Two games to go and the Red Sox and Rays are tied in the race for the AL wildcard. The Rays came out and took game one against the Yankees 5-2 and the Red Sox fell 6-3 to the Baltimore Orioles. What seemed impossible a few weeks ago has suddenly occurred, and now the Rays have to continue what they started when they began this miraculous run.
It wasn’t all smiles, as the Rays fell behind 1-0 in the first. James Shields struck out the first two batters, but then gave up a solo blast off the bat of Robinson Cano. As hard as it was for the Rays to score runs in New York last week, it felt like it could be a long night if they got down early. That feeling grew in the bottom half of the inning. B.J. Upton doubled, and with Evan Longoria batting, stole third. Longoria drew a walk, but the Rays’ threat was squelched when Ben Zobrist grounded into an inning ending double play. The thought had to be running through fans’ minds, not one of those nights again.
Shields would give up another run in the third inning to make it 2-0, before settling into yet another strong performance. He allowed six hits on the night and threw 117 pitches before being lifted in the ninth with two outs. He had just given up a walk to Eric Chavez and Joe Maddon decided to bring in Kyle Farnsworth rather than push Shields any further. Shields paced around the dugout visibly trying not to watch what was happening on the field. He wiped his face with a towel, hovered around the water cooler, did everything but watch the at bat. Farnsworth threw Jesus Montero six pitches and was able to induce a ground ball to third. Longoria snagged the ball on an in-between hop and fired to first to end the game.
The offensive star for the Rays was center fielder B.J. Upton, who doubled in each of his first two plate appearances. He picked up two RBI and scored a run in the third on a Johnny Damon single. The Rays ran themselves out of a chance at a big inning in the third, after three runs had already scored. Damon was thrown out trying to steal and Longoria was thrown out trying to score on the play. Instead of being able to open it up, the Rays were left with 3-2 lead. The way Shields pitched through the middle to late innings that was enough. Kelly Shoppach added a home run in the fourth, his second in as many days. Upton scored on Damon’s sac fly in the seventh and the Rays held on for the 5-2 win.
You have to wonder how much fatigue hurt the Yankees tonight. They were coming off a 14 inning loss and did not arrive in Tampa until around 5 a.m. Still, it was a gutsy performance all the way around for the Rays tonight. Shields battled his way through some tough innings and the offense came through to score enough runs to get the win. They are even, but that’s all they are right now. The Rays have to win out and still could face a one game playoff for the final postseason berth. It feels good and they have come a long way, but it could feel even better in a couple of days.