Yesterday was a long day for me. I spent nearly the entire day with my family at the library and at Sea World as the weather in Orlando has finally become tolerable to venture out of the house to go to the park. My better half and I went to my favorite local sports bar, The Moat, and watched most of the Rays game there and joined an impromptu birthday celebration for a good UCF friend of mine that ended just about the time Mariano Rivera slammed the door shut on Game 1 of the Yankee/Red Sox double-header. Despite the long day, and despite all of the awesome college football on yesterday, I stayed up to watch Game 2 of the double-header.
Frankly, the second game was one of the worst baseball games I have seen all year. A.J. Burnett and Daisuke Matsuzaka were the starters so my expectations were not that high to begin with but the game featured 16 walks, six errors, three wild pitches, and four hit batters. Despite all of that, I lasted the first nine innings but fell asleep at the top of the tenth. Some divine intervention woke me up some 10 minutes later just as the final pitch of the game was being delivered to Patterson for his game-winning hit. Thanks to the Pawtucket, err, Boston Red Sox doing that and the Rays beating the Royals last night 4-0, the Rays once again control their own fate.
If the Rays can beat Sean O’Sullivan today, they get to party like it is 2008 all over again as they will own the American League East pennant and Game 1 of the ALDS will be at Tropicana Field some time on Wednesday. If the Rays are somehow once again bested by a terrible pitcher as they were on Friday, they’ll have to bank on John Lackey beating the Yankees. The good news is the Yankees game starts 45 minutes ahead of the Rays game today so there is a good chance the Rays will know what needs to happen before the end of their game. Then again, the Yankees and the Red Sox played back to back four hour games yesterday so the Rays could finish first even with the later start time.
Getting back to the Rays, it was just nice to see some runs scored for a change. The club did one of their typical games – get outhit by the opponent but still outscore them. The Rays had just ten base-runners all game but a Matt Joyce triple plated two while Carl Crawford hit his 19th home run for a third and B.J. Upton had a sac fly for the final run. Eight different Rays’ pitchers made an appearance in this game as the group combined to shut out the Royals. Chad Qualls threw just three pitches but he earned the win and likely his entire paycheck with the appearance.
Qualls came into the game with bases loaded and just one out. The inning started with Andy Sonnanstine surrendering a bunt single to Gregor Blanco followed by a double to Mike Aviles and plunking Billy Butler on the hip. The Run Expectancy Chart says that teams that load the bases with nobody out score 2.5 runs and given how things have gone for the Rays of late, one had to assume that all three of those guys were going to score. Sonnanstine got Kila Ka’aihue to strike out swinging before Joe Maddon quickly employed his first match-up strategical move of the game bringing in the groundball machine in Qualls to face Josh Fields in a situation where the club desperately needed a double play. Qualls did exactly that getting Field to hit into a 6-4-3 double play which squashed the only serious scoring threat for the Royals on the evening.
David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, Jake McGee, Grant Balfour, Joaquin Benoit, and Randy Choate finished the job rather effectively and I am going to go out on a limb and predict all of those names are going to be on the post-season roster that is announced on Tuesday. Carlos Pena had an opposite field double in this game which is a good sign for him, but unless he goes at least 3 for 4 today, he will finish the season below the Mendoza Line becoming just the third everyday player in the last twenty years to pull of that unfortunate feat. If Sean Rodriguez can hit a home run today, he will become the fifth Rays’ batter to have double digit home run and stolen base totals and no other team in baseball has done that since 1991. O’Sullivan has a 1.7 home run rate since joining the Royals so if Rodriguez is in the lineup today, I like his chances on getting that honor.
The Bucs are on a bye-week this week allowing bay-area Rays fans to completely focus their attention on baseball this afternoon. Start watching the Red Sox and Yankees at 1:35 and then flip over to the Rays at 2:10 this afternoon. One way or the other, the American League East race will be decided today. In March, Vegas gave the Rays 5:1 odds to win the East and set the over/under on their win total at 89.5 while giving the Yankees 8:11 odds and the Red Sox 7:4 odds so winning today could make a betting man or woman quite happy if they placed that bet in March. Additionally, a win today brings the Rays half-way to this rather bold prediction by Kyle Blocker of The Bleacher Report back on 2/17/10.