Tagged: Evan Longoria

Split With Baltimore, Off to New York

The Rays’ brief homestand ended with a two–game split with the Baltimore Orioles, who nearly ran away with a sweep to knock Tampa Bay back into last place.  But we are thankful that they saved themselves in that second game.

The first game, however, was a disaster from the first pitch forward.  Literally — Scott Kazmir’s first pitch bounced about 10 feet behind Brian Roberts.  He and Adam Jones walked, setting up a home run from the always dangerous Nick Markakis.  It was 3–0 before the Rays even got one hitter out.  But I do have to say that Markakis is easily one of the league’s best hitters right now, yet he usually gets overlooked.  The Rays should be a bit more cautious with him.  They did manage to tie the game later on, but Baltimore stormed right back and a Roberts home run sealed an 8–4 defeat.

Game two, played on a Tuesday afternoon for a rather small crowd (combination of time, opposing team and economic state), started out well but then turned as disastrous as game one.  Carl Crawford’s leadoff hit led to a steal of second base, and this is where The Benny Hill Show started.  Gregg Zaun short–hopped the throw into center field, where Adam Jones vainly tried throwing Crawford out and ended up launching it into the third base dugout.  Crawford scored to give the Rays the lead.  Roberts then hit another home run, this time on a high fastball as opposed to a low changeup, to give the Orioles a 2–1 lead.  Zaun hit a fifth inning home run to double that margin.  It was his first of the year and only his second RBI.  Dating back to the walk–off grand slam last season against Troy Percival, he has given Rays fans nightmares.

Matt Garza ended up with a good outing (8 IP, 3 R, 2 ER), but Koji Uehara was like a Japanese Greg Maddux.  He allowed no hits after the first inning Crawford single.  That is, until inning number six.  This began another episode of…

Baltimore’s Funniest Road Videos!

A leadoff single by Gabe Kapler and a double from Dioner Navarro started it.  Those guys, at the bottom of the order in this game, needed a boost after their weak starts.  Evan Longoria then tied the game with a double following a Crawford RBI groundout.  The next inning was even better for the Rays, as they took the lead and held it for good.  B.J. Upton had managed to top his previous 0–for–19 fiasco with a 20 at–bat hitless streak.  That is, until an RBI double on an 0–2 pitch gave his team the lead and lifted some weight off of his bat.  Longoria, who had a home run in the previous game, made this game’s RBI total three with a two–run single.  Brian Shouse and Troy Percival closed out Garza and the Rays’ 6–3 win.

I would like to point out that Crawford has now stolen 19 consecutive bases to start the 2009 season.  Added to a successful attempt last year, he now has 20 in a row, a new franchise record that breaks the one he himself set in 2003.  Congratulations again, Carl, and I want to see this thing go as far as it can be pushed.

Now it’s off to new Yankee Stadium for the first time.  Andy Sonnanstine and Jeff Niemann are pitching for the Rays, so hopefully they get at least a split if not the sweep we all so desperately want and need.  Until next time, go Rays.

Advertisements

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.

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.

Rays Destroy Yankees in Home Opener

The American League Champion Tampa Bay Rays raised their banners for their division and league championships inside Tropicana Field on Monday evening.  Then they got down to big business and fired rockets all over the field in the process of throttling the New York Yankees, 15–5.

The Rays scored four first inning runs against Chien–Ming Wang, who left pitches up and just wasn’t his usual self.  Carlos Pena opened it up with a two–run double, then topped it off in the next inning with a towering grand slam that made it 9–0.  A six–RBI night for Pena proved that he is back in shape and ready to smash again.

Meanwhile, Jason Bartlett stole a base and later hit his second home run in as many games, topping his regular season total from 2008.  Carl Crawford, the only starter without a hit, still managed a stolen base following a walk.  Speaking of base stealing, B.J. Upton returned ready to strike, taking both second and third bases against Wang and Jorge Posada.  He also walked three times and made one of the top plays of the season, a no–look catch over the shoulder against the wall to rob Xavier Nady of extra bases.  Pat Burrell got himself into the home run column with a long blast off Edwar Ramirez.

Pitching–wise, Scott Kazmir went 6.2 innings and allowed three earned runs, though his performance was better than that indicated.  He walked nobody (yes, zero walks in a Kazmir start) and struck out six Yankees.  Lance Cormier pitched decently, but gave up two lame–duck runs before Brian Shouse shut it down.

