The last two nights leading up to this game had been magical. They had two consecutive walk-off wins, brought to us on Tuesday by Pat Burrell in the 11th and Wednesday night Ben Zobrist delivering in the bottom of the ninth. I missed both games, only catching the highlights and it’s had me feeling like a bad fan. I had my fingers crossed for a sweep and I was gonna see it in person.
I waivered that morning about whether to go or not. Esther Gin was off at work and I thought about saving time and money and watching it on TV. As soon as I stepped outside to check the mail (nothing there but stupid bills) and felt that 97 degree heat while looking up at the cloud filled sky, I decided it would be a good day to spend at the Dome. Since my ticket was comped (an $8. value) and the Trop allows you to bring in outside food, the afternoon ended up costing less than 20 bucks. Two dollars to cross the toll (toll, not Troll) bridge, about 8 bucks in gas and 5 dollars for a Pepsi. I wanted a beer pretty bad, but didn’t wanna pound a bunch of beers and accidentally shoot a bingo player later that night, so Pepsi it was. So 15 dollars down and I was in. I missed batting practice, but did manage to find a good seat (my season ticket residence from 1999 right behind the bullpen, a 44 dollar value) in time for both National Anthems.
I had not even checked to see who was pitching, so when I realized it was one of the leading Cy Young candidates in Roy Halladay (10-2 2.79) pitching against one of the great young promising lefties in the league and potential Rookie of the Year candidate David Price (2-3 5.21), it was pure bonus.
The matchups went beyond just the pitchers that day. There was the match-up of the struggling designated hitters, Kevin Millar (.234/4/22) versus Pat Burrell (.223/4/25). The match-up between the oversized, power-hitting, All Star second baseman in Aaron Hill (.298/20/59) and Ben Zobrist (.288/17/50) and the battle of the sparkplug outfielders in Alex Rios (.262/10/46/14 steals) against Carl Crawford (.313/8/38/44 steals). Also, the most interesting of them all, the battle of the internet candidates for the final All Star spot in Adam Lind (.309/19/59) against Carlos Pena (.232/23/57). There were also some potential late-inning pinch hit heroes, too. Since this was a matinee game, both skippers gave guys the day off. Scott Rolen (.330/6/34) who is the midst of a 25-game hitting streak (3 shy of the Jays record) was given the day off as was shortstop Marco Scutaro (.283/6/37). Joe Maddon let catcher Dioner Navarro(.223/5/25) take the day off, too.
With all of these matchups dancing around in my head, a five dollar Pepsi at my side and pencil and scorecard in hand, I was braced and ready for that 12:08 first pitch. It came from David Price, a 92 MPH fastball against Jose Bautista (.263/2/11) who was batting lead-off and playing third base in Rolen’s absence. It was a strike, always the best way to start a game, and it led to Bautista (a Devil Ray in ’04) lining out to right. Hill was up next and Price beaned him. This was a confusing move, it had me worried about his control, but the All Star second baseman (and one of my favorite non-Rays) was okay and no warnings were issued. Price struck out Lind and brought the count full against Millar before he popped out weakly to center to end the inning.
The Rays came out swinging against Halladay, who had only 2 losses coming into the game, the last one coming against the Rays in Toronto on June 29. BJ Upton went down on a foul pop-up to the catcher, bringing up All Star Carl Crawford. CC promptly drilled a single to center. He has the green light on more often than not and he quickly swiped second base and took third on an over-throw by catcher, Barrajas. Evan Longoria accepted the offer for an easy RBI and drove CC home with a single to left. Carlos Pena followed and laid down a beautiful drag bunt down the third base line. Even though Pena pulls this trick out of his hit quite often, it took the Jays by complete surprise and he had a hit easily. This created a two-on and one out situation for last night’s hero Ben Zobrist. Halladay had seemed rushed with CC on base, but was settled down and took Zobrist down on a beautiful sequence of speeds. He struck him out on 4 pitches, 94, 86, 78 and back up to 93. Burrell was up next and perhaps he was trying to emulate his counterpart, because he did, weakly popping out to end the inning.
In the second, Halladay opened by striking out Gabe Gross, it was his 100th K of the season. Jason Bartlett, who now uses “Smooth Criminal” by Michael Jackson as his intro music, singled, but was left stranded. Both pitchers had settled down and would allow the occasional hit, but no walks or runs until the fifth inning for either team.
