Tonight's game was a cherry on top of a magnificent series between the Rays and Yankees. This series looked like it would peak early with the Sabathia/Price matchup, but kept up its rollercoaster ride of excitement with one nail-biting game after another.
James Shields lived up to his "Big Game" moniker tonight, though early on it seemed doubtful. After loading the bases in the first inning, Shields allowed an RBI single to Robinson Cano to give the Yankees the lead 1-0. With one out, the situation looked grim, but Shields coaxed Lance "I wear more mascara than that guy from Lost" Berkman into an inning-ending double play and escaped the jam after throwing 29 pitches. From there, Shields would scatter five hits and a walk, and--most importantly--hold the Yankees scoreless in his next five and one-third innings. He generated ~13% swinging strikes (mostly with the changeup) and while he didn't have his best stuff, he kept the Rays in the game against a tough starting pitcher in Phil Hughes.
Hughes started off the game by retiring the first twelve Rays hitters. The biggest scare he faced early on was an Evan Longoria warning track fly-out to center, Evan's second is as many at bats. Hughes was efficient with his pitches, not allowing a walk, and cruised through the lineup until he faced Dan Johnson in the fifth.
Longoria led off the inning with a single and was driven in two batters later when Dan Johnson blasted a two-run shot to right and put the Rays up 2-1. The Rays found themselves losing 3-2 after a Curtis Granderson two-run homer in the top of the seventh, but Dan Johnson pulled a Dan Johnson in the bottom half of the inning and hit a game deciding home run, another two-run shot off Hughes. With so many big hits in big games, it seems like it's Johnson's goal is to be included in as many Rays "Road to the Playoffs" highlight reels as possible. And why not? Whether confidence breeds success or vice-versa, it's beginning to feel more and more like the "we can come back from anything" feel of the 2008 season. Bullets after the jump.
- I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Derek Jeter's HBP in the seventh inning. Qualls threw an inside pitch to Jeter that clearly hit the knob of the bat. Jeter, with a better acting job than his Rescue Me promo, recoiled in pain and was awarded first base. Never mind that everyone in the stadium heard the ball strike the bat. Everyone watching TV certainly could as well. It's a shame that Joe Maddon has to be ejected for arguing a call that had to have been seen/heard by one of the four umpires. As Sam Rothstein said in Casino, " Listen, if you didn't know you're bein' scammed, you're too [beep] dumb to keep this job. If you did know, you were in on it. Either way, you're out."
- For Jeter's part in this fracas, I'll say that after the dust settled, I agree with Joe Maddon, who had this to say after the game (via AP): "If our guys had did it, I would have applauded that. It's a great performance on his part. Several players are very good at that. And again, I'm not denigrating it. If our guy does it, I'm very happy with that if we end up getting the call. ... Fortunately it didn't cost us."
- Oh yeah, Rays are in first. Enjoy the off day, gentlemen.