Friday, October 31, 2008

Bolts Bag 2nd Straight Road Win

By JC De La Torre

The Tampa Bay Lightning gave the Buffalo Sabres the hockey version of the lump of coal for a trick instead of a treat, thrashing the Sabres 5-2. It marked the first time this season Tampa Bay has scored more than three goals and got the Lightning to the .500 level for the first time this season (3-3-3).

The #1 overall pick of the 2008 NHL Draft, Steven Stamkos, scored his first two NHL goals and added an assist for a 3 point night, giving him 4 points in the past two games. Lecavalier tossed in two assists, while Ryan Malone, Jussi Jokinen, and Paul Ranger each found the back of the net.

The scoring started in the first period, when Stamkos deflected in a Vinny Lecavalier blast from the point. The power play goal gave the Bolts a 1-0 advantage. Less than a minute later, Jussi Jokinen made it 2-0 when his slipped a shot past Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller. Buffalo would answer at the 11:12 mark of the first on Clarke MacArthur's slap shot that went high on Lightning Goalie Olaf Kolzig. Ryan Malone's shot on the feed from Stamkos would make it 3-1 with 0:26 left in the first.

In the 2nd, the barrage continued midway through the period, when defenseman Paul Ranger scored on a "Look what I found" goal at the 13:10 mark to make it 4-1. With 5 minutes to go in the period, a Stamkos blast from just inside the circle would give the Lightning a 4 goal lead. Thomas Vanek would get his 9th goal of the season on the power play to close out the scoring. Neither team would find the net in the 3rd. Olaf Kolzing save 29 of 31 for Tampa Bay and the Bolts power play finished 1 for 3, while they killed 4 of the 5 Buffalo chances.

With Tampa Bay's 2nd straight victory and the Lightning's offense finally coming to life, the Bolts moved into 3rd in the Southeast division and despite their slow start, they find themselves only 3 points out of 1st.

The Bulls get Trick, no Treat in Cincy

By JC De La Torre

At the start of this season, many fans of the University of South Florida Bulls felt their team was ready to challenge for the Big East title and the BCS bowl that comes with it. Unfortunately, the season hasn't turned out that way as the 23rd ranked Bulls fell to the unranked Cincinatti Bearcats to fall to 6-3 on the season. The Bulls are now 2nd to last in the Big East with a disappointing 1-3 record.

Matt Grothe had by far his worst game as Bull, completing only 41% of his passes and tossing 3 picks. Cincinatti QB Tony Pike played with a broken arm, but had one of the best games of his career, going 20 for 28, for 281 yds and tossing two scores.

Cincinatti took the lead midway through the first on a 2 yd score by John Goebel. The score was set up by a Matt Grothe pick. South Florida answered a minute later, as a Grothe to Carlton Mitchell 33 yd pass and a 32 yd run by Moises Plancher set up the Bulls with a 1st and goal at the 1. Plancher would plunge in from there to tie it at 7.

Cincinatti came right back down the field, capping a 7 play 49 yd drive with a 32 yd Jake Rogers field goal. After a USF punt pinned the Bearcats at their own 9 yd line, Cincinatti went 91 yds on 12 plays in 4:12, finishing with a sparkling Pike to Marshawn Gilyard 26 yd score to give the Bearcats a 17-7 lead that they would take into the second half.

The second half would be no better for USF, as they managed only a field goal while Cincinatti's defense picked off Grothe 2 more times and Pike found Connor Barwin on a one yd score to put the game away.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

God Doesn't Hate Philly After All - Phillies Finish Rays

By JC De La Torre

The Philadelphia Phillies are the 2008 World Series Champions, defeating the Tampa Bay Rays 4-3 in the resumed Game 5 to clinch the World Series, winning 4 games to 1.

Geoff Jenkins let off the bottom of the 6th with a double to deep right center. James Rollins bunted him over to 3rd base. Jayson Werth popped up but Aki Iwamurra couldn't get to the baseball, it fell and Jenkins scored to give Philadelphia the 3-2 lead. JP Howell would come in for the Rays and get Chase Utley and Ryan Howard.

In the top of the 7th, the Rays came right back. After Dioner Navarro struck out, Rocco Baldelli blasted a solo home run to left field, tying the game back up at 3 a piece. Jason Barlett singled to left. JP Howell bunted Barlett to second. Aki Iwamurra hit an infield single to 2nd that Utley appeared to have no play on, but instead of attempting to throw to first Utley intelligently saw that Bartlett was breaking for the plate - and fired home, easily getting Barlett.

In the bottom of the 7th, the Phillies would answer, Pat Burrell doubled to deep left center field, barely missing a home run. Victorino grounded out to 2nd, advancing the pitch runner for Burrell, Bruntlett to 3rd. The light hitting Pedro Feliz came on against Tampa Bay's Chad Bradford. He fired a seeing-eye single past the pitcher and into center field. Bruntlett scored giving the Phillies a 4-3 lead.

On to the top of the 8th we went, Carl Crawford opened the inning with a single to left field. Unfortunately, BJ Upton swung at the first pitch he faced from JC Romero and grounded into an inning killing double play. Carlos Pena would pop out to retire the side.

David Price would work the bottom half of the eighth for Tampa Bay, getting rollins to fly out and striking out Werth. While he did walk Utley, he struck out Ryan Howard to retire the side.

On to the 9th, where there was high drama for Philadelphia. Super reliever Brad Lidge came in and got Evan Longoria to pop out to 2nd base. Dioner Navarro got a broken bat single to get on base. Fernando Perez came in to pinch run and promptly stole 2nd base. The tying run is on 2nd...Ben Zobrist came in to pitch hit for Baldelli (why...I'm not sure, perhaps Rocco's illness forced the change), Zobrist hit the ball well to Right Field but right at Jayson Werth for the 2nd out. One last chance for Tampa Bay and Eric Hinske camed in to pitch hit for Jason Bartlett. Hinske's last pinch hitting performance ended in a homer, so the Rays fans hoped for a big hit. Unfortunately, Lidge was at his best and struck out Hinske, and with that strike out, the Phillies ended 20-plus years of misery for the city of Philadelphia and claimed their first World Series title in 28 years, only their 2nd in 126 yrs of baseball.

So God doesn't hate Philadelphia. But we can still hate Philadelphia fans, who displayed their lack of class when their owner stated on the podium, "Let's congradulate the Tampa Bay Rays on a tremendous season," they booed. Why boo? Your team has beaten Tampa Bay, it was good, competive series that the Phillies deserved to win. Why not honor the Rays for their achievement in winning the American League pennant? Most fans greet that with a light applause. The Philadelphia fans? Boo. That's why you had to wait 28 yrs to win a title, and that's why the rest of America will hope you go another 28 yrs before you get another. Word is their rioting now in Philly...yeah, brilliant.

But you know what, no matter how crappy the fans are, hats off to the Phillies. They outplayed the Rays in every facet of the ball game, they got crucial timely hits, solid pitching from both the starters, the bull pen and overall were just the better baseball team. Cole Hamels and Brad Lidge were dominant. Chase Utley and Ryan Howard were clutch. Just a great, great team.

Congrats to the Philadelphia Phillies, you were a fantastic group of Champions.

In the coming days, we'll reflect on the Rays, the Series, what was accomplished here and what will be coming down the line - but now's not the time. Tonight belongs to the Phillies.