The Jays drew blood first in the top of the 5th inning. Shortstop John McDonald (.294/1/2), who got a rare start in place of Marco Scutaro, doubled home Alex Rios, who had singled and stole second and moved to third, ala Carl Crawford. Price stranded McDonald at second, with the help of a beautiful bare hand grab by Ben Zobrist to rob Bautista of his second hit of the day. Price’s ERA shrank with every out and by the end of his day it had fallen from 5.21 to 4.70. He struck out 7 Jays, walked one and pitched nearly perfect with men on. Toronto was 2-10 (1-8 against Price) with runners in scoring position and they stranded 9 runners on the day. The score was knotted up at 1 going into the bottom of the fifth. Michel Hernandez (.268/1/11) and BJ Upton (.241/7/33/31 steals) both singled to open the inning. Carl Crawford had a great opportunity with two on and no outs, but he fouled off towards the visiting dugout and Jose Bautista (who plays every position other than pitcher/catcher) made an amazing diving/sliding grab for the first out. Bautista, who doesn’t see too much time at third base, took the prize for best defensive play of the day on that one. Longoria followed with his second single of the day, but with Hernandez on second with little speed, no one scored. It loaded the bases for All Star hopeful Carlos Pena with one out. There were 25,000 fans at the Trop, about half were kids and they gave away inflatable cheer sticks to all the youngsters. Young and old were on their feet, cowbells ringing in wait for Pena to do something special. Carlos delivered, smacking a line drive double off the wall. It was sharply hit and Longo didn’t have a chance to try for home, but it did plate Hernandez and Upton to give the Rays a 3-1 advantage. Pena’s double would be the Rays only extra base hit on the day. Both teams combined for 3 doubles, but nothing more. This was the first game I had been to (maybe ever) at the Trop with no home runs. With the help of another nifty play by Bautista, Halliday retired Zobrist to bring up Burrell with runners on second and third and two outs. Big Pat was obviously left with nothing after his game winning homer two nights prior and he struck out to end the inning. Halladay collected 7 Ks against zero walks on the day. His ERA rose by a tiny margin from 2.79 to 2.85.
Price had nearly 100 pitches by the top of the 6th, but he remained in the game to start the inning with a 3-1 lead. Adam Lind singled to start the inning and the bullpen phone was ringing. It blows my mind that with all of today’s technology; they still have a rotary dial phone with the curly cord in the bullpen. Joe Nelson began warming up, but Price kept Lind glued to first base, getting the next 3 batters in order. First baseman Lyle Overbay (.249/9/41)ended the inning with his third strikeout on the day, I wondered if the Rays pitchers had it in them to leave Overbay with the Golden Sombrero (4 strikeouts in one game) or maybe even a Platinum Sombrero (5 Ks). Ironically, two of the only 3 guys in history to wear a Golden Sombrero twice in their career were in the game. Alex Rios and (big surprise here) Pat Burrell; former All Star Dick Allen also achieved this dubious honor. Halladay got the Rays in order in the bottom of the sixth inning, so onto the top of 7 we go. Price’s night was over with 103 pitches (65 strikes) at the end of the 6th. If the Rays could hold on to the win, it would be his. I have been in attendance for both of Price’s previous wins this year and David, if you are reading, I would be happy to head to the Trop another 17 times after the break! Joe Nelson took over in the 7th and was completely ineffective. Whereas Price was bringing the heat at 94, working his curve and slider and changing speeds down to the 70’s, Nelson is basically an 80’s fastball guy. The Jays ate it up and Nelson’s night lasted only a third of an inning. He did manage to load the bases before his quick exit, but he did not allow any runs. Randy Choate got the call to come in next. His job was simple, get out the lefty Adam Lind and your night is done. Lind was up with one out and the bases full, same situation as Pena in the 5th. Just like Pena, Lind delivered, that is what All Stars (or All Star hopefuls at least) do. Lind drilled a single past the diving Zobrist; Gross fielded it quickly and fired home ensuring that the Jays only got one run. That was it for Choate, his job was to get the lefty Lind out and he couldn’t do it. Grant Balfour (3-1/4.39) quickly started tossing in the Rays pen as Joe Maddon slowly walked to the mound. He motioned to the bullpen and then Pantera began to be blasted over the PA, it was Balfour time! Grant strolled to the mound as Pantera continued to scald the airwaves at the Trop, the crowd was going insane, and it was like Trevor-Time in San Diego a few years back. Balfour inherited 3 runners and one out and was facing designated hitter Kevin Millar. He struck him out! Balfour hit 95 on the radar on the final pitch, beating both Halliday and Price in speed as they both topped out at 94. It was up to Vernon Wells (.263/9/38). Wells drilled a deep line drive, quickly causing the rowdy crowd to quiet in nervousness, but BJ Upton hauled it in on the warning track. Situation averted. The Rays still led 3-2 going into the 7th inning stretch. It was pouring rain outside and thunder and lightning abounded, but after the stretch something happened that I have never experienced in my decade plus of attending games at the Trop, a weather related delay!