The Yankees used Nick Swisher to pitch the bottom of the eighth inning.  As you may know, he is a position player.  He put the first two hitters on base before striking out Gabe Kapler (embarrassing) and allowing two short fly balls to escape with a perfect 0.00 ERA.  That and Swisher’s earlier home run were the highlights of their nightmare Monday.

The Rays have to do it all over again next time as Matt Garza takes on A.J. Burnett.  This is a big pitching matchup, but so was this last one and look how that turned out.  A great start, and now they can ride that momentum wave into a winning streak.  Until next time, go Rays.

Salvaging a Split in Baltimore

The Rays played one subpar game, then a horrible one before finally saving themselves in the finale of their weekend series at Camden Yards.

They narrowly lost the first game 5–4 when Akinori Iwamura, who couldn’t hit with two outs in the ninth inning with a firing squad in front of him, struck out to end the game.  Evan Longoria’s two home runs and Dioner Navarro’s line drive shot off George Sherrill were not enough to save Andy Sonnanstine, who uncharacteristically ran into walk problems early in the game.  The second game started and ended with Jeff Niemann, who made a case for David Price by surrendering five runs in the first inning, including a grand slam to Melvin Mora, whom I honestly thought wouldn’t be in the league by now.  They lost 6–0, the end coming when with two runners on base, Jason Bartlett — guess what? — struck out to end the game.

Before I get to the last game, I would like to address a few things that Joe Maddon and everyone else knows have been going wrong with the Rays.  They have been striking out too much, especially with runners on base.  They have left the bases loaded on multiple occasions with nothing to show for it.  They have left a small town on base during their first six games, which has Maddon telling his team to stop striking out and hitting meaningless flyouts.  They could really use some better situational hitting.

The Rays got their hitting in general rolling Sunday with an impressive 11–3 win.  After they left two men on base in the first inning, Carl Crawford lifted a three–run triple down the right field line to open up the scoring.  The Rays later got home runs out of Ben Zobrist on a line drive over the high right field wall, Jason Bartlett on a smash into the center field seats (you read that correctly), Evan Longoria on a line drive into the left field stands and Carlos Pena on a high fly ball just over that right field scoreboard.  James Shields was masterful, giving up only three hits and no runs in seven innings before leaving due to the huge lead.  After a scoreless inning from Dan Wheeler, Grant Balfour loaded the bases with nobody out and allowed two runs before mercifully being pulled.  Although a third run later scored on a double play, J.P. Howell got out of the inning and the game with a comfortable win.

Longoria has been killing the baseball in the first week of the season.  He is hitting .481 (13–27) with five home runs and only three strikeouts.  He also took an opportunity to steal a base yesterday, which I consider a nice bonus.  Now he just needs some lineup protection to keep up the pace.  Despite my previous knocks on him, Iwamura has been producing well so far.  His three hits in the last game make him 8–22 on the season, and he already has four walks and three stolen bases.  Crawford finally stole a base yesterday and is hitting .308.  Pena hasn’t been that great, but he has hit two convincing home runs.  Jason Bartlett hit .391 on the opening roadtrip.  So there have been a few big bats that just need to keep it going.

Speaking of which, another big bat is scheduled to return tonight.  B.J. Upton, the team’s center fielder and tablesetter, is coming back into the lineup for the Rays’ home opener.  The team optioned Matt Joyce to Durham to make room for Upton, who will bat leadoff and (hopefully) hit home runs and run circles around everyone.  He can be an additional spark plug who can give this team more critical wins and push them into another playoff race.  We’ll see how he is when he takes the field.  I can see it only going uphill from here.

The Rays play their first home game tonight at Tropicana Field, kicking off Championship Week against the New York Chokees Yankees.  The pennant is raised tonight and championship rings are to be given out tomorrow night.  Scott Kazmir beating Chien–Ming Wang would be a great start.  Until next time, go Rays.

Rays Win 2 Out of 3 Over Red Sox

The Tampa Bay Rays rebounded from an Opening Day mishap to take two out of their first three games of the year in Fenway Park.

