Sunday, June 14, 2009


If one of your two guesses was that we were going to watch the Rays beat the Nationals at Tropicana field on Saturday night, you would be correct. Give yourself a pat on the back. Awesome new reader, Brent, hooked us up with the tix and Ms.Troll and I cleared our busy schedules and set out for an awesome evening of baseball and hip-hop.
We headed out early, which was good because we ended up getting a flat tire! We had planned on “tailgating” with the rest of the fans outside the Trop, but we really wanted to watch batting practice, too. We compromised and had 1 warm beer in the hot sun, then headed to the outfield for the tail end of batting practice. Pena and Longo were already done and there weren’t too many balls flying over the right field wall, but I never get tired of watching pitchers (and pitching coaches) chasing down fly balls. When the Rays were done, Washington took the field for BP. Shairon Martis, a surprising young starter for the Nats (5-1) was shagging balls in front of us. The Cowbell Kid (the Rays most famous fan!) and his crew showed no mercy in their heckling of Martis. I am not a big fan of the heckle, but he had us laughing. Martis took the abuse like a champ.
We took a walk to replenish our empty beverage cups and when we returned it was time for the National Anthem. I tried to see if Pat Burrell was hiding in the dugout as he had done with the Stone Crabs, but I couldn’t see.
Andy Sonnanstine delivered the pitch and it was a strike, that is always a good way to start a game. He got through the 1st two batters with ground ball outs, but Ryan Zimmerman, their 3rd batter, hit a solo home run to left field. Sonny ended the inning and the Rays were down 1-0.
Jordan Zimmerman, a 23 year old right hander, got the start for the Nats and he had the Rays bats well under control. Aside from a solo home run hit by Carlos Pena (number 20!) he shut the Tampa Bay bats down for 5 innings. With shutting down the bats, he also didn’t give us many chances to ring our cowbells.
Sonnanstine also found his groove. Aside from one bad pitch in the first, Sonny was on his game. He doesn’t over power hitters by any means. When he brings the heat, it sometimes reaches 89 MPH, but when his control is on, he gets outs. He walked just one batter and struck out 6 on the day, he also retired 15 Nationals in a row after the 3rd inning, which made for a very quick ballgame. But, after 5 innings, the Nationals still led 2-1. Zimmerman was lifted and Jason Bergmann got the call. Apparently, Bergman is a pretty big Rays fan, too. He was serving up softballs and the Rays showed no mercy. The Nats were still up by 1 in the bottom of the 6th when Bergmann took the hill. He gave up a leadoff hit to Evan Longoria, and then Carlos Pena laid down a near perfect bunt down the 3rd base line. Ryan Zimmerman didn’t even throw to first. It’s just not fair when the AL leader in long balls can bunt that well! With Longo and Pena on base, switch hitting second baseman Ben Zobrist was up. Zob’s made the cover of the Rays score card this home stand and has been the biggest offensive surprise in the Rays lineup this year. He took Bergmann’s offering and drilled it into the left field stands, for his 13th homer of the year. Rays up 4-2. New addition to the team, Pat Burrell drew a walk and Gabe Gross hit a homer to left. It is the former Brewers 4th long ball of the year. With Zobrist likely to play second for the rest of the year, Matt Joyce being sent to AAA and Fernando Perez out for the season, Gross can be probably be called our everyday right fielder. Rays up 6-2. The Rays ended up batting around and then some in the sixth. After facing 5 batters, giving up 5 runs and not recording an out, Bergmann was lifted in favor of Jesus Colome, a former (Devil) Ray reliever from 2001-2006. Colome gave up a single to back-up catcher, Michel Hernandez, but then got Reid Brignac to fly out to deep center field. Finally, the Nats got somebody out. BJ hit an infield single and Craw popped out to left. Two outs and two on and Longoria, who already has a hit in the inning, is up again. Longo hits it deep to left center, but not out of the ball park. It goes off the wall and Longo has a bases clearing double. Rays are up 8-2. Pena hits a ground ball sharply to Nick Johnson at first, but he makes a nice play to end the inning.
Sonnanstine, who looks sharper late in the game, retires the side in order.
Colome remains on for Washington and he does the same in the bottom of the 7th.
Sonny opens the 8th inning by allowing a double to the Nats speedy second baseman, Anderson Hernandez. He strikes out Christian Guzman swinging. Then, Nick Johnson hits a line drive single to right. Gabe Gross fields it cleanly, but throws to the Nationals dugout instead of home. Guzman scores and Johnson goes to third base on the throwing error.
Ryan Zimmerman taps one to Longo at third, but Longoria bobbles after looking Johnson back and everyone is safe. Sonnanstine still appeared sharp, but with two on and two errors in the inning, Maddon decides its time for him to take a shower. Andy left the field to a standing ovation. Great job Andy!!!
Randy Choate came on in relief and the lefty got Adam Dunn to ground into a double play to end the inning without allowing any unearned runs. Rays are still in the lead, now 8-3.
Veteran reliever Julian Tavarez came on for the bottom of the 8th. He allowed a single to Upton, but ended the inning with no further scoring.
