In this season of Rays firsts come another welltimed first that will help lead to the biggest of all, a division title. In their 14th try, they swept a doubleheader (now 167 in that department), beating the Orioles 52 and 75. James Shields allowed an early home run to Lou Montanez in game one, but in the middle of the game the bats arrived, chipping away bit by bit until they won by three runs. Shields has now done what Andy Sonnanstine had been expected to do before, tying Rolando Arrojo’s 1998 mark of 14 wins to tie his Rays single season record. Congratulations James, you really deserve it the way you have served us.
Game two looked like a role reversal of game one, with the Rays jumping on Alberto Simon, a recent Mexican League signee, before blowing the lead behind Mitch Talbot. Each pitcher was making his first MLB start, and it looked like Talbot, a prospect, would be tagged with a loss against a nonprospect, who did pitch quite well. His mid90s fastballs with lateral movement were nearly impossible for Rays hitters to do anything with that is, until the eighth inning, when the pressures of the big time caught up to him. Down 51, Ben Zobrist lined the first pitch into right center field for a triple, then came home on a groundout on the next pitch. After the next out, Evan Longoria hit a first pitch high fastball halfway to Virginia to make it a 53 game and force Simon to the bench. Then Rocco Baldelli flashed back with an infield single, followed by a walk to Gabe Gross, against Jamie Walker. Walker, who has been hammered by the Rays all season (ask Carlos Pena and Jason Bartlett), then allowed Bartlett to burn him again with an RBI double. Dioner Navarro, who had caught the first game, pinch hit and officially turned the tides in Tampa Bay’s favor, lining a two run single to center field. Not to be satisfied with a one run lead, B.J. Upton doubled Navarro home to make it 75. The six run eighth inning was a sure sign of everything that’s right with the Rays. They scored runs in multiple ways with almost everyone in the lineup, coming together on the road through exhaustion to pull out an epic win. I don’t know about the team, but it certainly got me ready for the playoffs.
Speaking of the playoffs, great news for the team and bad news for detractors everywhere as tickets for the first two Division Series home games are completely sold out. (Hopefully including the tarped off seats being uncovered.) There will be tens of thousands of die hard Rays fans creating a Sea of Blue in Tropicana Field, an atmosphere that has guided the Rays to a nearly perfect record in front of large crowds. For the record, I did register for playoff tickets, but of course I didn’t win the fan drawing for the remaining seats. At least they sold out far in advance, which is nothing but excellent for the franchise.
The Rays can win their division as early as tomorrow by completing a sweep of Baltimore, combined with a Red Sox loss. Boston just clinched its own playoff spot, eliminating the Yankees for the first time in 15 years (so there’s even good news in that), but their party will be short lived and one time only. Ours just keeps on hopping. Until next time, go Rays.
Ladies and gentlemen, Rays fans and prospect fantasy freaks, the day has finally arrived: David Price, the number one Draft pick of 2007, is a Tampa Bay Ray. At the conclusion of Durham’s AAA playoff run, the Rays immediately called up Price for the Yankees series in the Bronx. Between A+, AA and AAA this season, he finished 121 with a 2.30 ERA, along with a 11 record and 3.27 ERA in two playoff starts at Durham. (I’m sure that Price, who pitched in the College World Series at Vanderbilt, will take postseason experience anywhere he can get it.) He started to look better at the higher levels as the season progressed. And now he’ll parlay his added knowledge and experience into, most likely, a setup role for the Rays. He adds yet another muchneeded look left handed flamethrower to the laundry list of those already in the bullpen. He may very well make his MLB debut in the upcoming doubleheader at Yankee Stadium. Hopefully he’ll be our answer to Joba Chamberlain’s 2007. His ERA in his initial stint was 0.38, which was Grant Balfour’s Durham ERA earlier this season. Maybe it’s an omen.
David can be a bit more than a one inning pitcher, maybe two if they let him loose. He’s been doing more in the minor leagues. I wouldn’t say three at a time yet because of the everimportant task of protecting his arm. But he will unquestionably be playing a Priceless role during the stretch run for this team. He’ll be gaining very important experience too. Hopefully he can live up to the hype, and I think he can as long as he doesn’t burden himself with the expectations. He’s proven himself worthy of big game time. Do us proud David.
The Rays also recalled Jonny Gomes from AAA to serve as a right handed enforcer. He had been down there working on adjustments at the plate. They also bolstered the bullpen ranks with right handers Jeff Niemann and Mitch Talbot. Niemann, the team’s top draft pick in 2004, has two starts on his resume this season for the Rays. Talbot, who was traded with Ben Zobrist from the Astros for Aubrey Huff, had an outstanding season in Durham with a 139 record. So until the Yankees are dethroned in their outgoing home stadium, good luck to every one of these guys and go Rays.