The Rays return home from a tengame, three city roadtrip tonight to face the Yankees in a potentially seasondeciding divisional series. I just returned home to Tampa myself on Saturday, back from a 16day journey that went through the backwoods of Gaskin, Florida; New Smyrna Beach, Florida; a family minireunion in Escondido, California; and back to New Smyrna Beach. Thanks to this vacation and the AllStar break, I didn’t watch a live Rays game for about two weeks. I managed to keep track of their progress via the Internet, but I only saw a few highlights until late in the White Sox series.
So how about that catch Carl Crawford made in the AllStar Game? He robbed Colorado’s Brad Hawpe of a gametying home run. This marked the first time Crawford had ever brought a home run back, and the only time Crawford will ever save Jonathan Papelbon. Between that and a single earlier in the game, but mostly the catch, Crawford earned himself the AllStar MVP Award. Congratulations to him for representing the Rays appropriately.
Following the Rays’ sweep of the Royals in which they made three consecutive eighth inning comebacks, it was time for a series in Chicago and a place on the losing end of baseball history. On Thursday, July 23, White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle dominated the Rays for nine innings with no hits, no walks and no errors. A perfect game. Not even the old Devil Rays were ever victimized by perfection. But Buehrle did just that. Center fielder Dewayne Wise, who nearly robbed Cliff Floyd’s walkoff home run last year, deserves a lot of credit. He made arguably the play of the decade in the ninth inning to rob Gabe Kapler of a home run. So the Rays have made history in one of the worst possible ways.
I honestly have thought since last season that this team was the type that could be perfected. They strike out all the time and have trouble with certain types of pitchers, most notably lefthanders who change speeds. That is Mark Buehrle. Rays fans have to watch these highlights forever now, so I hope this is not all the 2009 team is remembered for. Congratulations anyway to Buehrle.
Saturday afternoon started out just as badly, but later became one of the Rays’ greatest days. David Price’s fastball only reached the high 80s and he was torched for six runs in three innings by the Blue Jays. Tampa Bay trailed 80 through four innings and later fell behind 91. At that point I said that the Rays could bring in Fred Flintstone to pitch and it would make no difference. Then it happened professional hitters actually started hitting. Carlos Pena hit a threerun triple off the wall in right center field that instantly cut the deficit to 94. It was 97 by the time the ninth inning rolled around. The battling offense and good bullpen work kept the Rays alive. Pena hit a towering home run off Scott Downs to make it 98. Willy Aybar, who had handed the Blue Jays at least one first inning run due to defensive ineptitude, then proved his worth by blasting a pitch to center field, over the head of Vernon Wells and over the wall.
Tie game. The Rays had come back from eight runs down to even it up, on the road no less. The game dragged on into the 12th inning, when Tampa Bay castoff Shawn Camp surrendered a goahead double to Jason Bartlett. Joe Nelson (in because J.P. Howell had already been used) walked three of his first four batters to load the bases. Could this comeback really go to waste? Aaron Hill thought it could. He had already hit two home runs. No third time charm, however, as Nelson struck him out to preserve the lead. Adam Lind then fell to The Great Equalizer by grounding out to second base. Rays win 109, capping off the biggest comeback in team history. They desperately needed that game to keep up the pace with the Yankees.
After a 64 roadtrip, those Yankees are next on the schedule. They enter Tropicana Field for a huge threegame series that could drastically alter the playoff race. With the Rays pitching their aces in this series, it’s about time to show the old news who the new kids are, just like we did in 2008. The Rays might have a better team on paper, so they should prove that on their home field. Until next time, go Rays.