The script was nearly the same as it was yesterday. For most of Sunday's game the Rays offense remained rather silent. Of course, when the opposing pitcher is Cliff Lee, you know runs are going to be scarce.
As he has done several times in his career, Matt Garza took on one of the league's best pitchers and held his own. We've seen Garza lock horns with Roy Halladay in some epic battles in years past, and today was definitely a duel.
Garza didn't have his dominant stuff today, but he was plenty good. He allowed just one run on five hits in six innings. He walked two and also struck out a pair. He gave up three of the five hits in the fifth inning as the Mariners scored their lone run in that frame. Garza threw 100 pitches on the afternoon as he battled with control at times. 56 of the 100 pitches went for strikes; only four of them being whiffs.
With Garza not at his best, the Rays defense picked up their starter. Gabe Kapler made the start in right field and made a nice diving play. In the other corner, Carl Crawford made a pair of good plays including a diving catch and a running grab down the left field line. The latter coming in the sixth inning; an inning that included three superb defensive plays.
Franklin Gutierrez led off the sixth with a single, and remained at first after CC's catch. With left-handed Ken Griffey up, and the Rays defense in a shift, Dioner Navarro make a fantastic sliding grab in foul territory near the Mariners dugout. Evan Longoria was playing shortstop on the shift leaving Navi was the Rays only hope. After Casey Kotchman pushed Gutierrez to second on a hit-by-pitch, Navi would gun Gutierrez down at third after he tried to advance on a ball in the dirt.
Many, including myself, were a bit surprised by the Rays lineup chosen by Joe Maddon. Ben Zobrist and Carlos Pena were not in the starting lineup with Sean Rodriguez and Hank Blalock in their place. Blalock, a left-handed batter, figures to see the bulk of his time against righies. However, Maddon inserted him in the lineup against Lee based off favorable career numbers (6-13 with two home runs). The small sample size of success didn't carry over as Blalock went 0-3 with two strikeouts in his Rays debut.
The other strange move was moving Gabe Kapler into the third spot with Zobrist on the bench. Kapler hasn't been mashing lefties with regularity (yet), and has struggled in his career against Lee. After starting the game 0-3, Kapler vindicated his manager's decision later on.
The Rays scored a run off Lee in the seventh on a pair of doubles by B.J. Upton and Sean Rodriguez. It was Upton's second double of the game as well as the second straight game with B.J. getting the party started. Carl Crawford led off the eighth inning with a sharp liner down the left field line - very similar to the one he caught only a few innings before. However, Michael Saunders is not CC, and he came up inches short of a catch. Crawford motored around the bases, ending up at third base with his 95th triple; second most among active players. The next batter, Kapler, sent a deep fly to left field allowing Crawford to tag up easily for the deciding run of the game.
Maddon's unorthodox lineup worked, but his match play in the bullpen was even better. After Lance Cormer registered two outs in relief of Garza, Randy Choate and Dan Wheeler would each add two outs of their own. Choate was able to get Ichiro Suzuki swinging to end the seventh inning and got Chone Figgans out to start the eighth. Figgans was batting right-handed, but it worked this time. That said, I don't suggest him facing righties ever. From there, Wheeler retired Gutierrez and Jose Lopez, both righties, to end the inning.
The stone cold killer, Rafael Soriano worked a scoreless ninth for his 10th save.
The Mariners could've easily swept the Rays based on their stellar starting pitching. However, with some nifty starting pitching of their own, in addition to timely hitting and solid defense, it is the Rays who end up as series victors.
Today was a good day...