Tagged: Andy Sonnanstine

The 2009 Season Is Unofficially Over

The title says everything.

The Rays went 1–5 in their last homestand, their worst since 2005, then tanked a four–game series with the Yankees in which they got torched in a doubleheader, gave up a walk–off home run and blew an eighth inning lead. Perhaps worst of all, they lost Carlos Pena for the rest of the season.

Here is a little rant I wrote, initially submitted to my college newspaper’s sports blog:

The
Tampa Bay Rays effectively eliminated themselves from MLB playoff contention this past week thanks to an exhausted bullpen and a mismanaged squad.

The Rays faced a season–deciding homestand with the rival Boston Red Sox and the Detroit Tigers. The Red Sox held a four–game lead in the Wild Card standings, so the Rays had to win that series to realistically have a shot at toppling them.

Joe Maddon made the decision to start Andy Sonnanstine in game one against Jon Lester. While Lester has had a subpar history against the Rays, he has been an outstanding pitcher for three years. On the contrary, Sonnanstine had good career marks against Boston, but had struggled so badly this season that he spent two months in the minor leagues.

Nonetheless, Maddon chose him to replace the traded Scott Kazmir in the biggest game of the season. The strategy blew up in their faces.

Sonnanstine only lasted four innings, allowing five runs — three earned — as his defense and pinpoint command betrayed him. The Rays lost 8–4.

Following the game, Maddon took the surprising step of defending his pitcher, saying he “threw the ball really well.” Really, Mr. Manager of the Year?

How, exactly, does a finesse pitcher issue four walks, just two strikeouts and two home runs and throw really well? Maddon is stretching it in his defense of Sonnanstine. We respect you and think you have done a good job with the young guys. But just admit you made the wrong decision. It would be a first.

The Rays beat Josh Beckett the following night on ESPN thanks to a home run barrage of their own. Even so, Maddon used seven pitchers in his effort to micromanage every matchup. Three of his relievers issued costly late-inning walks and were pulled out of the fire by a three–run Rays eighth inning.

There would be no saves made in the must–win series finale. Boston beat the Rays 6–3 to take the series. Two relievers, again brought in for matchup purposes, allowed two late insurance runs that sealed their team’s fate. The number crunching does not always work, and it failed Maddon miserably in this series.

The Rays then had the daunting task of hosting the Detroit Tigers, who led the Central division entering Tropicana Field.

The first game had the Rays and Tigers tied at one entering the final inning. J.P. Howell, normally the closer, promptly allowed Detroit to take a 3–1 lead on a hit and two walks. Again playing the matchup game, Maddon replaced him with another left-hander, Randy Choate.

Choate allowed a hit to score a fourth run — one that would decide the game, as a comeback attempt by Tampa Bay ended in a 4–3 defeat with two runners stranded in scoring position.

Game two saw the Rays leap out to a 4–1 lead after just one inning. James Shields allowed six runs, but the game was ultimately lost by the bullpen. Three relievers combined to allow the decisive runs to score in an 8–6 loss.

The finale was the most gutwrenching blow. Up 3–1 in the ninth inning, Lance Cormier struck out the first Tigers hitter. Maddon inexplicably removed him for hard-throwing Grant Balfour, who walked Miguel Cabrera. Howell was next, and he walked a pinch-hitter and found himself pulled. Russ Springer then entered the game to deal with right–handed hitters.

After a hit loaded the bases, All-Star Brandon Inge stepped up with a golden opportunity to give Detroit the lead. He fell to a 2–2 count, then got a hanging slider. He proceeded to hit it to Timbuktu.

By that, I mean it was about a 400–foot grand slam. The life was zapped from the Rays yet again. When Maddon returned to make yet another pitching change, he was booed by the home crowd. This may be the first time he has ever deserved such an indignity. But he brought it upon himself.

The Rays did not beat the Red Sox and Tigers, nor did they beat the Rays. The Rays beat themselves.

And
Joe Maddon may have beaten himself out of the playoffs.

