Monday Morning Rays Wrap Up: A Mere 2 Games Back

The Rays finished the week with a record of 4-3. After a tough series in Baltimore the Rays ended the week with a huge momentum builder by taking 3-4 from the Red Sox in  Fenway Park. The Rays are 85-67 and and are a  mere 2 games behind the Red Sox in the chase for the AL Wild Card. The Red Sox seem to be a little tight and a series of interesting quotes have come out, but none more telling than Carl Crawford's line about the Rays in his ESPN.com blog (here):

If Tampa makes a miracle comeback and takes the wild card from us, I will be devastated. I definitely wouldn't want to lose to those guys and watch them get into the playoffs while we go home. That would just be devastating to me. --espn.com

The Rays will now head to New York for a 4-game series with the Yankees.The Rays last visited the Yankees on August 12th and at the time the Rays were 8.5 games out in the wild card and Coolstandings.com had given the Rays a 2.3% chance at the playoffs. I wrote a story titled Dare To Dream About the Rays and Playoffs? in which I discuss the Rays chances and I make a reference to the 1978 Yankee team that caught the Red Sox and eventually won the world series:

Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in. Sam Fuld and the Rays gave me a subtle reminder that in baseball anything can happen. Even in the face of looking at Cool Standings and seeing the Rays with a 2.3% chance at the wild card, I find myself hoping for a fantastic 45 game run that somehow has the Rays playing baseball in October.

Am I dreaming? Of course. But as Jim Valvano said in his classic Arthur Ashe Award speech: "Be a dreamer. If you don't know how to dream, you're dead." On August 12, 1978, the Yankees were 8 games behind the Boston Red Sox with a record of 65-50 and were given a 5.2% chance of making the playoffs.That Yankees team went on to win the AL East crown with a record of 100-63 (which included a 1-game playoff victory in Fenway Park) en route to winning the World Series.

A friend of mine once told me that good teams hang around and just keep playing until they are told not to. Could the Rays somehow pull all facets of their game together and go on a magical run? 

The Rays have gone on a magical run and the team that was 9 games behind the Red Sox on September 2nd now find themselves trailing the Red Sox by 2 games with 10 games left to play. According to Coolstandings.com, the Rays still have an uphill battle as they are given only an 8.6% chance at the post-season while the Red Sox have a 90.3% chance.

The Rays will have their last off-day of the season before taking on the Yankees in a four game series including a day-night doubleheader on Wednesday. After the Yankee series, the Rays return home for their final six games which include 3 games against the Blue Jays and conclude their regular season schedule with a 3 game set with the Yankees.

The Red Sox will host the Baltimore Orioles in a 4 game series including a day-night doubleheader on Monday. After the Orioles series the Red Sox head out on the road for their final 6 games which include 3 games in Yankee Stadium and then on to Camden Yards to finish the season.

The Yankees have a makeup game against the Minnesota Twins on Monday, host the Rays for 4 and the Red Sox for 3 before ending the season on the road in Tampa Bay to end their regular season schedule. The Yankees schedule is worth examining as the Yankees will most likely be setting up their playoff rotation against the Red Sox and allowing their team to get rest during the last series with the Rays.

I don't know about the rest of the Rays fan base, but I can certainly use a day off from the nail biting excitement of Rays baseball. Although I won't be watching the Rays I'll probably be nearly as intense while watching the day-night doubleheader between the Red Sox and Orioles. 

Game Highlights After the Break

Monday: B.J. Upton remains red hot and Jeff Niemann pitches 7.1 innings as Rays defeat Orioles 5-2.

B.J. Upton delivered two doubles and walked twice to extend his streak of reaching base in consecutive plate appearances to a team record 9 and also established  new team record for walks with 374 passing Carlos Pena. Ben Zobrist drove in 3 runs to support Jeff Niemann who pitched 7.1 innings giving up 2R/2ER on 6H while striking out 5 and walking 1. The victory was the Rays 5th in a row and moved the Rays to withing 3 games of the Red Sox for the AL Wild Card. 

