Ladies and gentlemen, the announcement nobody has been waiting for… “Heeeeere comes the injury bug!”
Fernando Perez, the blazing fast outfielder expected to make the Opening Day roster, is making a trip to the Opening Day disabled list. He will be sidelined for about three months due to a dislocated wrist suffered in the Rays’ March 11 win over the Blue Jays. His glove was caught in the grass as he dove for the ball, pulling the wrist out of its socket and creating this worstcase scenario. Had the wrist been broken, a plate inserted between the bones would have healed it in about one month’s time.
Perez will now be out until June, taking the one fast reserve outfielder the Rays had out for the season’s first few months. We are now thankful that they signed Gabe Kapler and kept up their solid outfield depth. (Kapler, by the way, hit a home run in today’s 32 win over the Phillies.)
So with Fernando left to strengthen those running legs until he can swing the bat, the Rays started their road to recovery with the aforementioned win over Philadelphia. James Shields pitched four outstanding shutout innings, and Carl Crawford stole third base to give us the idea that the lightning speed of Carl has returned. All of those hamstring workouts are starting to pay off.
I would like to once again announce that I will be in Kissimmee on March 21 to watch the Braves
destroy face the Mets. I am still searching for Rays games that I actually have the time to get to. So until next time, go 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.
Those 2008 Rays… just when everyone wants to give up on them and leave them for dead, they storm right back in their faces. One step back, two steps forward. The cliches are actually coming true this season in Tampa Bay. There is not one disappointed Rays fan right now, as they have defeated the Boston Red Sox two games to one at Tropicana Field to gain a two game division lead. They have now won 90 games yes, 90win Rays, believe it or not and are now down to a magic number of three (Rays wins/Twins losses, and we get them next) for a playoff berth. These last two games coming back from the vicious Monday night beating usually reserved for Monday Night RAW, have been two of the most important and exciting victories ever for this franchise.
That Tuesday night game cost me about a gallon of water and a few hours of time best saved for work, but it was worth the wait. The Rays’ Andy Sonnanstine and Josh Beckett matched last week’s pitcher’s duel with more of the same. The Red Sox scored on a sacrifice fly in the sixth inning, an unearned run charged to Sonnanstine (after an unusual Evan Longoria error, which followed a hit that only occurred thanks to a missed third strike call). An inning and a half later, on the very first pitch, Carlos Pena launched a hanging Beckett curveball for his 29th home run of the year, hitting the first row of left center field seats and tying the game at one. In the ninth inning, Boston decided to call on Justin Masterson to avoid using Jonathan Papelbon. Maybe they should have thought about avoiding defeat. Jason Bartlett’s leadoff single fell into right field between three fielders, followed by a mildly controversial walk to Pena. He swung and missed a fastball that would have made the count 12, but timeout was called before the pitch due to a stray bullpen ball entering the infield. Out of the Red Sox bullpen, too. Pena ended up walking on a close 32 pitch. Two batters later, Cliff Floyd took an 02 slider to the shinguard to load the bases. Dioner Navarro stepped up, fell from 20 to 22, then hit a hanging sinker right back up the middle. Very far up the middle, in fact. The ball flew over the head of a desolate Coco Crisp, Bartlett scored, the Rays won, and victory ruled the day. The ball actually bounced over the wall, but the game ended after one base anyway… the Mets have the Grand Slam Single, and the Rays now have the Ground Rule Single. This is what pennant races and playoff games are all about.
My vision of Rays playoff games came last night, featuring the bats big and small taking the hammer to Tim Wakefield (see, he only owned the Devil Rays, not these guys) and winning 103. Matt Garza had a mediocre pitching performance drowned in offensive support, pitching 4.2 innings on three days’ rest. Willy Aybar, Gabe Gross and Fernando Perez all homered, Aybar and Perez (normally switch hitters) doing so right handed against Wakefield. David Ortiz’s two home runs only dented a catwalk and the stat sheet. The Rays are now up by two full games in the American League East division, and the magic number for their first division title is now ten. The playoff magic number is a mere three following Minnesota’s 64 loss to Cleveland. This means that if the Rays win their first two games against the Twins, they will clinch their playoff berth on Friday night, on ESPN, in a game that I am attending. I sincerely hope they can pull it off then and there I would love nothing more than to be in that rocking house when the celebration begins.
Now it’s time for the Rays to beat the Twins back into their own dome and rightfully claim their playoff spot. Until they finally accomplish this historic feat, go Rays.