The Much Maligned Tampa Bay Fan

By JC De La Torre

With the Rays run to the World Series, there's been a lot of discussion of national media types and opposing fan bases about the perceived lack of support the Rays have had in the bay area. It's valid, as the Rays were 26th out of 30 teams in attendance this season, for a team that was in 1st place a good portion of the season. They averaged only 22,259 over the course of the 2008 season. 2008 was however, the first season that the Rays were ranked higher than 28th in attendance in the last 7 years. The figure also includes a 3 game series in Orlando, that held a 10,000 seat stadium. Tampa Bay added an extra 6,000 fans in the seats for 2008, a steady, albeit not substantial improvement for a winning product. Of course, the post-season has been a different animal, where every seat of the 36,048 at Tropicana Field has been sold for the playoffs.

So why is the team only now getting support? There are several different factors, but the main issue is the make up of the community. The Tampa Bay area is a transient community made up of several large counties in West Central Florida. The largest city in the Tampa Bay area is of course, the city of Tampa, which has a population of 303,447. The city where Tropicana Field resides is on the Gulf Coast of Pinellas County, the west side of the bay area. St. Petersburg, Florida has a population of 248,232. These are the two major population centers in the area, which in its entirety consists of 7 counties that is home to about 3.8 million people.

As I stated before, the population of the community is a transient community. This means that there is a small percentage of native residents living in the bay area. Most of the folks living here moved to the Tampa Bay area from somewhere else. The largest percentage come from the North Eastern United States, and the metropolitan communities of New York, Philadelphia, and Boston in particular. There are also a significant amount of residents who relocated from the Midwest - Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan primarily.

Thanks to the wonders of DirecTV, these transplants have the ability to continue to follow their previous hometown teams as if they were still in those locales. Yankee Fans remained Yankee fans, the Red Sox fans remained Sox fans, they had no reason to adopt the Rays as their team. As many of you know and understand, when you've grown up watching a baseball team or football team or any other sports team, its extremely difficult to let that team go.

Common sense would dictate if you are willing to move to a community to live, to work, to pay taxes, to enjoy the fruits of living in the region, you'd also follow the sports teams of your new home town. Common sense typically doesn't win out to emotion. When you lived and died with a team for your entire life and the team playing in your new city sucks - you're not going to have a reason to change allegiances. Further complicating things, was the rich history of Minor League baseball and Spring training baseball in the area. The Yankees, Phillies, Blue Jays, Reds, Pirates, and Tigers all hold their spring training in Tampa Bay and many have for several decades, forming fanbases for their teams here. The Yankees have a minor league team, the Tampa Yankees, that play in a gorgeous open air baseball park directly next to the Tampa Bay Buccaneer's Raymond James Stadium. The Phillies have the Clearwater Threshers and the Blue Jays have the Dunedin Blue Jays. This is the challenge the Rays have faced their entire existence. Not only do the Rays have to compete with the history and heritage of the residents living in the area, their territory is invaded by other Major League teams, splintering their fan base in key demographic areas.

The Rays would get huge crowds for when the Red Sox and Yankees came to town, but when Baltimore came in - Tampa Bay would be lucky to see 7,000 at the Trop. The games against Boston and New York teams would be decidedly partisan, or even worse, Rays fans would be outnumbered by the opposing fans. It was a surreal playing environment for the Tampa Bay players.

Interestingly enough for the Tampa Bay Rays, they knew things would change. The precident was set before.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were a horrible football team from 1983-1996, where 12 of 13 season they suffered double-digit losses and never had a winning record. The Buccaneers played in the NFC Central division against the Green Bay Packers, the Detroit Lions, the Chicago Bears, and the Minnesota Vikings. Sellouts were few in Tampa Bay during those times - and when they did sell out it would be when they played the Chicago Bears or the Packers and the stadium would be filled with Bears and Packer fans respectively. In 1995, the Glazer family purchased the team from the Culverhouse estate, got a new stadium built, and hired Tony Dungy as the head coach. In 1997, the Buccaneers had their first winning season since 1982 and hosted their first playoff game since 1979, beating the Detroit Lions in the final game at the Old Sombrero. The following season, the Bucs opened Raymond James Stadium - which was filled with Pewter and Red clad Buc fans and began a streak of sellouts that has lasted 10 years. The team put together an impressive run, winning 4 division championships, 1 super bowl title and qualified for the playoffs 6 out of 10 years. Opposing fans still come into Raymond James Stadium, but they are dwarfed in size by the Buccaneer faithful.

The Tampa Bay Lightning had a very similar story to the Rays. After limited success in their first 10 seasons (1 playoff appearance), the Lightning would routinely see jerseys for the Bruins, Rangers, Flyers, Red Wings, Canadians, and Leafs outnumber the Lightning fans. Tampa Bay averaged a measily 14,906 at the St. Pete Times Forum (formerly the Ice Palace) during those years, typically at the bottom of the NHL in attendance. In 2002, the Tampa Bay Lightning made the playoffs for the first time in 7 years, getting knocked out in the 2nd round. The attendance improvement was gradual, as the Lightning put a better product on the ice. When Tampa Bay won the Stanley Cup in 2004, the Lightning finished 2nd in the NHL in attendance in 2005 and 2006. They were 3rd in 2007 and despite finishing with the worst record in the NHL last season, the Lightning were 8th in the league in attendance.

Basically, my friends (thanks, Senator McCain), what it boils down to is the transplants need a reason to give up their allegiances. As long as the Rays were terrible, the Red Sox fans and Yankee fans would rather stay home and watch NESN or YES network on the dish. When the Rays won the AL East and advanced to the ALCS, Yankee and Blue Jay fans had reasons to finally support the home team. They didn't want to be left out of the excitement of a community in the thralls of a playoff run and it had to be much more sastisfying enjoying it in person than watching it by proxy over the idiot box. When the Rays vanquished the Red Sox in that classic 7 game series, the Red Sox fans in the bay area had reasons to defect. They left the Trop in despair, as the community around them - the community in which they lived, erupted in joyous celebration of the team's accomplishments. Tradition was being created. Long suffering Cubs fans, who never saw their team play in the World Series in their lifetime, were seeing their hometown Rays get there in just 11 years.

What's interesting about this community is while Miami and Orlando face similar challenges, after their teams win and then return back to mediocrity, the fanbases seem to go back to their old allegiances. For some reason, that hasn't happened in Tampa Bay. The Bucs, despite some rough years in 2003, 2004, and 2006, still sell out every game. The Lightning, despite having a terrible season last year and a slow start this season, are still in the top half of the NHL in attendance (this despite being over shadowed and in direct competition with the Rays and Buccaneers).

I anticipate a dramatic increase in attendance for the Tampa Bay Rays next year. Not all, but many of those Yankees and Red Sox fans that last came to the Trop wearing their gear, will come wearing Rays gear and supporting the home town team. Its happened with every franchise in Tampa Bay - all the Rays needed to do was give them a reason. Some may categorize this as being "bandwagon fans". Red Sox fans and Phillie fans in particular have lambasted the Tampa Bay fan support, chiding them as "where were you last year?". The answer? Rooting for the Yankess, Red Sox, and/or Phillies because that's where they're from.

