Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Matinee Madness, Rays versus Royals at High-Noon

I love the smell of astro-turf in the morning! I love afternoon games. I don’t know what it is about them, but they are awesome! Television contracts don’t allow them to occur all that often, because the average American is at work during the afternoon and not watching a game on TV and supporting their advertisers. I am not your typical American. I lay around in bed all day long, pausing to take the dog for a walk, watch re-runs of One Tree Hill and make the occasional blog post about baseball cards that no one reads who isn’t of blood relation to me.An afternoon game at the Trop means that I get out of my pajamas before 4:00 when I go to work. An afternoon game at the Trop means awesome! It would have been even better if Esther Gin didn’t have to work at the bank everyday this week, but somebody is on vacation and they didn’t want to close for the week. Other than that, all was good. The car was running (big surprise) I had money (bigger surprise) and tickets were still available (not really a surprise). I took the Dog out early and ran around the yard with her to try and tire her out, and then I gave her a giant dog bone that I bought for this occasion to keep her busy and I was off. No traffic or accidents heading to St. Pete and I was there in no time. I parked a mile away (for free) so I would be able to leave quicker (without the postgame traffic). On the walk up I thought that I saw Don Zimmer tailgating in the parking lot. It surprised me how many (REALLY) old folks were drinking in the sun before the game, the line at the early bird is gonna be long and rowdy, teeth will be flying!The line at the ticket window was kinda long, but they had like 30 windows open, so I got my tix quick! I got row G which turned out to be front row, sweet! I got in there early, by 11:00, and there was nothing happening on the field. Neither team took BP and the pitchers slept in apparently. Chad Bradford (who is on the DL) was the first to take the field; he was playing catch with his son, who has a really great arm for long toss. Around 11:00, Kaz and a few other guys took the field. I watched Kaz in the pen warming up very closely. I was watching his delivery, seeing if he winced or showed any discomfort or hang-ups in his delivery. He had none. I returned to my seat and proclaimed to Rob (the guy sitting next to me) that Kaz looked great and was gonna win. We stood for the National Anthem and someone said Play Ball! Scott Kazmir and his 6-7 record, with a 6.22 ERA took the mound. I truly believe that the precedent of a game is set on the first pitch, the first at-bat. The Royals left-fielder, David Dejesus, dug in against Kazmir. The first pitch of the game was a 90 MPH fastball for a strike. Kaz proceeded to strike DD out. He started the next batter, Willie Bloomquist, off with a strike as well. Bloomquist worked the count full, but struck out as well. That is the way to start a ballgame, to make a statement, to show that you didn’t want to be traded, your glad you’re here and you have a lot of pitches left in your arm. Billy Butler was hitting third and playing first for the Royals. Kaz started him with a strike, too, but with two strikes on him, Butler drove a fastball to deep right center. Gabe Gross made a beautiful diving grab at the track and the side was retired.Zack Greinke had the hill for the Royals. His cards say that he is 6’2”, but he looked tiny on the mound. I guess I am used to overweight pitchers. As Kaz started the game the right way, with a strike, Zack wasted his first offering. BJ Upton was given the day off today and Joe Maddon tweaked the Rays lineup. The one that was posted outside of the Trop proved to be wrong and shortstop Jason Bartlett (my favorite!) was hitting lead-off. He had a .331 average coming into the game. Bartlett worked the count and saw only one pitch in the zone before walking. Not a good start for Greinke… Carl Crawford drilled a single to bring Evan Longoria up with men on first and second and no outs. Longo chopped one to short and was thrown out at first. The speed on the bases didn’t allow a double play. Ben Zobrist was hitting clean-up again and he drew the walk to load the bases. Carlos Pena stepped in with one out and the bases juiced, the Trop was going crazy! They gave thunder sticks away again to all of the kids (and there was a ton of kids) in attendance and they were hitting everything and