That is about as accurately as I could have summarized that painful week in Rays history. They have now lost eight consecutive games and will now have to travel to Fenway Park in an effort to help the Texas Rangers earn a playoff spot. Personally, I’m cheering for the Rangers.

I have also come across a very interesting system created by Cubs fans: the Hate–Dex 2000 Ratings System. It is a series of arbitrarily assigned hate points to a series of players on the team. Explanations should also be provided. Naturally, everyone would have different opinions on this subject, but I feel the need to post mine. So here they are.

Pat Burrell (Hate–Dex Rating: 18) – I know you had a strained neck early this season, but seriously, who turned you into Adam Everett? Half the home runs, 80% of the batting average and all the strikeouts. You better hit 35 home runs in 2010.

B.J. Upton (HDR: 17) – A man named Desmond Jennings is at Durham waiting to take your job. He is basically you without the strikeouts. You can’t even catch up to an 89 mile–per–hour fastball anymore, which would make several of our coaches better hitters than you.

Dioner Navarro (HDR: 16) – Please pretend to act like you care. Baseball is a game of adjustments, so when pitchers adjusted to you after your .295 2008 season, you responded by hitting in the .220s and short–hopping throws like never before. I’m thankful you lost in arbitration. Your next adjustment will be to that hard wooden bench.

Andy Sonnanstine (HDR: 13) – “Epic fail” would be a good assessment of your season. Maybe even an understatement. You went from fourth starter to AAA journeyman overnight. How does a pitcher of your style give away so many walks and get hit as hard as you have? Keep your stuff packed, you may be next on the train out of town.

Grant Balfour (HDR: 12) – Speaking of adjustments, I knew hitters would adapt to you. But where have you gone? Pitches that used to finish the big bats now end up on somebody’s mantle as a souvenir. At least you admitted recently that you have been “freaking terrible,” so that knocks off a few points. But please, shake yourself and trust what got you here.

Carlos Pena (HDR: 10) – You hit 39 home runs this year, a phenomenal figure. But the price you paid was… well, everything else. More errors in the field and a batting average lower than those of some pitchers. That uppercut strikeout/foul back swing should have resulted in even more home runs. Though you are by all accounts a nice guy off the field, as am I, all the strikeouts made me want to break your bat over your head.

J.P. Howell (HDR: 8) – Your statline still looks decent and you have made some nice saves. But please for the love of the Rays quit bouncing pitches in front of the plate. This has been a recurring theme all season, and now maybe you have finally had a wake–up call by costing us important runs bouncing the ball away. If you would stop skipping stones so much and actually pitch like you did before, our team would be easier to watch.

James Shields (HDR: 4) – Every time I watch you, you pitch at one of two levels: mediocre and bad. I’m shocked your ERA is still under 4.00. You have been jobbed out of a few wins by your team, but a little consistency would be appreciated.

Carl Crawford (HDR: 2) – You’re not running so much anymore. That takes away from our offense. Try a bit harder in these last few weeks. Run when we need you to and make your stats look better. It’s a win–win situation.

That’s about it for hating on our players. I’ll be cheering them on to whatever they can accomplish for the rest of the season, but any playoff hopes are now dead. Until next time and next year, go Rays.

UPDATE (9/11/09): My Rays rant was posted by The Minaret. You can find the published version here.

Kazmir and Bradford Up, Sonnanstine and Abreu Down

Mere minutes after the Rays defeated the Florida Marlins 7–3 in Friday night’s game at Tropicana Field, major changes to the roster were announced. Scott Kazmir returns from the disabled list, where he had been with a quadriceps strain/mechanical problem. Returning from elbow surgery, Chad Bradford will be making his 2009 Rays debut this weekend. The victims here were relief pitcher Winston Abreu, who was designated for assignment, and starter Andy Sonnanstine, whose 6.61 ERA this season ranked him the worst in the league among qualifiers and got him sent to AAA Durham.

Abreu didn’t do too badly from what I saw. He was dominating at Durham. Hopefully he stays in this organization and continues what he did before at that level.

