For the first five innings, this game felt like a direct-to-DVD sequel to the previous two in the series. The Rays stranded baseruners and allowed a run on usual circumstances. In the sixth, everything we came to expect was turned upside down.
Joe Maddon allowed his lefty bats to stay in against lefty Derek Holland. Matt Joyce reached on a fielder’s choice and Dan Johnson followed with a single. Normally this would mean two on with one out and Carlos Pena coming to the dish. Instead, Joyce rounded second aggressively, allowing Nelson Cruz to gun a perfect throw to second base for the tag on the retreating Joyce. Pena walked and Ron Washington quickly yanked Holland in exchange for the flamethrowing Alexi Ogando. B.J. Upton’s rough series (0-10 to this point) witnessed a reprieve as he sent a ball into left field, tying the game and taking his throne as the Fresh Prince of Bay Air.
Matt Garza escaped a potential explosive situation a half inning later, retiring Nelson Cruz with two on and two out with an assist to a diving Jason Bartlett. Right place, right time for Bartlett, who seemingly tagged a sliding Elvis Andrus on a stolen base attempt earlier in the inning; Andrus was called safe, but replays later showed that he was indeed off the base at the time of the tag.
Ian Kinsler led off the bottom of the seventh with a homer and the reality of elimination became distinct once again. Then Dan Johnson came once more. The Great Pumpkin sent a Darren Oliver ball deep into right field. Free agent to be Carlos Pena connected with a single to right and again the equalizer scored. With two outs and Bartlett due up, Ron Washington went to his bullpen for closer Neftali Feliz. After walking Bartlett, John Jaso hit a ball to center that scored Pena. Jaso advanced to second and slid so hard that he uprooted the base.
Consecutive plays untethered the binding ropes of fear from the hands of Rays’ fans throughout the land. Carl Crawford’s going away party would not happen tonight and would not happen on a silent note. After robbing draft classmate Josh Hamilton on a difficult to field ball in left field, Crawford led off the ninth with a home run. Widening the Rays’ lead and chasing Feliz. Shortly thereafter, Pena made his presence felt once more and blasted a ball deep into the Texas’ night.
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