Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Rays Take Charge of First Place in 5-4 Win Over Boston

The Red Sox continue to look sluggish and unable to generate runs, resulting in another frustrating loss on the road, this time costing them a chance at regaining first place. Many people are looking at this series between Boston and Tampa Bay as a gauge to evaluate whether the Rays are truly for real this year. So far, they do seem to be for real.

Justin MastersonJustin Masterson pitched a decent game, but sure got off on the wrong foot. His very first pitch of the night to BJ Upton ended up clearing the center field wall, putting the Rays up 1-0. Masterson's control was not as sharp as we have seen it, as evidenced by the 5 walks in 6 innings. All but one of the walks came with two outs in the inning, and two of those ended up scoring. That was the difference between a brilliant night, and a mediocre night. In the fourth inning, Masterson got two quick outs, but walked the next batter only to give up a 2 run home run to Gabe Gross. The very next inning, Masterson again got two quick outs, followed by another walk. This one scored thanks to a double by Carlos Pena to deep center field. He also walked batters with two outs in the 2nd and 6th innings, but managed to keep either of them from scoring. If not for those walks extending innings, and driving his pitch count up, we would have been looking at a much different game.

Carlos PenaTampa's 5th, and deciding run, came in the 7th inning thanks to rookie, Chris Smith. This was Smith's 3rd appearance of the season, and his career, but it do not go as well as his past two, as his control was just abysmal. He walked the first batter, Carl Crawford, a dangerous base runner, on four straight pitches. The next batter, Willy Aybar, executed a terrific bunt down the third base line that Smith had to make a terrific defensive play on to just catch Aybar at first for the only out he would get. Smith walked the next two batters to load the bases, and a frustrated Terry Francona marched out to the mound to yank his rookie experiment. Javier Lopez induced pinch hitter, Jonny Gomes, to hit a ground ball to Julio Lugo's right. Lugo fielded the ball cleanly, fired to second for one out, and Dustin Pedroia quickly relayed the ball to first, but not in time to get the double play and end the inning. The 5th, and winning run scored on that play.

James ShieldsThe Sox offense struggled to generate any real rally for most of the game. In fact, Rays' starter, James Shields, set down the Red Sox lineup in order the first time through with three straight 1-2-3 innings. Not a strong start for the good guys. In the 4th inning, Pedroia became Boston's first base runner with a single, and the struggling Manny Ramirez walked to put runners at first and second. Mike Lowell, who had a hot night going 3 for 4, laced a single down the line to left to drive in the first Sox run. Their second run would not come until the 6th inning thanks to a solo home run by JD Drew, his 16th of the season tying him with Manny for the most on the team.

Entering the 9th inning, the Sox were trailing 5-2 and had one last chance, but had to get past the Rays' closer, Troy Percival, to do it. Manny Ramirez lead off the inning, and is normally a very smart batter, simply working with whatever he can get from a pitcher. But, in this at-bat, he was taking monster cuts at the ball as if a home run would win the game. I found myself yelling at the TV trying to get Manny to realize we needed base runners, so stop swinging for the fence. He did not hear me, and struck out swinging for the fence.

But, the Sox were not ready to quit yet. Lowell stepped up and stroked a nice shot to center field for a double, and Kevin Youkilis ripped one down the line that third baseman, Evan Longoria, could not handle. It deflected off his glove, and the Sox had runners at 1st and 3rd with one out. Now, a home run would make a difference! Brandon Moss stepped up to the plate. In the first game of the season, Moss hit a home run for the Sox in Japan against the Oakland A's to tie the game in the 9th inning. The Sox won that game in the 10th inning. Could Brandon Moss repeat that feat with a game tying home run? Moss took an upper cut swing at the first pitch he saw, lofting it out to deep right field. As Gabe Gross settled in to catch the ball, I thought, "well, at least that will bring in Lowell from third base". Suddenly, the ball dropped harmlessly in fair territory, about 50 feet in front of Gross. "What the heck happened?", my mind asked. Then I remembered, they are playing indoors, and that ballpark has numerous catwalks crisscrossing not quite high enough up out of the way. The ball had hit a cross walk and fell in for a hit. Mike Lowell scored, Youkilis ended up on third base, and Moss settled in to second for an unusual double.

Troy Percival Comes OutNow things looked promising. The Sox would battle to the end, and snatch victory right out from under the Ray's noses. Jason Varitek was the next batter. Tek has not been hitting well lately, but has been known to get his share of clutch hits. Jason hit a long fly ball to right field and Gross again found his spot and settled under it. This time, however, the ball would not hit a cross walk, and instead landed softly in Gross' glove for out number two, scoring Youkilis from third. The lead had been cut to 5-4 with two outs, and Brandon Moss was at third base, ready to tie the game. Julio Lugo was the next batter, but Terry Francona decided Sean Casey, a lefty, would have more success against Percival, and was about to make the move, when we all saw Troy Percival hopping on one leg. He apparently pulled his hamstring as he ran to third to cover on the previous play. Percival was forced to leave the game, and Joe Maddon had apparently been paying attention and saw the upcoming Sox move. So, Maddon called in the left handed JP Howell to replace Percival. So, Casey sat back down, Lugo headed out to the plate, and ended the game with a sharply hit line drive to short. So close.

Let's hope the Sox can build on that 9th inning rally and use it to generate a rally or two tonight. The Sox cannot rely on the occasional solo home run to win games. They need to hit, get base runners on, and cause some damage. Tim Wakefield takes the mound against Matt Garza. Wake generally has success pitching indoors, particularly at Tropicana Field. Hopefully, he'll do that again tonight, and give the Sox a chance to even the series up at a game a piece.

On a final note, all of you are apparently just terrible fans. You were all much more lovable and cuddly when your poor Red Sox were helpless in their efforts to win a World Series. It did not matter how much money the Sox spent, or how many fans swarmed visiting ball parks around the country. The Sox could not win a title, and you were all sympathetic figures who needed a hug. But, now that the Sox have won, not one, but two titles, you are all jerks. Notice in every ballpark the Sox visit, some dunce from the home town paper gets assigned to write an article about how much everyone hates the Red Sox and their fans. Tampa Bay was not going to spoil that pattern, and gave their assignment to Tom Jones of the St. Petersberg Times. He listed the top ten reasons to hate the Red Sox, and must have had a little trouble finding ten good reasons. I mean, seriously, a reason to hate the Red Sox is that Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, and Jim Rice were grumpy? Or that Varitek actually has the nerve to wear a "C" on his uniform? Give me a break!

(Photos Courtesy of Yahoo Sports)


Suldog said...

Smith looked really, honestly nervous out there. He calmed a bit, but did you see the shot into the dugout? They were on the bullpen phone after the first three pitches.

Rooster said...

He sure did. Not sure why though, he had two pretty good outings under his belt already. I did not notice whether anyone else was warmed up in the bullpen at that point or not. Probably what they were on the phone about. Usually you'd have a couple of guys (right and left) ready to go.

www.wickedpissadude.com said...

Will the Sox be in first place going into the All Star Break? Playing like they did last night, I don’t think so. Let’s hope something sparks tonight.



Peter N said...

Deja vu with WPD's comment. Have I seen that before? I'm just kidding. Last night (Tues.), Timmah pitched great once again, but the Boston bats had no answers for Garza's offerings. Maybe that will change tonight...it HAS to! Thanks Rooster.

Rooster said...

if the Sox want a chance at holding on to first place at the break, they need a win tonight to pull back closer to the Rays. A loss would not be good.

Kazmir, a good lefty, will create problems for our lefty lineup if he has a good night.