Tagged: Matt Garza

National TV Works Magic Again

The Rays have had a tendency to play better in nationally televised games.  Whether FOX, TBS or ESPN, they have had success on the networks.  Today’s game with the Indians at Tropicana Field was actually more of a regional telecast, but Tim McCarver (A.K.A. the reason to own a radio) was in the booth with Dick Stockton, so it was big enough for us.

The Rays were rolled over by Carl Pavano in the first three innings, but B.J. Upton led off the fourth inning with a line drive home run off the foulpole just over the short wall.  It looked cheap, but it was a home run anyway — B.J.’s second in as many games after being kept off the board for nearly five weeks.  The next inning saw a daring double steal on a missed bunt that sent Gabe Gross to third base and Akinori Iwamura up to second base behind him.  Third baseman Jhonny Peralta was playing in for the bunt and could not receive a throw (which is the only way Gross can steal third base), and would end up kicking himself when Jason Bartlett decided to swing and laced a two–run single to center field.

In the bottom half, another recurring issue came up: the Rays gave the runs back.  Three consecutive hits brought a run home with nobody out, and the damage was limited to one more on a sacrifice fly.  Ninth hitter Luis Valbuena, who is barely hitting half his weight, coaxed 11 pitches out of Matt Garza before a pop–up ended the inning after a total of 40 pitches.  Needless to say, Garza did not go too much longer, throwing six innings (five great ones) with two earned runs.

Down to their last chance for an insurance run, Ben Zobrist came up with two men on base and two out.  No home run this time, but a double down the left field line scored Carl Crawford and made it a 4–2 game.  A good play off the wall by Matt LaPorta prevented the second run from scoring.  But the Rays had their two–run lead heading to the ninth inning, which means it’s time for…

Joe Nelson.  Swerve!

Nelson mixed up well–located fastballs and the trademark vulcan changeup to induce a flyout by Valbuena, a called third strike to Grady Sizemore and one more flyout from Asdrubal Cabrera.  Rays win, 4–2.  They need one more win and they can take this series and win four of five games overall.

Speaking of Zobrist (better known as “Zorilla”), MLB.com has an article on the new trend of “super utility players,” a term I first heard from Joe Maddon describing Zobrist, who is interviewed for the piece.  Also mentioned: the Indians’ Mark DeRosa, Kansas City’s Willie Bloomquist, the Reds’ Jerry Hairston, Jr. and Alfredo Amezaga of the Marlins.

The Rays will see if Andy Sonnanstine can still throw strikes as he goes for the series win against… David Huff?  I don’t know who he is, but apparently an average start at AAA was enough to get him promoted to make his Major League debut against the Rays.  He sounds beatable to me.  We can only hope so.  Until next time, go Rays.

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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.

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.

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.

World Series!

The Rays are going to the World Series!

Rays World Series 2.jpg

Did anyone out there think those words would be echoed across America in 2008?  Anybody?  Bueller?  Bueller?  Bueller?

Well, it has happened in the franchise’s 11th season.  It became official when Chip Caray screamed those aforementioned words as Akinori Iwamura touched second base and leaped in celebration.  The last 1990s expansion team to reach the World Series has finally done it.  After a historic meltdown in game five and a lifeless game six, the seventh game turned on its head — and did the same to baseball.

Willy Aybar scoring on a go–ahead single and hitting a home run to pad the lead; Matt Garza pitching amazingly well despite an early home run; David Price proving to be the present as well as the future.  What do those events equal?

9=2, of course.

With the 3–1 win in game seven, every baseball expert and just about every fan is proven wrong.  Yankees?  Old news.  Red Sox?  Couldn’t stand up to the heat.

I stood behind this team, my local franchise, for its first ten painful seasons.  I still remember hearing about their first ever minor league game.  I have vivid memories of their first pitch, the first game, and the first win.  I watched Wade Boggs’ 3,000th hit go into the right field stands.  I’ve seen the debuts of blue chip talents like Kazmir, Upton and Shields.

As great as all of that was… nothing up to this point could ever compare to this improbable American League Championship run.  I knew all those lean years were building towards something.  And finally, in 2008, we have our something.  This is an amazing, inspirational story that we should be telling kids for decades to come.

