The Rays dropped the first of a three game series against the Orioles on Monday, failing to clinch a playoff birth in their first outright opportunity. There were only roughly 12,000 people in the stands, and I honestly don't care. The topic of attendance has been beaten to death over the course of the season, and it will surely continue into the off season. Yes, attendance is down, but is having the issue shoved down our throats by the local media really going to help things? How about Evan Longoria and David Price calling it "embarrassing"? Telling your fans that they suck isn't exactly a big motivator in ticket sales. I'm never going to tell anyone how to spend their money, and that goes double when the country is in a recession. I agree with friend of the site Jonah Keri when he says"This is happening everywhere, and the criticism is offensive everywhere." Other contending teams, the Reds and Padres, are also having attendance issues, but hardly anything is ever said about them, and they play in new parks. Instead of degrading an entire fan base why doesn't the media try and highlight any of the numerous reasons why the attendance is low? Or would that be too much work?
On to the game itself. Wade Davis pitched pretty effectively through his 6.1IP, allowing a run in the fifth inning and not really facing any trouble until the seventh. While he only struck out two batters, Davis did induce plenty of ground ball outs (8 GB, 7FB). Davis allowed two consecutive batters to reach base in the seventh, prompting Joe Maddon to call Upton Randy Choate to face Nick Markakis. With the count 0-2, Markakis lined a single into right field and Felix Pie rounded third attempting to score. The throw beat him home, but Kelly Shoppach couldn't field it cleanly and apply a tag, allowing the Orioles to take a 2-0 lead. That is a play Shoppach should make nearly every time and it would have put the second out on the board. That lost out would prove to be costly as Ty Wigginton would drive in a run with a sac fly in the next at bat. A run that would have been prevented had Shoppach hung on to the ball. Luke Scott followed Wigginton up with a run scoring single of his own, putting the Orioles up 4-0.
The runs the Orioles tacked on in the seventh would turn out to be superfluous as the Rays couldn't do much of anything with starter Brian Matusz.. The rookie southpaw dominated for seven innings, and certainly could have gone past the 94 pitches he threw if the Orioles really needed it. He was masterful, inducing 11 swinging strikes and striking out eight batters. Matusz used his fastball to set up the devastating curveball and slider, which combined got seven swinging strikes in 26 pitches. The only real trouble he faced came in the fifth inning. Kelly Shoppach lead off with an infield single. That's not something you'll read every day. Following Shoppach was Carlos Pena who drew a walk. Sean Rodriguez and Dan Johnson each struck out, bringing B.J. Upton to the plate. After getting down in the count Upton hit one hard toward third base, actually striking the bag and careening away from Wigginton for a single. If that ball doesn't hit the bag it likely gets past Wigginton and the Rays pick up a run to tie the game. Who knows what happens from there. Jason Bartlett grounded out to third and the Rays would never threaten again.
- With Evan Longoria still out of the lineup with a quad injury Dan Johnson got the start at third. Whenever the Rays employed the shift to a left handed batter Johnson and Barlett would switch positions after the first pitch, with Barlett manning his usual position at short stop and Johnson covering second base. I understand the move, as Barlett can cover more ground on anything hit to the left side of the field. I'm interested as to why they did it only after the first pitch of the at bat. Johnson ended up making a couple of plays from second base look fairly easy. Who knew.
- The Rays won four games in a row before losing the last two. I've gone to the last two games. I'm not going tomorrow.
- Thanks to Toronto's offense and A.J. Burnett's suckitude, the Rays remain in first place for another day.
- David Price goes today. As much as pitcher wins don't mean a thing, there isn't a pitcher who is more deserving to be the winner of a Rays playoff clincher more than Price.