Surviving New Yankee Stadium: Part One

The Rays narrowly pulled one out of the fire last night in their first game at the new Yankee Stadium, winning 4–3 courtesy of Carlos Pena’s 10th inning home run.

Tampa Bay built a 3–0 lead on an Evan Longoria double, Akinori Iwamura sacrifice fly and Dioner Navarro single that each drove in a run.  (Navarro may be turning it around now, back–to–back good games).  Andy Sonnanstine pitched as well as I have ever seen him (7.1 IP, 4 K, 0 BB), but left two minor leaguers on base in Ramiro Pena and Jose Molina.  Home plate umpire James Hoye (who I blasted in this commentary last June) was calling a very liberal strikezone.  But this liberal wasn’t bringing peace; Yankee outfielder Nick Swisher was ejected for arguing balls and strikes, and it nearly happened later to B.J. Upton.  Back to the game: Dan Wheeler struck out Derek Jeter with two men on base for the eighth inning’s second out.

Then mystique and aura sent the Rays into purgatory.  J.P. Howell entered the game and walked Johnny Damon on five pitches, four of which were low and outside.  I knew that both that and putting Pena and Molina on base were bad signs.  Sure enough, slow–starting Mark Teixeira promptly hit a game–tying double almost off the chalk in the left field corner.  Howell has been decent statistically so far, but his 0–2 record and two blown saves have all Rays fans concerned.  Then the homer groundscrew pulled the tarp over the field right after the Yankees tied the game.  Thankfully, the rain delay was about 30 minutes or less.  Now with the game tied, the Rays got nothing done in the ninth inning thanks to strikeouts (What else is new?), and the Yankees also blew their opportunity.

Then came the tenth inning.  Carlos Pena, who is an automatic strikeout once there is a two strike count (three in this game), led off against left–hander Phil Coke.  Coke never got to two strikes, as Pena blasted a 1–0 pitch over the right center field wall to give the Rays a crucial 4–3 advantage.  Tampa Bay actually fought back to get the lead, but could they hold it?  Troy Percival would provide the answer.

Derek Jeter was retired before Johnny Damon doubled over Upton’s head on a ball Upton appeared to be jogging in front of.  Percival promptly threw a pitch away to send the tying run on to third base.  Teixeira hit a fly ball to right center field, but Gabe Gross caught it too close to home for Damon to try it.  With that bullet dodged, Hideki Matsui, a lifetime owner of the Rays and a huge late–fgame threat, stepped in.  But Percival channeled the spirit of the Rally Monkey and induced a fly ball to Carl Crawford to save the Rays’ narrow win.  This game has “instant classic” written all over it, especially to us Rays fans.  Teixeira’s signature Welcome to the Yankees moment was shattered by Carlos Pena’s league–leading 12th home run.  And by the way, Troy Percival’s ERA is a mere 2.08.  That’s a figure from his peak years when he could throw 100 miles an hour.

Crawford stolen base count: 20–for–20.  He has racked up nine consecutive games with a stolen base, and this is his seventh consecutive 20–steal season.

B.J. Upton (7) and Evan Longoria (2) also stole bases in this game.

Tonight the Rays go for the sweep as Jeff Niemann matches up with Andy Pettitte.  Niemann has been The Riverboat Gamblers so far, On Again, Off Again.  Pettitte has seemingly been that way for a few years straight.  Which pitchers we get should determine the outcome of the game.  Until next time, go Rays.

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