ST. PETERSBURG, FL - MAY 23: Outfielder Rich Thompson #24 of the Tampa Bay Rays celebrates scoring the game-winning run in the 11th inning against the Toronto Blue Jays May 23, 2012 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida. The Rays won 5 -4. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
The first seven innings went well. James Shields was excellent, the offense drew a career high seven walks off opposing starter Ricky Romero, and there was little reason to worry. Then the eighth inning happened.
After allowing a one out double to Jose Bautista, James Shields was pulled in favor of Joel Peralta with the Rays leading by two. In four pitches the lead was gone. As Edwin Encarnacion rounded the bases I couldn’t help but think of all the writers who now had to re-work their already mostly finished game stories. I felt the same thing in my head. The Rays have a good bullpen. They don’t blow two run leads in the eighth inning very often. Mentally I had to hit backspace just like the scribes in the press box. It’s a new game. The events of the last few hours don’t mean much now. That’s a feeling that’s unique to baseball, I think. No other sport lends itself to the game turning on a dime quite like baseball, which is one reason we love it, I suppose. It turned one more time in the 11th inning when B.J. Upton stepped to the plate.
After a Rich Thompson hit by pitch and a Carlos Pena strikeout, Upton faced Darren Oliver. The Jays had burned through four relievers already and left Oliver in to face the right handed Upton. It seemed like overexposure to me, seeing as Oliver had already faced six batters, but on a 2-2 count Upton laced a double down the left field line, allowing the blazing Thompson to score easily from first, giving the Rays a 5-4 victory. For the day Upton went 3-6 with two doubles and a stolen base, extending his hitting streak to seven games. In those seven games he's gone 13-29 with four doubles and two home runs. The walk off hit was the fifth of his career and fourth against Toronto. With so many players lost to injury it's super important that a hitter like Upton step up and have a big impact. The top five hitters in the Rays' order got on base 14 times. You're not going to lose too many games when that happens.
As I mentioned before, Shields was excellent in working 7.1 innings while striking out 10 and walking just one. It was the second time this season Shields has struck out 10+ batters. The Toronto hitters had a rough time with his changeup as nine of his ten strikeouts came on the pitch - and all were swinging. His ground ball rate on the day was 63 percent, marking the ninth time in ten starts this season he's been at or above 50 percent.
With the amount of men the Rays put on base the game shouldn't have been so close, but a win is a win and thanks to the Orioles loss they're just one game back in the division.