Tagged: Playoffs

The 2008 Season Is Over

The Tampa Bay Rays’ 2008 miracle season has, unfortunately, come to an end on a loss.  The Philadelphia Phillies defeated the Rays four games to one to win the 2008 World Series.

I have been AWOL from my blog here lately, thanks to the combination of school work and actually getting away from my computer to watch the World Series and its surrounding coverage.  But, as one might have guessed, I was right there front and center with the team until that final out.  I’ve seen it all, so here’s more about it.

The Rays broke the postseason records for both home runs and stolen bases.  B.J. Upton was particularly strong in those categories.  Well, those and double plays.  Evan Longoria, before his World Series disappearing act, was a huge contributor.  On the other hand, guys like Carlos Pena and Dioner Navarro looked like they had never played Major League Baseball before, striking out at record paces throughout the World Series.  The team as a whole was just burned out.  It wasn’t that they didn’t care, it was just that they were so deflated that it often appeared that way.  Most of them were no longer the same players by the end of the season.

There were some matchups that should never have been lost.  65–year–old Jamie Moyer over Matt Garza?  Joe Blanton beats Andy Sonnanstine — and hits a home run while doing it?  Those were pro–Rays games on paper.  But just like the BCS, champions are never determined by computer systems.

John Kruk, the biggest Phillies homer on television, is probably rioting in the streets with the rest of their fans.  He should be back to his ESPN desk just in time to stumble through a few words.

Congratulations Phillies, you’ll probably finish in third place next year, so enjoy this now.

And I have to mention that we still beat the Boston Red Sox.  So Red Sox fans, we have the trump card if you attempt to throw this one in our faces.

We’ll be back and better next season as it is now Destination: 2009 for the Rays.  They managed to lose to a team that won five fewer games playing in a weaker division, and nine fewer games in interleague play (3–15).  Had the Rays not been an upstart team, this would have been one of the biggest upsets in World Series history.  But the Rays have nobody to unload and are only stacking the deck, anything but dismantling.  They will have to deal with that bullseye, but the 1992 Braves did it after their nearly identical run of 1991, so another playoff run is attainable.  The Rays still had a great season, beyond the expectations of any fan or expert analyst.  To turn around by 31 wins and get that far in the playoffs is unparalleled in the history of baseball, and it was by no means a fluke.  I, as well as many others, will applaud their season and the playoff run, and remain optimistic for the years ahead, regardless of the Red Sox and Yankees.  I will be talking a little more about this season’s amazing accomplishments and offseason moves once they start taking place.

Until next time and next season, go American League Champion Rays.

World Series Tied 1-1

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 A–game, 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 3–4–5 hitters look like a Class A rehab stint.  They held on to defeat the Rays 3–2 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 2–0 on a walk, a single and a critical one–base 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 4–0.  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 4–0 lead.  He gave up a home run to, of all people, extremely light–hitting 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, 4–2, and tied the series.

Game three will feature a battle of opposites as Matt Garza faces Jamie Moyer.  Garza = Young hard–throwing right hander.  Moyer = 45–year–old 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.

World Series: Rays vs. Phillies

Rays World Series 5.jpg

The Tampa Bay Rays, our beloved surprising American League champions, will host the National League champion Philadelphia Phillies this Wednesday night to officially launch the 2008 World Series.  No, it is not the networks’ dream matchup of the Red Sox and Dodgers, but there certainly are interested fans.  Case in point, me.  And the record cable baseball audience of over 13 million people who watched Rays vs. Red Sox, game seven.

So for said interested parties, and everyone else who just has to deal with it, I have some thoughts about this year’s World Series showdown that I would like to share before it gets underway.

–The Rays have home field advantage, thanks in large part to the contributions of their players in this year’s All Star Game.  Evan Longoria had a key hit late in the game, then Dioner Navarro played very well and should have scored the winning run if not for a missed call at the plate.  That, however, opened the door for Scott Kazmir, who earned the win in relief.

–Speaking of Kazmir and winning, can he pull it off in game one against Phillies ace Cole Hamels?  He will most likely be called upon to do just that.  Like the Rays, Philadelphia has problems with left handed pitchers.  Ryan Howard is anemic against them, as is the revolving door of right fielders.  That leaves backup catcher Chris Coste to be their designated hitter against Kazmir.  That spells trouble right there — the backup to a .219 hitter being placed in the lineup to hit.