everyone they could as the fans were on their feet in the first inning. Greinke and Pena were set for a duel. The speeds of his offerings were mixed like this: 93-79-94-95-86-94. That was enough to fill the count. Greinke went with the fastball, Pena knew it was coming and drilled it right up the middle for a base hit. Bartlett and Crawford both scored giving the Rays an early 2-0 lead. Pat Burrell was due up next, according to the line-up card, but Flo-Rida starting playing on the speakers and Willy Aybar made his way to the plate. Yes! I thought, we have a chance to score some runs. Unfortunately, Aybar decided to do his Burrell impression and struck out, bringing Gabe Gross up with 2 on and 2 out. The second inning opened with Mark Teahen(getting the start at third in place of slumping Alex Gordon) blasting a double off a hanging curve to right. Kaz got Callaspo and Buck both to pop out before Miguel Olivo blooped one over Bartlett’s head and right in front of Kapler in center. It dropped for a single, scoring Teahen. The Royals would hit .375 (3-8) with runners in scoring position on the day. With Olivo on first, Ryan Freel hit a weak fly to Pena for the final out. The bottom of the second started out the same as the first for Greinke. Michel Hernandez drew a lead-off walk and Gabe Kapler singled. Jason Bartlett dropped a bunt for an infield single to pack the bases again for Carl Crawford, with no outs. CC doubled to right, scoring Kapler and Hernandez. Rays are up 4-1. Greinke looked very shaky at this point, he had thrown 40 pitches, with only 21 of them strikes, but he settled down quick. He struck out Longoria looking on a fastball, and then got Zobrist looking on a wicked curve. Pena was up again with 2 on and 2 outs. Greinke struck out Pena to retire the side, ending the inning striking out the 3-4-5 hitters in order and leaving 2 Rays in scoring position again. Kaz zipped through the 2 and 3rd innings 1-2-3, so we will fast forward to the bottom of the 4th. After Kapler grounded out to Bettancourt, Jason Bartlett drilled a line drive off of the left field wall for a double. CC singled past the diving Alberto Callaspo to bring Bartlett home with no outs. CC quickly stole 2nd (49th steal) and headed to third on a wild throw by Olivo. This brought Longo up with a runner on third and one out. Longo struck out looking again, this time on an 88 MPH fastball right over the plate. Greinke got Zobrist swinging again to end the inning. His ERA had swelled to 2.33, he was down 5-1, but was still mowing down the heart of the Rays line-up and had 7 Ks in 4 innings. Kaz opened the 5th with a 5-1 cushion and struck out Buck before allowing a single to Olivo. He struck out Ryan Freel, but allowed another single to Bettancourt. Kaz started DeJesus off 0-2 before he blooped one over Kaz’ head which dropped in front of Bartlett for an infield single. The bases were loaded again with 2 outs and Willie Bloomquist (0-2 at this point) coming up. Pitching coach Jim Hickey walked to the mound and guys started stretching (not throwing) in the Rays pen. Kazmir’s ERA had dropped to 5.99, but he was in trouble. Bloomquist worked the count full before driving one to center. A grand slam would have tied the game; the entire stadium was holding their breath. Kapler had been playing shallow for a play at the plate, but he ran to the track and made a great catch to end the inning with no damage. Pena led off the bottom of the 5th and struck out again on an 89 MPH fastball. Willy Aybar, starting at DH in place of Burrell had been 0-2 when he stepped in from the left side of the plate against Greinke. Flo Rida once again rocked the PA and I could hear pre-pubescent boys behind me squeaking along “apple bottom jeans, boots with the…” Greinke looked in charge and had the count 1-2 on the switch-hitting DH. He threw the curve and Aybar drilled it into the RF stands, about 390 feet for the first home run of the game (Aybar’s 9th of the year), a solo shot. It was Greinke’s 97th pitch of the day. Gabe Gross, who had struck out twice prior, doubled down the left field line. Michel Hernandez chopped a single over Teahen’s head for a single, setting up runners on 1st and 3rd for Kapler. Kapler was showing bunt, which seemed weird with a 5 run lead, but after 2 strikes he was swinging away. A bunt would have been a better idea. He chopped one back to Greinke who turned and threw to second to start the double play to end the inning. Once again, the Rays left 2 men on.

