Friday, August 29, 2008

O's-Rays, The Better Team Won

The Tampa Bay Rays have the best record in the AL and are 18.5 games ahead of the Orioles right now. That's pretty amazing, and I will be happily cheering for them once they get to the postseason. They are now the kind of organization the O's should try to model themselves after.

Nice start for the O's against Scott Kazmir, as Brian Roberts draws a walk. Markakis uncharacteristically swings at the first pitch and flies out to center. With Mora up, Roberts steals second fairly easily and then takes third uncontested. Melvin can't get him in though, as he grounds out to third. Neither can Huff, who grounds to first. Despite Robert's efforts in the inning, the O's don't score.

Jeremy Guthrie's starting for the Birds, so this should be a pretty good pitching match-up. Iwamura decides to cut to the chase and just take third right away. Lead-off triple, and now the Rays have a good chance to score. Upton grounds to short, but unlike Roberts in the top of the inning, Iwamura takes off for home. Castro makes a solid throw, and a short rundown results in the first out, though Upton takes second. Carlos Pena walks, and as the ball bounces away from Ramon Upton takes third with a stolen base (he was off during the pitch). Cliff Floyd with a shot into the right-field corner makes it 1-0 Rays. Willie Aybar strikes-out looking and Eric Hinske grounds back to Guthrie to end the inning and leave a couple stranded.

Three-up, three-down go the O's in the second, including a pair of K's.

A one-out single is almost erased by a double play, but Castro's relay throw to first is a bit off-line. Walks to Iwamura and Upton load the bases for Pena, who then walks himself to force in a run. Not the control we're used to from Guthrie. Then Floyd walks to force in another run. Lance Cormier is warming in the pen, with the score 3-0 already. Guthrie finally gets out of it by getting Aybar to pop out.

Castro draws a one-out walk, then Markakis draws a two-out walk. Mora battles through a good at bat and ends up grounding a 3-2 pitch up the middle. Iwamura slides to get it and throws Mora out by a half-step, and Melvin goes to the ground in pain. It looks like a ham-string injury - hopefully it's not serious, but I imagine he'll leave the game.

Alex Cintron takes over for Mora, and Guthrie keeps the Rays off the board despite a single by Gabe Gross.

Ramon finally gets the O's into the hit-column with a line-drive single to right-center. Millar strikes out (Kazmir's second of the inning and fifth of the game) and Luke Scott pops out to leave him stranded. 3-0 Tampa Bay, and I'm not feeling confident about a comeback.

Back-to-back singles by Iwamura and Upton start the fourth. Jim Palmer is noting that Jeremy Guthrie's less than stellar outing thus far may be the result of the number of innings he's thrown this year. (175.1 IP last year and 183.2 IP coming into this game.) I had the same thought during second when he walked in two runs. With a nine-man bullpen and the season already mostly lost, there's not much point in pushing Guthrie too much for the remainder of the year. Carlos Pena walks again (Jeremy's sixth) to load the bases with none out. I have to think he won't be long for this game. Floyd once again pull the ball into the right-field corner for and RBI double; this time scoring two. That makes it 5-0 (with two on and still no outs) and Fernando Cabrera will enter the game. Aybar grounds out to Millar without a run scoring, and Cabrera intentionally walks Hinske to load the bases. Ben Zobrist, deep and gone. A line-drive grand slam into the right-field stands makes it 9-0. Something I found really interesting about the Rays which I don't remember where I read, is that instead of targeting superstars to acquire and assuming they can fill the rest of the spots with whatever role-players, they target role-players. Ben Zobrist, Willy Aybar, Eric Hinske, Cliff Floyd, Gabe Gross, the bullpen arms, etc. These are the guys that are providing the little extra that has made the Rays one of the best teams in baseball. Speaking of Gross - he crushes a home run to dead center to stretch the lead to 10-0. Ramon catches ball two from Cabrera to Iwamura, and gets thrown out of the game for arguing with the umpire. The strike-zone didn't help Guthrie - and it's nice to see Ramon protecting his pitchers, I guess - but it's 10-0 and the team is already playing with a short bench. For all intents and purposes, the game is now over.

I'm going to go ahead and just be happy that the Rays are moving further ahead of the Red Sox (and the Yankees, but New York is already out of it, in my opinion - both in the AL East, as well as the Wild Card). Tampa Bay has a pretty decent chance to win the World Series this year, and this may still be the worst Rays team we say for a while. The core is under control for at least a couple more years, and they have David Price, Wade Davis, Jeremy Hellickson, etc. coming up soon to further strengthen their rotation. Plus their position prospects. I really do wish they were in another division, because I've been a fan for a couple of years now (since a little while after the new front-office regime took over) and it would be nice to be able to cheer for them outright.

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