“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 166 with a 3.21 ERA in 2008. Answer: Who is Jon Lester?
“Boston Red Sox Pitchers” for $600: This man nohit 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 hittinghappy 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 91 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 onetime 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 31 and set up Shields to bring home the pennant. Until next time, go Rays.
Our Tampa Bay Rays, America’s new team, have taken a 20 lead in the Division Series, knocking off the White Sox in a 62 classic. Rays starter Scott Kazmir was starting to have a “here it goes again” night by promptly loading the bases (hitting Orlando Cabrera was unintentional, Harold Reynolds) and allowing two runs before his team even hit. The Rays got one back with a Dioner Navarro single while narrowly avoiding more Chicago damage. Kazmir pitched very effectively after the early runs scored, but was down until the bottom of the fifth inning.
After a Jason Bartlett single, Akinori Iwamura brought out a slice of his Japanese years. He took a 11 fastball out and over the plate from Mark Buehrle and drove it deep to left center field… carrying… carrying deep… and gone for a leadchanging home run. That’s classic Iwamura power out into the opposite power alley, where he hit at least half of his regular season home runs. He took a welldeserved curtain call afterwards. Kazmir left after 5.1 innings pitched with two earned runs surrendered, pitching well for a guy who threw 37 pitches in the first inning. Grant Balfour came in for an epic rematch with Orlando Cabrera, whom Balfour quickly silenced with a groundout, going on to get out of the inning with the lead.
It remained 32 Rays until the eighth inning, when Buehrle allowed a leadoff triple to B.J. Upton, who ran full speed the whole way as he always should. The White Sox starter would be chased out by Carl Crawford, who dinged a little opposite field single to score Upton. He then stole second base without a throw off Octavio Dotel, proving once and for all that good old Carl is back in full swing. Rocco Baldelli lined his first playoff hit into center field to score Crawford. With two out, Dioner Navarro came to the plate to set up another great 2008 Rays highlight. With the count at 11 against Matt Thornton, Navarro lifted a popup to shallow center field. Alexei Ramirez lost sight of the ball and the outfielders didn’t get there in time. The ball dropped in the triangle as Rocco ran like a cheetah after its dinner. Not quite as great as he once was, but as good once as he ever was, he flew around third base and surprisingly scored without much of a play to make it 62. Vintage Baldelli running all the way home was just another embodiment of this Rays team, not to mention another dagger to the White Sox. It was as if he was 22 years old again. Chicago did get another runner on base after a hideously atrocious call at first base on a tag by Willy Aybar, but Chad Bradford spared the umpire and his team with a 543 double play. He followed that brilliantly with a three pitch looking strikeout of Jim Thome to make it 20 Rays and send Chicago back home against the wall.
The Rays will now take a nearly insurmountable advantage into enemy territory, where Matt Garza will get the ball on Sunday at 4:07 P.M. This is the same time as kickoff for a big Buccaneers football game in Denver, but I think my priorities will lie with the baseball team this week. Many others’ should too. Why not? We had great crowds at those home playoff games and continued showing doubters up. Let’s keep riding this tidal wave of success, and until next time, go Rays.
This weekend was one strong statement after another from the Rays, who swept the Baltimore Orioles by scores of 143, 109 and 104. The 34run outburst marks the most runs ever scored by Tampa Bay in a three game series. After Friday night’s vicious beating, the team was set to host the FOX Saturday Baseball Game of the Week, and the bats were ready.
The big game gave Rays fans several heart attacks, beginning with Jay Payton’s first inning home run. Then Aubrey Huff stole a 32 lead with a three run home run, his 30th of the season and seemingly his 30th against the Rays. The score was 73 Orioles through the top of the fifth inning when the Rays cut the lead in half, then proceeded to take an 87 lead in the next inning, fueled by Carlos Pena’s two run double. Tied 88 later on, Rocco Baldelli was hit by a pitch to drive in another goahead run. The Rays led by one run, and in stepped Dan Wheeler to face the top of the order and get the save. He struck out Brian Roberts and Payton, bringing up Nick Markakis. Wheeler served up a beach ball that Markakis promptly hit to the moon, angering some Rays by stopping to watch the orbit. Tie game yet again. This set up some bottom of the ninth inning heroics once again from the team that already had nine walk off wins. Pena reached base with a one out walk, bringing up Baldelli. With 34,805 fans watching him live, he promptly hit a 10 pitch right down the third base line into the corner. Left fielder Lou Montanez took a slightly roundabout path to the ball, then fired to Huff as Pena rounded third base. Huff basket caught the throw and took forever in relaying to the plate, allowing Pena to slide in safely with the winning run. The Rays won 109, and Wheeler was spared. Iwamura had one of five multihit games for the host Rays, leading the way with three of the team’s 13 hits. It looked like a dropoff was inevitable.
