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Goodbye to Crawford

The Rays brought out one of the most popular players in franchise history to throw out the ceremonial first pitch: Rocco Baldelli. Just six days earlier, Baldelli was in the starting lineup for Game 1.

But his continued health problems, which cause fatigue and muscle cramps, forced him off the roster before Game 2.

When the Rays called him Monday and asked him to throw out the first pitch, his instinct was to say no because he is so humble. But then he said, "It would be my honor to do so.''

Baldelli is glad he did.

"That's probably one of the nicest moments I've had on a field,'' Baldelli said. "It was something that was very special for me and that I'll remember forever.''

Baldelli threw to Karl Allaire, a longtime friend from his hometown in Rhode Island. And oddly enough, he said he was nervous.

"I was actually more nervous than any other time I've been playing,'' said Baldelli, who was sweating because he warmed up in the batting cage under the stands. "I'm happy I just got it to the plate."

Not only did he get it to the plate, he threw a strike as the crowd roared and gave him a standing ovation.

Baldelli said he is disappointed not to be playing but was excited to still be around the team. And for his future?

"I think about it every day,'' Baldelli said. "But before I make any final decisions, I'll wait until the season is over."

Best and worst of Game 5

Loudest crowd?: It very well could have been, and here's why. The last time the Rays took the tarp off upper level seats was Games 6 and 7 of the ALCS against Boston and Games 1 and 2 of the World Series against Philadelphia. Both of those teams have a strong fan base in Tampa Bay. Texas does not, which means a large majority of the 40,000 fans at Tropicana Field were for the Rays.

Best baserunning: With one out in the first inning, Texas' Elvis Andrus broke for third on a pitch that Josh Hamilton grounded to first. Carlos Peña flipped to David Price to retire Hamilton, and Andrus rounded third and chugged home for the first run of the game.

Worst break: The Rays' Ben Zobrist tried to bunt Jason Bartlett to second with no outs in the first. But the ball short-hopped first baseman Mitch Moreland. Bartlett was forced to retreat to first, and the Rays did not get a runner to second in the inning.

Biggest wasted opportunity: In the third, the Rays strung together three straight hits with one out to tie the score at 1. But with men on second and third, Carl Crawford, above, grounded to pitcher Cliff Lee. Bartlett, going on contact from third, was caught in a rundown. And with two outs, Evan Longoria grounded to short.

Worst error: In the fourth, Texas' Nelson Cruz hit a double to center (which would have been a triple if he didn't pause to watch the ball). He stole third on the next pitch, and catcher Kelly Shoppach's throw went into leftfield, allowing Cruz to score and make it 2-1.

Rarest stolen base: Texas catcher Bengie Molina stole his first base since 2006, taking second in the third. It was only his fourth stolen base since 1998.

Best pitched inning: Lee struck out the side in the fourth, catching Peña and B.J. Upton looking and Dan Johnson swinging. Lee threw 13 pitches in the inning.

Best a- bat: Bartlett saw 10 pitches off Lee in the fifth inning with two outs. He finally laced a double to left-center for his third straight hit off Lee.

Worst way to end an era: Crawford's likely last at-bat in a Rays uniform was a flyout to centerfield. It would have been more fitting if it was a triple.

Best backbreaker: On an 0-and-1 pitch, Texas' Ian Kinsler mashed a fastball into the leftfield seats off Rays closer Rafael Soriano to essentially put the game (and series) away.

Rays starter David Price spent much of the first inning preoccupied with Elvis Andrus leading off first base. But Andrus still managed to sneak by Price to score the game's first run. Andrus led off the game with a single. He drew several throws during Michael Young's strikeout then stole second while Josh Hamilton was up. When Hamilton hit a grounder to first, Andrus was running on the pitch. And with Price covering the first base, the speedy shortstop rounded third. And by the time Price reached first to retire Hamilton, Andrus was halfway home from third.

Rays owner Stuart Sternberg pardoned his way through the crowd of media gathered around Carl Crawford's locker following the season-ending 5-1 loss to the Rangers. "Thank you for everything," Sternberg said to the Rays star leftfielder, shaking his hand. It marked what might have been the official goodbye to the best player in franchise history. Crawford faced the possibility of playing his final game in a Rays uniform twice before as Tampa Bay faced elimination. But Tuesday, finality became reality.

When Crawford, who can become a free agent, came to the plate in the eighth for what likely was his last at-bat as a Ray, the sellout crowd of 41,845 gave him a standing ovation — a thank-you for his nine seasons in Tampa Bay. He flew out to center on the second pitch.

"I just wish I could have done more to please them," Crawford said.

