Worth a suspension?
Zachary Sharples, an area 12-year-old with a blond Mohawk, got the surprise of his life before the game Saturday — courtesy of Rays OF Jonny Gomes and teammates. On Monday, Zachary received an in-school, daylong suspension at Bradenton's Lincoln Memorial Middle School for showing up with a "Ray-hawk" haircut in support of the team, apparently violating a school rule about distracting hairstyles. The story hit the news and came to the attention of Gomes, who orchestrated a reciprocal show of support for Zachary. The boy's father, Kevin Pennington, was in on the secret and told his son they were taking a little detour to the field. "I was like, 'What is this?' " Zachary said. He quickly found out, as Gomes met him outside the Rays dugout and presented him with a black bat signed by the Rays. "So the Mohawk got you in trouble?" Gomes said. Zachary nodded. "Well, keep (the Rayhawk) 'til the season's over," Gomes said, smiling. "We appreciate it." Soon after, pitcher Andy Sonnanstine came out to greet Zachary and chat. Before long, a dozen reporters and a handful of photographers encircled him in front of the dugout. "Oh, this is so cooool!" said Zachary, who — in a move unrelated to the incident — relocated with his family to St. Petersburg on Saturday. After a round of impromptu TV interviews, he was introduced to Rays manager Joe Maddon, who listened to the story and gave Zachary a supportive fist-bump. And when the skipper walked off, the youngster turned and could be seen mouthing the words, "Oh … my … God."
Plays worth another look
Busy keeping Rays at Bay
Leave it to Jason Bay, the player the Rays lost to the Red Sox at the trade deadline, to inflict early damage. After Rays starter Scott Kazmir retired the first two batters he faced in the top of the first inning, David Ortiz walked on a 3-and-2 pitch, and Kevin Youkilis followed with a sharp single to left. Enter Bay, who banged a double in the leftfield corner to score both runners and stake Boston to a 2-0 lead.
Kazmir vs. Ellsbury
In the top of the fourth inning, trailing the Rays 4-3, the Red Sox began another two-out rally. Coco Crisp drilled a double to the gap between center and right, just beyond the reach of speedy CF B.J. Upton. And then starter Scott Kazmir fell behind leadoff hitter Jacoby Ellsbury 3-and-0, as the many Red Sox fans in the stands cheered. But Kazmir's next pitch was a 91-mph fastball for a called strike. Then came another called strike on a 90-mph fastball. With a 3-and-2 count, the 24-year-old left-hander went with his fastball again, making Ellsbury pop up to SS Jason Bartlett. It would be Kazmir's last hurrah — with Boston chasing him from the game one inning later with a pair of solo homers by Dustin Pedroia (his second of the game) and Kevin Youkilis.
A Bay walk would have been nice
What did this guy eat for breakfast? The Rays watched their 5-3 lead evaporate in the fifth on solo blasts by Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis. That was it for starter Scott Kazmir, who gave way to Grant Balfour. But Balfour had no better luck against Jason Bay, who smashed a 2-and-2 pitch into the leftfield stands for the third solo home run of the inning and a 6-5 Boston lead. After two Balfour walks, J.P. Howell came on and finally ended the inning by getting Mark Kotsay on a fly to right and striking out Coco Crisp swinging. For the record, Bay's homer combined for the seventh of the game — setting an ALCS record with more than half the game left.
'You can do it'
Minutes before the game, movie star and former Saturday Night Live cast member Rob Schneider appeared in a special video bit on the scoreboard to praise the Rays and fire up the fans. "Congratulations to the city of Tampa Bay — or whatever city you guys are playing in," he said. And, of course, he invoked his catchphrase from the 1998 movie The Waterboy, "You can do it."
Who's on first?
The Red Sox may have obtained veteran Mark Kotsay from the Braves in August as outfield insurance. But he has turned out to be even more valuable filling in at first base. With 3B Mike Lowell out with a hip injury, 1B Kevin Youkilis has moved to third, and Kotsay, who batted .276 this season, has offered a helping hand at first. Does he like it better than the outfield? "No," he said with a smile. "Being 110 feet away from Cliff Floyd swinging a bat from the left side? I prefer being 290 feet away — a little bit more reaction time. But I'm thrilled just to be part of the situation and be here at the right time to be able to help out."
