Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Red Sox Inch Closer to First Place with Win over the Rays

I was incredibly fortunate to get the opportunity to attend the game last night in one of the corporate luxury boxes on the EMC Level (a million thanks to Jen for the invitation!). It was my first time in a luxury box, and I have to say, it is pretty darned nice! Plenty of great food and drink, comfortable seating indoors with a 50" flat screen TV, and cushioned seats outside with an incredible view that makes you feel like you are hovering right over the field. I could get very used to watching games there! Especially well played games in perfect weather!

Heading in to the game, Tampa Bay was all alone in first place in the AL East, 1 1/2 games ahead of Boston. Today, they are still in first place, but clinging to a scant 1/2 game lead and having to face Red Sox' ace, Josh Beckett tonight. Many people have been doubting how long the Rays can stay in the hunt for a playoff spot, and expect them to begin to fade - but when? To me, it looked like the fade began last night.

Carlos PenaJustin Masterson took the mound in place of the injured Dice-K for his third call up from the minors this season. Masterson was not quite as sharp as he had been in his previous two outings, but he was good enough to earn his second win, lasting 6 innings and giving up 4 runs. If it were not for Carlos Pena, Justin's stats would have looked much better. Pena doubled in the 4th on a hard hit to deep right field that hopped the wall and drove in a runner from second base. That was just a prelude to the 6th inning when Pena let loose with an incredible upper cut swing that cleared the right field fence for a two run home run. The only other damage that Masterson allowed was a lead off home run to Akinori Iwamura - the fourth lead off home run of his career - three of those coming against the Red Sox!

The Game had been a back and forth battle until the Sox took charge for good in the 6th inning. In the second inning, Mike Lowell sent a drive into the Green Monster seats with Manny Ramirez on first base to take a 2-1 lead. The Rays tied it at 2 on Carlos Pena's double in the fourth, but JD Drew answered right back with a solo home run that was crushed to right field. The fun thing about that home run is that, after carefully reviewing the replays, I saw that the ball landed right in my usual seats in right field! Doesn't that figure? Pena's homer in the 6th put the Rays back on top, and it looked like Masterson would not get a win for his efforts.

Manny RamirezBut, the Sox came through in the bottom of the 6th scoring 4 runs. Kevin Youkilis had reached first after being hit by a pitch. Then Manny Ramirez hit a hard grounder to short. We watched in amazement as Manny charged hard to first. His effort must have startled shortstop Jason Bartlett who bobbled the ball before firing to first. The hustling Manny beat the throw by half a step! Rays' starter, Matt Garza, had pitched well, but was tiring. We could see that, but manager Joe Maddon apparently could not. He watched from the dugout as Garza walked JD Drew to load the bases with one out for Jason Varitek. 'Tek singled up the middle to drive in Youk, and Coco Crisp stepped up to the plate. Still no movement from Maddon, but Garza was clearly done. Crisp took advantage and laced a drive the opposite way, down the left field line and off the wall. Two runs scored as Crisp settled easily into second base for a double.

Finally, Joe Maddon (a student of Grady Little no doubt?) decided to go to the bullpen. So, who does he bring in to pitch? Grant Balfour! Of all the unfortunate last names for a pitcher to inherit. you know he asks himself all the time, "why can't our surname be Strikethree?". True to his heritage, Balfour tossed four straight bals (European spelling) to Julio Lugo for a walk to load the bases. Jacoby Ellsbury hit a deep fly to center that allowed Varitek to easily tag and score from third. The score was now 7-4, and would remain that way until the end.

We also got to witness some managerial chess moves in the 8th inning. Joe Maddon saw Jonathan Papelbon warming up in the bullpen and knew the 8th inning would be his last chance to score, so he pulled out all his moves. Terry Francona had sent in the left handed Javier Lopez to start the 8th. Evan Longoria, a right hander, was leading off the inning, but Maddon's lineup had three straight left handed batters up next. Perfect time for Terry to take advantage and send a lefty pitcher in. Lopez walked Longoria, and Maddon made his first move. He replaced Cliff Floyd with switch hitting Willy Aybar to bat right handed. With two more lefties coming up, Francona stuck with Lopez. Maddon's move worked as Aybar hit a single off Lopez. Then, Maddon made his next move, sending the right handed Jonny Gomes to bat for Eric Hinske. By now, Francona had caught on to the pattern, and replaced Lopez with the right handed Craig Hansen. Maddon had one more move to make. Before Hansen could throw a single pitch, Maddon sent in the left handed Carl Crawford to hit for Gomes. With only one player left on the Tampa Bay bench, the moves ended, and so did the inning as Hansen collected three straight outs to get the game moving again.

