You had to watch Evan Longoria carefully as he approached first base. But there it was- the fist pump. It was happening again.
Why does it feel like every Rays game has a sense of impending doom built in? Watching the game, it was hard not to have a bad feeling in your gut. In the first inning, Jeff Keppinger walked home with the game’s first run on a balk in the 1st inning- only to see the call overturned and Kepp sent back to 3rd before Jake Peavy escaped the jam. In the 4th inning, the Rays finally got a lead as Ben Zobrist doubled, moved to 3rd on a flyball and scored on a Carlos Pena sac fly. But then James Shields got into trouble in the bottom of the inning.
James Shields has always been a pitcher that has been known for his control. Suddenly in the 4th inning, it deserted him. He walked both Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko to begin the inning. Then Alejandro De Aza hit a groundball to 3rd that Evan Longoria may very well have misplayed, moving to third base to cover the bag as opposed to going for the ball, which got past Ben Zobrist into left field for a single to load the bases. Shields came back to strike our A.J. Pierzynski. But then he hit Dayan Viciedo with a pitch to tie the game. He got Alexei Ramirez to pop out before a Gordon Beckham liner was caught by Desmond Jennings to end the inning.
The Rays took the lead again in the 5th as Luke Scott slammed a solo homer to make it 2-1 Rays. But things got dicey again in the bottom of the inning. Alejandro De Aza led off with a single to begin the inning before Shields hit Kevin Youkilis with a pitch to give Chicago 2 on with nobody out. Another walk to Dunn loaded the bases. This time, Shields got out of the jam more quickly, getting Paul Konerko to ground into a double play- tying the game at 2- before striking out Alex Rios to end the inning. Shields stranded a measly one runner in the 5th before departed with 1 on and 1 out in the 7th. Jake McGee walked a batter before escaping the jam. Shields worked hard to allow just 2 runs in 6.1 innings, allowing 6 hits and 4 walks while striking out 6. Jake Peavy was excellent on the other side for the White Sox, allowing 2 runs on 4 hits in 7.1 innings, striking out 6 while walking 1.
Pierzynski led off against Peralta in the 8th, but he escaped the jam as Dewayne Wise struck out after failing to lay down a sac bunt before Alexei Ramirez flied out and pinch-runner Jordan Danks was called out on the play for rounding second base and not touching it again on the way back to first as the Rays got out of the inning. The Rays stepped in against Brett Myers for the 9th.
With 1 out in the 9th, Evan Longoria came to the plate for the Rays and got ahead 2-1. Myers hung a slider just a little bit up, and Longoria was not going ot miss it on this night. Longoria drilled it for a go-ahead solo homer to left-center to give the Rays a 3-2 lead. The one scary thing left: Dan Johnson, yes Game 162 hero Dan Johnson, was leading off the bottom of the 9th for the White Sox. Fernando Rodney entered for the Rays and Johnson hit a scorcher to right field. Matt Joyce nearly overran it but somehow guided it into his glove for the first out of the inning. After De Aza grounded out, Kevin Youkilis singled to keep the game going, and Dunn came up to the plate with enough power to end the game with the White Sox on top with just one swing. But it was not that night and not that season for Fernando Rodney. Rodney struck out Dunn to end it as the Rays won 3-2. The save was Rodney’s 46th, a Rays record. Congrats to Rodney on that. But this game goes to Shields’ ability to battle through the jams in the 4th and 5th and of course Longoria’s blast to provide the winning margin. It was a satisfying win and even more satisfying in the standings. It was the Rays’ 8th straight win and because the A’s and Angels both lost, the Rays pulled within 2 games in the AL Wild Card race, tied for 3rd with the Angels, and just 3 games back of the Orioles, guaranteeing that if they win out, they will at the very least force a 1-game playoff for the Wild Card. The Rays can do this. They are right there and if they can find some way to continue winning they will be in the postseason. The Rays’ fate is in their own hands. If they win, they’re in. They thrive on the pressure.