The Rays are 24-1 with me in the seats this year and they have won the last 5 games that I have watched. I had to work late on Thursday and didn’t catch a single pitch so the game shouldn’t even count. While I was at work yesterday afternoon I started writing a post about bad trades the Rays had made this offseason. They shipped away Jason Hammel (2006 Upper Deck card #957-courtesy of Texas Brian) to the Rockies and he is now 8-7 for the Rockies after tossing a 3-hitter over 7 innings against the Nats and now he is playoff bound. They also shipped away my favorite starter Edwin Jackson Jr. (2009 Topps Heritage card # -my most recent TTM success!) to the American League Central leading Detroit Tigers and he is their number 2 starter and key reason they are leading the Sox in their Division. Edwin Jackson had by far the best fastball on the Rays staff; he’s hit 100 MPH on the gun. He worked in relief in the Playoffs last year and had success, but he was also the Rays best regular season starting, setting a franchise mark for wins with 14. For whatever reason, the powers that be decided it would be smart to trade him away for a minor league outfielder. Now, he’s 10-5 with a 2.86 ERA (4th in the AL) and has 128 strikeouts AND was an All Star. Great trade guys.
Anyway, I am not gonna cry (too much) over spilled milk. We lost those guys, Garza and Shields can’t buy a win, Sonnanstine is struggling in AAA and Scott Kazmir has been battling injuries and arm problems all year. Other than the HUGE surprise that is Jeff Niemann, the leading candidate for Rookie of the Year with 11 wins so far, the Rays staff hasn’t had too much to be happy about.
Back to Kaz… his ERA has been well over 6 since before he shut down to deal with a quadriceps strain a few months back. He has traditionally been the Rays Ace, but got bumped by James Shields as the Rays opening day starter. He didn’t get off to an awful start (3-2/5.40 ERA) in April, but he was 1-2 with a 10.89 ERA in the month of May before he went on the DL. He missed June and was still shaky in July, but is 3-1 in the month of August so far. After Shields let the Orioles walk all over him (and the bullpen) on Thursday night, the Rays had fallen to 4 games out of the Wildcard race. They needed a stop, they needed a hero, they needed the Scott Kazmir of old (like this 2007 Upper Deck series 2 Game Materials card, also sent by Texas Brian) and they got him.
The Rays drew first blood in the first. Jason Bartlett singled to lead off the game, stole second (23rd) and took third base on a wild throw. He scored on a Carl Crawford groundout and the Rays were on the board. They took a similar method in the second inning. Dustin Nippert, the young lanky righty on the mound for Texas, attempted (poorly) a pickoff of Gabe Gross off of first base. He made it all the way to 3rd base while the Rangers tried to find the ball. Jason Bartlett bunted him home (attempted play at the plate, FC) and the Rays were up 2-0 on a couple of singles.
Scott Kazmir is from Texas (Houston actually), he has Texas tags on his Escalade and he has taken pride in absolutely owning the Rangers in the past. Coming into this year he had a career mark of 4-0 with a 2.09 ERA in 7 starts against the Rangers. In fact, tonight was Scott’s longest outing (and best performance) since June 6, 2008 (Kaz’ father’s birthday!) when he struck out 6 and beat the Rangers 12-4 in Arlington with most of the Kazmir family in the stands.
