Rays welcome Wiggy (and Astros)
Carl Crawford plows into Astros catcher Humberto Quintero at home in the fourth on a B.J. Upton double. Quintero was charged with an error for not holding onto the ball and Upton scored from second. [James Borchuck, Times]
As another scribe put it, the 1972 Dolphins can crack their champagne....the Rays lost their first of the spring, 8-4 to the Astros at Progress Energy Park.
The Rays had their chances, going 1-for-14 with runners in scoring position. They had some good days (B.J. Upton's two doubles, two RBI. Utilityman Ben Zobrist had two hits and a stolen base - and played everywhere including first base "He needed a road map sometimes, but he did OK," manager Joe Maddon said.
And, of course, Crawford's memorable home-plate collision in the fourth.
We'll bring you more in Thursday's Times.
Updated 3:54: A double by Mike DiFelice went to waste, as the Rays stranded runners on second and third when Fernando Perez struck out to end the inning.
INF Joel Guzman returned for his first game action since getting hit with a pitch Sunday; concidentally, he was plunked again, this time in the back.
Astros 8, Rays 4
Updated 3:44: Kurt Birkins just made quick work of the Astros inthe eighth, and now the Rays have two more at bats to keep their perfect spring season alive. The top of the order is coming up with Zobrist leading off.
Updated 3:28 Scott Munter got himself into some trouble in the seventh, giving up two runs (one on an RBI double, the other on a sacrifice fly to center). But after an Astro got caught in a pickle, Munter recorded a flyout to get the game into the seventh inning stretch
Astros 8, Rays 4
Updated 3:16: Just got back from the clubhouse, where Crawford said he was just fine after his home-plate collision with Quintero in the fourth. Crawford said the coaching staff just told him to come out afterwards.
"I was just trying to touch home plate," he said.
The move was more practical than personal. Crawford said Upton left his bat on the plate and nobody moved it, so "I had no choice." Cliff Floyd joked Crawford was reverting back to his football days (Crawford was offered a scholarship by Nebraska).
“He didn’t really hit him that hard,” Floyd said. “(Quintero has) probably had balls fouled off him harder than that – nothing against C.C. (Quintero’s) a pretty big dude.”
Upton said the play was more of an indication of the team's intensity this year.
"We’re just trying to set the tone early,” Upton said. “We’re trying to do some things different this year and I think we’re just kind of letting guys know that we’re serious about the season.”
Speaking of winning, the Astros are up 6-4 after six. Scott Munter - from Nebraska - is pitching.
Updated 3:10 The Rays got one run back, making it 6-4.
Updated 2:55 The Astros tied the score on three hits - including a leadoff single by ex-Ray Ty Wigginton - and some less-than-slick play by the Rays. With another hit off Gary Glover it's now 4-3 Astros. And with a walk the bases are loaded. SS Reid Brignac was unable to turn a double play on a grounder to 2B Eliot Johnson and it's now 5-3 Houston. And after a wild pitch by Glover it's now 6-3. Finally the inning is over.
Updated 2:43 pm Gary Glover took the mound in the fifth, when the Astros put two on with one out. But Glover got Pence to fly out deep to Upton, and Blum to ground out to Cannizaro - so no damage done.
Rays 3, Astros 2
Updated 2:34 pm Wow. You don't see this very often. With Crawford on first, B J Upton ripped a double to the leftfield wall. Crawford, one of the fastest guys in the league, was determined the score. Just ask C Humberto Quintero.
Crawford did his best Pete Rose impersonation, lowering his shoulder and barrelling into Quintero at the plate, forcing the ball to bounce near the backstop. Crawford waved Upton to slide, and Upton scored to give the Rays a 3-2 lead.
Updated 2:21 pm RHP Dan Wheeler opened the fourth against his former team, starting off by facing Ty Wigginton, who was part of the Wheeler-to-Tampa Bay trade last summer. Wheeler got Wigginton out, then gave up a double before getting the final two outs.
Astros 2, Rays 1
Updated 2:13 pm The Rays have loaded the bases in the bottom of the third, sparked by Floyd's leadoff single and two walks.
But with two outs, Cannizaro came to the plate and hit a sharp bouncer to third, which was scooped up by Wigginton, who raced to tag third for the force -and final -out.
Astros 2, Rays 1
The Rays are now 1-8 with RISP, with two walks. In three innings, they've left seven men on base.
Updated 1:52 pm Hammel has gotten himself into a jam in the third. After Perez led off with a double, Quintero hit a slow roller to third that Aybar nearly turned into an out but ended up as an infield single. Two batters later, Cruz Jr hit a sharp grounder up the middle which bounced off Cannizaro's glove, scoring a run.