Win or lose in Game 5 tonight, the Tampa Bay Rays will have achieved something that may be even more important than a World Series title in Tampa Bay - relevance.

Phillips out 4-6 Weeks

By JC De La Torre

The Tampa Bay Bucs received the news they feared the most after last Sunday's disappointing loss to the Dallas Cowboys. They've lost the services of hard hitting Strong Safety Jermaine Phillips for at least 4 weeks with a broken forearm. Its the second such injury of his career for the safety. The Bucs do have good depth at safety, as 2007 2nd Round draft pick and the perceived heir apparent to Phillips, Sabby Piscitelli will take over the position. While not as ferocious a hitter as Phillips, Piscitelli brings atheleticism and playmaking ability to the position. The scary proposition for the Bucs is that Piscitelli himself has had to deal with significant injuries during his career and have the injuries have stunted his progress into the Bucs lineup. Phillips will not be place on injured reserve, so no roster spot will be opened up for him.

If Phillips cannot return before the end of the season, it could be the end of "Dirty Dawg"'s career with the Buccaneers. Phillips is a free agent at season's end.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Lightning get rare road win

By JC De La Torre

The Tampa Bay Lightning earned their second victory of the season, their first on the road, with a stirring 3-2 in Toronto over the Maple Leafs. Mike Smith made 37 saves and Vinny Lecavalier scored twice for the Lightning.

Jussi Jokinen tapped in an open net goal at the 5:08 mark of the first to stake the Bolts to an early 1-0 advantage. It would last only a couple minutes as the Leafs would tie it on a power play goal by Matt Stajan to even it at 1. At 15:37 of the 1st, Vincent Lecavalier broke loose on a breakaway and made a beautiful behind the back move to put it in the net, giving the Bolts a 2-1 headed into intermission. In the 2nd Period, Lecavalier would give the Bolts the dreaded two-goal lead with another highlight reel power play goal. Tampa Bay's #1 draft pick, Steven Stamkos earned his first NHL point on the goal. Toronto got it a little closer late in the period, when Mike Van Ryn found the back of the net on a powerplay.

From this point, Mike Smith took over the game and made 13 saves in the third period, whethering the onslaught from Leafs as they battled for the tying goal.

The victory by the Bolts pulls them out of the Southeast division cellar (at least temporarily).

No Baseball Tonight

Game 5 of the World Series will not be continued tonight, per MLB. The game is tenatively scheduled for 8:37pm Wednesday.

God Hates Philadelphia

By JC De La Torre

Last night, I mentioned that the Rays are probably cursing the baseball gods because they had taken momentum in Game 5 by tying the game just moments before a torrential downpour suspended it, allowing the Phillies to escape.

Having had a night to consider all that has transpired, I have come to a completely different conclusion now - God hates Philadelphia. At least Philadelphia sports teams. Consider the evidence if you will, the city of Philadelphia has been without a major sports championship since 1983. The Eagles became the Buffalo Bills of the NFC, losing in three consecutive NFC Championship games to the Rams, Tampa Bay Bucs, and Panthers before finally breaking threw in 2003 to reach the Super Bowl, where they promptly lost to the Patriots. The Flyers last two trips to the Eastern Conference Finals ended in series defeats (to Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh) and they haven't won the Stanley Cup since 1974-75. The 76ers reached the Finals in 2001, only to be beaten by the Lakers in 5 games. They were the last team to win a major sports championship. The Phillies last trip to the World Series was in 1993, when the lost to the Toronto Blue Jays in 6. Before that, their last trip was in 1983, when they lost to the Baltimore Orioles - in fact, the last time they won the World Series was 1980.

So here we are, Game 5 of the 2008 World Series. The Philadelphia Phillies are up 3-1 in the World Series with their best pitcher, Cole Hamels, on the mound. The Philly papers are already discussing parade routes and celebration locations. Not only that, the Phillies had a friend behind the plate with umpire Jeff Kellogg, who drew memories of the Blacksox scandal and NBA referee Tim Donaghy with his very generous strike zone to Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels and his miniscule strike zone for Rays Pitcher Scott Kazmir. The top hitters for the Rays, Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena, had done nothing the entire series. Using those advantages, the Phillies jump to a commanding 2-0 lead in the first inning to take the game by the throat with their best guy on the mound. There's no way the Phils can lose, right? Philadelphia is finally going to get their championship for sure this time, correct?

This is Philadelphia....and God hates them. Carlos Pena finally began to heat up, just barely missing a home run and doubling off the left field wall in the 4th. Up came the ice cold Longoria, who blasted a screaming liner past shortstop James Rollins for his first hit of the series, scoring Pena. Ru-oh, Raggie. Rays new Superstar BJ Upton singled to lead off the 6th, and then in a driving rain storm, stole second to everyone's disbelief. Up came Pena, who smacked a single to left field, Upton wheeled around third and sloshed his way to the plate, tying the score at 2. Then God made his own pitch - drenching the World Series and getting it suspended until...well, who knows? Tonight? Tomorrow night? Thanksgiving?

Had this game occured in 2007, there was an awful rule in Major League Baseball that stated that if a run is score in the top half of an inning to tie the game and the game is called due to weather, the run would be discounted and the victory would go to the team leading before the half inning was played. A simply AWFUL rule that baseball came to their senses and changed. Bad news for the Phillies. Bud "the Liar" Selig says he would have never had a weather-shortened game decide the World Series no matter the score and the entirety of the game would have been played. Suuurrre it would, Bud. Unfortunately for Philadelphia, the Rays tied it before the rain hit.

So, you can see how this is playing out, don't you? Cole Hamels is done for this series - he will not be a factor in the continuation of the game tonight (tomorrow night, thanksgiving?). Longo and Pena are heating up just when the Rays need them...some how, some way, the Rays will find a way to win Game 5 and have everyone scrambling back to St. Petersbugh with no travel day, with Shields and Garza eagerly awaiting for Games 6 and 7. The parades will be cancelled...
Shields will pitch another masterful game at home, allowing the rejuvenated Rays to pull out the victory...and Matt Garza will out pitch the calcified Jamie Moyer for Game 7. Destiny denied once again for Philly.

All because God hates the city of Philadelphia.

Or the Phillies will win tonight (tomorrow, thanksgiving?) and all this is moot...but man, wouldn't it be typical Philly if it did go down like that?

Monday, October 27, 2008

Rays Rally, Rain Ruins Game 5

By JC De La Torre

Considering they are playing the playoff lives, the Tampa Bay Rays may be cursing the baseball gods right now. They rallied from an early 2-0 deficit as the heavens opened and deposited a torrential downpour, delaying the game in the bottom of the 6th inning with the score tied at 2. The momentum was switching to the Rays dugout just as the playing surface became unplayable.

Things started rocky for the Rays, after going down in order in the first, the Phillies jumped on starter Scott Kazmir in the bottom half. After getting James Rollins to fly out, Kazmir walked Werth, then hit Utley with a pitch. He rallied by striking out the red hot Ryan Howard, but walked Burrell to load the bases. Shane Victorino up and he lasers a base hit to left, two runs scored.

In the top of the 4th, Upton began the inning with a ground out. Carlos Pena got his first hit of the series as he doubled off the right field wall. Evan Longoria would follow up with his first hit of the series as well, singled to central, scoring Pena to cut the lead to 2-1.

