I ended up trading my two box seats for a seat in a section right behind home plate today; a sole Rays fan in a sea of Astros fans in that section. Needless to say, people were having fun at my expense after the first inning at both extremes. In the top of that frame, the Rays left the bases loaded with B.J. Upton striking out – a skill he has demonstrated in 39% of his at bats in the month of May. I knew the bottom of the first was going to be troublesome as I watched Price throw three warm-up curveballs that were not eve close to the plate which was going to mean a lot of fastballs. Sure enough, those fastballs came and a lot of them went the opposite direction in a hurry including a monster shot by Pedro Feliz. Even though it was 4-0 after the first and Price had already thrown 41 pitches,
I was not too upset because I knew how bad Bud Norris had been of late. As I pointed out in my other story today, Norris is 0-5 with a 9.82 ERA in games that he does not pitch against the Cardinals this season and that Norris is essentially a three true outcome pitcher: a walk, a strikeout, or a run. True to form, Norris was exactly that as he struck out ten batters in five innings but also gave up five runs, walked three, and served up three home runs while throwing 114 pitches in just five innings. Norris has a very live arm, but he is a relief pitcher miscast as a starting pitcher right now as he cannot change speeds at all and all of the Rays except for Upton eventually caught up with him. The Rays offense worked twenty baserunners in all – fifteen via hits and five on free passes. Zobrist was the best of the bunch going 3 for 6 and is now hitting .387/.465/.533 in 75 May at bat and with Reid Brignac going 3 for 4, he’s now hitting .326/.408/.442 in May.
Pitching wise, Price at least worked five full innings to help conserve the bullpen for the series against Boston that kicks off tomorrow night. Joaquin Benoit is on some kind of tear as he has now struck out the last nine batters that he has faced and he made particularly quick work of the Astros today. Righty-killer Dan Wheeler wasn’t so sharp today for the first time in quite some time but Balfour, Cormier, and Soriano wrapped it up once again. Outside of the few meltdowns that Choate had earlier this season, the bullpen has been quite solid this season and has not yet melted down like the Mets bullpen is doing as I am typing this.
The Rays come home to play both colors of Sox in the league and will throw Davis, Shields, and Garza up against Lackey, Lester, and Buchholz who represent the 4th place Boston Red Sox. I am hoping that the crowd is overwhelmingly representing the good guys and the Rays continue their solid play at home against Boston. The club is now 20 games over .500 and if Francisco Rodriguez can slam the door shut here, six full games ahead of the Yankees.