Sonnanstine’s demotion to AAA has been long–awaited. This season, at least. His frequently giving up home runs and five–run innings became too much for everyone to handle. After two years straight in the Major Leagues, he now returns to Durham to fix… whatever his problem is. From the playoff starting rotation to this. I don’t know what’s wrong with him. Hopefully he, like Kazmir, figures it out.

Speaking of Kazmir, he will start the Saturday night Citrus Series game against the Marlins. He did very well in rehab, not only healing that quadriceps but finding and straightening out pitching delivery flaws. He wasn’t driving off of his back leg, which reduced his fastball to about a AA level pitch. He’s good at 94 miles per hour, but worthless at 88. He’s no J.P. Howell, but now he’s finally getting back on track.

Chad Bradford also makes his season debut. He was a major presence in last year’s bullpen after being picked up off waivers from Baltimore. His unusual delivery and high rate of ground ball outs make him a big time commodity. He’s a great postseason pitcher and tends to at least do well regardless of the situation. We needed him back, and now we have him to give us another intriguing option.

If you can attend these home games in any possible way, please go. The attendance is looking somewhat dismal so far. But I do hear that the Rays are considering a Hillsborough County stadium (finally, please build it soon), so revenue and higher crowds may be forthcoming. Until next time, go Rays.

Citrus Series Game One: Rays Beatdown

The Rays went down to Miami and took care of business early, jumping out to a 13–0 lead in just the third inning and going on to win 15–2 behind Andy Sonnanstine.

B.J. Upton led off with a hit (surprise!), then stole a base, and a Jason Bartlett two–run double gave Tampa Bay the first runs of the game.  A second inning six–run onslaught ensued against embattled starter Ricky Nolasco, featuring home runs from Dioner Navarro (2) and Carlos Pena (15).  Both guys were in droughts in that department and finally picked it up with help from that south Florida humidity.  Navarro had a four–hit night, his best game of the season.  The third inning featured five more runs against reliever David Davidson (that’s not a redundant name), who threw 52 pitches during that time.

Hanley Ramirez’s home run that made it a measly 13–1 gave Sonnanstine his only earned run in six strong innings.  It was perhaps a turning point in his season, as his last start began to be.  He singled in his first at–bat, then later walked, scoring twice.  The bat was still there after the short layoff.

Gabe Gross hit a two–run home run, his second of the year, late in the game.  He was in need, too.  That’s good for him, especially against a left handed pitcher, even in a landslide game.  Reid Brignac scored on that play following his first Major League hit, a single to center field.  Congratulations, Reid.

Dale Thayer made his MLB debut in relief, pitching three innings to earn his first save.  He gave up a meaningless run on a Dan Uggla double, but pitched very effectively and had a good 92–94 MPH fastball working.  He also displayed a nice, new moustache to commemorate the occasion.  He is a late bloomer, but I think he may be for real as a middle reliever.  I liked him at Durham last year and it’s about time he got at least a brief stint in Tampa Bay.

Every starter in the Rays lineup had at least one hit, and everyone who hit except Thayer and Ben Zobrist (who did make a nice sliding catch in left field) got on base.  Everyone contributed.  That is the best way to win.  Every single person did something positive for this team.  I commend them all.

Ross Gload of the Marlins became the second position player to pitch against the Rays this season.  He stranded a runner at third base when Thayer broke his bat hitting the ball back to the mound.  Gload went to The University of South Florida, so he is no stranger to Tampa.  Still, his team lost.

Another bit of good news is, while the Rays helped my National League favorite Braves, the Braves gave them a boost in return.  Kenshin Kawakami broke out of a cold streak and outdueled Roy Halladay to give Atlanta a 1–0 victory over the Blue Jays, who are due for some more losses.  Both starters gave up zero runs, but the Braves’ Matt Diaz scored on a an eighth inning sacrifice fly by Casey Kotchman  The game ended on a very close play when Martin Prado bobbled a ground ball, then caught it out of the air and fired in stride.  A great stretch by Kotchman got the out for Mike Gonzalez and the Braves won a game they were given very little chance to win.  Kawakami deserves a round of applause.  This is what he came to America to do.  How about a few more, please?