The game remained a one run ballgame until the top of the 6th. With the heavens opening up so badly that Noah began to whey anchor, Hamels got two quick outs for Philadelphia, then saw BJ Upton reach on an infield single. Upton would slosh his way to second base. Carlos Pena would blast his second hit of the game to left field and the speedy Upton would race around the base paths and slide for the tying score. Longoria would line hard to end the inning and that's when Major League Baseball decided to suspend the game. Weather permitting, the game will be resumed tomorrow at 8pm - where the weather for tommorrow night is expected to be cloudy, slight rain and in the 30's. Whenever the game continues, it will be resumed tied at 2-2 at the bottom of the 6th.

One of the top developments for this is the Rays get Cole Hamels out as a factor in Game 5, escaping with a 2-2 tie with Hamels going a strong 6 innings, allowing 5 hits, 2 runs, 1 walk, and 3 strike outs. Scott Kazmir struggled for the Rays, giving Tampa Bay only 4 innings, allowing 4 hits, 2 runs and 5 strike outs, but he walked 6.

This unbelievable season takes another strange twist.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Dream could be over for Rays - Phils a Win Away

By JC De La Torre

The dream season of the Tampa Bay Rays is almost over and not finishing the way we hoped. The Philadelphia Phillies jumped on a less than sharp Andy Sonnanstine and destroyed Tampa Bay in a 10-2 victory in Game 4 of the World Series. The win by Philadelphia gives them a commanding 3 games to 1 lead and puts them within one win of the World Championship. If Philadelphia wins tomorrow night, it will be the first major sports championship for the city since the Philadelphia 76ers won the NBA title in 1983, when the 76ers swept the LA Lakers. The story for the Rays is the ineffectiveness of their pitching, their defense, and their offense. Basically, through 4 games of the World Series, the Phillies have outplayed them in every phase.

It started rough for Andy Sonnanstine, who is one of the best control pitchers in baseball, as he came out and could not find the strike zone in the first inning. Jimmy Rollins led off the first with a screaming double down the right field line. Jayson Werth would fly out to right, but deep enough to put Rollins on third. That's when Sonnanstine lost his control. He would walk Utley, then Ryan Howard grounded to Sonnanstine - instead of trying to go to 2nd for the double play, Sonnanstine cut off Rollins and got him into a run down, he tossed the ball to 3b Evan Longoria, who appeared to tag Rollins out, but inexplicably, the third base umpire ruled him safe. Then, for the first time in Andy Sonnanstine's career, he would walk in a run, walking Pat Burrell. Sonnanstine would recover, getting Victorino to ground to him, he threw to home plate to get the force on Utley, got Pedro Feliz to fly out. After 1 inning, it was 1-0.

As the Rays bats remained silent, the Phillies would add a run in the bottom of the 3rd, Pedro Feliz would single in a run to extend the lead to 2-0. Tampa Bay would cut into the lead in the top half of the 4th with a solo home run by Carl Crawford. In the bottom half of the 4th, the Phillies blew the game open. An error by Aki Iwamurra (his second of the game), put Rollins on first. Sonnanstine would walk Werth, then struck out Utley. Up to the plate stepped the struggling slugger Ryan Howard - he would struggle no more - blasting a moon shot to left field for a 3 run homer, giving the Phils a commanding 5-1 advantage.

In the top of the 5th Tampa Bay's Eric Hinske, added to the playoff roster due to Cliff Floyd's shoulder injury, came in to pinch hit, and promply homered to deep center field, cutting the advantage to 5-2. Unfortunately for Tampa Bay, Philadelphia Pitcher Joe Blanton, who pitched a sterling performance going 6 innings, allowing 2 runs, on 4 hits, 2 walks and striking out 7, helped himself by sending an Edwin Jackson fast ball into the left field seats for a shocking solo homer, giving the Phils a 6-2 lead. It was the first home run by a pitcher in the World Series since 1974.

From there, the Philadelphia bullpen took over, continuing the rough series for the Rays top two home run threats Carlos Pena and Evan Longoria who are a combined 0-29 with 16 strike outs in the series, while Jayson Werth and Ryan Howard (his 2nd) each added another 2 run blast in the top of the 8th for insurance, wrapping up the crucial game 4 win.

Tampa Bay must win three straight to win the World Series and they open their quest facing the best the Phillies have to offer - Cole Hamels. Needless to say, it will be a tough hill to climb for the Rays, who have had one heck of a season. No one, not even the Rays own fans, could have predicted the Tampa Bay Rays would win the AL Pennant and play in the World Series. While there's hope that the Rays can finish this dream season in a movie style dramatic ending, the odds are against it. So enjoy Game 5 Rays fans, as it may be the end of the road for 2008. The good news, all the Rays young stars are under contract for next season and David Price will be ready to assume his role in the starting rotation, yet another arm for the Rays to use to bolster their battery. They'll also have all season to find a solution for Right Field and a true Closer.

So, fans, root your heart out Monday night, let's hope the Rays can get this thing back to the Trop and spoil the party for Philadelphia. One game at a time, Rays.

Bucs O Shoots Blanks in Big D, Tampa Bay falls 13-9

By JC De La Torre

The Bucs rolled into Dallas to face Team Disarray but were sent home with an opportunity lost, falling in a frustrating 13-9 defeat to the Dallas Cowboys.
The Bucs wasted yet another tremendous performance by the Buccaneers defense, where they held their opponent under 200 yds of total offense for the third straight game.

Bucs took the lead with two first quarter field goals by kicker Matt Bryant. It was an early indicator as the Bucs failed to score on promising drives and had to settle for three points. Dallas had one of their few drives of the day, cashing in with a Nick Folk field goal with 9:02 left in the first half. After a missed 51 yd field goal by Matt Bryant, Dallas got possession of the football in good field position, with under a minute left in the first half. On 3rd and long, Tampa Bay's Ronde Barber made a tackle that would have saved a first down and forced a punt, but the Zebras would give the Cowboys new life with a "horse collar" personal foul penalty on Barber. The same "horse collar" type tackle was performed by the Cowboys earlier in the game and occurred again in the 2nd half - but was not called. This penalty began a succession of 4 straight penalties against the Buccaneer defense that set the Cowboys 1st and goal at the 3 with 0:06 left in the half. Dallas QB Brad Johnson would connect with new Cowboys WR Roy Williams on a "jump ball" touchdown pass, and the Cowboys led 10-6 at the half.

At the start of the 2nd half, the newest Buccaneer, Returner Clifton Smith, would cough up the football on the opening return of the half, setting the Cowboys up 1st and 10 at the Bucs 48 (Dallas was penalized with a personal foul for a late hit that apparently happened during the scrum for the football). The Bucs D would stiffen and prevent any further damage. After an exchange of punts, the Cowboys managed to move in to Bucs territory and get another 45 yd field goal from their Pro Bowl kicker, Nick Folk, to extend the lead to 13-6.

