I admit it. I started following the Rays when they made it to the World Series. But in my defense, it was the first season that I had really paid attention to the day-to-day happenings in baseball. I had been a Mets fan for years, but hadn't really been paying attention. I had started to watch games regularly and getting daily updates during the 2008 season. I rooted for the Rays in the World Series, not just because they were going up against the Evil Empire of the NL aka the Phillies, but mostly because they took out the Evil Empire of the AL aka the Yankees, and the Red Sox to get there. And, of course, I had to check out the Woonsocket Rocket aka Rocco Baldelli.
I saw Matt Garza (my favorite Rays pitcher) own the Red Sox and win ALCS MVP. I remember being introduced to Grant Balfour, which was an experience since I have a thing for Aussies--well, Australian accents, insert Ryan Rowland-Smith here. I remember rooting for JP Howell, another fave cog from the bullpen. I remember seeing Aki record the final out. David Price will go down in infamy for celebrating his save.
I know the Rays were ahead of schedule by making it to the World Series in 2008, their first winning season. EVER! But I enjoyed hearing about it, even though I didn't see it firsthand. 2009 was supposed to be a redo. It didn't turn out that way, but I still liked watching the 2009 Tampa Bay Rays. Some of the highlights of the season?
Carl Crawford going off to the races against the Red Sox. My sister and I love to refer to that game against the Red Sox when Evan Longoria helped us tie the game with a homerun in the bottom of the 8th inning and then won it with a walkoff 2-run homerun in the 13th inning because 'he had had enough off this!' (it's a reference to a Bill Cosby skit). Ben Zobrist flipping into the stands. Carlos Pena flipping into the dugout. Twice. Almost anything dealing with Carlos Pena or Jason Bartlett or Benzo/Zorilla. BJ Upton's cycle. The gems tossed by Jeff Niemann prompting other bloggers to refer to him as the Robot Gort, and it stuck (it's a BLS article). I saw Wade Davis pitch during Spring Training and I was biding my time until September when I knew he'd be called up. He was good in his first start against the Tigers. He got touched in his second start against the Red Sox. But he was brilliant in his third start against the Black Birds, with his complete game 4-hit shutout.
My favorite games of the year have to be the games that we played against Doc Halladay. It amazes me that Doc Halladay is arguably one of the best starters in baseball and yet routinely, particularly this year, we beat him, and not usually by a slim margin. Let's start with the less impressive one. Rookie Gort gets his 12th win, handing Doc Halladay his 7th loss in a 12-7 game against the Blue Jays. Doc went 6 innings, giving up 12 hits. Gort also went 6 innings, giving up 8 hits. But then there was my favorite game of the year. Matt Garza going toe to toe with Doc Halladay in Toronto. Both throwing 9 innings. Both giving up 2 runs. Doc walking 3, Matt walking none. Doc striking out 10, Matt striking out 8. It was a thing of beauty! What made it even better? Matt won it. JP saved it.
Honorary mention goes to Andy Sonnanstine. I know he had a hard year this year. And I wish him the best, whether its in our rotation or in our bullpen. I'll address my preference in a later post. However, my favorite 2009 Andy Memory has to be the lineup snafu forcing him to bat for himself. It is my fave memory because when he stepped into that batter's box, he owned that batter's box. He's an AL pitcher. He has no business knowing how to bat. I've seen NL pitchers less confident, and they do it regularly. It cracked me up everytime Crazy Joe had Andy pinch-hit, but those are memories I wouldn't trade for anything.
Once again expectations are high for the Rays. Once again I look forward to seeing the Rays play. I saw them play the Mets in New York in June. That was fun because I rooted for both teams, switching jerseys and hats multiple times during the game. This year my sister and I are trying to head up to Minnesota to see the Rays play the Twins during my birthday weekend. We'll see how that goes...
This post was written by a member of the DRaysBay community and does not necessarily express the views or opinions of DRaysBay staff.