Crawford took his position in leftfield to start Game 5 to the sound of his name being chanted by the Trop crowd. Crawford acknowledged the fans with a wave.

Crawford, who figures to be one of the most attractive free agents, likely won't be resigned because Sternberg has said the team's payroll will be cut significantly.

"I want to stay here," Crawford said. "Everyone knows that. But that's a decision (Sternberg has ) made. I have to move on and steer my own path."

Sternberg didn't want to talk about the future.

"I'm not thinking about it," he said. "It was nice to hear the cheers he got on the field.''

Crawford likely ended his Rays career with an 0-for-4. He reached on fielder's choices on his first two at-bats but didn't score either time.

He was 3-for-21 in the series, including a ninth-inning solo homer in Game 3.

Often overshadowed playing in front of sparse crowds in Tampa Bay, Crawford in 2010 hit for career highs in homers (19), RBIs (90) and runs scored (110). He also hit .307 with 47 stolen bases and an AL-high 13 triples.

The crowd also chanted Crawford's name in the final innings of Game 2, when the Rays went down 2-0 and it appeared unlikely they'd return home. He also received the chants during the Rays' final regular-season home game.

Don't blame the bullpen

The Rays series loss was due to a lot of things, but don't point the finger at the bullpen. In 17 innings, it allowed five earned runs. Prior to Michael Young's Game 2 homer off Chad Qualls, it threw 23 scoreless innings.

Grant Balfour pitched 32/3 innings and allowed only two hits. Joaquin Benoit pitched 32/3 innings, didn't allow a hit and had three strikeouts. He also got Vladimir Guerrero to hit into a double play in the eighth Tuesday.

The biggest blemish was Tuesday's two-run homer allowed by Rafael Soriano to Ian Kinsler in the ninth that made it 5-1. But Soriano did pick up a save in Game 4.

"We all had our ups and downs," Benoit said. "But I think overall we did really good. Those guys play good baseball, so you have to be careful to them.''

"We battled them,'' Balfour said. "We just came up short.''

Hamilton's celebration

When the Rangers clinched the AL West, All-Star centerfielder Josh Hamilton, a recovering substance-abuser, remained in the training room to avoid the alcohol bath in the celebration. But Tuesday, he was in the center of the action.

Pitcher C.J. Wilson and equipment manager Richard "Hoggy" Price supplied the team with bottles of ginger ale. The team waited for Hamilton to hit the clubhouse door then doused him. Hamilton later went into another room where Wilson and other teammates continued to pour ginger ale over his head.

"It meant a lot," Hamilton said. "They were waiting on me out there. It says a lot about my teammates; them understanding the sensitivity of my situation and not wanting to send the wrong message to other people out there. I got what I needed. And I feel fulfilled. I understand the traditions of the game, and those guys are in there having a good time.''

Hamilton, still recovering from fractured ribs that sidelined him for most of September, hit .111 (2-for-18) with no RBIs and six strikeouts in the series. However, he did make a few good catches in centerfield.

"I'm good enough,'' he said when asked how he was physically. "I'm glad we're still playing. I'll have time to heal when the season is over.''

A bad break

Ben Zobrist's bunt with one man on and no outs in the first was by no means textbook, but it should have put the Rays' first two batters of the game on base. After Jason Bartlett hit a leadoff single, Zobrist bunted a ball that lofted near first base. Bartlett's view of the ball was obscured by the charging Mitch Moreland. And he stayed at first, believing Moreland caught the ball. But it dropped just in front of Moreland's glove, and the Rangers first baseman tossed the ball to first to get the lead runner. Instead of having runners at first and second with no outs and the 3-4-5 hitter coming up, the Rays had a runner at first with one out. Following a fielder's choice and a foul popup to first, the threat was over.

Bartlett battles Lee

Very few have figured out Rangers lefty Cliff Lee this season or in the ALCS. But Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett had his number. Bartlett was 3-for-4 in Game 5, including a 10-pitch at-bat in the fifth that resulted in a double. He also had a leadoff single against Lee in Game 1 and did the same in Game 5. His third-inning single put Sean Rodriguez into scoring position, and he eventually scored the Rays only run. In eight playoff at-bats against Lee, Bartlett had four hits. "I just found holes,'' said Bartlett, who hit .400 in the series to lead the Rays. "He's a great pitcher, and you know he's going to be aggressive. So you have to be aggressive as well. You don't want to go out of the strike zone against him. Luckily, I got some pitches to hit and hit it where they weren't.''

Goodbye to Crawford 10/13/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 13, 2010 1:17am]
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