B.J. Upton about the Rays resurgence:

"I know a lot of people wrote us off about a month, month and a half ago," said Upton after the opener of an 11-game road swing against American League East foes. "Here we are right in the thick of things." --mlb.com

Tuesday: J.P. Howell gives up two-run homer as Rays fall to Orioles 4-2.

It's said that momentum is only as good as that days starting pitcher. Well, the Rays had momentum in the form of a 5 game winning streak and had David Price on the mound to try and stretch the streak to 6. Unfortunately, the Rays offense was unable to provide Price the cushion to make a mistake which he did by delivering a cutter to pinch hitter who lined a RBI single in the bottom of the 6th inning to tie the game at 2. Price threw 116 pitches in his 6.2 innings of work with none more questionable than his last pitch to Fox. Juan Cruz came in to get the final out of the inning. J.P. Howell came in to work the 8th inning and retired the first two hitters before giving up a hard hit single to Vladimir Guerrero. Matt Wieters came to the plate with a slash line against left handed pitching of .348/.429/.696 with 10 HR in 133 PA. Joe Maddon elected to allow Howell to face Wieters who made both Maddon and Howell pay by hitting a 2-run home run to put the Rays down 

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J.P. Howell on giving up the home run:

"It just makes you sick," Howell said. "To get beat, especially a home run, you feel punished. You kind of feel like you took a punch and you've got to get up. You've got to get up." --mlb.com

David Price on his inability to protect leads on the year:

"It's been part of my problem this year, being able to hold leads," Price said. "I've given up quite a few of them, so it's pretty frustrating."--mlb.com

Wednesday: Matt Moore debuts in relief as Rays drop series to Orioles 6-2.

The Rays offense fell silent for the second straight game and Wade Davis gave up 4R/4ER in 6.1 innings pitched on 7 hits, striking out 3 while walking 2. Matt Moore made his major league debut in the bottom of the 7th inning with 1 on and 1 out. He retired Robert Andino on a fly out to centerfield and Matt Angle to ground out to second to end the inning. Moore started the eighth inning by striking out J.J Hardy swinging and Nick Markakis looking before yielding a single to Vladimir Guerrero to bring Matt Wieters to the plate. Once again, Joe Maddon elected to allow the lefty to face Wieters who punished both Maddon and Moore with a 2-run homer to put the Orioles ahead 6-2.

Joe Maddon on the Rays offense:

"This is typical of what's happened to us this year, where we've played good baseball, but our offense kind of goes away, and we just can't have that happen right now," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "It's just happened way too often this year. We definitely missed an opportunity," --mlb.com

Wade Davis on the loss:

"We're not going to hold our heads on this one," Wade Davis said. "We had a chance to gain some ground, but we didn't, and you've got to move on."-mlb.com

Joe Maddon about leaving Baltimore after losing the series:

"Let's get out of here and move up there and get our mojo back," Maddon said with a smile.-mlb.com

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Thursday" Rays offense delivers and Hellickson locks in as Rays defeat Red Sox 9-2.

Luck. How else can we describe the RBI single by B.J.Upton hit past shortstop Marco Scutaro to score the Rays first run. With John Jaso standing at second base and Desmond Jennings on first, Upton hit a groundball to shortstop Marco Scutaro who had to first get out of the flying maple head of Upton's bat. In the process of skipping over the bat the ball scooted through Scutaro's legs allowing John Jaso to score from second to give the Rays a 1-0 lead. The play was magnified even more after Evan Longoria brought Upton and Jennings home with a 3-run home run. Casey Kotchman and B.J. Upton later homered in support of Jeremy Hellickson. Hellickson worked 5.2 innings, giving up 1R/1ER on 3 hits while striking out 4 and walking 4. The Rays bullpen surrendered 1 run in the final 3.1 innings.

