Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Fish that Got Away - Rays Win 2-1 in the 9th

I have to say, last night's game was more like it. The night before, a 13-5 cake walk, was embarrassing. But, last night the Rays regrouped and put up a proper playoff fight. Their players shaved their heads into Mohawks and lined up to do battle against Josh Beckett. They knew their chances were slim, but they went at it anyway.

Josh BeckettBeckett had a brilliant night, only making one mistake on a pitch to Carlos Pena leading off the 7th inning, that turned into a solo home run. That erased the Red Sox' 1-0 lead and was the only blemish on Beckett as he went 8 complete innings only allowing 3 hits and one walk while striking out 7. For a while, it felt like Beckett might even make a run for a no hitter, until Cliff Floyd registered the Rays' first hit with one out in the 5th inning. Unfortunately for Beckett, the Red Sox offense was silent, which is pretty typical the game after scoring runs in double digits. The Red Sox only run came on a sacrifice fly by Kevin Youkilis in the 6th inning. Otherwise, Rays' starter Andy Sonnanstine, was able to match Beckett's outing.

Other than brilliant pitching in general, Rays' catcher, Dioner Navarro, was the hero last night, twice. In the 8th inning, with one out, Jacoby Ellsbury singled. This was big for the Sox. If Ellsbury steals second with one out, the sox would have a great shot at scoring a run and taking the lead. That would put Papelbon on the mound in the 9th inning. So, Ellsbury took off for second, and Navarro fired one of the more perfect throws to second I have ever seen. A laser of a throw that landed perfectly in Akinori Iwamura's waiting glove. Iwamura did not have to even move the glove, he simply had to close it around the ball as Ellbury slid in to it. if the ball had been throw just a foot off, Ellsbury probably would have touched the base before being tagged out.

Jacoby Ellsbury thrown out stealingSo often in baseball, the guy who makes the big defensive play comes up later and gets the big hit. I don't know if it is adrenaline, or a self confidence from the big play, but you can almost always count on it. Last night was no exception. With the score still tied, Justin Masterson was sent in to get the Rays out in the bottom of the ninth inning. The first batter, Jason Bartlett, barely got the bat on the ball, but ended up on first base as the looping fly ball landed in that spot behind first base that no one can reach. Then, Masterson dug himself a deep hole. He walked Carlos Pena, struck out Evan Longoria, and then plunked Cliff Floyd on the knee to load the bases. That brought up Navarro, who smashed a 2-2 fastball deep to center field, easily bringing home the winning run from third.

Dioner NavarroSo, faced with the prospect of losing possession of first place outright, the Rays stepped up and showed some life. I tip my hat to that. But, even though the Sox lost, they still moved forward in the playoff race as the Yankees, Blue Jays, and Twins all lost last night. The losses reduce the Yanks and Jays elimination number to a mere 3, while the Twins' elimination number in the Wild Card race dropped to 5. With 11 games to play, the Sox are more solidly entrenched as a playoff entrant. The question that is becoming the only remaining question, is who will be the Division Winner, and who will take the Wild Card spot between the Red Sox and the Rays?

The Sox were without Jason Bay last night, who flew quickly back to Boston to be present for the birth of his daughter, Evelyn Jane, last night. Word is Jason got there with only 45 minutes to spare. Ah, the life of a major league family. I'm Bay is already on a plane back to Florida to play in tonight's game. But, there will be plenty of time this off season to play with the baby.

I am concerned about Mike Lowell. Having been forced to retire from baseball with a bad hip myself, I cringed last night as Lowell came up limping after making a barehanded grab of a softly hit ground ball and making the throw to first. It was a nice play, but the twisting motion clearly aggravated Lowell's right hip, which has been diagnosed with a torn labrum. The right hip is also the center of a right handed batter's strength. A hobbled Lowell will still be able to contribute, but not at the levels he is fully capable of. Bad timing for that injury, but Mike has been there before, barely recovering in time from a broken bone in his left hand prior to the 2003 playoff with the Marlins. Let's hope he still has some magic healing powder left.

(Photos Courtesy of ESPN)


Suldog said...

Watching Lowell after that check swing had me wincing as well. He's a soldier. He'll go to the wall for you. But, it hurts to watch it. Obviously, the cortisone can only do so much. He's had, what? Three shots already? More? Tough.

Rooster said...

I think he just had his third shot recently. Cortisone helps reduce any inflation. If it still hurts, that's not a great sign. Hopefully he won't be doing more damage to the tear by playing hard on it.