Kazmir started the 6th inning with his ERA down to 5.92, but with 2 outs, Jack Buck delivered his first hit of the day scoring Mark Teahen to make the score 6-2 and Kazmir’s ERA jump to 6.02. He had already topped 100 pitches and Grant Balfour was throwing in the Rays bullpen. Kazmir was beginning to look less sharp and I hoped Maddon would pull him before any real damage. Miguel Olivo (2-2 so far) with a man on, Kaz took the lead with a 0-2 count. He went with the curve and Olivo hammered it to deep left, but CC hauled it in at the track. That was his 109th pitch and I was pretty sure that would be it for Kazmir. He had a 6-2 lead, 5 strikeouts and would leave as the pitcher of record.Greinke was done for the day. I was under the assumption that the Royals pen (spare Soria) was pretty bad. Robinson Tejada (5.93 ERA) took over and looked like an All Star. Bartlett (2-2 so far) lead off. He hit one down the third base line and Teahen made a nice back hand play and threw Bartlett out. Crawford (3-3 so far) struck out swinging on the curve. Longoria, who was 0-3 so far, saw first base for the first time, drawing a walk. This caused a visit to the mound and Tejada was pulled after facing 3 batters, getting a strike out and walking Longo, Tejada topped out at 95 MPH. Ron Mahay, a veteran lefty came in to spin Zobrist around to bat right. Zob’s swung at the first offering and grounded out to second to end the inning.For some reason Scott Kazmir was still in for the top of the 7th, despite already having 110 pitches. He threw 4 more, walking Freel on 4 pitches before he was lifted for Balfour. Kaz exited with a 6-2 lead and got a pretty nice standing O from the 25,000 at the Trop, he is still one of the most loved Rays in Tampa Bay!. Balfour entered, inheriting a runner on first. He got Betancourt, but allowed a single to DeJesus and then another to Bloomquist. I thought for sure a run would score, but Ryan Freel slipped and fell rounding 3rd base. With the bases packed and 1 out, both Brian Shouse and newcomer Jeff Bennett got up in the Rays pen. Billy Butler popped out to Kapler, which was enough for Ryan Freel to score from third. That was one more run charged to Kaz, his ERA is back up over 6 at 6.10. Shouse got the call to finish out the inning and ended it with a 4 pitch strike out. The Rays still lead 6-3 going into the 8th. Mahay stayed in the game and got Pena out to lead it off. The veteran lefty faced Willy Aybar, batting right handed now, he deposited Mahay’s offering into the right field seats. It was Aybar’s tenth homer of the year and second of the game, 1 left handed and 1 right. Gross drew another walk and that spelled Mahay’s day. Roman Colon, another flamethrower came in to face Michel Hernandez. The back-up catcher hopped on Colon’s fastball and drove it to left, the not so sure footed Ryan Freel dove after it and missed. Hernandez looked like a tank on the base paths and he wasn’t slowing down, he slid into third for the first triple of his career, scoring Gross in the process and raising his batting average to .242. Kapler walks to set up 1st and 3rd with one out for Bartlett. JB responded by drilling a bases clearing triple (5th of year)! This put the Rays ahead 10-3. Colon stayed in the game and got CC to ground out before Longo fouled out to the catcher. Jeff Bennett, the Rays big deadline deal (the Braves released him, Rays signed him) took over for the 8th and allowed a lead off single, but got a double play ball and ended the inning with no damage. Juan Cruz got the call for the 8th inning for Kansas City. He allowed a walk to Zobrist, but used his 95 MPH fastball (these KC pitchers have the velocity) to whiff Pena and Gross. The only contact against him was a bat shattering ground out by Aybar. JP Howell, the Rays closer with Percival and Isringhausen out, took over for the ninth. Just like a good closer, he looked iffy in this none-save opportunity. Howell doesn’t bring the heat, but he does change speeds well and keeps hitters off balance. Ryan Freel managed to not fall over, but he did strike out swinging on a big 78 MPH curve ball. Yuniesky Bettancourt faired better, he drilled an 85 MPH fastball to deep left center, Kapler watched it fly over his head into the stands. This brought the score to 10-4 and got Randy Choate up in the Rays pen. Brayan Pena drew a pinch hit walk, but Howell drew a ground ball for a 5-4-3 double play to end the threat and the game. Scott Kazmir upped his record to 6-6, well Zack Greinke fell to 10-7. It was Greinke’s third loss of the year at the Trop. All Stars Greinke and Roy Halladay are a combined 0-5 against the Rays at home. Kaz is 3-3 at home now, and he is the only Rays starter to win back-to-back starts after the All Star break. Kaz issued only 1 walk (in the 7th inning), struck out 5 and threw 82 of his 114 pitches for strikes. Not too shabby. Also, not shabby, was the 1-2 punch of Bartlett and Crawford. Bart was a homer shy of the cycle; he drove in two and scored twice. He raised his average to .337. Crawford had 3 hits and drove in three as well. There was a big drop-off after them, though. Longoria and Zobrist were the only two starters to not have a hit, going 0-7 with 10 men left on base combined. Pena delivered in the first, but was 0-4 with 3 strikeouts the rest of the day. Matt Garza will face the Red Sox at the Trop on Tuesday night; he is 5-1 with a 2.98 ERA career against the Bo Sox. As of today, the Rays trail the Yankees by 5.5 games in the East and trail Boston in the Wildcard race by 5 games. Jon Lester, who has lost twice to the Rays this year, will pitch for the Sox.


  1. Man...I am jealous. Afternoon ball is about the sweetest thing going.

  2. Please, PLEASE tell me you have plans to go after the clown in right who cost us 2 runs tonight!

  3. Bennett looks thinner in white & blue than he did in red, white, & blue. ;) Thanks for the pictures!