But, of course, the offense picked up right where it ended the previous game. They completed the sweep behind James Shields, winning easily in front of another strong crowd of 32,379. Baldelli had three hits, the first two doubles into that same left field corner, and a walk. But one offensive moment of glory trumped all others in this landslide win…
Jason Bartlett hit a home run.
Yes, Rays fans, it is possible, and now it has been accomplished. Bartlett took a 10 pitch from Jamie Walker into the first rows of the left center field seats for his first home run in Tampa Bay, only taking 370 atbats to do it. Jim Johnson beaned him on the very first pitch of his next plate appearance with a high fastball, which both Joe Magrane and I (and probably many more) thought was deliberate. Bartlett was 4for4 with three singles and a perfect way to top them off. Congratulations with everything else you have done this year, this was a nice finishing touch. Now please do it again. At least before the season is over.
The expansion to the 40man roster begins tomorrow, with a few players likely coming in immediately. Joe Maddon says he will probably want a catcher (most likely 1998 Devil Ray Mike DiFelice), an outfielder (Fernando Perez?) and a utility player (Elliot Johnson?). Durham is going into the International League playoffs, so some of their players will finish out the season there before coming up to Tampa Bay. David Price may start one of those playoff games, but it shouldn’t be too much longer before he joins the Rays. Hopefully he handles all the expectations and lives up to the hype.
The Rays get the New York Yankees, currently 12½ games out of first place (Boston is 5½ games back), Tuesday to start a three game series at Tropicana Field. Every Rays fan who can possibly get to these games needs to get tickets to jack up the Yankee hatred and support this team. There will be large crowds, but we need large Rays crowds. This is Tampa Bay, and it needs to look and sound like it. Until the Yankees are vanquished, go Rays.
… 2008 has the title. The Tampa Bay Rays have won their franchise record 71st game of the season, doing so on August 10, defeating the Seattle Mariners 113 to take three out of four games at Safeco Field and improve to an alltime best 25 games over .500. This was a game of several steps in the right direction, and the Rays are now 4½ games ahead of the Red Sox for the division lead.
As I just mentioned, the Tampa Bay franchise record of 71 wins was officially set at the conclusion of this series. Not only did they reach this win total for the first time ever, they did it with 45 games left on the schedule. They have topped their 7091 record set in 2004, and are set to destroy it by the end of the year.
Rocco Baldelli returned to action in the Major Leagues for the first time in 15 months, hitting an RBI single in his second atbat and making a diving catch in right field. He played 5½ innings, which is about as long as he went in rehab games. He says that with his treatment combination of heavy medication, a new diet and more rest, he can get more active by the end of the season. For a man with a mitochondrial disorder at the point in which it can zap almost every particle of energy from the body, it’s amazing he can even play the game. He’ll be needed as a right handed hitter off the bench, especially with Jonny Gomes in AAA for the time being. It’s great news to every Rays fan that he is now contributing to the playoff push.
Willy Aybar hit two home runs in the serieswinning game, both down the
left field line and over the high wall. Interestingly, he hit them
batting right handed against right handed pitcher R.A. Dickey, a rare
feat for a switch hitter. It turned out to be the perfect move to
implement that strategy against a guy who throws knuckleballs and
otherwise mostly breaking pitches. Shawn Riggans also homered to the
same area of the stadium. For guys making spot starts for Evan
Longoria and Dioner Navarro, they did everything the regular starters
could have done, which is more than what was asked of them and shows
potential ability to be major roleplayers late in the season.
David Price has been promoted to AAA Durham. 70 with a 1.89 ERA at Montgomery, Price pitched 57 innings in which he walked 16 hitters and struck out 55. He is still undefeated in professional baseball at 110, and the Rays believe he can be in a Major League uniform next month. The way he’s pitching, why not? The only question is where he would fit in the Rays’ pitching rotation. They’re afraid to remove Sonnanstine (their winningest pitcher) from his starting role, and even though Jackson is a former reliever, he has been improving and they don’t want him to lose his rhythm. They also fear screwing with Price’s mechanics by moving him to the bullpen. Hopefully they don’t pull the Joba Chamberlain with this guy and force him to make too many adjustments in a short time span. I’m not sure what they should do yet, but maybe the decision will become more obvious by the time it has to be made.
Carl Crawford is on the 15 day disabled list with a tendon injury to his right middle finger. Maybe he gave the Red Sox the bird once too often. Actually, it happened on a check swing of all things. It should be known very soon what the nature and severity of the injury is, but he is already said to be out at least 23 weeks. Perfect time to bring back Baldelli. Maybe during this time Crawford can regain his full hitting and running strength and return to play like he did in previous seasons.