Everyone starts from scratch tomorrow as Jeff Niemann goes for the Rays against… they don’t know, apparently.  They need to make a decision quickly or the Rays will just beat them badly again.  Maybe even by forfeit.  That would be sweet.  By the way, the Rays officially called up David Price to start Monday’s game in Cleveland.  Show them again why you are the heir to the throne.  Until next time, go Rays.

Tampa and Cleveland, Welcome to Bizzaro World

Today I, and thousands of other fans, witnessed a baseball game out of an Abbott and Costello routine and the Major League trilogy.  The Tampa Bay Rays hosted the Cleveland Indians in one of the most unusual, yet amusing, games that we have ever seen.

The Rays ran into some unconventional trouble in the first inning.  Ben Zobrist was scheduled to play third base while Evan Longoria played the role of designated hitter for one day to give him a small amount of rest.  However, Indians manager Eric Wedge noticed a glaring mistake on the Rays’ lineup card.  Both Zobrist and Longoria were listed as “5,” meaning third base.  Zobrist entered as the official third baseman, which led to a long discussion of the rules.  Ultimately, the Rays lost their designated hitter and were forced to bat the pitcher, Andy Sonnanstine, in the third spot.  Longoria would be able to enter the game later off the bench.

So, for the first time since 1999, an American League pitcher was in a starting lineup in a non–interleague game.  In the fourth inning with his team up 6–3 in the middle of a scoring barrage, Sonnanstine delivered an RBI double over the head of left fielder Ryan Garko.  This is even more impressive, considering that he bats left handed.  It was the first time since 1972 that an American League starting pitcher had driven in a run in a standard American League game.

Sonnanstine did have a kryptonite in the Cleveland lineup: Ben Francisco.  Entering the game, Francisco was 4–for–5 with two home runs against Andy.  His first at–bat saw a 3–1 pitch clear the wall for a three–run home run to give the Indians what was then a 3–1 lead.  Then his next time up, he took him out yet again.  That’s 6–for–7 with four home runs against one pitcher.  Other than his dominance, Sonnanstine pitched well, allowing five runs (four RBI by Francisco) in nearly six innings.  Grant Balfour escaped a jam and pitched a full inning before J.P. Howell got him out of his own jam.

Then the top of the eighth inning came.  With Howell on the mound and one out, Garko hit a long drive to left field that looked as if it could clear the wall.  Carl Crawford leaped as high as he could, deflecting the ball with his glove, off the top of the green wall padding, back down into his waiting hands.  But third base umpire Andy Fletcher did not see the ball bounce off the wall, believing Crawford’s glove bounced it back up and calling Garko out.  A dispute by Eric Wedge was futile, but replays showed that Garko should have had a double.  If I were an Indians fan, I would scream about this and say it should be reviewable through video.  But as a Rays fan, when we have had so many calls go against us that we have lost count, I don’t have as much sympathy when we get a break.  It almost feels like vindication.

But I still think that play should be reviewable.

The bottom half gave us one final reason not to sympathize with the Indians.  With two out and Akinori Iwamura at first base, closer Kerry Wood entered the game in place of soft–throwing Matt Herges.  He promptly threw his first pitch behind B.J. Upton.  Embittered catcher Victor Martinez acted nonchalantly as if he knew it was coming.  But, even after yesterday’s John Lackey incident, the umpires issued no warnings.  The second pitch also drifted far inside.  At 96 miles per hour.  Again, not even a warning.  Joe Maddon knew that home plate umpire Ted Barrett had relinquished control of the game and thrown his team to the wolves, so he marched out of the dugout and exchanged some expletives with the men behind the plate.  Martinez fired back in kind, which prompted Carl Crawford to run out of the dugout at his lightning pace and clear the benches.

It’s on.  Once you get served and you serve them back, it’s on.

Crawford was restrained by Barrett and Jim Hickey as the Rays commentators said that the umpires let it get out of hand and that Cleveland “asked for it.”  Both were solid observations, seeing how the Rays did nothing wrong and Cleveland brought in a hard–throwing closer when they were trailing just so they could send some petty message.  Joe Maddon said later that he thought it traced back to Upton stealing third base on Thursday night when Tampa Bay was down 9–0.  If they were leading 9–0, I would see the point.  But down by that much, you are just trying to score.  The Rays did score, and even made a game of it, exhausting the Indians’ bullpen.  That is baseball; it is certainly nothing to fight about.

