If I had to choose one event to sum up the Rays' entire 2009 season, Mark Buehrle's perfect game would be it. The Rays underperformed from the very beginning of the season, making 2009 as frustrating for us fans as 2008 was exciting. Some days the Rays would roll through the opposition, pitching well and scoring a ton of runs, while other days their offense would decide not to show up at all. Buehrle's perfect game was one of those days and it made me incredibly frustrated with the Rays. Losing a game is one thing - heck, getting shut out is one thing - but having a perfect game thrown against you? The Rays should have been too good to let such a thing happen. I was so mad at them afterward, we weren't on speaking terms for at least a week.* Longoria could text me all he wants, but he wasn't getting nothin' from me.
*Why is it that we fans feel such intense shame when our favorite team does something embarrassing? I kept a very low profile after that perfect game since I personally felt embarrassed; I couldn't bring myself to admit that we'd been so utterly dominated, so I tried to avoid all my baseball friends for a couple days. Of course it didn't work since they sought me out to rub the game in my face, and I had to suck it up and take the punishment. Technically, though, I hadn't done anything embarrassing, so why should I have been the one feeling embarrassed? I could understand feeling angry or disappointed at the Rays, but embarrassment seems a bit odd. Anyone else ever experience this?
And so, I felt vindicated tonight watching the Rays slowly destroy Mark Buehrle's outing one bloop hit at a time. After what he did to us last year, he deserved to get wrecked as painfully as possible; thankfully the Rays were more than happy to oblige this year. After lulling him into a false sense of security in the first inning by letting him strike out the side, the Rays tagged Buehrle for nine hits and six earned runs while only striking out once more. Buehrle was chased out after 4.2 innings and the Rays continued their offensive onslaught against the bullpen, racking up a total of 12 runs. I hope people remember this start later on before claiming that the Rays are horrible against lefties; yes, the Rays have struggled against a few lefties so far this season, but those lefties were also Brian Matusz, John Danks, and C.C. Sabathia. Even Pujols will struggle against pitchers of that quality.
As for the Rays, there were lots of positive things to be happy about. Wade Davis started off the game quite shaky, walking three batters within the first two innings (37 total pitches: 18 strikes, 19 balls), but he managed to pull himself together and finish with his best line on the season so far - six innings, two hits, zero earned runs, three walks, six strikeouts, nine-to-one GB/FB ratio. Of course, Davis's first two starts came against the Yankees and Red Sox, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that he managed to perform better against the weaker White Sox line-up.
In his first start, I noticed that Davis struggled his second and third time through the line-up as his breaking pitches didn't seem to be fooling the Yankees. That certainly wasn't the case last night, as Davis's curve and slider were downright nasty. To get an idea of how nasty, let's delve into the Pitch f/x data a bit:
Overall, Davis generated five swinging strikes out of 86 pitches, which equates to a 5.8% Swinging Strike%; however, three of those swinging strikes came from his slider (16.7% SwgStr%) and one came from his curveball (9.9% SwgStr%). Davis also froze people with his curveball on multiple occasions, including one notable time at the end of the fourth inning. Andruw Jones was at the plate and after Davis got ahead 1-2, Jones fouled off seven pitches and worked the count full. After pounding Jones with two 95 MPH fastballs, Davis dropped in a knee-buckling 81 MPH curveball that Jones could only watch flutter by. It was a beautiful at bat:
The curveball I'm talking about is #13 (top, inside strike) and its arc is the highest blue arc. To get an idea of exactly how ridiculous it was, you need to go into GameDay and watch the at-bat over again from this angle. Trust me - it's worth it.
And now for some other notes from the game:
Navarro's Sacrifice Bunt
Here's the situation: it's the top of the fourth inning, runner on first, one out, the Rays are up by four, and Navarro is stepping to the plate. What do you do if you're Maddon? My thought was to let Navarro hit away since a) it's early in the game, b) you decrease your run expectancy for the inning by sacrificing (from .573 to .344), and c) you're not trying to play for one run. My immediate reaction following the play was disappointment since it seemed like a really poor time to be sacrificing.
Then again...this is Navarro we're talking about. The more I thought about it, I realized that Maddon is essentially treating Navarro the same way National League managers treat pitchers: he's batting in the 8th spot (which is slightly more optimal) and he's sacrificing anytime there's a runner on first and less than two outs. Navarro is a ground ball machine (41% career average) and he doesn't exactly walk terribly often, so Maddon seems to believe that the best strategy is to take the bat out of Navi's hands with runners on base and at least guarantee that there won't be a double-play.
Sean Rodriguez's Big Night
I can't do the recap without at least mentioning how awesome a game Rodriguez had last night. His line says it all: three for four with four RBIs and two runs scored, falling a triple short of a cycle. It was frigid in Chicago last night and there were very few balls hit hard all evening, but Sean's home run was cranked out to left-center field. Sean also saw some time in the outfield, spelling Upton in center for the last few innings.
These umpires need to get over themselves already. In the third inning, home plate umpire Angel Hernandez refused to grant Carl Crawford time before one pitch. Maddon went out to argue the decision and of course, Joe West started making his way towards home plate to get in on the action. Maddon let the umpires have a piece of his mind, though, and rightfully so. Speeding up the game is all well and good, but these umpires seem more intent on making a statement than anything else. This mantra of "speeding up the games" has gone a little overboard.
Oh, and the pitch to Crawford was actually a ball but Hernandez still called it a strike.