Rays manager Joe Maddon has been asked the question frequently during the postseason: What makes rookie 3B Evan Longoria so special? "It's his calmness and his sense of belonging," Maddon said. "I mean, you get a young man as talented as he is coming to the major leagues for the first time and performing at the level that he has and making the All-Star team. Beyond his skill level, it's about how he carries himself. And when you talk to him about how he approaches the day, he feels like he belongs here. Often times it takes you more time to get a young player to feel that way."
Rays 1B Carlos Pena is writing a daily blog on the team's MLB Web site, raysbaseball.com. After the loss in Game 1, this is some of what Pena penned: "The mood in the clubhouse remained upbeat, even though we lost Friday. Obviously during the game, your intensity is through the roof, but afterward, I kind of just go around and talk to the guys, and I was pleased to see the guys were still smiling and being themselves. That is key. Because we did lose some games during the regular season — we didn't go 162-0. You're going to lose some games. And I think when you overanalyze things, it does you absolutely no good unless you're a masochist and you want to beat that drum of defeat. We just have to turn the page and basically do exactly what we do every night — go home, enjoy our families and come back tomorrow."
Rock 'n' roll
Rays OF Eric Hinske's intro music for each at-bat was For You from one of his favorite bands, Staind. On Saturday, Hinske hosted members of the post-grunge band during the pregame, posing for photos with lead guitarist Mike Mushok, an admitted Red Sox fan who has admired the Rays from afar. "If the Rays weren't in the same division as us, I think it's one of the best stories, how great they are," Mushok said. One person who has had an up-close look at the Rays is St. Petersburg resident Scott Boculac (Brandon High grad), the band's stage manager. "I've met them before," Hinske said. "This is like the first time I've really spent a lot of time with them."
There have been some comparisons between the Rays and the 1969 Miracle Mets, who made the improbable run to World Series title. Rays manager Joe Maddon was asked if he watched the Mets while growing up in Hazelton, Pa., and if he saw any resemblance to his club. "I followed it very closely on (radio station) WOR," Maddon said. "The pitching staff was incredible, and they had that great bullpen. I remember they played with a lot of heart. They always seemed to rise to the occasion. And come back and win big games." Think it sounds like the Rays? "Different guys, like us, would play a big role," Maddon said. What they're saying
After Friday's Game 1 Red Sox victory
So how come it already feels like the Red Sox are going to the World Series?
It just does. There's a swagger and confidence about this bunch. They do the right thing. They let the other guys make the mistakes.
It all started four years ago in the hours after the 19-8, Game 3 humiliation against the Yankees. Since that night, the Red Sox, for the most part, have been October gold.
… The Red Sox always seem to come through when it counts. Ask the Angels. Ask the Colorado Rockies. Ask the Cleveland Indians, the St. Louis Cardinals, or the New York Yankees.
Including their historic ALCS comeback in 2004, the Sox are 23-7 in their last 30 postseason games. Toss out the 2005 Division Series sweep at the hands of the White Sox and Boston is 23-4 in tournament play since the embarrassing loss to the Yankees.
Dan Shaughnessy, Boston Globe
That's the way the postseason is, as Rays fans learned Friday, if they didn't know already. Everything rides so much on each game and on each at-bat. Come through in a couple of situations and everyone will talk about how young and loose you are. Fail in those same situations and everyone will talk about your lack of postseason experience. The reality is you just need to play a little better.
Jim Caple, ESPN.com
The Rays are awesome, baby!
Newly inducted basketball Hall of Famer Dick Vitale, a longtime Rays fan and Bradenton resident, threw out the ceremonial first pitch Saturday. "It's just an honor," the iconic ESPN college basketball analyst said in his familiar high-energy style. "I think the job that (Rays management) has done has been great. It proves again — winning is the key. Just like the Lightning did. That's what's happened here. It's unbelievable!"
Vitale threw out the first pitch with grandchildren Conner and Jake Krug, both 5, and Ryan Sforzo, 5, on the field with him.
"It went really well," Vitale said from the seats he has held for 10 years. "Some Red Sox players said, 'Hey, Dick, baby, nice strike! Nice strike!"