Of course, the Howell vs. Martinez incident (which I believe was a slipped pitch and an irrational response by Martinez) had something to do with the tensions boiling over.  The Rays were just playing winning baseball and defending themselves.  Clearly, the Indians don’t take kindly to losing, and at 14–25, they have become accustomed to it.  They (and the umpires who let it get this far) brought the wrath upon themselves.  They deserved to get chewed out.  Who were they protecting by trying to hit B.J.?  I can’t think of anyone other than Martinez, and he was unjustified.

I can safely say that I lost some respect for the Indians organization this weekend.

By the way, Troy Percival hit the leadoff man in the ninth inning, but on an 0–2 pitch it was clearly accidental.  A bad sign for us, but accidental.  He came back strong by striking out the next two hitters and inducing a fly ball that landed into the glove of the diving Crawford, who caught it cleanly this time.  The Rays take the series with a 7–5 victory.

The Rays have won four out of their last five games and will now host the Oakland A’s for four more games before returning to the road.  The Citrus Series begins Friday night in Miami.  And I hope the Indians lose to the Royals everytime they face each other for the remainder of the season.  If the Rays can’t win a championship, I would like to see Kansas City do it.  Until next time, go Rays.

Road Splits and Not Giving Up Just Yet

I was on vacation for a few days in New Smyrna Beach as a three–week school break began, so I decided to wait until the conclusion of this roadtrip to comment about it.  The last two series were not exactly what the Rays ordered, but they did return from the seven–game tour at 4–3.

They had their bats full with the Red Sox in Fenway Park during the weekend.  Friday was a difficult loss featuring James Shields wasting a 3–0 lead with his magic Boston curse.  In fact, the sixth inning had Boston score five times on Jason Bay and J.D. Drew home runs.  With nobody out.  Good thing I was watching something on my DVR during that inning.  For that I still have my living room TV.  The Rays never recovered, losing 7–3.

Saturday was the highlight of the series as the Rays marched to a 14–5 win, despite the first home runs of the year from Rocco Baldelli and Julio Lugo, both former Tampa Bay starters.  Scott Kazmir picked up the victory behind, among other things, Evan Longoria’s 11th home run.

Sunday was an immensely frustrating loss.  It could become a DVD titled “Everything Wrong With the Rays.”  They held onto a tie until the bottom of the eighth inning, when David Ortiz and Jason Bay manufactured a run with the Green Monster and the Red Sox took a 4–3 lead.  Akinori Iwamura reached second base against Jonathan Papelbon, then Jason Bartlett singled to shallow center field, slowly enough so Iwamura could score… except he didn’t.  He held up as he was not entirely sure the ball would drop.  I had just finished telling my dad the Rays had tied the game when I saw him standing at third base.  Game not tied.  At that point, though I certainly didn’t want to, I pessimistically thought “no way this run scores.”  Especially when Carlos Pena pinch hit.  He can hit boatloads of home runs, but it is either that or a strikeout.  And once it gets to two strikes, the third one should just be spotted.  Sure enough, strikeout number one.  B.J. Upton (translate B.J. into slang and that has been his 2009 season) then became strikeout number two as high fastballs failed him yet again.  Carl Crawford pulled the same “I don’t hit fastballs” crap and became strikeout number three.  This finished off possibly the season’s worst loss.

After an actual off day (for once), it was off to Baltimore to face the Orioles to find out who belonged in last place.  The Rays went down 1–0 in the first inning, then scored five on a long series of hits to take a four–run lead against former (Devil) Ray Mark Hendrickson.  Andy Sonnanstine proceeded to give every run back and hand the Orioles the game.  Adam Jones topped it off with his second home run of the game, worth three runs.  Scoring was halted after the third inning as Brian Bass shut Tampa Bay down with four shutout innings in relief.  Baltimore won, 7–5.