In the fourth quarter, a beautiful 31 yd reception by Alex Smith set up a 41 yd Matt Bryant field goal to close the gap to within four. The Bucs would get a few more chances but failed, the last of which, a two minute drill where the Bucs would convert two fourth downs to get it to the Dallas 21 yd line but a final 4th and 5 pass from Garcia to Jeremy Stevens would go incomplete. Game over, Dallas wins. The Bucs outgained Dallas 262-172. Dallas superstar Terrell Owens was grumpy, held to 33 yds on 5 receptions. Dallas running back Marion Barber was held to a 2.8 average, rushing for 71 yds on 25 carriers. The Bucs weren't any better offensively. Earnest Graham was held in check, with only 42 yds on 17 carries. Antonio Bryant had 7 receptions for 46 yds and there was a Joey Galloway siting for the Bucs, as Galloway hauled in 3 catches for 38 yds.

With the 13-9 loss, the Buccaneers fall to 5-3, ending the second quarter stretch a disappointing 2-2, and tumble out of first place in the NFC South. Dallas, meanwhile, gets a big victory that helps stop the bleeding at least for one week. Next up for the Bucs, another struggling team on the road, the Kansas City Chiefs.

Phillies take control of the World Series

By JC De La Torre

Despite 46-year old Jamie Moyer out pitching the young Tampa Bay lion Matt Garza in a long rain delayed Game 3 of the World Series, the Philadelphia Phillies had to rally to defeat the Rays in a thrilling 5-4 victory. Philadelphia takes a 2 games to 1 lead in the series.

Coming in with a double digit ERA in the post season, Moyer was impressive, pitching 6 and 1/3 innings, 3 earned runs on 5 hits, striking out 5.

He was staked to a lead in the 1st inning. Jimmy Robbins got his first hit of the World Series with a single to center field. Rays pitcher Matt Garza was shaky in the early going, and walked Jayson Werth to put two men on with nobody out, then set both men in scoring position on a wild pitch. Chase Utley grounded out to third, but scored Rollins and put Werth on third, Philadelphia led 1-0. Garza would get out trouble with a strike out of Ryan Howard and got Burrell to fly at center.

Tampa Bay would answer in the top of the 2nd inning, as Carl Crawford led off with a double. After Dioner Navarro flied out, Crawford stole third base. Gabe Gross would hit a sacrifice fly to center field to score Crawford and tie the game at 1. Unfortunately for the Rays, the Phillies would take the lead right back in the bottom of the second inning with a blast to left field by Carlos Ruiz to give Philadelphia a 2-1 lead.

It would stay 2-1 for three straight innings as Garza and Moyer entered a pitching war. It would be a battle eventually won by Moyer, as in the bottom half of the sixth inning, back-to-back bombs by Chase Utley and Ryan Howard put the Phillies up with a seemingly insurrmountable 4-1 lead. Tampa Bay would rally in the top of the 7th, as Crawford would reach on a controversial bunt hit. It appeared he was clearly out, but was ruled safe by the first base umpire. Navarro followed with a double to left, setting up men at 2nd and 3rd with no one out. Gabe Gross would get his 2nd sacrifice RBI, as he grounded to first, allowing Crawford to score to cut the lead to 4-2. Bartlett would follow with a grounder to shortstop, but with Navarro going on contact, he scored easily to make it 4-3.

In the 8th, Ryan Madson checked in to pitch to the struggling meat of the Tampa Bay line up. BJ Upton would lead off with an infield hit to short. Carlos Pena struck out. With Longoria approaching the plate, BJ stole second base easily. On the next pitch, BJ tried to steal third, Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz fired it to third but the throw handcuffed the 3b Shane Victorino, who let it get away, Upton raced home and scored to tie the game at 4. Tampa Bay set a post-season Major League Baseball record for steals by a team, with their 22nd. Longoria would ground out on the next play. In the bottom of the 8th, Chad Bradford walked Jayson Werth to put the leading run on base and powerful Chase Utley and Ryan Howard awaitng their shot. JP Howell would check into the game for Tampa Bay. Werth stole second. Howell struck out Utley, then picked off Werth off of 2nd, and finally struck out Howard to get the Rays out of trouble.

On to the 9th - the Rays went in order. In the bottom half, Howell hit Bruntlett with a pitch to put the winning run on first. In came Balfour to face Victorino. Balfour threw a wild pitch, Navarro recovered but threw the ball into center field and put Bruntlett on third with no one out. Balfour was forced to intentionally walk Victorino and Greg Dobbs to put the bases loaded with nobody out, this was to set up the force play at the plate. In addition, Rays Manager Joe Maddon made the uncoventional play of putting 5 guys in the infield to plug all the holes, facing the hot hitting catcher Carlos Ruiz. Ruiz chopped it to third, Longoria fielded and desperately tossed it home, but it was over Navarro's head - Brunlett scores - Phillies win.

Philadelphia takes a 2 games to 1 lead in the World Series. Big win for Philly, hearbreaking loss for the Rays. Tampa Bay will try again tomorrow...correction TONIGHT. A Phillie victory tonight and this series may be over.

Bolts Blanked By Sharks

By JC De La Torre

The Tampa Bay Lightning turned in their worst performance of the season, getting blanked by the San Jose Sharks 3-0 at the St. Pete Times Forum. Tampa Bay was outshot 45-22 and was forced to kill six power play opportunities for San Joes. Sharks back up goalie Brian Bocher made 22 saves to get the shut out.

After a scoreless first, former Lightning player Dan Boyle assisted on the opening goal of the game, scored by Marcel Goc to make it 1-0. Ryan Clowe's power play goal would make it 2-0 and Devin Setoguchi would score the final marker for the final margin.

The Lightning fall to 1-3-3 on the season and have returned back to the cellar of the Southeast division.

It has the makings for another long season at the Forum this year, folks.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Even - Rays Beat Phils With Small Ball, Tie the Series

By JC De La Torre

The Tampa Bay Rays beat the Philadelphia Phillies playing National League styled small ball and even the World Series at one game a piece with a 4-2 victory at Tropicana Field. "Big Game" James Sheilds continously pitched himself out of trouble as the Phillies continued to struggle to get hits with men in scoring position. Philadelphia is now 1-for-28 with runners at 2nd or 3rd, and for three straight innings in this one they had a runner on third and one out, but couldn't bring home the runs.

The Rays on the other hand, did put the ball in play when the opportunity presented itself. After a 1-2-3 first by Shields in the top frame of the 1st, Tampa Bay opened the bottom half with a flurry. Aki Iwamurra led off with a walk from pitcher Brett Myers. Upton then singled to right field, but Phillies RF Jason Werth to his eye off the ball while trying to spy if Iwamurra was going to third and booted it. Upton and Iwamurra advanced on the error. Pena grounded out to the 2nd baseman, who had no play at the plate or third, Iwamurra scored, Upton advanced to 3rd and the Rays led 1-0. Longoria followed with a hard grounder to shortstop, Upton was running on contact and they had no play at the play, Rays led 2-0 after 1 inning.

In the top of the second, the Phillies got Burrell and Howard on 2nd and 3rd with only one down, but Shields struck out the DH Dobbs and got Pedro Feliz to fly out to get out of the jam. In the bottom half, after a fly out by Cliff Floyd, Navarro singled, Baldelli walked, and Bartlett had an infield single to load the bases with only one away. Aki would pop out to short, but Upton would save the inning with a single to right scoring Navarro. Baldelli also tried to score on the single, but a great throw by Werth had Baldelli dead to rights, Philly catcher Carlos Ruiz held on to the ball and the inning ended with the Rays up 3-0.

