ST. PETERSBURG, FL - SEPTEMBER 11: Designated hitter Johnny Damon #22 of the Tampa Bay Rays congratulates B.J. Upton #2 after he scored against the Boston Red Sox during the game at Tropicana Field on September 11, 2011 in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)

Rays Sweep Sox, Pull To Within 3.5 Games In Wild Card Race

The Rays needed a sweep of the Red Sox if they were going to be dreaming of October glory, and so that's what they did behind big pitching from James Shields and a huge day for BJ Upton.

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Upton Leads Explosive Offense, Shields Awesome As Rays Sweep Sox 9-1

This was supposed to a pitchers battle, with the Rays’ ace James Shields going against Red Sox ace lefty Jon Lester. Fortunately for Rays fans, only Shields decided to show up to the game this afternoon. With Shield’s pitching and BJ Upton’s huge day, the Rays swept the Red Sox and pulled to 3.5 games back in the AL Wild Card race.

The Rays offense got to Lester early, scoring 3 runs in the first inning going single, single, walk, single, groundout, sac fly, single, ground out, leaving two men on base. They would tack on a run in the third after Sean Rodriguez drove in Johnny Damon, who led off the inning with his 7th triple of the season. They would get 20 men on base for the afternoon, but didn’t pull more than 4 runs until after they had chased Lester in the 5th inning.

That’s when, with 2 outs and the bases loaded BJ Upton took righty Matt Albers DEEEEEEEEEP to left center field for his first career grand slam. BJ Upton would end the day 4-4 with a walk, 4 RBI s and 3 runs scored. At that point in the game the main questions left in fans minds were: Will James Shields get his 12th CG of the season, and could Josh Freeman engineer yet another come-from-behind victory for the Bucs across the Bay.

Unfortunately, neither would come to pass. While Shields pitched marvelously, he walked Darnell McDonald in the top of the ninth and left to a standing ovation from the crowd at the Trop after throwing 121 pitches. He went 8.1 IP, 7H, 1R, 1ER, 1HR, 3BB and 5SO for the day. It wasn’t his most dominating performance, but outside of a 3rd inning where he gave up a solo home run and squirmed out of a bases loaded 1 out jam without allowing any more runs, he was very, very good.

The sweep brings the Rays to within 3.5 games of the Wild card spot, before heading on their last road trip of the season. This could make or break the Rays playoff hopes, as they face the Orioles for a 3 game set in Baltimore, then face these very same Red Sox for a critical 4 game set at Fenway Park. Jeff Niemann battles Zach Britton at 7:05 tomorrow at Camden Yards.


Longoria, Jennings Walk Off Vs. Red Sox

There’s something about a walk-off victory that tends to wipe the rest of the game from your mind. Throughout extra innings, you stress about the mistakes Farnsworth made in the ninth, and that the Rays couldn’t capitalize more on early opportunities. You stress about these things until the home team comes to bat in the bottom of the inning, and as soon as there’s hope of a walk-of victory your mind can think of nothing else. That’s how I felt, watching the ball jump off of Desmond Jenning’s bat in the bottom of the 11th. My first thought was that if it got past the outfielders it was an inside-the-park home run, then as Darnell McDonald and Jacoby Ellsbury closed on the ball I thought it would become an out, and finally (when Jennings was standing on third with no one out) I thought that this game could be one more step on the road to the post-season. And then Evan Longoria drove a pitch into center field and it was finally over, and the Rays were a mere 4 ½ games back in the wildcard, with the potential of a sweep intact for tomorrow.

But to get to the extra-inning heroics, you had to go though some pains as a Rays fan. The Rays got to Kyle Weiland early and often, putting runners in scoring position throughout the game. While they scratched out a run in 5 of the first 6 innings, they could have scored far more. The offensive highlights aren’t sticking out in my mind as vividly because, outside of the home run by Casey Kotchman, the runs were generated without base hits. Groundouts in the 1st and 2nd and sac flies in the 3rd and 6th led to the Rays’ runs. The Red Sox tied the game in the top of the 5th with a 2-run homer from Adrian Gonzolez, but the Rays would eke out a 5-3 lead until the ninth inning.

Then Kyle Farnsworth started throwing batting practice. 2 solo home runs to Josh Reddick and Jacoby Ellsbury tied the game, and after allowing another double he was pulled for Cesar Ramos. After the game, Joe Maddon said that Farnsworth is day-to-day with some elbow soreness. Outside of the Farnsworth catastrophe, the bullpen really did well tonight. Peralta, McGee, Howell, Cruz, Ramos, and Gomes all threw zeros for the home team, allowing the 11th inning heroics to take place.

And take place they did, quieting the Red Sox fans in attendance and sending the Rays fans into a frenzy. Not just because it was just one game, but because it gives hope that the Rays may yet reach the playoffs this season. If teams can continue to take advantage of the Red Sox starting rotations’ woes, and the Rays continue their hot streak, then the Tampa Bay Rays may yet reach the post-season in 2011.

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