The 2008 World Series started unfavorably for our Tampa Bay Rays, but has now been evened up. The series is tied at one as it heads north to Philadelphia. It was very refreshing to see the Rays come back, just as they did against the Red Sox, and avenge a game one home loss to make things easier on themselves.
Game one of this World Series was started by the Rays’ Scott Kazmir and the Phillies’ Cole Hamels. Kazmir was quickly tagged in the first inning by a two run home run from Chase Utley. This sent the Rays to the plate in a manner in which they are accustomed: down. They were dominated, with the exception of a Carl Crawford home run and a two out RBI from Akinori Iwamura. Hamels brought his Agame, but while Kazmir pitched well and the bullpen held down the fort, the Phillies never surrendered their early lead. Brad Lidge made a save against the 345 hitters look like a Class A rehab stint. They held on to defeat the Rays 32 and steal a big road game at Tropicana Field.
Game two, meanwhile, would be a very different story. James Shields took the ball against Brett Myers. Almost everyone expected this one to go the Rays’ way and tie the series. From the first inning on, this sentiment proved accurate. Tampa Bay took its turn at attacking in the first inning, going up 20 on a walk, a single and a critical onebase error that allowed the next two groundouts to score runs. There you have it, Phillies fans: Blame Jayson Werth for bobbling the ball. They would manufacture two more runs to go up 40. The Rays actually caught a huge umpiring break from Kerwin Danley when he allowed Rocco Baldelli to walk rather than striking out on a check swing. He would later score. Big Game James left surprisingly early, after 5.2 shutout innings, but he certainly did his job in keeping his team ahead. Dan Wheeler came in and scared me before escaping a sixth inning jam without a run scoring on his way to one full scoreless inning. After he struck out Werth with a runner on base, Joe Maddon boldly and wisely summoned David Price in for the long haul. He escaped that jam with the 40 lead. He gave up a home run to, of all people, extremely lighthitting Eric Bruntlett, then a ninth inning run on an error by Evan Longoria. (Sidenote: What is it with all the infield errors lately? What are they, the Bad News Rays?) However, Price struck out Chase Utley on three sliders, then induced a Ryan Howard groundout to end the game. The Rays won their first World Series game, 42, and tied the series.
Game three will feature a battle of opposites as Matt Garza faces Jamie Moyer. Garza = Young hardthrowing right hander. Moyer = 45yearold soft left hander. By the way, the first game drew a 9.2 broadcast rating on FOX, winning the night against stiff competition. Who says the Rays can’t draw? Everyone? Well, as Lewis Black says, “Once again, the masses are wrong.” So until next time, go ratings winning Rays.
Well, if it isn’t the Rays coming back to shock the baseball world again. That was the theme of game two of the ALCS against the hated Red Sox. Down by one game with Scott Kazmir going up against postseason master Josh Beckett, the Rays desperately needed to win a game before flying to Boston.
But first, there was game one, which was at times utterly unwatchable. The Rays had no offense not even a hit until the seventh inning. James Shields pitched too well to lose. “Big Game James” proved his worth, even if nobody else did. Twice in the late innings they had runners on base with less than two outs, but the strikeouts and double plays that make the Rays ever so frustrating came back to bite them again. It was an embarrassment they would have to work double hard to avoid repeating.
Early on it looked as if the repeat would be happening. After retiring the first two hitters, Kazmir allowed a walk, a single and a two run double, all against hitters on whom he had two strikes. This bleak start was evened out in the bottom half when Evan Longoria waited on a hanging Beckett pitch and pulled it over the left field wall to make it 22. Just like game two in the White Sox series, Kazmir got in early trouble and the offense turned around to bail him out. B.J. Upton later showed his natural power once again with a towering home run that almost reached the Party Deck. Cliff Floyd hit his own home run to center field, at which point it was 53 Rays. But the Red Sox would come back yet again and take a 65 lead. Kazmir pitched 4.1 innings and allowed five earned runs. Beckett pitched the same inning total and gave up eight runs to the Rays, who took an 86 lead out of the fifth inning.
Just like all previous leads, however, this one was not safe. With the lead at 87 and the Rays four outs away from victory, Cardiac Dan Wheeler provided another example of why he is addressed as such. A 20 pitch flew over Dioner Navarro’s head to the backstop. Navarro rushed his throw to Wheeler at the plate, which bounced away to allow Dustin Pedroia (who already had two home runs off Kazmir) to tie the game. After that devastating turn of events, the Rays did get runners on base in the ninth inning. But to the surprise of nobody, Upton and Carlos Pena struck out to end that threat and move on to extra innings.