Top of the third, another threat from Philadelphia, Ruiz doubled to left and a grounder by James Rollins would advance him to third. Shields began to weave his magic again, striking out Werth and getting Utley to ground out to second to get out of trouble. The Rays would go in order in the bottom half.

The 4th inning provided even more frustration for Philadelphia. Ryan Howard, who was good with the bat tonight, singled to Right. Burrell ground out to third but Howard advanced. Victorino would reach on an infield single, Howard would advance to third with only one out. For the 2nd time, Shields would strike out Dobbs with a runner at 3rd and only 1 down, and then followed that with a ground out to Longoria by Pedro Feliz. In the bottom half, the Rays showed the Phillies how its done, after singles by Cliff Floyd and Dioner Navarro, Baldelli grounded into a force at 2nd, leaving runners on the corner with 1 away. From there, Jason Bartlett executed a safety squeeze perfectly, as he placed the bunt down the first place side, Floyd scored and Baldelli advanced to second, the Rays had a 4-0 lead.

It would stay that way until the top of the 8th, when the PH Brunlett homered of the relief pitcher David Price, who came in to get the final 7 outs. Price remained in for the 9th, allowed to run but got the Rays out of the inning and the game for a 4-2 victory.

Shields went 5 and 2/3, allowing no runs on 7 hits, 2 walks, and he struck out 4. Myers lasted a little longer, going 7 innings, allowing 7 hits, 4 runs (3 earned), with 3 walks and 2 strike outs for Philly.

The stage shifts to Philadelphia, where the Rays will have Matt Garza on the mound for Game 3, the Phillies counter with the 45 yr old veteran, Jamie Moyer.

If the Rays can take 2-3 of three in Philly, the same way they did in Boston, they'll have two chances at the Trop to close out the Phillies.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Phillies Drop Rays in Game One

By JC De La Torre

It was de ja vu all over again for the Rays, just like in Game One of the ALCS, a tremendous pitching performance and just enough hitting by the opponent were enough to allow the Philadelphia Phillies to take Game 1 of the World Series at the Trop, 3-2.

Cole Hamels was spectacular for the Phils, pitching 7 strong innings scattering 5 hits and only two earned runs while styming the Rays 2, 3, and 4 hitters with an 0-12 night (including two double play balls by BJ Upton that ended Ray threats).

Scot Kazmir wasn't quite as effective, but managed to go 6 innings, allowing 6 hits and 3 earned runs, while walking four in his first loss of the post-season.

Things got off on the wrong foot for Kazmir at the beginning of the game. After getting the lead off man Rollins to fly out to right, Kazmir walked Jason Werth. To the plate came Chase Utley and the Rays pulled a large defensive shift (similar to the way they played Boston's pulling slugger David Ortiz). Utley attempted to put down a bunt but pushed it foul. That was unfortunate for Tampa Bay because a couple pitches later, Utley blasted a Kazmir pitch into the right field bleachers to give Philadelphia a quick 2-0 advantage.

It would stay that way until the 4th inning, when Kazmir would get himself into a little trouble again. Victorino would lead off with a single and Pedro Feliz would follow with another single to shallow center. Chris Coste would ground out to Carlos Pena at first, but Pena had no chance at the double play and the runners advanced. Philly Catched Carlos Ruiz would ground to shortstop, but there was no play at the plate and it went over to first, the Rays conceding the run to fall behind 3-0. Kaz would strike out Rollins to get out of the inning, but the damage was done. The Rays woud answer the run by Philadelphia by finally getting on the board with a towering blast to right field by Carl Crawford. The score was 3-1 after 4.

Tampa Bay would get a little closer in the bottom half of the 5th, after two quick outs by Navarro and Zobrist, Jason Bartlett was walked, then promptly stole second. Aki Iwamurra doubled to center, scoring Barlett and cutting the lead to 3-2. Upton would foul out to end the threat.

That would be it for the Rays, though, as Hamels, Ryan Madson, and Brad Lidge would allow only one base runner (who reached on an error) for the last four innings.

Lidge was dominant in his closing fashion, facing the meat of the Tampa Bay order, he struck out Pena and Longoria, then got Crawford to pop out to 3rd. Game over, Game One to Philadelphia.

The Phillies achieved their goal of taking at least one game in St. Pete to swing the home field advantage away from Tampa Bay, even more distressing for the Rays, 10 of the last 11 game one winners have gone on to win the series, and only 39% of the losers of Game One come back to win the series.

The Rays, however, have been bucking trends all season. They've shifted from being the favorite to becoming the underdog - just the way they like it. Conventional wisdom was that Philly needed two victories out of Hamel and some luck with the other pitchers against the Rays offense. Philly got one of the two from Hamels, we'll see if luck is on their side tonight.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Rays Worst-to-First Saga continues tonight in Game 1 of the World Series

By JC De La Torre
The New York Yankees haven't been to the World Series in five years. the Chicago Cubs haven't been there since 1945. The Philadelphia Phillies, Tampa Bay's opponent in the fall classic, haven't been there since 1993. This Rays fans, is something special.

Tonight, the Tampa Bay Rays take on the Philadelphia Phillies in Game One of the World Series. Scott Kazmir is on the hill for Tampa Bay, with the Phillies countering with their ace, Cole Hamels. Tampa Bay broke the major league record for single season improvement, as they have now won 104 games in 2008 (including the playoffs), a 37 game improvement over 2007. This beats the old record of 36+ by 1946 Boston Red Sox. Only one team in Major League Baseball history has gone from being the worst team in baseball to the World Series, the 1991 Atlanta Braves. Unfortunately for the Braves, it didn't end well as they lost the World Series in 7 games to another worst-to-first team, the Minnesota Twins, who were last in their division the previous year. The Twins are the only team in modern MLB history to finish in last the previous year to winning the World Championship.

The team that wins game one of the World Series goes on to win 61% of the time.

One last interesting tidbit - in interleague play this season, the Rays were 12-6 versus the National League, while the Phillies had the worst interleague record in baseball, 4-11.

My prediction? Rays in 6.

Bolts Finally Find First Victory for Melrose

By JC De La Torre

After three straight losses in overtime, Tampa Bay finally won one in OT, defeating the Atlanta Thrashers 3-2 to give new Head Coach Barry Melrose his first victory as Lightning head coach and the first coaching win for Melrose since April 6, 1995. Amazingly, despite the slow start, with the win over the Thrashers, the Lightning moved out of the cellar in the Southeast division and are only 2 points out of first place.

The formula appeared similar for Tampa Bay. The Bolts raced to a 2-0 lead going into the third period on goals from Mark Recci and Vinny Prospal, then watched in horror as they blew the two goal lead. At 6:37 of the third period, Colby Armstrong pulled the Thrashers within 1 goal from Todd White. Then with only 0:36 seconds left in the game, Todd White broke Tampa Bay's heart with a goal, tying it at 2 and sending it back to overtime.

The Lightning would get a break in the extra session. Thrashers Center Bryan Little would get called for tripping Marty St. Louis, giving Tampa Bay a 4-3 man advantage. The Bolts would take advantage, as St. Louis snuck around a a defenseman and charge the net drawing the D to him, he then set a nice drop pass to stick of Vincent Lecavalier who blasted it in for the game winning goal.

It was one of the better performances of the season for Tampa Bay, as they outshot the Thrashers, 36-33, and had their lowest penalty minute total of the season, just 6, all of which occurred in the second period.

