running catch.  The Rays held on and won by that 6–5 score.  Thank you, Ben Zobrist.

Tonight it’s a battle of left–handed aces as Mark Buerhle squares off against Scott Kazmir.  Evan Longoria returned last night after missing two games due to family matters (not of the Urkel variety), so he should be in the lineup.  I would also like to point out that Carlos Pena hit his sixth home run last night.  He and Evan have combined for 11 less than two weeks into the season.  Now if Burrell and friends can pick up the pace, we’ll be in big business.  Until next time, go Rays.

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