Earlier in the season, one of the Rays' coaches (whose name shall remain anonymous) told me "If we could hit, we'd be six games ahead of everyone (in the division)." The Rays are ranked 28th in all of baseball when it comes to the Team Batting Average category, hitting a paltry .237, and are ranked as equally low (22nd) in Team On Base Percentage, at .313. In lieu of those sub-par numbers, the Rays have managed to stay in the playoff hunt this far, due in large part to their ability to be "situational hitters" when the chips are down and their backs are against the wall, so to speak. The Oakland A's are statistically worse than the Rays in both of the aforementioned categories, yet are primed to take one of the two available Wild Card spots in the American League, proving that quantity is better than quality when it comes to wins. Tonight, the Rays faced a Red Sox lineup that has played the role of "party crasher", beating the team the past two games and allowing both the Orioles and Yankees to put more distance between themselves and the Rays.
Chris Archer took the mound tonight, and has been a solid starter since being called up to the majors September 7th, although his record does not reflect it (was 0-3 entering the game tonight). For the Sox, Daisuke Matsuzaka --yet another Japanese import who has failed to remotely live up to expectations-- took the mound, attempting to salvage what has been a horrendous season (and past three seasons) for him, sitting at a 1-5 record and an ERA over 5.
Archer had problems with the speedy Jacoby Ellsbury early, as he tagged Archer for two runs all in the first three innings of the game. Dustin Pedroia scored the only other run that Boston would score, doing so in the third when he grounded into a fielder's choice. All in all, Archer lasted 5 innings, allowing 3 earned runs, 4 walks while striking out 6; command issues were a problem, but luckily the Red Sox were not seeing the ball well tonight, or this game could have turned out completely different.
For Matsuzaka, he more than likely wishes that the above statement was the case. The Rays' lineup had their way with Dice-K, tagging him for 5 runs and 9 hits in just 3 innings of work. Matt Joyce received a gift RBI when he was walked with the bases loaded in the second inning, then Ben Zobrist singled home a run in the third to make it a 3-2 ballgame.
Things only got worse for the Red Sox pitchers from there on out: Jeff Keppinger and Carlos Pena both hit home runs off of Matsuzaka (Pena's was a two-run homer) for good measure, making it a 5-3 game after four innings. After Matsuzaka was pulled, Bobby Valentine sent in his closer Alfredo Aceves in a futile attempt to stop the bleeding. Aceves' luck wasn't much different from Dice-K's, and the seven-run sixth inning proves it (as follows): Desmond Jennings tripled home two, Luke Scott drove in one on a sacrifice fly, and Keppinger singled home a run.
At this point, Bobby V had seen enough from Aceves, deciding to bring in the flame-throwing righty Daniel Bard, who has been dealing with some "hiccups" this season. Sadly, Bard suffered the same fate as Aceves and Matsuzaka, walking Pena with the bases loaded to allow yet another gift-run to cross the plate; he walked Jose Molina shortly thereafter to allow the third gift-run to cross home plate. When Bard finally managed to end the inning, the floodgates had opened and there was no way to come back from a nine-run deficit (12-3). Matt Joyce singled in the eighth inning to make it a double-digit lead, and absolutely embarrass the Red Sox.
For all the problems the Rays have faced this year --namely injuries to key players like Longoria, Scott, and Joyce-- the team has managed to stick around this late in the season. Although the A's and Yankees will probably secure the two AL Wild Card spots, the Rays haven't considered throwing in the towel just yet. No one in their right minds thought Boston would go 6-19 in the final month and complete the worst September collapse in baseball histroy, but it happened.
With Oakland's loss Wednesday, the Rays are now 5.5 games out of that second Wild Card spot.
Notable Stat Lines:
C. Archer (W,1-3): 5 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 4 BB, 6 K
C. Pena: 1-2, 2 R, 3 RBI, HR, 3 BB
J. Keppinger: 3-4, 2 R, 2 RBI
D. Jennings: 2-5, 2 R, 3B, 2 RBI, BB
Rays News and Notes:
- Now with 1,256 strikeouts, the Rays are closing in on the AL record for K's.
- The Rays announced their minor league awards yesterday. Here's a list of all of them over at Marc Topkin's blog.
- David Price was awarded the team's Roberto Clemente Award, an honor given to a player from each team for work in the community.
- David Price continues his Cy Young campaign against Clay Buchholz (11-6, 4.33 ERA) tonight as the Rays rap up the four-game series with Boston. First pitch at 7:10.