At its best, baseball is a game of suspense. When it happens, the action on the field moves quickly: pitches are thrown at 90+ MPH, double plays are turned in the blink of an eye, and game-changing home runs can leave the park in a matter of seconds. But what turns a regular ol' baseball game into a spectacle is Suspense.
The suspense that comes from waiting on a pitcher in a key situation. The suspense that comes from the day-by-day incremental changes in the standings. The suspense that comes from the length of the season -- the storylines and plots that develop over the course of 162 games, which all come crashing together in one final rush during September and October. We wait a full 10-11 months each year for September to come back around, and hope that the Rays will be close enough in the standings to be playing games that matter.
September is back, and if today was an indication, this month is going to be a ride. The Rays and Yankees entered the eighth inning of today's game tied at three, until a single by Ryan Roberts, a stolen base, and a single from Chris Gimenez (which just barely sneaked by Robinson Cano) gave the Rays the lead. Fernando Rodney closed the game out in the ninth, but not until the Yankees threatened to tie the game by putting a running on second with only one out. The Rays snuck out the win, but...easy? Relaxing? Certainly not, but that just made it all the more satisfying a win.
For the most part, James Shields looked good out there today. He wasn't in dominant form -- the Yanks made him work, sitting on his fastball and not chasing his change-up that often -- but he still managed to get through eight innings and hold the Yankees to only eight baserunners (five hits, three walks). In the fourth inning, though, the Yankees started hitting him hard; Cano led off with a hard double down the line, then A-Rod
ripped dribbled a single, and Raul Ibanez hit a fly ball that got past a diving Ben Francisco and turned into a triple.
The Rays pulled the infield in, and then an unfortunate play developed. Russell Martin hit a sharp grounder that ricocheted off Shields and bounced to Keppinger. Kepp had been pulled far away from first, though, so he had a choice: do I hold onto the ball in order to keep the run from scoring, or do I try to outrace Martin to first? In that split second, he chose to go to first base, but Martin got there before him and the run scored. It wasn't Kepp's brightest moment, but at the same time, I can't necessarily blame him either. It wasn't a horrible choice to make, although in retrospect, the smartest play was likely to eat it.
After the Yanks pulled ahead -- the Rays had scored two by that point, but still trailed by one -- I was afraid that would be it. Sabathia was starting to look like he was finding his form, and it would be just like the Rays' offense to flop then. But then Upton led off the fifth inning with a walk, Zobrist hit a single, and they pulled off a successful double steal with Longoria at the plate. Here we go -- first and second with no outs, and the heart of the batting order was up! This was the Rays' big chance to blow the game open.
Unfortunately, it didn't work out that way. Longoria drove in a run with a ground out, and then Keppinger and Francisco made outs without being able to drive in Zobrist. If the Rays hadn't won, this would be the crucial moment I'd be pointing back to where the offense flopped. As it was, it turned out to be a footnote in the game; the Rays kept the Yankees from scoring again, and then pulled ahead with a final run in the eighth inning off a Chris Gimenez single.
- Chris Gimenez was the hero of the day, driving in the Rays' first and fourth runs with two well-placed singles. The final single juuuust snuck under Robinson Cano's outstretched glove -- no idea why he didn't dive for it, although he did apparently injure himself on the play and is doubtful for tomorrow's game -- and drove in Ryan Roberts to give the Rays the lead.
This came after a rather eventful start to the eighth inning. Jeff Keppinger led off with a single, and was replaced by Rich Thompson. Thompson proceeded to attempt to steal, but he was called out at second base on a very close play. After watching a ton of replays, I still can't decide if he was safe or out. Maddon ended up getting ejected, but really, the take-away note from that play is that Rich Thompson is incredibly fast; the pitch was a pitch-out and it was a perfect throw from Martin, and Thompson still nearly beat it out. Dude can fly.
- In the third inning, B.J. Upton drove in the Rays' second run by knocking a homer to deep left-center. If you didn't see it, be sure to watch a replay; Staats and B.A. were raving about Upton's swing, and I will admit, it was an incredibly beautiful swing. When B.J.'s at his best, he makes the game of baseball look way, way too easy.
- Evan Longoria got pulled after his at bat in the seventh inning, leading to widespread speculation on Twitter that he'd been injured. Longoria had actually been removed merely as a precautionary move -- day game following a night game and all -- which (might I add) SQRMan called spot-on from his perch near the Rays' dugout.
It seemed like a weird call by Maddon to me, removing Longoria from a tie game against the Yankees, but oh well...it's just frustrating that we still can't run Longoria out there every inning of every game. If the Rays manage to make the postseason, though, I suppose we'll be thanking Maddon for his prudence then.
- In the postgame news, it was announced that Jeff Niemann has been diagnosed with some mild inflammation of his rotator cuff. He's going to see a specialist about it soon, but it seems likely that he'll be shut down at this point in the season. So much for trading him this off-season...