The giant electronic scoreboard informed the fans that we were experiencing a power outage. It was hard to know this, because the light and AC were still on, but I guess we were on emergency power. The jumbo screen showed Bugs Bunny cartoons and the bullpen boys stood up and watched. They were funny! The game resumed after twenty minutes (I was really nervous this would cause me to miss the game’s end, I had work at 4 two cities away) and Halladay remained in the game even after the delay. He started the seventh and got the Rays in order. Balfour did the same in the top of the 8th. The score was frozen at 3-2 in favor of the Rays. Jeremy Accardo (0-0 3.86 1 save) who saved 30 games for the Jays in 2007 took the hill for the bottom of the 8th. He had his fastball up at 94 MPH and used it to strike out Pena and Zobrist to open the inning. Pat Burrell, who was the only person in the Rays line-up to not have a hit, came up and walked. The battle of the incompetent DHs ended as such, Millar was 0-4 with a strikeout and 6 men left on, while Burrell was 0-3 with 2 strikeouts, a walk and 5 men left on. Advantage Burrell!
After the two-out walk, Kapler came in to pinch run and Gabe Gross came to the plate. Gross got on with an infield single to give the Rays men on first and second with 2 outs. Accardo struck Bartlett (1-4 2 KS) out to end the inning. Dan Wheeler came on for the Rays to pitch the ninth and got John McDonald (2-4, double, run, rbi) to pop out to left to open the inning. He then faced Jose Bautista, who had made two huge defensive plays to go along with his 7th inning single. He struck out swinging. All Star Aaron Hill was the Jays last and final hope for a comeback. Hill was 1-2 on the day, but if he got on base, he would be the tying run. A homer would also tie it up. Hill, instead, hit a weak dribbler to Pena at first to end the game, 3-2 and solidifying the Rays at home sweep of the Jays!!!
Rays mascot Raymond took his broom for a tour of the Trop while Carlos Pena was interviewed on the field as the Rays player of the game. The days matchups were all very even, but the Rays edged out the Jays in every one of them. Price’s record evened out at 3-3, while Halliday’s dropped to 10-3. Dan Wheeler (3-1/3.13) grabbed his first save of the year. The game ended at 3:28, which meant I had to haul ass to make it to work. I ran to my car (in the pouring rain) and got to work about 20 minutes late. I worked the whole night in soggy boots and soaked pants, but the Rays won!!!
1. Neither Carlos Pena nor Adam Lind was the 33rd All Star for the American League. Congratulations to Brandon Inge (.264/19/54) of the AL Central leading Detroit Tigers who led all candidates with 11.8 million votes. Inge, who can catch and play all three outfield positions, has played every game at third this year for the Tigers. The Flyin’ Hawaiian, Shane Victorino (.309/6/42) of the defending World Champion Phillies won the final spot for the National League.
2. Today is my Mothers birthday, Happy Birthday Mom!!! She is shown here at my wedding 3 and a half years ago and yes that is an airplane behind us. We jumped from it prior to the ceremony. I love you MOM!!!! Are you 30 yet?
3. Speaking of weddings…I am taking my first night off of work in several weeks to work slash attend my friend’s Luke and Rene’s wedding. Congrats guys!!!
4. The contest that I keep speaking of will be posted very soon. I will have a choice of at least 5 different memorabilia cards for the winner to pick from. There will be no questions other than your name and what card you want (and who your favorite team is) and therefore there are no wrong answers, well, unless you are a Yankees fan! The only prerequisite is that you follow this blog.
5. This is my first million word-long post in a while, I am exhausted!
6. I was not intentionally trying to not represent the Jays with images, I recently sent all of my Jays cards to my buddy Duane from the Democratic Roadkill blog. Sorry we swept ya guys, AGAIN!
7. I am going to go out on a limb and predict that Pat Burrell has what it takes to become the first player in MLB history to wear the Golden Sombrero 3 times, I know you can do it, Pat!Go Rays!!! Troll out.