Here's a riddle: what does changing the page of a calendar have to do with winning baseball games? If anyone finds an answer to that question, let me know because I'm mystified. Obviously calendars and months have no effect on the games being played on the field, but tell that to the Rays. After a disastrous June, the Rays are now 3-1 in July and went 4-2 on a road trip that included both Boston and Minnesota. I don't care what the reason was, just as long as the Rays are winning.
For the second day in a row, the Rays' bats decided to come alive in the final three innings. For the first six innings, Evan Longoria and Sean Rodriguez provided all the Rays' offensive punch, teaming up to score a run in the first (S-Rod single, Longoria triple) and with Rodriguez hitting a solo home run in the third inning on a ball that just barely cleared the left field fence. In the seventh inning, though, all heck broke loose.
To start he seventh inning, Carlos Pena did something he hasn't done often enough: beat the shift with a line-drive single to right field. (And as an added bonus, Pena singled to left field in his at bat in the eighth, something we've seen even less often). BJ Upton followed that up with a single of his own, setting the stage for Jason Bartlett to put down a sacrifice bunt that was mishandled and thrown away by Nick Blackburn, allowing Pena to score. Carl Crawford then walked, Evan Longoria singled, and Gabe Kapler hit a pinch-hit double. For all the flak that Kapler has taken recently, he finally got a big hit against a lefty. Regression rocks (the good kind, at least).
On the pitching side of things, the game followed a familiar storyline: James Shields pitches well for six strong innings, but is left in for an inning too long and lets in multiple runs. Oh, and tell me if you heard this one before: the Rays' bullpen slammed the door closed. Just a week ago, it felt like the Rays would get this kind of pitching performance but not be able to score any runs, so it's nice to have the offense and pitching line up for an overall well-played game.
- The Twins' television announcer (darn MLB.tv...) kept calling James Shields "Scot" Shields. My reactions went something like this: first time, mild humor; second time, mild annoyance; third time, "What the %#@()?" It's one thing to get a name wrong once or twice, but geez.
- Speaking of Shields, he pitched well but I was a bit concerned about the few amount of bats he missed. Shields typically isn't a high strikeout pitcher, but only two strikeouts all game? Only four swinging strikes (and only two on the change-up)? I'll take the win, but it wasn't Shields's most dominant start.
- Delmon Young is being considered for the All-Star Game? What planet is this?
- Boston lost and the Yankees won, so the Rays are still two back from the division but only a half a game behind the Red Sox. Somehow, I sense that this upcoming series is going to be a big one...