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Rays Win 8-3 Over Cardinals, Thanks To Hot Hitting From Johnny Damon

...Not that the Rays have been bad in interleague play: today's win gives them a final 2011 interleague record of 12-6. I'm just very glad that we won't have to watch another pitcher hit this season (until the Rays reach the World Series, that is). I know the NL style of play is more "traditional," but as someone that's grown up in a world in which the DH has always existed, watching too much NL baseball makes my head hurt.

But anyway, on to today's game. While the final score makes it look like the Rays blew the Cardinals out of the water (or air, I guess), this game felt a lot closer. Both teams went back and forth for the first five and a half innings, and while the Rays finally claimed the lead for good in the bottom of the sixth, the Cards threatened to score later on and weren't out of it until the Rays broke open in the bottom of the eighth inning. For a while there, I thought Jeremy Hellickson was going to fall prey to another "LOLfense" performance, but  thankfully the Rays showed some offensive life late.

Speaking of Hellickson, he pitched a solid game tonight, lasting 7.1 innings while allowing seven baserunners (6 hits, 1 walk) and striking out two. It wasn't a dominating performance, as his strikeout total was low and he only generated five swinging strikes, but it seemed like he didn't have his best stuff and had to do the best he could. He only had his fastball and changeup working -- he threw three curveballs all game -- and his pitch location wasn't ideal. He left some changeups high in the zone and a few too many fastballs over the plate for my liking, and he allowed two homeruns on the day as a result.

But hey, overall I can't complain -- for a game when Hellickson was essentially working with two pitches, he did a good job of limiting baserunners and working deep into the game. Also, if Longoria had been playing third base today, he only would have allowed two runs instead of three. In the top of the sixth inning, Matt Holliday hit a sharp (but definitely field-able) grounder that got past Sean Rodriguez at third, and then the next batter (Lance Berkman)hit a homerun to tie the score. Ah well, c'est la vie. 

Game Notes:

  • Johnny Damon led the Rays' offense today, falling a homerun shy of the cycle and driving in four runs. He also had the coolest hit of the day, smacking a double into deep right field in the fifth inning with Elliot Johnson at second base. When the throw went through to home in an attempt to get Johnson, Damon advanced to third -- and then when the throw went wild and there was no one backing up the play, Damon sped on home and just beat the throw. Even though the Rays handed the lead back in the top of the sixth, that play was easily the highlight of the game for me.
  • The Rays also got great offensive performances from B.J. Upton (2-3 with a double), Elliot Johnson (2-3 with a double), and John Jaso (2-3 with two doubles).
  • I'm not entirely sure why Maddon had Kotchman hit in the bottom of the seventh -- the Rays were up by two, but they had the bases loaded with two outs and a chance to break the game open. Longoria was on the bench and there was a lefty in retrospect, that was a bit of an odd decision. My guess it Maddon wanted to keep the defense strong for the late innings, and didn't want to put Longoria on the field today.
  • Ben Zobrist is one of six players up for the final spot on the AL All-Star Team, so give him a vote. Odds are he won't make it, but we can try, can't we? He certainly deserves it.

Photographs by, thelastminute, turtlemom nancy , fesek, kthypryn, justinwright, sue_elias, pointnshoot, and scrapstothefuture used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.