First of all, congrats to Raul Ibanez for hitting his first homerun as a Philadelphia Phillies player. It’s nice to see a homerun coming off of our bat for once this series.
Heading into the bottom of the seventh, down 10-3, I had lost all hope and figured that the Phillies were going to swept right out of the opening series by the homer-happy Braves. In fact, I was willing to give up on the game once Joe Blanton had a rough third, and even more so ready to throw in the towell when JA Happ gave up the two run shot to Jordan Schafer in the fifth.
Then just as I was about to leave the radio and head off to the gym, Chase Utley blooped a single into center and Ryan Howard was hit by a pitch. I figured that I would stay until the end of the inning. Well, eight runs later I was still sitting at my computer listening to the game.
The Phils bottom of the seventh consisted of five hits, six walks, eight runs, and four Atlanta relievers. The Braves bullpen imploded. They couldn’t find the strikezone and I’m suprised the Phillies aggressive bats let the Braves put that many on. One thing the Phillies didn’t prove to me during the playoffs last season was that they aren’t the team to work the walk. They would swing at ball three or ball four in a 2-2 or 3-1 count. But today, they discovered a patience they never had before and it turned out to be the difference in the ballgame.
In that dreaded seventh inning for the Braves, Eric O’Flaherty, Peter Moylan, Blaine Boyer, and Jorge Campillo surrendered six walks and five singles. All eight runs scored were earned by the Braves pitchers and Moylan and Boyer don’t even have ERA’s.
How clutch did the Eric Bruntlett sac fly turn out to be? In the bottom of the eighth Bruntlett brought home a run as insurance for Brad Lidge. It turned out that it was needed and kept Lidge’s streak alive. Lidge ended up giving up a homerun to Matt Diaz on a slider but no blown save was to be had. Lidge recorded his first save of the year after a slider in the dirt got Garrett Anderson to swing and miss.
“Put this one in the win column for the Fightin’ Phils.”
CHARLIE DOUBLE SWITCHES
Charlie Manuel ended up using the double switch today in that pivotal seventh inning. He sent Matt Stairs up to hit for Carlos Ruiz (maybe a fear factor for the pitcher). Brought Chris Coste in to pinch hit for the pitcher, then sent Coste in to catch and the pitcher spot was now in the eight hole. To anyone that doesn’t know, there was concern that Charlie didn’t know how to use the double switch. Well today he utilized it (even though it wasn’t the usual double-switch situation). I applaud you Uncle Charlie.
Those rings are nice aren’t they? It was awesome to see Pat Burrell back again (I think he got emotional–hence the shades). And yes, we did boo Adam Eaton.
SOUTHPAW SQUAREOFF AT FENWAY
It looks like Scott Kazmir got the best of Jon Lester tonight in Boston. Through four innings, Lester looked great. But then in the fifth, a few flyballs fell in that probably could have been caught. Both flyball “singles” involved Jed Lowrie running backwards and I’m not sure if he got in the way of Jason Bay and Jacoby Ellsbury, but it looked like it. So don’t look at Lester’s five earned and think he got rocked. Although Carlos Pena did rock one pitch on the three run bomb to center.
Jed Lowrie seems to be the goat of the night. There were the flyball situations, and he also struck out twice. Once was with the bases loaded and two outs late in the game. Even if Julio Lugo was healthy, I would stick with Lowrie at short. Who cares about how much he’s getting to sit on the bench? Jed’s the future.
How good does Akinori Iwamura look at the bottom of that lineup? Normally the nine-hole is also called the “second leadoff spot.” Aki, along with Jason Bartlett and Carl Crawford combined for nine hits in fourteen at-bats. That will definately make this lineup go as the season progresses and they may be the key.
I look forward to the rest of these Rays/Sox matchups.
Team Preview: Tampa Bay Rays
Projected MLB Rank: 12th — AL Rank: 5th — AL East Rank: 3rd — Record: (86-76)
To answer that question, I would say they will shine, just not as bright. It’s hard to match 97 wins no matter who you are. Lead by strong pitching, timely hitting, and a genius manager last season, the Rays will need more of the same if they want to end up playing past October 4.
They are returning with the same core as last season for the most part. A new acquisition is now DH (that’s weird for me to say) Pat Burrell. The world champion slugged 33 homeruns last season and drove in what was left for him after Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, which was 86 runs. Similar to Burrell, only from the left side of the plate, is firstbaseman Carlos Pena. He hit 31 homers last season while leading the team in RBIs with 102. Both Pena and Burrell hit around .250 as well.
Stud youngsters Evan Longoria and BJ Upton also carry threat potential in this lineup. Longoria, only 23, hit 27 homeruns and drove in 85 runs in only 122 games last season. Imagine what he’ll do in a potential 162? Then with Upton, he really showed his true potential in the playoffs last season, despite only hitting .273 with 9 homeruns and driving in 67 during the regular season.
Secondbaseman Akinori Iwamura will likely lead things off for the Rays, and while his stats don’t really infer it–he’s a contact hitter. The anchor behind the plate remains 25 year old Dioner Navarro. He hit around .300 last season and drove in over 50, look for more of the same if not better with him. Hamstring trouble-ridden Carl Crawford should play a full season again as well. I feel like he’s been in the league for a long while, like he should be atleast 30. But he’s still 27!
