What a perfect morning for my first blog post…ever.
There was something cosmic about the home-half of the 8th inning last night. The Rays didn’t just erase a two-run deficit against the hottest (if not the best) pitcher in baseball. They did it at the exact same moment that the Yankees squandered a scoring opportunity in the 8th inning of their game against Detroit (2nd and 3rd with no one out). The Rays’ improbable 8th inning rally didn’t just push the Rays past a potential October opponent in a key spot, it also pushed them into a tie for first in the AL East. That is the kind of serendipity you only see in Hollywood.
How’d they do it? Did Cliff Lee just run out of gas? Did Derek Shelton find a chink in Lee’s seemingly impenetrable armor? Did the Rays just get lucky? Did Glenn Close put on her white dress and stand up in the bleachers behind the third base dugout? Yes. (Well, except for the Glenn Close part. Best I can tell, the clock in centerfield at the Trop is still in tact).
Lee gave up five hits to the eight Tampa Bay hitters he faced in the 8th inning. Of the five Rays that connected against Texas’s ace, only Ben Zobrist, Lee’s final hitter, saw more than three pitches. The other four — B.J. Upton, Jason Bartlett, Evan Longoria, and Carlos Pena — were hitting aggressively early in the count. (For good measure, you can add Kelly Schoppach into this group. He flew out on the first pitch of the inning). Based on my informal observation, those hits came on Lee’s fastball.
That tells me that either through scouting or video analysis, Shelton discovered that Lee likes to use his fastball early in the count when he gets tired in an effort to stay ahead of hitters. The Rays ability to exploit that tendency led to one of the more bizarre innings in recent memory.
Whether it was good scouting, good coaching, good luck, or merely the maniacal machinations of the baseball gods, it is hard to look at the 8th inning of August 16, 2010 as anything other than a tipping point for this season.