I’d like to introduce myself as the new Staff Writer for Rays Colored Glasses. My name is Joel Trunfio, I hail from Boston, and am graduating from college in May. Although I am a Red Sox fan, I look forward to offering an unbiased point of view on the Rays.
There’s nothing quite like baseball with your brunch. The Rays managed to avoid a four game sweep against the Boston Red Sox in a game that began at 11:05 AM on Monday, thanks to a stunning performance by James Shields. “Big Game James” ended up going 8.1 innings, allowing 4 hits and 2 walks while striking out 5. He was downright dominant, only allowing a Sox runner past 1st base in the 2nd inning on a wild pitch.
The Rays and Red Sox went down quickly in the 1st inning, after Shields battled with Mike Aviles in a 10 pitch at bat that ended in a pop up. In the 2nd inning, Daniel Bard hit Ben Zobrist, then walked Jeff Keppinger with two outs before Jose Molina flied out. The first hit of the game came when Cody Ross reached on an infield single. He reached third after a wild pitch and a force out at 1st base; this would be the last base runner that James Shields allowed past 1st base all game.
The Rays left another running on in scoring position as Desmond Jennings stole second after being walked but Bard worked out of the jam by striking out Sean Rodriguez, Carlos Pena, and Evan Longoria, all on sliders. Bard also worked around runners on 1st and 2nd in the 4th with a 1-6-3 double play off the bat of Jeff Keppinger. Bard has some nasty stuff today, striking out 7, but also walked a career high 7 batters, proving costly for the Red Sox in the end. Shields started to cruise after the 3rd inning, giving up a long single to Adrian Gonzalez in the 4th but erasing him with a double play ball, and he also worked around a four-pitch walk to Nick Punto in the 5th.
Daniel Bard, who was making his second career major league start, clearly started in wear down in the top of the 7th. The Rays hit into two quick outs before Sean Rodriguez walked and Jennings singled to center. Carlos Pena then walked on four straight pitches. Bobby Valentine inexplicably kept Bard in the game even though he was toiling at 100+ pitches. It was clear that Evan Longoria did not even think about lifting his bat off of his shoulders, as he took four straight balls to drive in Sean Rodriguez as the go ahead run. The Rays went 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position on the day, but they took advantage of the opportunity they received in the 7th and that was enough to win this one.
Shields began the 9th on the hill as Rays fans hoped to see his first complete game of 2012, but he was lifted in the 9th after walking Dustin Pedroia with one out. New closer and Master of Swag, Fernando Rodney, came in and got Adrian Gonzalez to ground out. He then intentionally walked David Ortiz with Pedroia on second base and struck out Cody Ross looking to end the game.
This wasn’t the prettiest of wins for the Rays, but they will be happy to leave Boston with at least one victory. Shields was excellent again, going at least 8 innings in his second consecutive start. He threw his slider the most, 31 times, and got a 12.9% swinging strike rate on it. In his last start, he threw only 7 sliders (with no swinging strikes), so it is encouraging to see him get a good feel for all of his pitches early on in the season. Fernando Rodney picked up his 4th save in 4 attempts as well, proving that Rays management can continue to find cheap, quality arms.
The offense is still not firing on all cylinders, even though they did manage 7 hits in this game. Two of their hits were infield singles, and two were bloopers that fell in front of an outfielder. Desmond Jennings did have a nice day offensively for the Rays as he doubled to left, singled to center, walked, and stole a base. Besides regaining a .500 record, the day was a cause for celebration as it was Joe Maddon’s 500th victory with the Rays. The team will now travel up north to Toronto as Jeff Niemann takes on Ricky Romero tomorrow night.