The turnaround would begin the next night with Jeff Niemann facing Brad Bergesen.  If they couldn’t win this game, they would be in dead last place and their season facing an early crash.  Another former Tampa Bay regular, Ty Wigginton, gave the Orioles a quick lead with a home run.  He would end up with three hits.  Jason Bartlett then hit his fifth home run of the year to tie the game.  This also ties his career high for home runs in a season, set in 2007 with the Twins.  (Bartlett would later steal his ninth base in 10 tries.)  Tied at two in the sixth inning, the Rays took a 4–2 lead, then put together a monster insurance inning with four runs against Bob McCrory, who was sent to AAA after the game.  B.J. Upton had a three–hit game for the first time since last postseason, and Pena went 2–for–3 with two walks and three runs scored.  For the first time all season (seemingly, at least), he had no strikeouts.  With an 8–2 lead and Niemann in line for the win, in came Troy Percival.  It was time for every fan’s favorite nightmare…

The Troy Percival Tank Show!

It started with a double by light–hitting Cesar Izturis.  Then Brian Roberts, one of Baltimore’s notorious Rays killers, hit his fifth home run of the year (third against Tampa Bay) into the right field seats.  Then Felix Pie, who hits a home run once per lunar eclipse, smashed a room service fastball about 420 feet over the center field wall.  The panic button had to be hit, even after Nick Markakis was retired on a flyout.  Aubrey Huff (another former Devil Ray and one of those Rays killers) doubled to right field, advancing when Gabe Gross lost the ball behind him.  So much for Percival’s streak of good outings.  It was past the time to drag him off the mound, so Joe Maddon did just that and called upon J.P. Howell.  Huff scored on a Melvin Mora single.  Lou Montanez was then retired on a fielder’s choice.  Wigginton came up, looking to tie the game and knowing that he destroys left–handed pitching.  However, his fourth hit would never arrive as he chopped the ball to Longoria, who threw to Iwamura for the long–awaited final out.  The Rays pulled out an 8–6 victory.

Here is Mr. Percival after the game:

“I felt good and there was no excuse for it.  I was just getting underneath the ball, which I didn’t think I was doing down in the bullpen.  But that’s the strongest my arm has felt in two years. And I was just throwing the ball down the middle.  I guess I should have treated it more like a one–run game and really focused on hitting my edges and what have you.”

Why, exactly, would he think he is the Percival of 1999 instead of 2009?  His 97–mile–an–hour fastball could have been unhittable then, but now all the pitch is good for is a souvenir.  I know it was a six–run lead, but nearly every strike he threw was being hit hard.  He can’t even make winning as fun as it should be.  Troy should be thankful for the insurance runs and for Howell’s bailout.  (Jason Isringhausen has done well in rehab and may be on his way up too, so his spot is possibly in serious danger.)

Now for Carl Crawford watch: he has stolen 22 bases in as many attempts.  He also left the last game with a bruised shoulder after making a great diving catch.  Ben Zobrist performed admirably in his place.

Pat Burrell was also out with an injury, sent back to Tampa with a neck ailment.  This may very well be what has slowed down his performance this season.  He has not been fully able to finish off swings and look directly at the pitcher to follow the ball.  So it is time for a cure and, soon after, the home runs we have been expecting.

As I noted earlier, the Rays still finished 4–3 on this roadtrip despite its turbulent nature and bitter losses. Even with the above rants and problems, it is a relief to at least escape with series splits.  Now they return home to face the Indians and A’s.  I am looking to get tickets to one of these games, but I don’t know which one yet.  Please, if you can, get out to Tropicana Field during this homestand.  There will be lower attendances expected and fewer opposing fans.  This is a great time to catch Rays baseball live.  They can use the support and the home wins.  Especially against teams they are supposed to beat.  Until next time, go Rays.

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.

Red Sox Nation Going Down in Flames

The first half of this Rays–Red Sox series at Tropicana Field could not have gone much better for our home team.  13–0 and 6–2 wins are always great ways to kick off rivalry series.  Especially when it is the first time in 18 days that they have won consecutive games.

