Familiar foe: Rays face former ace Kazmir, beat Angels 4-3

Rays starting pitcher “Big Game” James Shields started off the defensive side of the game well enough. Jimmy struck out Bobby Abreu before allowing Howie Kendrick a ground-rule double. No worries though, because he caught Alberto Callaspo looking and got Torii Hunter to fly out to right.

[image-1]The Rays put another tally on the board in the second inning; Sean Rodriguez led off with a double that CF Peter Bourjos was able to keep in the park but not in his glove;  a Kelly Shoppach pop-out later, he was doubled home by Upton. B.J. picked up his second RBI of the day on this long shot.

Shields got into trouble in the bottom of the third inning; a lead-off walk to Abreu came back to haunt him. After striking out Kendrick, BG allowed Callaspo to single. Hideki Matsui doubled deep to score both base runners. Terrific effort by Upton on the play but he just couldn’t come down with it.

In addition to his propensity to take a while to settle down, apparently also Kazmir retained his ability to absolutely baffle hitters. He pitched five and a third innings, leaving with one out and Willy Aybar and Rodriguez aboard after walking in the sixth. Kaz yielded the four runs on only five hits, striking out four Rays batters. Kelly Shoppach struck out and Upton gave it a ride to the wall in deep center but was caught by Bourjos. You can attribute it to resurgent Angels pitching or defense (like those Upton flies to center) or perhaps the Rays just weren't getting it done. They had runners on base in every inning through seven, except the fifth, and managed to do nothing with them. The early damage to Kazmir was all TBay could muster.

All was quiet until the bottom of the seventh inning. Joe Maddon may have gone to the bullpen one batter too late. Shields allowed a lead-off walk to Bourjos. Randy Choate came on and got Abreu to fly to center. Chad Qualls then came on to pitch. Bourjos stole second and went to third base on a throwing error by Shoppach. Kendrick’s sac fly to right made it a one-run game when Bourjos tagged at third and scored.

[image-2]With still nothing doing on offense, the Rays took the field in the bottom of the ninth behind closer Rafael MFIKY Soriano. I’ll just go ahead and tell you what this stands for instead of prompting you to Google it, based only on his incredible performance. The intense closer got the moniker “Motherfucker I Kill You” from Atlanta fans during his time there, thanks to his amazing pitching and intense approach to the game. Now, what he did Monday night – Tuesday morning was frickin’ spectacular. Raffy struck out the side…on only NINE pitches. Minimum number of throws a pitcher has to make in order to retire the frame on Ks. If a pitcher could pick up three strikeouts on fewer pitches, MFIKY would be the one to do it. He got Willy Aybar’s brother Erick, the pinch-hitting Mike Napoli and Bourjos all swinging futilely. The dominant closer picked up his 38th save of the season and Shields got the win, improving to 12-11.

If my understanding of the record books is correct, Big Game James tied two Rays pitching records held by Kazmir, those being games started, with 144, and wins with 55. Not a bad guy to get them off, too.

Can’t say enough about Soriano and Upton (do not adjust your monitor, I really typed that). B.J. was the only Ray to have a multi-hit evening; I’ll settle for his two RBIs, excellent fielding and amazing effort all around. This is the B.J. Upton we want to see every night.

The New York Yankees lost 2-3 to the Toronto Blue Jays, meaning the Rays picked up a full game and once again have a share of the lead. Forgive me for not getting super-pumped about this but it seems like it happens at least twice a week; it’s a bit hard to be as excited. As a final note, I implore the Rays not to give me these nail-biters 'til 1:30 in the frickin' morning. Blow the other team out when you're on the Left Coast; save the close ones for the good ol' EST.

When a Tampa Bay Rays game starts with B.J. Upton homering off the first pitch from former teammate and good buddy Scott Kazmir, you know it’s going to be worth staying up late for every bit of it. The former TB ace showed all the old problems he had when wearing the blue and gray, including putting men in scoring position before securing the first out of the game. Kaz showed that despite retaining the ability to dig a monumental hole for himself, he still has the tools to climb his way out, but not before allowing a two-out, two-RBI base hit by Ben Zobrist to score two more runs in the top of the first. Big Ben’s clutch single scored Jason Bartlett and Carl Crawford, who’d been hit by a pitch and walked, respectively. Kazmir threw more than 30 pitches in the frame. Some things never change, but it’s good to see his struggles come in our favor for once (no real reason for the music video, I just love the song and it got stuck in my head after that last sentence).

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