Monday, October 20, 2008


By JC De La Torre
The Tampa Bay Rays are American League Champions! I write that again - THE TAMPA BAY RAYS ARE AL CHAMPS AND GOING TO THE WORLD SERIES! The Rays shocked the country and maybe even themselves, putting together a tough, gutty performance in Game 7 of the ALCS, beating the Boston Red Sox 3-1 for their first AL Pennant.

After a devastating loss to Boston in Game 5, then a lackluster performance in Game 6, the media and baseball folks around the world thought the Rays were finished. The Rays took that belief and turned the world on its edge, beating the Red Sox and their best pitcher, Jon Lester.

Things started off a little rocky for the Rays as Dustin Pedroia would take a change up and deposit it into the left field bleachers for an early 1-0 lead. That would be the last hit the Red Sox get for several innings on Rays starter Matt Garza. More on that in a second. Sox starter Jon Lester was masterful in the early going, retiring the first 9 batters he faced.

The Rays woud finally get to him in the 4th inning. Aki Iwamurra would get a bloop single to left to get on. After Upton struck out, Pena would ground into a fielder's choice, giving the Rays a man on first and 2 outs with Evan Longoria at the dish. Longoria would blast into the right field gap, doubling and Pena scored all the way from first - the game was tied! Crawford would strike out to end the inning.

The Rays would take the lead in 5th inning. Tampa Bay would get a double from Willie Aybar to give them a man in scoring position. An infield single by Navarro gave the Rays men at 1st and 2nd with no outs. Rocco Baldelli would bloop a single to left field, scoring Aybar and giving the Rays a 2-1 lead. Lester would keep the damage to a mininum by striking out Bartlett and getting ground outs by Aki and Upton.

From there, the pitchers duel would continue. Garza was sensational, allowing no hits for 5 straight innings until the top of the 7th, when he got into a little trouble. After getting Youkis to pop out, he walked JD Drew, then allowed a single to Jason Bay to give the Sox men at first and second. It looked like Joe Maddon was going to pull Garza out of the game, but he allowed him to finish, and Garza rewarded him by Kotsay to fly out and striking out Jason Varitek.

In the bottom of the 7th, Willie Aybar would lead of the inning with a huge home run to left, giving them a 3-1 advantage.

In the 8th, Boston would take their best shot at the Rays. Garza would start the 8th inning, but would leave after Jason Barlett booted a grounder by Cora into center field. Dan Wheeler came in to relieve Garza. Coco Crisp woud single to right, Cora would go to 2nd with no one out and the dangerous Pedroia at te plate. Wheeler would get Pedroia to pop it out to right and Wheeler's work would be done. JP Howell would check in to face David Ortiz. Ortiz would hit a ground ball, but the Rays could ony get Crisp at 2nd, leaving men at 1st and 3rd with no one out. Chad Bradford would check in for the Rays, but walked Youklis to load the bases. Then Rays Manager Joe Maddon, who is one of the most unconventional managers in baseball made a startling move. He put the Rays fortunes in the hands of a rookie...but not just any rookie, the #1 overall pick of the 2007 draft - David Price. Price would strike out Drew to get the Rays out of the inning with no damage done.
After the Rays went 1-2-3 in the 9th, Maddon stuck with Price to finish it. He would walk Jason Bay, then struck out Kotsay and Varitek. Jed Lowrie would come on to pinch hit for Cora and he grounded to Aki on second, Aki touched the bag and the Trop erupted in elation.


Its on to the Phillies and the World Series, and for Boston and the Red Sox Nation - a stunned finish to a spectacular series. What a just gutty performance by the Rays - no one believed they had chance, yet Matt Garza was sensational and the Rays played small ball to pull ahead against Boston's best pitcher, then perhaps learning something from Game 5 - they finished it off in style, surviving Boston's last push in the 8th and completing the series like the Champions they are.

Tampa Bay wins the American League Championship Series 4 games to 3.

Can you believe it, Rays fans? Oh my! Rays Win! Rays Win! Rays Win the AL Pennant!

Bucs Defense, Garcia Waltz Past Seahawks

By JC De La Torre

It was a surreal atmosphere at Raymond James Stadium Sunday Night. With the Rays playing Game 7 of the ALCS at the exact same time, the fans' attention at Ray Jay was split down the middle. Several thousands of fans (including myself) brought radios to the game and gave updates to the ongoing game to fellow fans, causing the strange cheering outburts in the stadium at times when nothing was going on on the field. The Bucs were kind enough to keep the score of the Rays game on one of the sideline scoreboards, so with every run the Rays scored - the fans exploded in cheers. The would explode into cheers at halftime, too as the Bucs honored one of their greatest - Mike Alstott.

There was a football game played at Raymond James, btw. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers throttled the Seattle Seahawks 20-10 in a game that wasn't nearly as close as the score indicated. The Tampa Bay offense, behind the exception play of Jeff Garcia and Antonio Bryant, rolled up 402 yds, 22 first downs (including a remarkable 10 of 18 on third down), and controlled the clock for an unreal 41:41. The well rested Bucs defense continued its dominant performance, limiting the Seahawks to a meager 176 yds of total offense and forcing two turnovers.

The Bucs opened the scoring in the first quarter on a 47 yd TD pass from Garcia to Bryant to give the Bucs an early 7-0 lead. The Bucs saw a scoring oppotunity go by the boards when WR Ike Hillard fumbled after a devastating helmet-to-helmet hit that knock him unconscious. It was a scary moment for the Bucs, as Hillard laid motionless on the field for several minutes. Thankfully, Ike came to and was about rise to his feet and take a seat on the cart for his ride out of the stadium.

The Bucs would open up the scoring in the 2nd quarter as Earnest Graham capped a 6 play 59 yd drive with a 1 yd run. Aquib Talib's interception would set Bucs up for another scoring drive, this time the Bucs went 5 plays for 25 yds and capped it off with a 27 yd Matt Bryant field goal to spot the Bucs to a 17-0 lead. Bryant would miss another field goal attempt on the closing moments of the first half.

At halftime, Bucs Superstar Mike Alstott was honored and had his jersey retired by the Buccaneers. It was an emotional half-time speech for Alstott, who expressed his love for Tampa Bay and its fans, while the Buc fans returned the love. It was a great moment and a nice send off for the A-train.

The second half was basically a snoozer as the Bucs grounded out the clock, after a long punt return set up a Seattle field goal, the Bucs would respond with a clock crushing 9:34 drive than spanned 67 yds on 16 plays and was capped by yet another Matt Bryant field goal, giving the Buccaneers a 20-3 lead. Late in the game, the Seahawks would get a garbage touchdown, ending the Bucs 7 quarter no-touchdown streak.

For the second straight week, the Bucs put together a dominating performance, this time under the bright lights of Sunday Night Football. Next up for the Bucs - the Dallas Cowboys - a team in a bit of disarray with the injury to their starting QB and losing 3 of their last 4.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Red Sox control the Rays 4-2, force Game 7

By JC De La Torre

Experience is showing for the Boston Red Sox against the Tampa Bay Rays. It showed in Game 5, when the Rays began their AL pennant celebration 7 outs early and suffered the worst collapse in American League playoff history. Tonight, the Red Sox showed the Rays how its done, as they took control midway through the ball game and shut the door on the Tampa Bay offense, beating the Rays 4-2 in Game 6 of the ALCS.

