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Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Getting Drunk off the Rays Kool-Aid

How long will it take people to realize that the Tampa Bay Rays are legit? Maybe one of the reasons that casual fans hold onto false beliefs for so long is because baseball has such a marathon of a season.

I can't tell you how many times recently, guys have told me, "the Yankees will make a run and Tampa will come back to earth." This is based on the last few seasons when the Yankees had slow starts but the Bombers heat up with the summer weather. Ain't happening this season folks. The Yanks still have no pitching (starting or middle relief) and their once-potent offense is starting to show the wrinkles of its age.

The Orioles? A .500 team, nothing more or less. Toronto? Great pitching, pathetic hitting so ditto about .500. Boston is a cut above those three teams but for the first time in its history, Tampa Bay is right next to the Red Sox. Make no mistake, the Rays have a very good shot at making the playoffs. I might be wrong but you'd have to be a Luddite not to see the progress being made in Retirement Country.

Last night was the beginning of probably the most important series in Tampa Bay's history and the Rays delivered with a 5-4 over the Red Sox in a game that they would have lost in any previous season.

Down 5-2 going into the ninth, Boston (50-35) scored twice and had the tying run on third when Julio Lugo (a symbol of Tampa Bay's shitty past) lined out to short to end it.

With one out in the ninth, Tampa Bay (50-32) had two terrible instances of bad luck as Brandon Moss's pop-up to right hit a catwalk and fell for an RBI double. Jason Varitek cut it to 5-4 in the next at-bat as he hit a sacrifice fly which scored Kevin Youkilis. As he tried to cover third on the throw, Rays closer Troy Percival appeared to tweak his hamstring (an injury that put him on the DL earlier in the season). No problem. Young lefty J.P. Howell came in to retire Lugo and record his second save of the season.

The Rays always had control of this game as B.J. Upton led off the home half of the first with a home run off Red Sox starter Justin Masterson.

Masterson has been good but he might have made his last start for the Sox for a while as Clay Buchholz has regained his control in Pawtucket. Last night, Masterson (4-2) lasted six innings, giving up four runs on five hits with five walks and five strikeouts.

Tampa Bay starter James Shields improved to 6-5 after 6.1 solid innings of work. He allowed two runs on five hits with one walk and five strikeouts.

Boston tied it in the fourth when the scorching Mike Lowell (3 for 4, run, RBI) knocked in Dustin Pedroia with an RBI single.

The Rays responded with two in the fourth as Gabe Gross hit a two-run bomb. Tampa Bay padded its lead with another run in the fifth on Carlos Pena's RBI double.

J.D. Drew hit a solo shot in the sixth, keeping it within striking distance for the Sox (4-2 Rays).

The one last run Tampa Bay added in the seventh proved to be the difference. Jonny Gomes grounded into a fielder's choice with the bases loaded.

Tim Wakefield (who always pitches great indoors, especially at the Trop) takes the ball for the Sox tonight against the Rays' Matt Garza. It's a big week for the Red Sox as they have three at the Trop, followed by three in the Bronx.

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