Hellickson had to battle some questionable calls (A Big Thanks to @Josh_Frank for this graphic):

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Johnny Damon on the Rays victory:

"We have to be confident going out there," Damon said. "If we surrender a couple of games to them, it just puts us in a deeper hole. But the fortunate thing about it -- and I don't like the unbalanced schedule, but in this situation, if we do beat these teams, we have a good chance of going [to the playoffs]. Obviously it depends on what the Angels do also. We definitely still have an uphill climb." -- mlb.com

Joe Maddon on B.J. Upton's odd RBI single:

 "You're always looking for signs. Looking for signs, man, from that baseball heaven, the baseball gods, they've got to throw you a sign once in a while. They've got to give you something to further believe." mlb.com

 

Friday: Shields falters, Maddon ejected after questionable strike zone as Red Sox win 4-3.

Josh Beckett made his first start since spraining his ankle on September 5th and held the Rays to 3R/2ER over 6 innings of work striking out 7 while walking 1. The Rays jumped out to an early 2-0 lead thanks to a 2-run home run by Evan Longoria but James Shields was not at his best and the Red Sox pushed 2 of their own runs across to tie the game in the bottom of the first. The Rays jumped ahead 3-2 in the top of the third on an RBI single by Evan Longoria but David Ortiz delivered an RBI double in the bottom of the third to tie it at 3. Mike Aviles put the Red Sox on top 4-3 with a solo home run in the bottom of the fourth. The Rays offense was unable to tie the game and the Rays dropped to 4 back in the wild card column with the loss. Shields was not sharp surrendering 4R/4ER in 7 innings of work while striking out 4 and walking 3. The story of the game was not Shields, the Rays offense, or Josh Beckett's return. The story of the game was the overwhelming disparity between the strike zone given to Josh Beckett and the Red Sox pitchers. 

Joe Maddon ejected by Hunter Wendelstedt for arguing balls and strikes (video link here):

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Joe Maddon on why he argued:

"Obviously, I went out there to discuss the width of the strike zone," Maddon said. "And I never mentioned anything about balls and strikes. ... I said, 'Listen, I did not come out here to argue, I just want to know what's going on because my guys are talking about how wide it is.' And he didn't like me asking that question.

"Because I wanted to be respectful, because I walked out there and I thought I did it in a fashion where nobody else would know what was going on. I had no intention of getting kicked out right there. ... So I came back up after that and watched it and it was pretty egregious. There's no question."

"I think anybody who watched that game and would be objective about things, I'll take whatever they have to say, because it's tough enough to beat [Josh] Beckett, but when he's getting pitches on the chalk lines, that makes it even more difficult," Maddon said. -mlb.com

Joe Maddon's post-game tweet:

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BJ Called Out on Strikes:

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John Jaso called out on strikes:

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James Shields on tough loss:

Saturday: Niemann, Moore, and Peralta key as Rays defeat Red Sox 4-3.

Jeff Niemann worked the first 5 innings and departed after 89 pitches surrendering 2R/2ER on 4 hits while striking out 6 and walking 2. The Rays scored 4 runs in support of Niemann on a Ben Zobrist 2-run home run in the first, a wild-pitch uncorked by Jon Lester which allowed Desmond Jennings to race home from third, and an Evan Longoria RBI single in the fifth. Maddon made a bold move to go to rookie Matt Moore in what amounts to a key playoff game for the Rays. Moore responded by holding the Red Sox to 1R/1ER on 2 hits while striking out 2 and walking 2. Joel Peralta came in to record the save by striking out Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Carl Crawford before giving up a two-out single to Mike Aviles. Terry Francona brought in ex-RAY Joey Gathright to pinch run. Gathright stole second base but Marco Scutaro sent a slow hopper to Evan  Longoria who threw him out to end the game.

