Tim Kurkjian often says one of the reasons he loves baseball is because everyday is a chance to see something you didn't see the day before. Today, that something was Ben Zobrist hitting a home run. Held homer-less in his first 170 plate appearances in 2010, Zorilla returned in New York.
In case you haven't noticed, Zobrist is starting to turn it on. He's been on-base 10 times in the last 4 games, and finally has his first long ball of the season. Zobrist isn't the only member of the Rays offense who seems to be turning his slow start around. Joining Zobrist on the regression train are: Jason Bartlett, B.J. Upton, and Carlos Pena.
For the second straight night the offense was jump started by Bartlett. MVB followed up his lead-off home run in yesterday's game with a lead-off double in this one; he would then score on a Carl Crawford single. B.J. Upton then followed his two-hit game on Wednesday with an opposite-field home run on Thursday. But perhaps the most encouraging signs of life came off the bat of Carlos Pena.
Earlier in the day, Shaun King of the King David Show asked me why doesn't Carlos Pena attempt more bunts for base-hits when the shift is on? I somewhat agreed with Shaun that Pena should drop the occasional bunt down the third base line, but warned that other teams would prefer bunt singles instead of Pena swinging away for extra-base hits.
No bunts were needed tonight as Pena took Andy Pettitte deep not once, but twice; his first (and second) home run(s) since April 28th. Many of us noted that Los hit an absolute rocket on Wednesday night; a ball that was caught by Brett Gardner on a great catch. Despite the out, Pena's swing suggested he was close. The eyes didn't lie.
We spent nearly a week on this site asking for patience with Pena. As we head into June, it seems that patience will be rewarded. In addition to the long balls, Pena came up with a pair of great defensive plays late it the game. Safe to say it was his best all-around game in a long time.
As a whole, the Rays offense cranked out eight runs on the evening, giving them 18 runs in the brief two game series. They needed nearly all eight runs tonight as James Shields battled some bad luck - at least early on - and the bullpen tip-toed around another ninth inning rally attempt.
Pitching with a 3-0 lead, Shields hung a change-up to Juan Miranda, who blasted a two-run shot in the second inning. This came after Miranda tried bunting his way on base in the same at-bat. This is another example of why bunting is frowned upon in most cases. While those two runs were on Shields' pitching, the next two runs allowed were just strange.
In the third inning, the Yankees executed back-to-back successful bunt attempts. The latter included a James Shields throwing error which scored the tying run and set up runners on second and third with no outs. Here was the first "escape or explode" scenario of the evening. Shields retired Mark Teixiera, Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano in order (Rodriguez and Cano on strikeouts) without allowing the runners to advance.
After Upton's solo shot in the top of the fourth gave the Rays a one run lead, Upton completely lost a Juan Miranda flyball in the bottom of the inning; Miranda ended up on third with a one-out triple. After a walk to Francisco Cervelli, Randy Winn hit a deep fly ball to left field. Carl Crawford made a running catch that only a handful of outfielders make, robbing Winn of extra bases. Sure, Miranda tied the game on the sac-fly, but had that ball dropped, we have a whole new ballgame.
From there things settled down for the Rays ace. Shields worked three consecutive perfect innings in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings, and got one out in the eight before he was lifted for Dan Wheeler. Wheeler and his Siamese twin, Randy Choate, completed the frame with relative ease.
Once again, Shields had a good strikeout performance. He added seven more K's to his total, giving him 66 punch outs in 61.1 innings of work. His change-up remains tough to hit as he got five whiffs on 24 pitches (20.83%).
Like the first game of the series, the Rays survived an attempted ninth inning rally by the Yankees. Rafael Soriano worked the final three outs for his 11th save, although he allowed two inherited runners to score. Nonetheless, the Rays completed the two-game sweep, and pushed the Yankees five games behind in the process.
Well done, fellas.