The Astros have runners on first and third with one out. But Hammel got Pence to pop out to Richard at first, and Blum to fly out to shallow center. It was a wild play, with Zobrist backing up from short, Upton racing in. You could hear Upton yell, "I got it!" from the press box.
Astros 2, Rays 1
Updated 1:46 pm The Rays once again had another chance with runners in scoring position, but couldn't get the big hit. After Andy Cannizaro ripped a one-out single and Zobrist walked, Crawford and Upton both struck out to end the threat.
So far, the Rays are 1-6 with RISP, including three Ks and a walk.
Rays 1, Astros 1
Hammel has come out for his third inning of work.
Updated 1:33 pm Astros third baseman Ty Wigginton, a former Ray, received some cheers before his first at bat, leading off the second inning. Wigginton popped out to Navarro near the Rays dugout.
Hammel looked good in his first two innings. In the second, he got Wigginton to pop out, then struck out Victor Diaz on a nasty breaking ball. Then, after starting a count 0-2 on Lance Niekro, he fell behind 3-2 before getting him to fly out to right.
Maddon said before the game he'd like to be more of a strike-thrower with his fastball, which will make his curve that much better. Hammel went after hitters today, which is a good sign, considering Maddon's mantra of trying to get his guys to throw strikes (good ones, especially)
Updated 1:22 pm The Rays had a chance for a big opening inning after B.J Upton's RBI double, putting runners on second and third with no outs. But Cliff Floyd lined out to rightfield, Jonny Gomes struck out and Willy Aybar walked to load the bases for Navarro.
Navarro's throwing error had set up the Astros first inning run. But he grounded to short for a fielder's choice.
Rays 1, Astros 1
Updated 1:15 pm SS Ben Zobrist jumpstarted the Rays first at-bat, leading off with a single before stealing second with a headfirst slide. Carl Crawford followed up with a walk, setting up CF B.J. Upton, who ripped an RBI double off the wall near the leftfield line. Runners are now on second and third with nobody out - and Cliff Floyd up.
Rays 1, Astros 1
Updated 108 pm Entering Wednesday's game, the Rays tied for the best in the majors with just one error in four games. C Dioner Navarro made it two in the first inning, bouncing an apparent pickoff throw from his knees past Richard at first base into rightfield. Cruz Jr advanced from first to third on the error, and scored when Hunter Pence hit a sacrifice fly.
Astros end the inning up 1-0.
Updated 1:05 pm - RHP Jason Hammel, one of the candidates for the last two rotation spots, gets off to a strong start Wednesday, getting Michael Bourn to ground out to Chris Richard at first base. Then, Hammel had to dodge a liner by Jose Cruz, Jr, who singled up the middle.
Updated 10:34 am: A few pre-game notes before the Rays take on the Astros at Progress Energy:
Manager Joe Maddon said LHP Scott Kazmir has advanced to "stage 3" of his recovery from a left elbow strain. Kazmir played catch outside with athletic trainer Ron Porterfield, throwing 25 times from 60 feet and everything went well. The ace will start playing catch from longer distances, and if all goes well, the goal is that by March 10 or 11th he can start throwing a bullpen session.
There's no more timetables or discussion of his opening day possibilities, but Maddon says everything has gone well with his recovery - pretty much as good as it could have.
*With RF Rocco Baldelli but he will be used as a DH in his next appearance, whether that'll be Thursday at the Phillies or Friday when the Rays host Philadelphia; though, Baldelli isn't on the travel squad for Thursday. Maddon said they aren't "behind schedule" on Baldelli, who missed most of last season with hamstring injuries, with the goal still being to have him play nine innings before the end of spring training.
*LHP David Price will throw to hitters today at the club's minor league complex. Everything is going according to plan, with him scheduled to get his first game action Saturday against the Yankees at Legends Field. So will LHP Brian Anderson, who will make his first appearance in any kind of game since extended spring in June 2006.
The Rays still have their franchise-record spring start (4-0) - thanks to Mother Nature's work on Tuesday -- and there's clear blue skies for today's matchup against the Astros.
There will be a good mix of regulars in the lineup today, with super-utility man Ben Zobrist at shortstop and in the leadoff spot.
On the mound will be RHP Jason Hammel, with LF James "Doogie" Houser, RHP Scott Munter, RHP Mitch Talbot, RHP Dan Wheeler, RHP Scott Dohmann, and RHP Gary Glover scheduled to follow.
-- JOE SMITH