Joe Maddon's Post Game Tweet:

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Joe Maddon on his decision to lift Niemann in favor of Moore:

"I liked the part of the batting order coming up where it was all of those left-handers," Maddon explained. "[Niemann] worked pretty hard to get through that [89] pitches. If he started that next inning and got into any trouble, I was going to bring in Moore anyhow. So why not give him a clean slate?" - mlb.com 

Joel Peralta on Moore's performance:

"Watching him was great," veteran reliever Joel Peralta said. "First two pitches and it's like, 'Daddy's here.'" mlb.com 

Joe Maddon on Matt Moore's performance:

"He's got a really good arm," said Maddon with a sly grin. "I'm a really good scout. I saw him the other day in Baltimore for the first time and I really enjoyed just how loose and free his body and arm worked. And he brought it out there today.

"I'm sure he was amped up. I'm sure he was nervous, but he was able to fight through those moments which we all have to do, and he did. We all do that on different occasions, and he did. And to go three innings right there in those circumstances is quite a testament to his makeup."

Matt Moore on his role in the victory:

Sunday: David Price labors, McGee shines, offense takes advantage of Red Sox miscues.

David Price did not have his best stuff as he seemed to find himself deep in the count to many of the batters he faced. Price and the Rays fans had a collective stop of the heart when a line drive off the bat of Mike Aviles hit price square on the right side of his chest. Price was able to give the Rays another inning but was removed for precautionary reasons after 4 innings. The Rays offense took advantage of 3 wild pitches, 3 passed balls, a hit by pitch, and an error combined with some timely hitting to jump out to a 8-2 lead into the bottom of the 7th inning. Jake McGee who had taken over for David Price worked 2.2 innings before leaving the game with a man at first and two outs in the bottom of the 7th for Cesar Ramos. Ramos allowed a single to Jacoby Ellsbury to put runners on 1st and 3rd and then a 3-run home run to Mike Aviles to cut the Rays lead to 8-5. Brandon Gomes worked the first two batters in the eighth inning and was replaced by J.P. Howell to face Carl Crawford who promptly lined an opposite field double to left centerfield. Joel Peralta relieved J.P. Howell to retire Darnell MacDonald to end the eight. Peralta worked the ninth inning to record his 5th save on the year and making a winner out of Jake McGee.

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Joe Maddon on Matt Moore (Saturday) and Jake McGee (Sunday) performances:

"We got it [Saturday] out of Matt [Moore] and we got it today out of Jake," Maddon said. "Two young left-handers throwing with well above-average fastballs. The thing about Jake that I love is that he throws strikes. ... He was not afraid, he was not afraid of the moment. He went out there and pounded the strike zone. ... He was outstanding and he was definitely our star of the game."-mlb.com

Joe Maddon on the Rays performance against the Red Sox:

"I thought we played good baseball," Maddon said. "We played well. We pitched well. We caught the ball. We ran the bases well. We had good at-bats when we needed them. There was a real strong sense of camaraderie among the group. All that stuff was there. So I thought we just played really good baseball in a great venue against a very good ballclub in a very meaningful time of the year. I'm very proud of our guys."-mlb.com

Jake McGee on the Rays victory:

What doe SF1 have to say this week?

Hello again Rays fans


What a week it was. The Rays only went 4-3 but it seemed so much better. I guess when you take 3 of 4 in Fenway Park, it's special.

This was quite a contrast to our last trip there which saw us take 2 of 3 but in doing so our starters threw 3 complete games. This series none of our SP's went particularly deep but limited the Sox runs, and the bullpen, did the rest. A special tip of the cap to Matt Moore for his 3 IP performance with a small lead, a large TV audience , in Fenway and the season on the line.

It's on to New York for a four game set starting Tuesday and then home to the Jays. Let's hope for a DH sweep by Baltimore today over Boston and we just could be tied in the loss column when first pitch occurs on Tuesday. 

As always

 

Go Rays!!!
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