There are 420 different reasons why the Rays entered the second half six games behind the Red Sox, but the biggest one is that the teams have avoided each other. Last night was just the sixth time the two foes have faced off in 2011 so if the Rays have any post-season desires this season, they control their own fate as they will face the Red Sox and the Yankees in one-third of the games the rest of the way.
Last night was a successful, yet unattractive way to begin that quest. Simply put, it was ugly but we'll take it. .
The Red Sox came into this series with several injuries, most notably Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz being unavailable to pitch and Carl Crawford being out for the series. The pitching staff is a mess which forced former top pick Andrew Miller into the start last night. Normally, Miller would be considered a gift to any team, but the Rays have struggled against any lefty not named Francisco Liriano all season plus this was a game at Tropicana Field so there was some lingering doubt about how this game would turn out but that was quickly erased when B.J. Upton drove in the first run of the game after Miller walked Ben Zobrist and Evan Longoria in consecutive at bats. Scoring that first run is important for the Rays as the team is 37-9 this season when they score first. More on the offensive in a bit.
David Price went on to give that run right back in the second inning allowing a home run to Darnell McDonald, who came in to the game hitting .143 with a .457 OPS in 75 plate appearances but for some reason, has handled Price rather well in limited time. In fact, two of McDonald's three home runs this season have come against Price. Price would go on to give up two more home runs on the night, one to Jacoby Ellsbury and one to Dustin Pedroia. Ellsbury's home run is significant because it was just the third home run Price has allowed to a left-handed batter in his major league career with the other two coming off the bats of Chase Utley and Curtis Granderson.
Price threw 121 pitches on the evening, 71 of them for strikes. Brooksbaseball.net has him down for 95 fastballs (7 swings and misses), 13 change-ups (2 swings and misses), and 13 breaking balls. Price threw some very impressive change-ups in this start, some of the best he has thrown all season in the opinion of Brian Anderson who knows a thing or two about good lefty change-ups. The three home runs all came came off fastballs, and poorly located ones at that. Each time, Kelly Shoppach set up away from the batter and each of the three soon to be souvenirs drifted back over the heart of the plate to be hit. That is going to be a problem for any pitcher, regardless of how good their fastball is.
Offensively, the Rays knocked in a season-high nine runs at Tropicana Field fueled by the snubbed All-Star Ben Zobrist who drove in five runs with a grand slam and a disciplined bases-loaded walk. That five-RBI game tied Zobrist with Lance Berkman for second place in 2011 for games with at least five RBI; both trail Carlos Quentin who has done it three times. Every Rays batter reached base last night in the team effort but the biggest shock outside of the home run Casey Kotchman absolutely crushed (HOLY CRAP!) off of Dan Wheeler was the fact the Rays did not steal a base in this contest. The Red Sox are terrible at stolen base prevention, but the Rays did not attempt any steals in this contest. There is a good chance that changes today and Sunday against John Lackey and Josh Beckett.
The bullpen had do put in the final three innings of work as Price once again piled up a high pitch count against Boston through six innings, and the results were mixed. Joel Peralta retired his first two batters, then walked Yamaici Navarro before allowing a first pitch bomb to Marco Scutaro. Jake McGee came in and looked much better than the version we saw in May and he hit 96 on the in-park gun in striking out Jacoby Ellsbury. Juan Cruz had to be bailed out by J.P. Howell who made David Ortiz look incredibly bat at the plate as he swung at a strike three fastball after it was practically in Shoppach's mitt. Farnsworth came in for a four out flawless 18th save to slam the door shut.
The game was the longest home game of the season (surprise!) as it went 3 hours and 35 minutes. The Rays have now won 22 of their last 32 games against the Red Sox at Tropicana Field dating back to 2007, and 11 of 16 since 6/30/10. The Magic of Kotch now has four home runs on the season - two of them against the Red Sox. He picks his spots, but he picks them well. Today's broadcast is a Fox adventure at 4:05 as Juego G takes the mound against John Lackey who is coming off nearly seven innings of shutout work against the Orioles and who also recently held the Phillies to two runs in 7.2 innings of work.