The Tigers came into Tropicana Field for their three-game set with the Rays last Friday, and everyone knew it could be a series between to contending teams. Yes, Tampa Bay is sitting at fourth in the American League East, but they’re looking over everyone’s shoulders, just a few games behind the Red Sox. Plus, the Rays haven’t had the left arm of James Price for some time, and Alex Cobb has been on the shelf after suffering a concussion. Still, three games with the Tigers could set things in motion for a strong second half from the Rays.
Friday’s game had Miguel Cabrera hitting two monstrous home runs. Prince Fielder hit one that was estimated at 414 feet by the Rays tracking system, and ESPN had it at 389 feet. Cabrera supposedly had one that flew 432 feet. All I know is that Fielder’s almost took the lid off The Trop. It hit the third ring/catwalk of four in the stadium. Word is, the ring will be OK. Ultimately, the Tigers took the win, 6-3 behind unbeaten Max Scherzer.
The Rays did get a screaming line drive home run from Wil Myers, but that probably isn’t what got their attention. They know the kid will be hitting his share. What might have drawn the Rays’ attention was Cabrera having a little fun mocking Fernando Rodney’s arrow shot after the game. I don’t know, but I doubt it went over real well with some of the Rays’ club. Just put that in the memory bank.
Saturday ended with a Tampa Bay victory, but not before some near fireworks on the field. Cabrera wasn’t thrilled when Rodney threw a fastball somewhere in the range of 100 MPH high – but over the plate – on a two-strike count – in the top of the 10th inning. Baseball’s best hitter exchanged pleasantries with Rodney, who responded with a running fastball that buzzed Cabrera’s dome at 92 MPH. Cabrera struck out on a change up on the next pitch, and again had some words for Rodney.
If I can read lips, I shouldn’t print what I think I saw. Cabrera continued to chirp when he got back into the dugout. Rodney set the Tigers down, and Tampa Bay took the win on Yunel Escobar’s line drive single over Austin Jackson’s head with two out in the bottom of the inning. Escobar turned around a 100 MPH heater for the win. And while the Rays were smiling, the Tigers were shaking their heads and talking about how you can’t get away with a pitch up around someone’s head… Things were just warming up for Sunday’s rubber match.
Yesterday’s matchup was tense and intense from the start. Ben Zobrist was drilled by Rick Porcello with two outs in the first inning. While Zobrist, arguably the nicest guy in the game, stared at Porcello on his way to first, Cabrera glared toward Zobrist. Funny thing – the Tigers didn’t like how close Rodney had come to Cabrera’s head in the tenth inning Saturday, but had no issue with throwing in the same general region to Zobrist.
Warnings were given to both teams, and the game proceeded. Jeremy Hellickson was dominant. The Rays scratched out a 3-1 lead before Helli ran into trouble in the top of the seventh. After loading the bases with no outs, Hellickson was removed for lefty Jake McGee. Two weak fly balls and a routine ground ball later, and the Tigers’ best opportunity to catch the Rays was over, as no runs were plated.
Word was all over twitter and the Rays’ home network of Sun Sports Florida that Tampa Bay was hoping to add to their lead so they could send Kyle Farnsworth to the hill to plunk Miguel Cabrera leading off the top of the eighth. Farnsworth and Rodney had spent much of Sundays’ game in the dugout, a rare spot for relief pitchers. Rodney had entered the dugout from the clubhouse after Zobrist was drilled.
Ultimately, Farnsworth did face Cabrera, who appeared a bit uncomfortable throughout the at bat. The Tigers lined the top step of the dugout, expecting Cabrera to be hit. The Rays had Joel Peralta warming up, as if Farnsworth may be in for only a single batter. Ultimately, the big right-hander did pound Cabrera inside, but baseball’s best hitter lined out to third base without incident. Maddon then brought in Peralta to finish the job.
The ninth inning saw Rodney give up a one-out double to Omar Infante before setting down Jhonny Peralta on a strikeout and inducing Brayan Pena into a weak popup to short to end the game. Rodney then altered his bow –and-arrow victory celebration a bit. In a post-game interview, he said he was shooting a lion. Seems to me that Fernando simply shot down a Tiger for the second day in a row.
Takeaways from the Detroit series:
- Justin Verlander isn’t the same as he has been the past few years. All the baseball insiders on TV can say otherwise, but he’s simply not nearly as sharp as he has been the past several seasons.
- Interesting to see Cabrera woofing at Rodney Saturday and staring down Zobrist on Sunday. Just curious why he didn’t take care of business himself with Rodney….
- Porcello had hit only ONE batter of the previous 334 he had faced before entering the game. Funny that a single pitch could slip away so easily when he was facing Zobrist.
- Hellickson had his second exceptional outing in a row. After struggling with his command earlier in the year, the young righty has given up just seven hits and one earned run in his last two outings. And a defensive play he made to force out the lead runner with men on first and second was both athletic and demonstrative of his baseball IQ.
- Joe Maddon played his cards perfectly Sunday. He played the game to win from the start, and still managed to keep the Tigers on the edge of their seats, all the way up to putting Farnsworth in to face Cabrera and having Peralta warming up at the same time. By the way, no one really wants to mess with Farnsworth.
- Zobrist was more than unhappy when the game was over, and in a post-game interview said of Cabrera “…for the best player in the world I thought he was a bit sensitive last night.” Spoken softly, heard loudly, Ben. Velvet thunder.
- After the game, Maddon dropped a Mario Puzo/The Godfather reference regarding paybacks. Check out his twitter timeline.
- The Rays seem to be ascending, and the Tigers are scuffling. For all the pitching injuries the Rays have had, they seem to be well-postured for the second half of the season. The Tigers, for all their talent, have never found their stride, with the bullpen being a big part of their concerns.
Tampa Bay fears no one. They probably have more “rivals” than any team in baseball. They force other clubs to execute, and get more bang for their buck than anyone, outside of possibly the Pirates.
- The Detroit series was played with post-season energy and urgency. I don’t think good clubs really need wakeup calls, but the Rays answered the bell when Detroit started huffing and puffing. You have to love that sort of response.
The Rays are in Houston for a four-game series beginning this evening and running through Thursday. Matt Moore will be on the bump tonight. David Price is back from the disabled list for tomorrow evening’s game, and Roberto Hernandez and Chris Archer will finish out the trip to Texas. It’s great to have Price back in the rotation, and the money is on him returning with a flourish. Evan Longoria’s issues with plantar fasciitis remain a concern.
While Tampa Bay is trying to take down a Houston team that has found an ability to be very competitive after a rough start, the Orioles will be playing four against Texas. Boston will be playing Seattle, and the Yankees face off with Minnesota. Toronto hosts Detroit. The Rays will be trying to gain ground on the Sox and Orioles, while distancing themselves from the Yankees and Blue Jays. Tampa Bay is 3.5 games out of a wild card slot at this time.