Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Look out! Here come the Rays!

The Rays put the rest of the AL East on notice last night.  They're back and they could be better than ever.  Jeff Niemann's gutsy performance against one of baseball's premier pitcher showed that the 2009 Rays have turned the corner and are ready to start challenging.  The Blue Jays have been an enigma all year, jumping out to a fast start and slowly coming back to earth.  The Rays have been the opposite, starting slow and working their way back into a 4-way race for the AL East and the Wild Card.  Last night, the two teams met for the first time at the Rogers Centre.  It was just a meeting of 2 teams on the baseball field, it was a meeting of 2 teams headed in different directions.  The Rays won round one. A win tonight and they leave Toronto in 3rd place by themselves.

Here are some things I noticed in the Rays 4-1 victory.

  • Catching Doc Halladay.  It was a tall order for a tall pitcher.  Taking the hill on the road against arguably the best pitcher in baseball.  The Jays expect a win every time he takes the hill.  However, Niemann was having none of that.  The Rays number 5 pitcher, whose own future was in question last week, took the ball and showed what he's made of.   He gave up only 1 run in 7 1/3 innings.  He showed why the Rays were able to trade Edwin Jackson in the off-season.
  • CC knows the score.  Halladay's reputation as a baller proceeds him.  Facing him is a tall order for any batter.  But, leave it to the guy on the Rays' roster who has batted against Halladay the most to show everyone else how it's done. Moments after fouling off one deep to right, Carl Crawford made sure and sent one to the North Pole.  That 2-run shot gave Niemann the ammunition he needed to beat Halladay.  For years, Rays fans have been watching Crawford's talent. Now, we're watching him grow into a true veteran leader who lets his bat do the talking.
  • Pat the Bat's homer.  I'll admit, I've been tough on Pat the Bat.  But, for the money he's making and his performance, you can't really blame me.  I know the neck injury has slowed him down a bit. I understand he's trying to learn how to be a designated hitter. I understand all that. However, he's an important part of this lineup.  If he can really get it going, this team is going to be tough to beat in the 2nd half.  Joe Maddon hinted toward that Sunday afternoon in his post-game comments.  Maybe last night's insurance homer began Pat Burrell's true streak.
  • Keep the pedal to the medal and take the series.  The Rays need to keep it going tonight.  Just because they won last night, doesn't mean they can let up tonight.  The Blue Jays are no push overs and they're a wounded animal right now.  Matt Garza needs to come out dealing and the hitters need to take advantage of a pitcher not named Halladay.

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