We were sitting behind the bullpen at this point in the game (we move around when the Rays are behind as a rally starter, it works!) and I had been watching Jason Isringhausen warm up in the pen. The ball was popping loudly into Navarro’s mitt. He was on tonight! He got the call to shut down the Nationals in the ninth.
Former Rays outfielder, Elijah Dukes greeted him with a sharp single to center, but he got Willie Harris to pop up and struck out leftfielder Austin Kearns swinging. He hit 94 MPH on the final pitch to Kearns.
With 2 outs in the ninth inning, Corey Patterson (a former 1st round pick who hit 24 homers for the Cubs in ’04) got the call to pinch hit, and make his first plate appearance of 2009. The entire crowd at the Trop was on its feet awaiting the final out. Isy quickly blazed balls past Patterson. The count was 1-2 with 2 outs and Isy just needed to throw one more pitch. He did, throwing it well over the catchers head. If Patterson was hitting from the right side, he would have taken a fast ball to the face. This wasn’t your standard wild pitch, though. Something was wrong. Dukes advanced on the WP and Hernandez tracked it down, but Isy was hurt. He pointed to his elbow and Joe Maddon sprinted out of the dugout along with his trainers. That may well be the last professional pitch Isringhausen ever throws. It was painful to watch. The crowd remained on their feet, no longer waiting for the final strike, but in shock over what they just seen. Isringhausen is 5th among active closers in saves with 293. He was originally drafted by the Mets in the 44th round in 1991. He was a starter for them in the mid to late 90’s. He was converted to a closer after being traded to Oakland. In 2004, with the Cardinals, he became one of the leagues most feared stoppers. He led the league in saves with 47 in 2004. He was a part of the Cards World Series runs in ’04 and ’06 when they won it all. He left St. Louis in August of 2008 after tearing a tendon in his pitching arm. The Rays signed him to a minor league contract this year and with Troy Percival out with an injury, he was a part of the Rays “closer by committee” bullpen. He was 7 saves away from having 300 for his career and just 10 saves away from passing Doug Jones and Bruce Sutter for 20th All Time. He was only 48 saves away from passing Rollie Fingers and entering the top ten. I have never considered myself a fan of Isringhausen, but being a part of my favorite team, I cheered him on. I wanted to be there to watch him achieve his career goals, not throw his final pitch before his time.
The crowd at the Trop was tense, but we still had a ballgame to finish. Lance Cormier was called on and he trotted to the field without warming up. He took some tosses on the mound and was ready. Everyone was already standing and noise overtook the Trop again when he was ready to pitch.
Cormier’s night lasted one pitch. He blew his first offering past Patterson for his 20th strikeout of the year. The game was over; the Rays had won 8-3. Sonnanstine had his 5th victory and dropped his ERA by a run. Zobrist’s 3 run shot in the 6th proved to be the game winner and he was interviewed after the game as the player of the game. We had thoughts of going on the field for the post game show by Ludacris, but the lines told us otherwise. There had been over 30,000 fans watching the ball game, but it looked like another ten thousand had showed up just for the show.
With Professor X in tow, we grabbed ourselves a couple of seats right behind the Rays dugout.
We had been at the Trop to see (and mock) Three Doors Down at the first show in the summer concert series, but Luda was one that we had been waiting for.
At first, I thought it was a joke, then I felt ripped off. Luda decided to treat the all ages crowd to a serving of “Luda-Lite”. Today, I have given it some thought, and it was pretty cool. He doesn’t have the chance to play for 7-year-olds all that often and he kept the lyrics with a G rating, which meant a lot of word substitutions and skipped lyrics.
He sang “If I take one more drink,I'm gon' end up kissing you,Is that watchu wanna do, shawty?If I take one more drink,I'm gon' end kissing you,You too.” In case you aren’t familiar with Luda, the normal song says nothing about kissing. Professor X had 1 drink too many and found himself passed out on the dugout... He continued and changed songs about sex to snack food. “Take that and rewind it back, Ludacris has the beat to make your kernels go pop”. It didn’t stop the crowd from getting up and dancing, and it gave me and the wife some comic relief. Changing ho’s to pros, Luda managed to sing nearly all of his hits without coming close to poisoning young ears, young ladies in the Trop put your hands up!It was a good night, a good game, a good show. All was good, sparring Jason Isringhausen’s injury. I love this game, I love this team! Go Rays!
End Notes:
1.The Rays lead the series with the Nats 2-0. James Shields will face off against Ross Detwiler on Sunday, going for the sweep.
2.Winston Abreu, who pitched for the Nationals in 2007, was called up to replace Jason Isringhausen who was placed on the 60-Day disabled list.
3.Jason Bartlett led off, played shortstop and had two hits in the Stone Crabs loss on Saturday night. He will make his final rehab start today.
4.Scott Kazmir will be joining the ever popular Charlotte Stone Crabs later this week for a rehab assignment.
5. The Rays are 2 games over .500 for the first time this year.
6. With a 33-31 record, they are in 4th place in the AL East, 5 games behind the Boston Redsox.
7. Pat Benatar will be rocking the Trop on June 27th as part of 80's night.
8. There will be plenty more on the Luda performance, but I have to go to work, Troll out!

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