Now we have a World Series to win, so beware Philadelphia.  I think we can take you.  We start Wednesday night, so be here.

Until next time, go 2008 American League Champion Rays.

Rays Up Two Games to One

“Boston Red Sox Pitchers” for $200: The guy considered by teammates to be the American League’s best pitcher.  Answer: Who is Jon Lester?

“Boston Red Sox Pitchers” for $400: This left hander went 16–6 with a 3.21 ERA in 2008.  Answer: Who is Jon Lester?

“Boston Red Sox Pitchers” for $600: This man no–hit the Kansas City Royals at Fenway Park.  Answer: Who is Jon Lester?

“Boston Red Sox Pitchers” for $800: Closed out the 2007 World Series with a dominating performance in hitting–happy Coors Field.  Answer: Who is Jon Lester?

“Boston Red Sox Pitchers” for $1,000: The man who got lit up like a bonfire by the Rays in game three of the 2008 ALCS.  Answer: Who is Jon Lester?

I’ve swept the board.  For that matter, so have the Rays, at least for one glorious evening.  They destroyed the Red Sox 9–1 in enemy territory to take a critical two games to one series lead.  Matt Garza came back from his Division Series implosion to pitch incredibly well in the biggest game of his life to this point.  He went 6+ innings and allowed one run on six hits and three walks with five strikeouts.  The Red Sox starter looked more like Jon Arbuckle than Jon Lester as he allowed five runs, four earned, in less than six innings.  This included home runs from B.J. Upton and Evan Longoria that both cleared the Green Monster.  Upton’s actually went beyond the wall, beyond the seats, and almost beyond the street.  Did his labrum magically heal itself last week?  He’s suddenly banging out Dave Kingman home runs at a rapid rate.  He has yet to fail any drug tests.  Rocco Baldelli and Carlos Pena topped off a game in which every starter had a hit with their own late home runs off Paul Byrd.  For Rocco, it’s yet another confidence builder in his long road to recovery.  Six months ago his career as a whole was in jeopardy, and look at him now.  He’ll have what B.J.’s having.

Edwin Jackson pitched well in relief, lighting up the radar gun as high as 99 MPH.  How did the Dodgers fail to make him a good late inning stopper?  He looked like he had unlimited potential in that role.  With David Price likely to join the starting rotation next year and maybe a spot (Troy Percival’s?) opening up in the bullpen, it’s likely Jackson may attempt this transition for the second time in his career.  And hopefully the last.

I’ve also heard a growing vocal minority clamoring for a move to the bullpen by, of all people, Scott Kazmir.  The chief complaint is that he doesn’t go deep enough into games, which is a very valid point.  Leading the league in pitches per inning this year at over 18, Kazmir rarely sees the seventh and eighth innings.  A host on The Killer B’s on ESPN 1470/1040 compared him to Dwight Gooden: unbelievable talent, overworked, psychologically burned out, talent gone.  A lot of fans would like to see him as a closer.  But with the stats Kazmir puts up as a starter — remember, he’s a two-time All Star — who could replace him?  Jeff Niemann?  Wade Davis?  I don’t know about this issue and what direction it should go in.  I’ll be thinking about it and researching it further.  If we had another Price, the decision would likely be obvious.  But there can be only one, so it’s much more difficult.  I’ll render my verdict sometime before next season.

But pertaining to more immediate matters, the Rays have the momentum and the lead they needed to carry on to game four, where Andy Sonnanstine goes up against one–time Tampa Bay stopper Tim Wakefield.  I think with his working pace and the way he throws strikes, Sonnanstine matches up well with the Boston lineup.  We’ll see if I’m right and he can bring the lead to 3–1 and set up Shields to bring home the pennant.  Until next time, go Rays.

Two Games Up, Playoff Spot Within Reach

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, 90–win 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 1–2, 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 3–2 pitch.  Two batters later, Cliff Floyd took an 0–2 slider to the shinguard to load the bases.  Dioner Navarro stepped up, fell from 2–0 to 2–2, 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 10–3.  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 6–4 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.