The tenth inning went by with very little happening. The Red Sox briefly threatened in inning number eleven, but they were quieted again by prerookie David Price to set up the bottom half. Wheeler pitched 3.1 innings, the longest he had gone since September of 2004 as a member of the New York
Choke Artists Mets. Other than the wild pitch that scored the tying run, which was not his baserunner, he pitched very well given his circumstances. He kept the game tied and gave his team opportunities to win for as long as he could possibly stand it. The Rays responded with a leadoff walk by Dioner Navarro against Mike Timlin. (The same Mike Timlin who just barely closed out the 1992 World Series, and the same Mike Timlin who served up a gamewinning three run home run to Carlos Pena last month.) Fernando Perez, who was narrowly kept on the roster (along with Edwin Jackson) over Eric Hinske, was called upon to pinch run. He was with the team for this sole purpose, and here was his opportunity. Another walk moved him into scoring position. This was where Perez’s presence would factor. He ran on a twostrike pitch to Jason Bartlett, who grounded out to third base. His jump on the pitch meant that the runners advanced to second and third base with only one out, which Navarro could not have done. The Red Sox intentionally walked Akinori Iwamura to get back to Upton. He hit a fly ball down the line, not very deep into right field. J.D. Drew positioned himself for the throw that could decide the game. With the blazing fast Perez running, he tagged up and tried to score.
Drew vs. Perez. Veteran vs. rookie. Dynamic allrounder vs. onetrick pony. What postseason baseball is all about. Over 35,000 people watched as Drew’s throw bounced twice…very slowly…and fell up the line into Jason Varitek’s glove. Perez, once and for all displaying his value to this Rays team, slid past him and easily scored the winning run. Rays win 98, and the series is tied heading to Fenway Park. One of the greatest games in recent postseason history, and the longest only behind that grueling Braves vs. Astros slugfest in 2005, had finally come to an end. The Rays jumped around in celebration, then went to sleep for the next 18 hours.
They will have to get right back up tomorrow when Matt Garza faces left hander Jon Lester in a battle of young firearms. Can the Rays take over the series lead and keep that momentum swing in their favor? I like their chances. And so does a 12yearold kid from Palmetto, Florida. He is such a dedicated Rays fan that he got a mohawk haircut to identify with the team. When his middle school suspended him (wrongly, in my book), the kid actually moved to St. Petersburg. Then he got to meet the Rays before an ALCS game. True story. Until next time, go Rays.
The end of last night's Rays game was almost as difficult to sit through as the Belmont Stakes, but they pulled out a 54 victory over the Rangers to guarantee a series win. Dan Wheeler, or “Cardiac Dan” as he has become known in Tampa Bay, almost let it get away in the ninth inning before he deflected a line drive by Milton Bradley, keeping it on the infield and allowing the final out to be made. Today, they go for the sweep as Matt Garza takes the mound.
Last night's game definitely had its dramatics and saviors. Bradley cut a 42 Rays lead in half with an eighth inning home run off Trever Miller. The Rays, however, picked up an insurance run thanks to the heroics of Jason Bartlett. After a single, he stole second and third bases while the next hitter walked, then scored on a wild pitch by Jamey Walker. This kind of speed and baserunning can win more games than you might think. Wheeler, who ended the eighth inning with an out, was now on to close it out. After two hits and a “walk” that should have been a strikeout because Chris Shelton swung about ¾ of the way around, the bases were loaded with one out. Josh Hamilton hit a laser beam towards the left side, which Bartlett quickly backhanded and threw over to second base for the force play. A run scored, but without Bartlett's stop, the game would have undoubtedly been tied. One close call later, and the Rays edged out a 54 victory. Bartlett deserves the credit for saving last night's game. Wheeler rightfully gave him his props after the game, and why not? Even when Wheeler wasn’t on his Agame, there was someone behind him to bail him out. Say what you will about Bartlett's low hitting totals, but his acquisition was one of the best things the Rays got done during the offseason.
As Todd Kalas said on last night’s postgame show, this schedule can be equated to a 26.2mile marathon. 62 out of 162 games are completed, leaving exactly 100 games to go. This is right around the 10mile mark of the marathon, and at ½ game behind Boston, the Rays are just off the pace and ready to strike. We’re ready now to see a sweep of the Rangers before it's off to Anaheim to face a team that already got swept at Tropicana Field. I'll be keeping tabs on that one to what level, I don't know, as my last week of the college quarter is upon me now. So until I can come back, go Rays.