Evan Longoria came up huge in the second and third games with a home run in each game and three hits in the finale.  He also had two RBI in the first game.  After an atrocious start, Carlos Pena took the much–hyped Jon Lester 420 feet out to dead center field to assure victory in game two.  Jason Bartlett continued striking out too much, but getting hits whenever he did make contact.  That safety squeeze play by him and Gabe Kapler made Lester completely clueless.  Matt Joyce and Shawn Riggans also hit home runs in that third game, each one critical as the Rays edged out a 4–3 win.

Pitching was also effective in this series, despite the rocky start by James Shields.  Shields’ career home ERA was 3.21 and his road ERA was 4.82 entering this season.  He can just never find a routine away from Tropicana Field.  Scott Kazmir and Matt Garza were each excellent in their own ways en route to victory.  How they held the Red Sox to one run apiece is almost beyond me, but they are great pitchers, so they can figure out even the best of lineups.  Joe Nelson was good, though a little scary.  Lance Cormier held the fort down well in the first game. Grant Balfour was looking strong, especially with the changes to his style — he is now painting 94–95 mile an hour fastballs on the corners as opposed to firing 97 MPH over peoples’ heads and drawing futile swings.  He also mixes in an occasional curveball, which was actually called a “plus pitch” by people who worked with him at Durham.  Troy Percival still scares me, but he did manage to earn the save in the final game despite Jason Varitek’s home run.

A good start for Tampa Bay, indeed, but a tragic start on the West Coast.  22–year–old Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart, hours after pitching six scoreless innings against the Oakland A’s, died in a hit–and–run traffic accident in Fullerton, California.  Adenhart had been projected as a top prospect for the Angels and could have been great within a short time.  But now the team and his family have lost him to a senseless drunk driving crash.  Hopefully there is justice for all when the ensuing case wraps up, but the pitcher and the man lost, as well as the lives of two others, can never be replaced.  R.I.P. Nick Adenhart.

As life and baseball move forward, the Rays travel to Baltimore to face the Orioles three times before coming home for the first time in 2009.  Baltimore just won their opening series against the Yankees, so they should be taken seriously.  If the Rays do that, they are in good shape.  Until next time, go Rays.

Rays Winning Awards Across the Board

I am back on MLBlogs for my first offseason update regarding the Rays.  As the title of the post states, while the Rays failed to acquire Matt Holliday, they captured a mantle full of hardware.

Carlos Pena’s defense was given its due recognition as he won his first Gold Glove Award at first base.  Seeing as he lead the American League with a .998 fielding percentage at his position, worked in sync with his infielders by catching throws at all different angles and served as a motivational leader to them and his pitchers, he really earned this distinction.  He takes pride in defense, which is often undervalued at first base.  I can’t recall how many times I saw him reach low to the ground to grab throws from across the diamond and save runs.  Congratulations, Carlos — hopefully this is the beginning of a streak.

Evan Longoria won the award he only had one chance to capture, and did so unanimously.  He became the first unanimous Rookie of the Year since Nomar Garciaparra in 1997, one year before Tampa Bay’s team first played.  Hitting .272 with 27 home runs despite spending two weeks in AAA and over a month out injured, he banked on his opportunity in every possible way.  He was a defensive wizard with an explosive bat who earned a long–term contract after only two months, and an All Star Game appearance after three months.  Without his contributions, there was no way the Rays would have won their division.  By the way, Alexei Ramirez finished in second place and Jacoby Ellsbury third, albeit distantly.

Finally, Joe Maddon was given the Manager of the Year Award by the biggest landslide ever seen in that award’s voting.  Had one voter not cast a first place vote for easy runner up Ron Gardenhire, it would have been unanimous.  Maddon, who recently got married, also won the Chuck Tanner MLB Manager of the Year Award in its second year of existence.  This was an obvious choice on so many levels.  Maddon is a teacher of the game who excels with young players.  He can even find ways to teach lessons the hard way (just ask B.J. Upton).  He is also a methodical philosopher of a manager, motivating his team through innovative catchphrases and positive attitude.  Joe finally did prove once and for all that, given the right team, his style works.  It brought a perennial doormat in the Tampa Bay Rays all the way to the World Series.  And to think, I predicted the team would fire this guy in 2007.  There’s something I’m thankful to have called incorrectly.

I’ll be back with more insight and analysis when more offseason moves have been made.  Right now, the only news is about the declining of Cliff Floyd and Trever Miller’s options for 2009.  Miller may or may not return pending the search for a replacement, and Floyd may very well retire.  He should go into coaching.  Until next time, go American League Champion Rays.