Bats come alive, relievers thrive, Rays survive, beat Boston 6-5

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Anyone who counted this Rays team out has not been paying attention lately. With Sonnanstine getting it done in relief, Zobrist singled with one out in the fifth; he was in motion when Crawford struck a base hit and Big Ben advanced to third. Evan Longoria’s long sacrifice fly to deep center allowed Zobrist to tag up and score. Willy Aybar’s short double to left moved Crawford into third; he scored on a passed ball by C Kevin Cash, taking advantage of Boston’s miscues.[image-1]

Recent stud Sean Rodriguez opened the home half of the sixth inning with a leadoff double. Carlos Pena walked and Jason Bartlett reached on a bunt single to load the bases. John Jaso then battled with Boston starter Daisuke Matsuzaka and he gave him the Dice-KO, shooting a single up the middle; his base hit scored Rodriguez and Pena, tying the game, and chased the starter from the game. Bartlett was called out on Zobrist’s sacrifice bunt attempt, a blown call on high tag, as JB’s foot hit the plate before Cash managed to get him with the ball. Home plate umpire Laz Diaz, whose amorphous strike zone sucked the big one for most of the night, was out of position on the play.

TB’s bullpen got in a tight spot in the top of the seventh, with reliever Grant Balfour allowing Patterson to double. Tampa Bay walked hard-hitting David Ortiz intentionally but the walk to Kevin Youkilis not so much. With the bases loaded, Balfour struck out Beltre and Randy Choate came on to strike out J.D. Drew and put out the fire.

Matt Joyce’s leadoff single in the bottom half of the seventh put the winning run on base. B.J. Upton came in to pinch run and moved to second base on Rodriguez’s single and advanced to third on Pena’s ground out. Bartlett’s long sacrifice fly to right scored Upton and the defense and pitching got it done from there, with Choate picking up the W and closer Rafael Soriano – a most unjust all-star snub – picked up his 22nd save in 23 opportunities.

“A tremendous job by the bullpen, and then of course the offense really chipping away… everybody contributed tonight; I love that,” said Maddon, in his post-game press conference.

[image-2]Maddon seemed a little reticent to say this team has turned the corner (mind you I said it here), but said, “I like how we’re playing. We’ve had two tough starts recently, Wade Davis and now this one, and the bullpen twice has come to the rescue. You’re seeing the timely hitting show up again.” He indicated it was a return to how the team had played earlier in the year.

Rays fans have a lot to be pumped about this week. Our boys leapfrogged Boston to move into second place in the American League East. Jeff Niemann takes on some AAA scrub Tuesday night at 7:10 p.m. Then the Cleveland Indians come to town for four games. Hopefully we can move into the all-star break with some solid ground gained in this division.

Wow, where to start? Every member of the Tampa Bay Rays played incredibly Monday night, the exception being starting pitcher Matt Garza, as the Boston Red Sox proved that a wounded animal is still to be feared and respected. The Rays took an early one-run lead until a third inning implosion by Garza allowed four runs to score. The bullpen picked the team up, allowing only a solo home run off Andy Sonnanstine, and T-Bay’s batters battled back, eventually winning 6-5 against a depleted but still dangerous Boston team.

Tampa Bay scored early, with Ben Zobrist walking, then stealing second and scoring on Carl Crawford’s double in the first inning. Garza looked shaky all three of his innings pitched but came undone in the third despite great defensive plays from Zobrist and Crawford, who made what I’m calling the catch of the year, pouncing on a deep fly ball into the gap between left and center fields from Marco Scutaro. C.C. needs a cape for that one. Garza had the third batter, Eric Patterson, a strike away from ending the inning with a 1-2 count. Patterson weathered the at-bat and eventually hit a home run – the first of two in the game – to open the floodgates. This wounded animal of a Red Sox team smelled blood and sent all nine men to the plate in the inning; Kevin Youkilis tripled to score David Ortiz, who had walked, and Youkilis then scored on Adrian Beltre’s single. J.D. Drew reached on an infield hit and Bill Hall singled, scoring Beltre, before Mike Cameron struck out to close a devastating inning for the Rays on defense.

On Crawford’s amazing catch, Rays manager Joe Maddon said, “He’s faster than the speed of baseball.”

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