Coco Crisp high fives Mike LowellMaddon was right to fear the ninth. Papelbon came in like Zeus throwing lightning bolts from Mount Olympus. He struck out the pesky Iwamura on four straight pitches of 99, 98, 99, and 99 miles per hour! He followed that up with three pitches to Dioner Navarro that hit 100, 99, and 99 miles per hour. The ball was nearly invisible as it sped to the plate - amazing the hitters could see it at all. Navarro grounded out, and B.J. Upton struck out swinging to prompt Dirty Water to start playing across Fenway and send the crowd home happy.

Fan InterferenceLate in the game, we got to see a potential NFL running back candidate display his talents. A (foolish) fan leaped the fence near the Pesky Pole in right field and came running across the field. Security guards immediately took off in pursuit, but the fan was fast and had moves. Every time they were about to grab him, he'd zig, zag, and speed out of harm's way. Of course, there is a limited amount of space to run, so as he approached the fence along the third base line (he made it that far!), he leaped the fence, but right into the waiting arms of the law. Hopefully Bill Belichick got an opportunity to review the film so the night in jail was not a waste.

And how about our friends from the Bronx? Last night they opened a new chapter in their storied pitching history as they sent young phenom Joba Chamberlain out to the mound for his first start in a Yankee uniform. Joba has been quite impressive pitching in relief out of the bullpen, but Yankees owner, Hank Steinbrenner, insisted that he would be better served helping out the Yankees' struggling starters. The new chapter turned out to be a short one. Joba the Hut needed 38 pitches to get through the first inning and was removed not too long after, with one out in the 3rd. He gave up 2 runs, and left with the game tied, but did not do much to worry the Blue Jays, who proceeded to stomp on the Yankees' relief squad on their way to a 9-3 victory that give the Yanks sole possession of last place. Tough luck guys. And no, Bartolo Colon is not for sale.

Weather permitting, the Sox will look to jump over the Rays tonight to re-take first place. With Beckett on the mound, the chances look good. Manny Ramirez had been dealing with some hamstring soreness, and took over the DH spot last night in place of David Ortiz. If Manny's legs need more rest, expect more of the same tonight. But, Francona likes to get new guys into the lineup quickly, so I would not be surprised if Chris Carter gets in the game tonight. Carter is not much of a defensive player, but swings a big bat. If Manny is up for playing left field tonight, Carter will likely DH.

Finally, thanks to all the contest entrants, and there are a number of you. Look to the top right of this page to track progress. Although it is meaningless, if we scored the guesses as of today, our pal, Insight would be the winner. We'll see how long he can hold that lead.

(Photos Courtesy of ESPN)


Anonymous said...

You're a lucky duck Rooster :D (and fess up - you're Matt McConaughey's brother "Rooster" who has a son named "Miller Lite")- lol.

Another very thorough write-up covering all the bases. The luxury box sounded nice, but it would have been also nice to have possibly caught JD's HR ball!

And I wish that I could have seen that Celtics fan running on the field - Darn you NESN!

Rooster said...

I do feel very fortunate - not only for last night, but also to have such a famous brother! Wish he would stop by more often though.

That is only the second fan running onto the field I have seen at the game in the past 5 years. I think whatever they are doing to discourage it must be working.

Celts tomorrow night!

gingerly said...

You're right. It was weird that they left Garza in so long.

Funny about you getting the box and the ball hitting near your usual seat. Life is very much about irony, I think.

And poor Joba. Mind you, I hate the Yankees mightily, but that whole drama yesterday was ridiculous. Why did the Yankee overlords have to make like Joba starting was the Second Coming? How can anyone live up to that kind of hype?

It would be so great if we continue to beat the Rays. I hated them sweeping us.

Rooster said...

I am beginning to just hope the weather holds out for them to get a game in.

G - we stand a good chance of winning tonight, and we did sweep them at Fenway in early May, why not do it again?

Yankees are sounding more and more desperate, aren't they?

Suldog said...

Well, it's all good for the high end of each category, which is where I went. Of course, with today's weather, a game may get lopped off.

Rooster said...

Yeah, a rain out is not what I had planned. If they don't play tonight, I wonder if they'll play a double header tomorrow? However we do it, we'll base the contest on six games though, so the guess are in line with the assumptions they were based on.

Looking good on the high end, but only one game down.

Fenway West said...

It looks like they will get the game in. Great writeup on last night's game. I need a 1-0 Sox victory tonight to keep me in the running for the DVD's.