Saturday, June 11, 2011

Another June Baseball Game

I have a wonderful wife.  Most who might tune in to see my sports thoughts are people would are already of the same opinion that she is wonderful.  She taped the Rays game for me tonight and what a game it was (is).

I picked up the game in the top of the 4th with the Rays up 1-0.  David Price was pitching against BYU-product Jeremy Guthrie.

I was hoping the one run would hold as I could use the stats of a complete game shutout on my fantasy team from my Cy Young runner-up from last season.  When the Rays tacked on 2 more I felt very comfortable.

Then adversity strikes.  I've never really liked or had reason to like Mark Reynolds.  I think there might be some subconscious to that because his is a low-average, power hitter and I played the game by speed and design rather than power.  Either way, Reynolds irked me again tonight knocking a home run in consecutive innings.  The latter gave the O's a 4-3 lead.

Side note, until the Rays came to existence I was a big Orioles fan because even though I don't have the memory to support the fact, the Orioles were the first team I saw live when in my first three years of life growing up in Maryland.  My mom could tell you more because I really don't remember.  But the O's were my AL team growing up and the Cubs my NL team because of the distribution of Cubs games through WGN.  Being an infield guy my favorite middle infield would be Ryne Sandberg and Cal Ripken even though I really liked Ozzie's backflips.

Back to tonight.  Guthrie was probably done anyway after the top of the 6th.  He was on the hook for the loss but after the bottom half of the inning he was actually in line for the win.  Lady luck reversed course in the top of the 7th when the Rays managed to tie it up and again without making a pitch Price was relieved as being the pitcher of record and you knew either way he wouldn't come back bottom 7 with where his pitch count stood.

At this point the game is really getting good because each team has lost a lead already.  It is like a playoff series - they say it isn't a series until each team has won a game.

Also, this is where the subject of the post comes from.  All these games in the middle third of the season get lost in the longevity of a 162-game season but can become so important. 

The Rays have sputtered the last month or so.  They've fallen from first in the AL East to third.  Dropping another last night left them 4 games out of first and a Boston win today meant they needed to equalize with a win to hold serve and keep pace at 4 games out.  Now all is not lost if we drop to 5 games and the urgency is not lost if we win but the season can certainly turn on small hinges and these kind of games do a lot to team psyche.  A team can spiral downhill fast and while a division can't be won before the All-Star break it can certainly be lost by that time.

Back to the game.  The O's crush my hope with a run in 8th.  Peralta had Reynolds up with runners second and third and one down.  He had him 2-2 and I was just hoping he left nothing close to the zone.  Reynolds had to know the plan was to get him to chase or give him first to set up the force with runner third and less than two outs but after fouling off a pitch out of the zone low and away Peralta hung a slider on him that must have surprised Reynolds as much as it did me because he froze for a called third strike rather than a third homer for the game.  No surprises on the next batter and he pitched him cautious with an open base in a tie game.  After going to a full count Peralta gave up a walk which isn't bad independent of the next at-bat.  He went 3-0 before a gimmie strike and walking in the go-ahead run.  A nice play by Brignac got us out of the inning but it felt like part of the hinge for our season might have been tonight and the door was swinging the wrong way.

Enter the ninth and hope is restored.  The Rays really are a late-inning team.  I've been at the Trop for two walk-offs already this year and multiple last year.  So Zobrist gets us going again with an awesome head first slide for a triple on a ball that probably should have been caught but that's baseball.  They give Joyce the walk because they want no piece of him even with Longoria behind him.  No problem - right.  Like missing a free throw, Evan pops out to the infield and momentum shifts back to the home crowd.  One out from the end and guess who comes through in the clutch - Casey Kotchman.  Casey played for my high school a few years after I graduated.

It is the bottom of the 10th right now and I don't know who is going to win but this has been a fascinating game and this is why I love baseball (I just wish they had bunt base hit with BJ in the top of the ninth with Joyce on third.  He didn't get a pitch that it would have worked on but I would have loved the call and Upton could totally beat it out.  I should do a blog post some time on the lost art of the bunt base hit.).

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