Sunday, July 25, 2010

Clutch hitting cracks Cleveland curse, Rays win 6-3 over Injuns

Posted By on Sun, Jul 25, 2010 at 1:02 AM

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“Not again (groans).” I’m sure my reaction to the start of the Tampa Bay Rays’ Saturday night game in Cleveland was similar to that of many Rays fans. Not another loss in Cleveland. Not another bad start from pitching ace David Price. Fortunately, as the evening progressed, we all learned that it was indeed not the case. While Price was tagged for three runs in the first two innings, he battled back to throw a pretty good game and keep his team in it. Ben Zobrist and Carlos Pena used their big boy bats to start the sluggish offense.

Rays catcher Kelly Shoppach – who factored into this win offensively – came to Tampa Bay from Cleveland for a player later to be named. Well that man was named Mitch Talbot. The former Tampa Bay minor-leaguer took the hill in his first outing since being traded by Tampa Bay and looked to show the Rays what a mistake they’d made. After getting Zobrist to line out to lead off, he tied an Indians record by striking out six consecutive batters. Shoppach’s third-inning ground out prevented Talbot from taking sole possession of that statistic. He looked good in his bid for revenge but came up short.

Uncharacteristic is the best way to describe the beginning of Price’s 13th win. He walked Trevor Crowe on four pitches and looked pretty steamed at Cleveland afterward. He followed that four-pitch walk with a three-pitch strikeout of Asdrubal Cabrera, setting the strike zone on fire with a 98 and two 99 m.p.h. fastballs. Cleveland’s Shin-Soo Choo doubled to score Crowe and that really pissed Price off. He threw seven straight 99 m.p.h. fastballs, five on a strikeout of Carlos Santana and two to Jhonny Peralta before getting him to ground out on a 79 m.p.h. change up to end the inning.

The Tribe wasn’t done yet though, as another early walk came back to haunt the hard-throwing lefty. Price’s free pass to Matt LaPorta was followed swiftly by a Shelley Duncan homer on the first pitch he saw. David decided he’d allowed this offense to go on too long and shut down the Indians, allowing only a single in the fourth through the remainder of his seven-inning victory. He walked four and struck out five batters in an outing that saw him allow only three hits and three runs scored.

With the pitching well in hand, the Rays hitters must have figured they would have to do something to end up with the W. Enter Sean Rodriguez; he struck out looking at a called strike to lead off the top of the fifth inning. But that brought B.J. Upton to the plate. Yeah, he flied out to right field. But Shoppach got on board with a two-out single and moved into second on Jason Bartlett’s base hit. Zobrist went deep to score Shop and JB on what was initially ruled a triple. Further review showed that the ball clanked off the fan hand railing well over the top of the wall, putting it in home run territory. Umpire crew chief Mike Everitt exited the review booth and signaled the around-the-world, letting Zobrist take his victory stroll from third on a home run he had launched minutes before.

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With the game tied and the momentum clearly shifted, the Rays tacked on two more in the sixth inning, the first on a home run from Pena. Matt Joyce followed that up with a double and moved to third on a wild pitch after Sean Rodriguez lined out to center. With a man in scoring position, Upton cracked a two-out ground-rule double to bring Joyce home. Tampa Bay added one more in the seventh, with Bartlett leading off by being hit by a pitch for the first of two times in the evening. With what I can only hope were two raised middle fingers, he slid into second base with a steal. Carl Crawford then doubled to bring him home, scoring the final run in a cleansing win in Cleveland, with clutch hitting the story of the night.

Let the healing begin

I was fairly worried through the first half of this game, I won’t lie. It was pretty sad that it looked like the things we would be able to celebrate as fans were our team preventing a record being set against them and avoiding a no-hitter. But all it takes is one man to get it going and Saturday night that man was Kelly Shoppach. He proved that it was a pretty good deal picking him up for Talbot. Although he’s been cold lately, the clutch single sparked the comeback. Sure, Zobrist’s long ball was the exclamation point on the inning, but without the two men before him getting aboard, he would have waited until the next inning to hit and the whole butterfly effect spirals into… yeah I’m not going to finish that sentence. I’ll sum it up with a sage-like John Madden-ism from the king of the obvious: if those two men weren't already on base, that home run wouldn’t have scored three.

Anyway, I am stoked about the win and everyone else in Tampa Bay should be too because they won it the Rays way: battling back, refusing to quit, chipping away and picking themselves back up as a team. I’ve said it before; this is the team we watch every night to see. This is the team with the spirit this town embraces. I just hope that team picks up another victory Sunday and can cruise back into Tampa Bay for the extended home stretch with some momentum before taking on the Detroit Tigers and New York Yankees this week.

Hall of fame deal

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Do you love great food, drinks and baseball in large quantities? The folks at Lee Roy Selmon’s in New Tampa are setting up a Rays bus trip for the Aug. 14 game against Baltimore. By the way, it’s USF alumni night, so patrons will get an hour-long, all-you-can-friggin’-eat buffet with all the house wine and draft beer you can drink before being shuttled across the bay for the game. Kegs will be on the vans and you’ll also get a co-branded USF-Rays hat and a lower level seat, in addition to a safe ride back to the restaurant. For $75, it sounds like an awesome deal, so sign me up. If you’re interested, fellow Bulls or no, see a manager at Selmon’s soon, as I’m sure this will fill up quickly.

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