Rays color commentator Joe Magrane called his last games for the next few weeks in Seattle, as he is now on his way to Beijing, China to do color commentary for NBC’s Olympic baseball coverage. This is his third Olympic Games doing this prestigious duty, and hopefully he does the Rays, the United States, and the rest of the world proud, which I believe he can do. I’ll be watching, Joe.
The Rays begin a three game series with the Oakland A’s, who have lost 12 of their last 13 games, tomorrow in Oakland. Scott Kazmir pitches the opening game, followed by Sonnanstine and Shields. Every team in the division except the Rays lost their last games, making a perfect 5for5 for us. Until next time, go Rays.
I have now seen every major deal that went down at this year’s trade deadline, as well as the ones that didn’t happen. Caught up in those trades that were not made were the Rays, who now have a three game division lead going into August. There were talks about Xavier Nady, Jason Bay and even Adam Dunn being sent to Tampa Bay to give the lineup a muchneeded power surge. However, with asking prices too high (Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis for Bay quickly fell flat), the Rays decided that their best moves would be internal. With Rocco Baldelli playing well at AA Montgomery as he returns from mitochondrial disorder and David Price remaining undefeated (90, 12 starts) in the minor leagues, they will probably end up using those guys as their right handed hitter and left handed pitcher, respectively.
I think that, with the way this team has been built towards years of success, trading multiple prospects for anyone who would have only been here for two months trying to impress the big markets would have probably been a front office failure. Boston’s acquisition of Bay while casting off Manny Ramirez (finally) along with Brandon Moss and Craig Hansen, while ridding the locker room of Reggie Jackson, Jr., won’t make them worlds better as a team. The Yankees’ steal of Nady and Damaso Marte, combined with the trade of Kyle Farnsworth for a pasthisprime Ivan Rodriguez, most likely didn’t set the Bronx on fire either. Maybe they got better, but it may not be a hole that they can escape from. The Rays staying with what got them here to begin with looks like a smart move. Carlos Pena has hit three home runs this past week, all on the road, increasing his home run productivity by 20% for the entire season. Carl Crawford is finally starting to get some big hits, Longoria is still doing very well, and Navarro is still hitting over .310. The pitchers are as good as they have been all season. It’s looking like our time is now as all the pieces are merging into the winning puzzle. Where the trade market didn’t fit, people are starting to fill in. Coming back home tonight from a winning roadtrip gives even more immediate hope to extending this division lead.
I’ll keep close tabs on the Rays throughout the weekend as they face the Detroit Tigers, who are also pushing for a playoff spot. Great news, Rays fans: Saturday night’s game featuring LL Cool J has sold out in advance to the point where the tarped off seats will be opened for the first time in years. This is something that will get the critics backtracking. Rays fans are finally showing up to games. Speaking of which, I need to get back to Tropicana Field sometime soon. Until the capacity crowd drowns the Tigers in a deep blue sea, go Rays.
I am leaving Tampa for a vacation this morning, and will be gone for about two weeks. I’ll only be without Internet access until Thursday night, which means I’ll be missing the big Cubs series. I’ll get to New Smyrna Beach on Thursday, but until then I’ll have to get my updates over the phone from others with access to information. I’ll have no Internet or cable TV until then.
In other news that more people should be reporting, Rocco Baldelli played designated hitter in a minor league game last night, going 13 with 2 RBI as he works back up towards the Major Leagues. He has been recovering from a rare mitochondrial condition that has probably been a source of his recurring injuries in recent years. He’s still only 26 years old, which gives him a little time to become productive. Just ask Rick Ankiel and Josh Hamilton.
I’ll be out soon, so until I get back to the blog, go Rays.
Now that the Rays have the day off, it’s time to scrounge for news to report. Updates will probably become less frequent once the season is past its opening period, but today I didn’t have to go too far to make one. It has been reported on MLB.com that Carl Crawford’s 2009 option has been picked up, and Rocco Baldelli’s was not. Crawford’s salary next year will be $8.25 million, which is far more worth the money than the $2.5 million buyout that they didn’t take. He is, of course, celebrating the news.
“I’m very happy. I
would like to thank the Rays’ organization and [principal owner] Stu
Sternberg for believing in me. I’m grateful for the opportunity for
this day. I’m looking forward to being here for a long time, because I
think we’re at the start of something great going on here. I want to do
well for them and represent the team in a classy manner.”
That would be Crawford’s statement on the 2009 option pickup. There is still one for 2010, worth $10 million, that they can use as well. Meanwhile, the Baldelli news was expected for the last few weeks as he is on the disabled list with a career-threatening, at worst, chronic fatigue disorder. They could still negotiate a new deal if and when he does return, so it may not be quite over yet. The main factor, of course, is how Baldelli recovers. Nobody knows how it will end up. The same can be said for this season, for which Cowbell Kid predicted 89 victories, while an elderly fan at FanFest thought it could be 93. We can start at two when the Rays face the Orioles tomorrow. Until then, go Rays.