The Rays boasted the second best ERA in the American League last season (3.82) and it all starts with their solid rotation. It starts with “big-game” James Shields. Shields posed a 3.56 ERA last season while winning 14 games while holding a 1.15 WHIP. He’s a control pitcher who can strikeout batters too.
Looks like the Victor Zambrano for Scott Kazmir deal worked out well for the Mets (sorry, had to take my Mets shot). Kazmir’s becoming a good lefthander and the 25-year old should have a better year than last in which he had a 3.29 ERA and went 12-8. Last year he also struck out 166 batters in about 152 innings. He will be a 20 game winner one day, just maybe not this year.
Matt Garza has the potential to be absolutely filthy, as he was in the minor leagues. Last year he only struck out about six batters per nine innings but showed all of America in the playoffs how good he is by going 2-1 with a strikeout an inning. Andy Sonnanstine, another great control pitcher, will reach the mid-teens in wins and give the Rays a solid WHIP. The fifth rotation spot is up for grabs between Jeff Niemann and Jason Hammel. Whoever wins this job should be pitching for about a month and a half because I expect David Price to up in the big leagues by the end of May.
Veteran Troy Percival who’s ERA doesn’t give the correct impression for the job he did for this team last season. Before going down with an injury, he saved 28 games and appeared in 50 games for the Rays. Reliever Dan Wheeler had a nice season while posting a 0.99 WHIP and a 3.12 ERA in 70 games. Southpaw JP Howell is absolutely dirty. In 64 appearances last season, he struck out 92 batters and posted a 2.22 ERA. Hard throwing Grant Balfour should also be effective again coming out of the pen this year. Righthander Joe Nelson joins his fifth team in five years and should post a low ERA with a high strikeout rate. Jason Isringhausen also joins the bullpen and is presenting a really good case to join the roster this spring.
Overall, the Rays do look good this year. It’s hard to argue against 97 wins but this is such a tough division and I don’t think the Rays will be able to win all the close games they won last year. They’re an exciting team and I have them going close to the playoffs–but close doesn’t get you there.
The game is our national pastime. No matter what people say about how it’s losing its touch, there are just countless reasons as to why it is better than any sport in the world. The idea for this post came to me today after I watched my beloved Eagles tie the Cincinnati Bengals. As I left the TV after Donovan McNabb couldn’t find a home for a hail mary post-Shayne Graham missed field goal, I thought about just one of the many reasons why baseball is America’s true pastime: Two teams cannot tie (okay forget the Milwaukee All Star Game). Someone is always better on a given day. The game can theoretically go on for days and even longer. The longest professional game ever was a Triple-A game between the Pawtucket Red Sox and Rochester Red Wings in 1981. The ‘PawSox’ won 3-2 in 33 innings. That game featured hall-of-famers Cal Ripken Jr. and Wade Boggs.
So reason #1: No Ties.
Reason #2: Length of the season. Some complain about how the season is too long, but that only gives more accuracy as to who the best teams in each division are.
Reason #3: Tradition. No sport has a tradition quite like baseball. I could go on forever with this.
Reason #4: No time limit. There’s no clock. The longest game ever recorded time-wise was an 8 hour and six minute affair in which the Chicago White Sox beat the Milwaukee Brewers 7-6 in 25 innings. You cannot put a limit on the game
Reason #5: Variation of situations. There are countless situations that a baseball player can be in, and in the seconds that a play occurs they have to make quick decisions. More recently, Chase Utley in part two of game five on the Akinori Iwamura groundball where he threw out Jason Bartlett at home and countless, countless other situations.
Reason #6: Walk-offs. I think the walk-off is one of the most exciting times in the game. The game is over like that. It beats a game winning field goal, touchdown, goal, or basket any day of the week. Bill Mazeroski, Kirk Gibson, Joe Carter (sadly), Chris Chambliss, Chris Burke, Edgar Renteria, Luis Gonzalez, and many many others.
Reason #7: Lack of a salary cap. You can’t limit how much a team can buy. But, when a low-market, low-salary team comes through and becomes successful, it makes the game look even more genuine through the paradox (i.e. ’08 Tampa Bay Rays).
Reason #8: No-hitters and Perfect games. For a pitcher to go out there every inning and not let up a hit all game is one of the most miraculous feats in professional sports, if not the most miraculous. I was at the Kevin Millwood no hitter and it is one of the most unbelievable things I have ever witnessed.
Reason #9: Variation of ballparks and field dimensions. It gives fans more appreciation and pride in their ballpark. It is not limited to 100 yards and two endzones or baseline to baseline. No one cannot limit the way a parks dimensions are set up within that 90 degree angle. From the Polo Grounds deep center to the Minute Maid hill to the Green Monster, each and every stadium is original.
Reason #10: Trek to the majors. From the Rookie Gulf Coast League to the Single-A Short Season New York-Penn League to the Triple-A Pacific Coast League, the players in the majors are only the best of the best of the best… of the best.
These are only ten of countless reasons. You cannot limit the reasons, you cannot limit the game to anything. That’s what makes it the best game in the world.