On May 2nd, 2007, Carlos Pena hit a sky high ball that struck the B ring in Tropicana Field and landed in fair territory for a single when it looked to be an easy out. He was pinch run for by Ben Zobrist who eventually came around to score in the tenth inning as the winning run against…..the Minnesota Twins.
Karma is indeed a bitch but don’t saddle this loss today on that steaming pile of dung that rises up from 1 Tropicana Place that St. Petersburg mayor Bill Foster insists is a viable major league stadium (hear Joe Maddon’s thoughts on it) because the Rays’ comeback never should have happened in the first place if a major league umpire had simply done his job.
That is the strike zone plot for the at bat between Jesse Crain and Chris Guccione in the 8th inning when the Rays had the bases loaded and two outs. Notice there are six tiny squares inside the strike zone but only four of them were called strikes. Mind you, these are not pitches on the fringe of the strike zone – these are pitches right over the heart of the plate. If a Rays pitcher would have received this kind of incompetence from a major league umpire, we would all be up in arms screaming for robo-umps. Every umpire can make one mistake, but two, this egregious, is simply unacceptable but not surprising in a season where the quality of umpiring has been loudly criticized from all walks of life. Yet, that eighth inning did happen which should not surprise anyone who has followed this team all throughout this season.
The Rays, by far, are the best team in the American League in the eighth inning in 2010. They have a team slash line of .288/.363/.461 in 482 plate appearances along with 19 stolen bases. It is not the highest batting average, or the highest slugging percentage, but it is the highest on base percentage and they are one of only three team in baseball with double-digit steal totals in the eighth inning in the league. The Rays’ sOPS+ (split relative to the league OPS for a particular split) is 131; the next highest team is 118. Simply put, if you give the Rays a chance in the eighth inning to hurt you, they will do just that. The problem here is Jesse Crain did not give the Rays that chance – Chris Guccione did but things always even out and unfortunately for the Rays, things did not take long to even out.
Face it – this is a game the Rays should have lost anyhow as they were incredibly poor at the plate for the first seven innings. Kevin Slowey, a guy with a 5+ ERA on the road this year, dominated the club for nearly the entire game. He pounded the strike zone all game long with 88-89 mph fastballs that the Rays swung behind, over, under like it was the size of a pea and held the Rays bats at bay for most of the contest until handing it over to the pen with two outs in the eighth. If you combine the efforts of Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey today, they held the formerly hot Rays offense to seven hits, two walks, and struck out sixteen of them in just under sixteen innings. The Rays were on base eleven times on the day but plated just one run that did not involve a home run. One of those homers was by BJ Upton but he, Reid Brignac, and Kelly Shoppach combined to go 2-10 with seven strikeouts at the bottom of the order with the rookie taking the hat trick.
It was unfortunate Shoppach was even in the lineup against a right-handed pitcher today but in an early day game after a very late game last night, Jaso just was not ready to catch another game. I say it is unfortunate for Shoppach to be in the game against righties because he now owns a .106/.189/.128 slash line in 47 at bats against righties that includes 27 strikeouts. I don’t care how much Dioner Navarro, Toby Hall, John Flaherty, or Michel Hernandez frustrated you throughout the years – none of them were that inept in a split and sending Shoppach up there in that situation is asking for an out. He has reached base just ten times in 53 plate appearances against righties and has been a tremendous disappointment on the season. Nobody expected him to win any batting titles when he was here but he had 74 extra base hits his last two seasons in Cleveland yet has just four with the Rays in 2010.
Speaking of disappointments, the results from Wade Davis today were just not good. His velocity was down today as his average fastball velocity was 89 mph today and the Twins made him pay early and often in the first inning as he gave up five straight hits in the first including back to back to back doubles as the Twins sent nine men to the plate in the first inning. Davis settled down after that retiring the Twins in order in the second, third, and fourth inning before allowing a home run to Jason Repko (yes, Jason Repko) in the fifth inning and letting Drew Butera hurt the club again with an RBI double in the sixth. Davis had two jobs today: work at least six innings to help a tired bullpen and keep the team in the game. He did the first one but failed miserably on the second one as he left the game having given up six earned runs, put eleven men on base, and struck out just two batters. That effort comes off a strong month of July when he was awarded the AL Rookie of the Month award but unfortunately for Davis, comes in the same week that Jeremy Hellickson showcased his talents and those are still very fresh in the minds of Rays fans who left today’s game either frustrated with Davis, the catwalks, or both.
The club goes onto Toronto for three games against the dangerous bats of the Blue Jays that just took a series from the Yankees, in New York, before going onto Detroit that is still licking its many wounds that have been inflicted on them this season. It was nice to be back in first place for all of 40 hours, but it is back to business and the club needs to come off this road trip with no worse than a split. The Yankees are hosting the Red Sox this weekend who just learned they will be without the services of Kevin Youkilis for the rest of the season which really puts a hurting on their chances at a wildcard spot but by no means can they be written off yet as so many have tried to do with them several times already this season.