For the first four innings of today's contest, Rays' ace James Shields must have had a feeling of deja-vu. Although he was pitching relatively well at the point of the game, his team trailed 2-0. More importantly, like his last start, none of his teammates had reached based.
Evan Longoria would put everyone's mind at ease with a leadoff single in the fifth inning - ending a streak of 39 straight outs for Rays' hitters with Shields starting.
As noted, at this point of the game the team trailed by a score of 2-0. Shields' day would get off to a weird start. In the first inning, Chone Figgans would reach on a double to centerfield, advanced to third on a throwing error by Shields, and finally score on a wild-pitch that was really a passed ball. Shields would throw 21 pitches in that first inning; however just 72 over the next seven.
Shields would navigate through a relatively smooth eight innings on the day. The only other run would come on a solo-shot by Mike Sweeney. Sweeney has homered in three straight games including the first two of this series; I can't explain it either.
Big Game, however, would run into some trouble in the eighth inning, but was helped out by a little bit of luck. M's catcher Adam Moore lead off the inning with a single, but would injure his leg on the play. He remained in the game and would still be on first with one out as Ichiro came up to bat.
Ichiro would bang an easy double to right field; however, Moore could not make it past second base. Instead of runners on second and third (at least) with one out, Seattle would only have runners on first and second. Chone Figgans grounded into a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning, and close the book on Shields' evening.
James would allow just the two earned runs on six hits. More impressive than those numbers were the no walks and the 10 strikeouts. We talked about Shields increasing K's on Friday. Today would mark his third double-digit strikeout game this season.
Once again, Shields had a magnificent change-up. He would throw it 27 times with 20 going for strikes including nine whiffs; a 33.3% whiff rate. Shields would walk off the mound in line for the loss, but his offense would finally pick him up in the bottom of the eighth.
The much maligned B.J. Upton would be the catalyst for the Rays scoring. Upton led off the inning with a single, and quickly stole his ninth base of the season. Dioner Navarro would single in the next at-bat, advancing Upton to third. Sean Rodriguez would come off the bench to pinch-run for Navarro. With the right-handed Brandon League in the game, pinch-hit extraordinaire, Reid Brignac would come off the bench and put he Rays on the board with an RBI single scoring Upton.
Jason Bartlett would sacrifice Rodriguez and Brignac over with a sac-bunt - putting two men in scoring position. Normally, we frown upon bunting, but in this case it wasn't a bad call. In general, if a player has a .300 wOBA or below, it doesn't matter if and when he bunts. Coming into today's game, Bartlett had an even .300 wOBA vs. right-handed pitching. The sac-bunt was validated after Carl Crawford was intentionally walked, and Ben Zobrist tied the game on a sac-fly.
The Mariners would immediately get a threat going off Rafael Soriano in the ninth. But Mr. MFIKY, escaped a lead off walk, and a stolen base without allowing a run. In the bottom half of the ninth, one-half of the new Rays DH platoon, Willy Aybar would hit a walk-off solo home run. Ball game.
Aybar is scheduled to start against lefties and bat right-handed. New Ray, and left-handed batter, Hank Blalock will start against righties. However on this night, Aybar hit the solo shot as a left-handed batter facing the right-handed Jesus Colome. Speaking of, why Jesus Colome was brought into a tie game in the bottom of the ninth inning?
Whatever the reason, I'm glad he was and the Rays would add another win to the league's best record. For those keeping score, the Rays with Pat Burrell had a .685 win percentage this season; team Blalock has a perfect 1.000. Just sayin'