After being effectively silenced the last two games by Twins pitching, the Rays unloaded today against Francisco Liriano and his band of merry bullpen brothers. Every Rays starter reached base this afternoon -- although, this is tempered a bit by the fact that Liriano allowed four walks and three hit batsmen. The troubled Twins starter certainly did not have his best command today.
Both teams collected fourteen hits and six walks, but the Rays were able to push past the Geminis thanks to some heaving hitting in a four-run eighth and a three-run ninth. With the score tied 5-5 in the eighth and runners on first and second, Evan Longoria smacked a single through the left side to score Sam Fuld and give the Rays the lead. The Rays wouldn't stop there as B.J. Upton would execute a perfect safety squeeze on the next pitch to score Ben Zobrist. Following BJ's first-pitch example, Sean Rodriguez would smack a liner that just cleared the fence in left for a two-run homer. So, after the monotony of the early innings filled with walks, hit batsmen, and runners left on base, three Rays hitters plated four runs in about two and a half minutes in the eighth.
I almost didn't mention SRod's homer because, of course, it was only a two-run affair. Since three-run blasts are the only stat that really matters, Evan Longoria was the real star of this game. Forget his aforementioned go-ahead, and ultimately game-winning, RBI. No, the real fireworks came out when Longo slapped a three-run round-tripper off Phil Dumatrait in the ninth to extend the Rays lead to seven. Yes, the game was well in the Rays' favor at this point, and there's the pesky fact that I'm facing Longoria this week in fantasy, but it was nice to see the Rays' cornerstone put some solid wood on the ball.
Bullets after the jump...
- Wade Davis delivered a rather ho-hum outing this afternoon. His line: 5IP, 4R, 3ER, 9H, 3BB, 1K. He generated just two swinging strikes of his 92 pitches and didn't seem to have his best control. Despite this, he did manage to leave the game in line for a win, but Juan Cruz promptly saw to that as, after a clean sixth inning, Cruz left a cutter up to the Twins lone all-star Michael Cuddyer who blasted a solo homer to left center. Overall, the bullpen was pretty "meh" today, allowing five hits and three walks. On the bright side, they struck out seven. JP Howell picked up the win with the only clean inning on the squad. He struck out two.
- Hats off to Twins third baseman Danny Valencia. While Valencia put up a good-but-unspectacular showing at the plate today (2-4, BB), he really excelled in defensive runs batted in (dRBI) for the Rays today. Though there were no errors recorded for either team, Valencia would make two questionable cutoffs on plays to the plate, one on a lumbering Casey Kotchman, and mishandle a Ben Zobrist grounder to third. This is how Harry Doyle would have called that play: "Top of the 4th, Rays up 3 to 2. Zobrist steps in he's 0 for... I don't know. Who cares? The pitch. Zobrist swings and sends a *real screamer* towards third. Valencia charges, but blunders it and everyone's safe. So the Rays score another. I think I'll wet my pants." Valencia also pulled up on a pop to third by Kotchman that fell to give the Magic a stand-up 105-foot "double." Ah, LOLfense.
- Members of the Robot Umps Now (RUN) coalition, should be back at their cause again today as B.J. Upton was called out on an inning-ending double play in the third. He was clearly safe. Had Upton been safe, Johnny Damon would have scored and given the Rays a three-run lead and maybe Wade Davis would have held on to his W. On the other side of the DP coin, the Rays turned two inning-ending twofers in the third and fourth to save some runs. So, I guess it's all even for Davis.
- Kelly Shoppach ended his day Karmicly neutral as he gave the Rays the first lead of the day with a towering, two-run homer off the foul pole in the second inning, but followed that up with a pretty egregious passed ball in the third that moved two Twins into scoring position. They scored on a soft hit to center to tie the game.
- Johnny Damon left the game after being hit on the hand by a Liriano pitch in the third inning. He went to the hospital to get that checked out. 'Contusion' is word around town. It was the second hit-by-pitch of the game for Damon who jumped up 30 spots on the all-time HBP list to a tie for 472nd with 46. He passes some of the greats of the sport like Lou Gehrig, Willie Mays, and Ben Grieve and is now tied with Joe DiMaggio and the MVB himself, Jason Bartlett. Only 239 to catch Craig Biggio. Let's go, Damon!
- Tomorrow starts the first of four against the Yankees before most everyone takes a break for the All-Star "game." Big Jeff Niemann vs. Bigger Bartolo Colon @ 7:05 PM as the Rays see if they can finish 'first half' on a roll or in the hole.