–The Rays, meanwhile, may not have as much trouble with Hamels as feared.  They didn’t beat Jon Lester twice in the ALCS by fluke.  Right handed hitters such as Rocco Baldelli, and especially Evan Longoria and B.J. Upton, have been nothing short of beasts lately.  That alone may oust Hamels if their streaks continue.

–The Phillies have a strong pitching rotation (Hamels, Brett Myers, Jamie Moyer, Joe Blanton), but I believe the Rays match up with them ace–for–ace.  As long as they don’t get around to Brad Lidge, I think the Rays are in good shape.

Both teams are very good and deserve, talent–wise, to be here.  But I think the Rays, having won more games in a very competitive division with more depth, can beat the Phillies and keep the championship in the American League.  So I say Rays win in about… six games or so.  Under that scenario, they would win at home.  Now wouldn’t we all love nothing more than that?  Maybe a sweep.

I would also like to announce my purchase of one of 5,000 Rays gold coins commemorating their pennant win.  It should be here in a few weeks.  I also bought a David Price Vanderbilt trading card from eBay.  That thing appreciates by the day.  I’ll be obsessively tuned to the World Series, and until then, 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.

Phillies Win National League Pennant

In a series that my blog has largely overlooked, but was still very important to the Rays, the Philadelphia Phillies defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers four games to one to win their first National League Championship in 15 years.  If the Rays can indeed finish off the Red Sox, they know who their final opposition is.

As a rival of the Braves (and the team that beat them in 1993), it’s easy for me to hate the Phillies.  I can respect all their abilities and everything they overcame to reach this point, but I don’t have to jump on their bandwagon.  So I’ll strongly dislike them no matter who they face in the World Series.  (If the Red Sox win, I’m boycotting.)

They have some good pitching, notably Cole Hamels and closer Brad Lidge.  Other than them, however, I think the Rays could take them.  Jamie Moyer is past whatever prime he ever had, and everyone else is hit or miss.  As far as their hitters are concerned, guys like Ryan Howard and Pat Burrell are almost guaranteed to either hit home runs or strike out.  Preventing the former would be paramount.  Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins are all–around beasts who would need to be handled with caution, as is Shane Victorino the way he has played lately.  As a whole, the Rays can always come together and match these guys.  But they will need their A–game every night, it’s for the grand prize.

I don’t want to keep looking too far ahead — the Rays still have to beat the Red Sox one more time out of three possible tries just to get to Philadelphia.  Scott Kazmir needs to pitch the game of his life against Matsuzaka, and if he can follow through, the celebration can be uncorked none too soon.  Until then, go Rays.

Kazmir Starting Game Five

Manager of the Year Joe Maddon has made a switch in his starting rotation for the next two ALCS games.  Scott Kazmir, not James Shields, will pitch game five tomorrow night.  Shields would get the ball in game six back home, if necessary.

I didn’t think about this possibility before, but I like the idea.  With the additional day off in Boston, Kazmir gets one more crucial day of rest.  He has been fairly good in Boston throughout his career.  And with a 3–1 series lead, they can go ahead and take this chance with Shields waiting to pitch back in his domain at Tropicana Field.  Kazmir has faced Daisuke Matsuzaka numerous times since last season, so it’s a very familiar matchup.  Shields is more like Josh Beckett, and has been superior to him lately, thus matching up better with him.

Topping all that off, Maddon is even gameplanning around umpires.  Game six would be umpired behind the plate by Derryl Cousins.  Kazmir had a problem with his umpiring in a June 11 loss to the Angels.  Here’s what he said after that game:

“That was unbelievable, I’d never seen anything like that before. I never said anything like this about an umpire before, but that was just a crucial part of the game and you just don’t do
that. Makeup calls or not makeup calls — call it when it’s there, you
know what I mean? You shouldn’t change your strike zone because of the
count. It doesn’t make sense.”

This makes starting Kazmir with him behind the plate and the season on the line a very unwise move.  Thus, Maddon is not taking that chance.  I like the Rays’ chances in these next two games, be it Kazmir or Shields winning.  Until next time, go Rays.