Matt Garza was at possibly his best ever, right up there with that start in Miami last season, throwing six perfect innings as his team hammered Josh Beckett.  One infield hit by Jacoby Ellsbury and a walk to David Ortiz was all Boston had against Garza.  The Rays piled on a few multiple–run innings, including the embarrassment of reliever Javier Lopez, who was switched around with Jonathan Van Every and placed in right field.  Michel Hernandez, who hit his first Major League home run during this game, proceeded to hit a ball right by Lopez for his first career double.  It was cruise control from that point in the Rays’ 13–0 victory.

The Friday night game was another epic battle that will not be forgotten anytime soon.  I attended the festivities in section 147, around left center field.  I had a most interesting view for the happenings of the fifth inning.

The Rays went down 2–0 entering that inning, then loaded the bases by way of hits, walks and even a sacrifice bunt by Dioner Navarro.  B.J. Upton hit a 3–2 pitch far enough for a sacrifice fly to cut the deficit in half.  Crawford walked to reload the bases, bringing up Evan Longoria with his golden opportunity.  He went down 0–2 to Justin Masterson, took two straight balls, then smashed one high, deep to left field…

GRAND SLAM!

I have almost never seen a live Rays crowd as jubilant as that one was.  I have certainly never seen a game turn around on one swing like that, as thousands of Red Sox fans were instantly silenced.  This could be a major turning point in this 2009 season.  Carlos Pena hit his 10th home run just two pitches later to extend it to a 6–2 lead.  From there the win was more automatic than I feared it would be as the bullpen shut it down effectively.

Now, some live game notes:

–There were indeed thousands of Red Sox fans in the building, and in the early innings they even sounded like a majority.  Rays fans worked hard to drown out several “Let’s Go Red Sox” chants.  The guys behind me were ragging on the Rays, talking about the “dump” we call a stadium and how the Rays were good one year and now have 5,000 fans.  First, do some research, and secondly, go the hell back to Boston if you hate us and our dome.  I let the Rays speak for me on the field to silence those guys.

–Around the top of the sixth inning (or seventh, I’m not sure), the Rays fans in my row to my right were confronted by a drunk, angry Red Sox fan who looked like a 16–year–old basement dweller.  Apparently, “Let’s Go Rays” was all he needed to pick a good fight.  He started egging them on, asking repeatedly what they just said to him and if they wanted to go.  The Rays fans basically said it was nothing to fight over.  This guy disagreed, and as security ran up the stairs, he threw a haymaker right into the face of a fan about four or five seats down from me.  He went from being escorted out of the stadium to being escorted to jail facing an assault charge.  The group made witness statements and will be pressing charges.

Now, this is not an indication of the attitudes of Red Sox fans, or those of any other team.  But this ignorant fan took his team love/hatred a bit too far.  It’s nothing like international soccer, but we Americans should be more civilized than picking random fights with opposing fans.  Every game would end in riot if we all did that.  I had to restrain myself from popping the guys behind me during the early innings.  But I knew the consequences of doing such a thing and how that would have made me look.  This guy, and other fans involved in at least two other fights, singled themselves out as the idiots of the bunch.  I personally hope they are banned for life from Tropicana Field — if not for fighting, then for serious stupidity.

For the record, a few Red Sox fans around us did chastise the one who picked the fight.  Again, it’s not all of them.

–As for the game, the crowd turned right around into a massive “Let’s Go Rays””chant after the fifth inning home runs.  A “Boston Sucks” chant also started near the end of the game.

–I’m not sure why only 27,045 people showed up.  Maybe it’s the economy?  I could barely afford the tickets that I had.

–A large contingent of University of Tampa fans were shown on the big screen during the game.  Amazingly, for a school with so many northeastern transplants and thus, Red Sox fans, it was a largely pro–Rays group in the Party Deck.  They even got on TV with Todd Kalas.  Cheers to my school for that recognition.

It’s right back to business tonight as Jeff Niemann looks for his, and the team’s, third straight win.  And I personally have final projects to complete for school.  I don’t know how much of the games I can watch, but I know they are on TBS tomorrow.  Until next time, go Rays.