Kazmir had a one-hit shutout working in the 5th inning; coming into the 8th he had a three-hitter. He had 4 innings where he needed less than 10 pitches to retire the side including a 5-pitch 7th inning, but back to the Rays offense…
They had been quiet until the fifth inning when Evan Longoria came up with 2 outs and no one on. He smoked a grounder past (through) Elvis Andrus for a single to bring up Ben Zobrist. Zobs had 17 homers before the All Star break, then his power seemed to drift off till this week. Batting left-handed, he inside-outed (is that a word?) a low and inside curveball and sent it to the left field stands for his 22nd homer, (3rd in 3 games) a two-run blast. On Sportscenter, following the game, Linda Cohn called it a “Zo-blast!” but in Tampa Bay we call him Zorilla! Not to be outdone, Carlos Pena made it two homers in a row, pulling a fastball into the right field stands for an opposite field homerun and extending his American League leading homerun total to 32 and giving the Rays a 5-0 lead. Bring on designated hitter Pat Burrell who had 2 strikeouts in his two prior at-bats. Dustin Nippert remained in the game, despite just allowing two monster homeruns, but Pat Burrell couldn’t hop on the homerun train-he popped out to end the inning. Scott Kazmir rolled along and carried that 5-0 lead into the 8th inning. Taylor Teagarden, the Rangers young catcher (.199/6/21) led off the 8th against Kaz and greeted him with a solo home run to spoil the shutout. Kaz got through Andrus before allowing a walk to Kinsler and another single to Mike Young. Young had 3 of the Rangers five hits against Kaz. The lefties pitch count had passed 100 and with 2 runners on and 1 out, Joe Maddon decided that Kaz was done, even though he hit 95 MPH on the radar gun in the 8th for the first time this year! Kaz left with a 5-1 lead, allowing just 5 hits and striking out 4 in his longest outing of the year. He left the field to a 20,000 fan standing ovation and tipped his hat on the way to the dugout. Grant Balfour (another recent TTM success!) got the call with 2 inherited runners on base and 1 out. Young and Kinsler successfully pulled off the double steal to place runners at 2nd and 3rd for Marlon Byrd (0-3 against Kaz). Balfour delivered a high, inside heater and shattered Byrd’s bat, but he sprayed a single to left field to plate Kinsler. Andruw Jones was up next and he hit a grounder to Longoria (who should have thrown home) who got Byrd at second for a fielder’s choice, scoring Young. Two batters, one out and both of the runner’s Kaz was responsible for scored bringing his ERA back up over 6 in the process. The young and speedy Julio Borbon came into run for the not very speedy Jones at first. Everyone in the Trop knew he was going to try to steal and he did, but with no success this time. He had stolen 8 straight bases since being called up, but Greg Zaun and Jason Bartlett ended that streak and that ended the inning. Balfour was credited with this 14th hold of the year for that, which I didn’t think was too far. He got one guy out, let two runners score and gets credit for a scoreless inning and a hold?
CJ Wilson started the bottom of the 8th for Texas. This lefty throws the heat! Zobrist turned around and stood in as a righty and drew a lead-off walk. Pena grounded out, but moved Zobs up which caused Wilson to walk Burrell intentionally (so this is what 1st base looks like) to bring up Greg Zaun who popped out. Gabe Kapler (.239/4/24) pinch hit for the left handed hitting Gabe Gross with men on first and second. Wilson hit his toe with a pitch, but he wasn’t awarded the base. It didn’t matter because Wilson walked him anyway loading the bases for BJ Upton. It was Bossman Junior’s 25th birthday last night and a grand slam would have been a nice gift. BJ is a career .304 hitter with the bases loaded, but has never hit a homerun. The side-armer Darren O’Day (2-1/1.98 ERA) came in to face Upton and got him swinging on a high fastball to end the inning with no score. Going into the top of the 9th, the Rays still lead 5-3. JP Howell came on for the 57th time this year. He got through Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz to bring up Hank Blalock as the Rangers final hope. Blalock drew a walk on four pitches (I think this is his 2nd walk since the break) and Taylor Teagarden came up. He had homered his last time up and could tie the game with one now. He didn’t. A swing and a miss on a 2-2 curve ball in the dirt and the game was over. Rays win, Rays win!!! This improved their record to 66-55 and since the Yankees were able to score 3 touchdowns in their win against the Sox, the Rays were back to being 3 games out of the wildcard. In Florida related wildcard news…Annibel Sanchez had a great night and the Florida Marlins are also 3 games out of the NL wildcard. In totally unrelated news… Billy Wagner, who has been on the DL for the Mets all year long, finally comes off of it, has his velocity back and pitches a scoreless inning in his 2009 debut AND the Mets put him on waivers and the Red Sox claim him. Bye bye Big Apple for Billy. It’s up to Matt Garza to keep the Rays rolling tonight and the game is about to start! The Bradentucky Bombshells are taking on the Gainesville Roller Rebels tomorrow afternoon. Go Bombshells! Go Rays! Troll out.