The Red Sox are now 9-0 under Manager Terry Francona when facing elimination in the ALCS. Tampa Bay pitcher James Shields, nicknamed "Big Game James" didn't look the part in this one. He struggled to find his control and honestly looked like Scott Kazmir, walking guys and having extended at bats.

BJ Upton would give the Rays an early lead in the first with a solo homer to left that clanked off the catwalk. Kevin Youklis would answer in the 2nd, with a solo shot to deep left center, after two it was 1-1.

In the 3rd, Youklis would strike again, getting a ground out to shortstop, the Rays allowed Dustin Pedroia to score as they attempted to prevent the big inning. It would remain 2-1 until the bottom of the 5th, when Jason Bartlett, who homered only once during the regular season, caught an offspeed pitch and wrapped it around the left field foul pole to tie it at 2.

James Shields would fall apart in the 6th, allowing Jason Varitek - who hadn't gotten a hit in the series, to hit a solo shot to first row of right center field, giving the Red Sox a 3-2 advantage. Coco Crisp would get an infield single off of Shields, ending his day after 5 and 2/3, allowing 9 hits, 4 runs (3 earned), walking 3 and only striking out 3. JP Howell would check in and promptly get a ground ball from Pedroia to Bartlett - inning over....or NOT as Bartlett threw it into the Rays dugout. New life for the Sox with 2 outs. David "Big Papi" Ortiz woud bloop a hit into right center, scoring Coco Crisp and the Sox held their 4-2 advantage.

Josh Beckett looked solid in his outing, giving the Sox 5 innings, scattering 4 hits and allowing the two home runs, while striking out 3. Hideki Okajima, Justin Masterson, and Jonathan Papelbon woud not allow any hits, shutting down the hot Rays hitters for the final four innings.

So, the Rays lose their 2nd straight and for the first time in their history, face elimination. Its been one heck of a season and heck of a run for Tampa Bay, it would be a shame to see it end on such a dissapointing note. The Rays do know that Boston has yet to beat the Rays in consecutive games at Tropicana Field this season. Of course, we all know Boston's history.

Matt Garza will go up against the Red Sox Ace pitcher, Jon Lester. The Rays battered Lester the last time they faced him, but they battered Beckett too, and all he did tonight was 4 hit the Rays.

Its win or go home for Tampa Bay and Boston....Game 7 of the American League Championship Series. Can the Rays recover and handle the magnitude of a Game 7 or will the Boston experience by the difference?

One thing is certain - in a Game 7, anything can happen.


Bolts fall short again

By JC De La Torre

The Tampa Bay Lightning still were unabe to find victory tonight, suffering a shootout loss to the Minnesota Wild, 1-0. It was easily the best performance of the season for the Lightning, as they outshot the undefeated Wild by the count of 32-21 and controlled play. Tampa Bay still finds themselves in the penalty box too often, having to kill off six powerplays tonight. Its difficult to establish an offense when you are sitting in the sin bin.

After three scoreless periods and a scoreless overtime, the game went to a shoot out. The Lightning's Jussi Jokinen missed on a backhand. Minnesota's Mikko Koivu missed wide on his shot. Vincent Lecavalier's shot hit the post. Minnesota's Antti Miettinnen scored on a backhander against Mike Smith, the first shootout goal Smith has allowed in his young NHL career. Steven Stamkos looked to keep the Lightning in it but missed on his backhand and that was the game.

Wild win 1-0 and the Bolts waste a superb performance from goalie Mike Smith and the Tampa Bay defense.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Sunday Night Should Be All About 40

By JC De La Torre

One of the selfish reasons I desperately want to see the Rays win tonight is that Game 7 would happen at the exact same time as the Bucs hosting the Seattle Seahawks on NBC's Sunday Night Football. At halftime of the game, Mike Alstott - the A Train - one of the most beloved players in Bucs history will be honored by the team.

#40 won the hearts of fans, teammates and those around the league with his team-first attitude, his undying loyalty to the Buccaneers, his hard charging, powerful, bull-like, never-say-die running style, and his gutsy, big plays at big moments in Big games.

We all know his signature runs, be it pin-balling off a bunch of Washington Redskins and rolling into the endzone for a crucial touchdown in the NFC playoffs, be it steamrolling the Minnesota Vikings or the Cleveland Browns, the A-Train was always there when the Bucs needed a battering ram.

He is Tampa Bay's all-time touchdown leader and he was a leader in the locker room.

The battered Seattle Seahawks come to town, desperate for a victory - but gave the Buccaneer defense a little bulletin board material this week when RB Julius Jones said, "You have to beat them atheletically. They have a bunch of older guys who've played a long time, so you have to beat them as an athelete,"....basically saying the Bucs defense was old. Mr. Jones should be reaquainted with Tanard Jackson, Jermaine Phillips, Gaines Adams, Aquib Talib, Cato June, Barrett Ruud, Jovan Haye, and Chris Hovan - none of which are over the age of 30.

The Bucs won't lose on Mike Alstott night...they can't!

So Rays, please win - because Sunday Night belongs to #40, Mike Alstott - THE A TRAIN!

USF Hosts Pitiful Syracuse Today

By JC De La Torre

USF, coming off that stinging upset loss to Pittsburgh, heads back to Raymond James today against the woeful Syracuse Orange in Big East action. The Orange have started out the season 1-5 and are ranked 105th in the nation in defense. Considering the Bulls have the highest scoring offense in the Big East and despite a 16 day layoff, aren't in a good mood coming off their first loss of 2008, I wouldn't expect the game to be very competitive today.

Lightning Go In Search of First Victory Once Again...

By JC De La Torre

The Tampa Bay Lightning will host the Minnesota Wild, hoping for a wild performance of their own and the first win of the 2008-09 campaign.

One thing can be said about the first four games of 2008-09 - all losses, each have been competitive. The Bolts have lost 4 straight 1-goal games, two in overtime. So its not like they've been blown out all over the ice.

For Tampa Bay to find the winning formula, they'll need stay out of the penalty box - which has been a big problem for Tampa Bay in the first week. They'll also need to win 0ne-on-one battles for the puck, something that's improving but not quite where it needs to be. And finally, their best players need to be their best players. Tampa Bay got goals from Ryan Malone, Vinny Prospal and Vincent Lecavalier on Thursday night, they need more from Marty St. Louis and young Steven Stamkos.

Its definitely not too late for Tampa Bay. A win tonight, they shake off the bad start and the 08-09 can really get going in earnest.

Rays Seem to Have Right Attitude After Terrible Loss

By JC De La Torre

Ask any Rays fan at the beginning of this series - hey, the Rays are going to split the first two games in St. Pete, then take 2 out of 3 in Boston, bringing it back home with two chances to finish it off at the Trop - would you take it? It would be a resounding yes. Yet, following the greatest collapse in ALCS history, the entire baseball world is asking - "How can the Rays come back from this?"

Its simple. Do what they've done all season and that's play one game at a time. The Rays didn't lose 5 games Thursday night - it was just one game. Sure, it was as gut-wrenching as they come, but it was still one loss - and the Rays are looking at it as such.

Here's what Carlos Pena told the St. Pete Times:

"We are extremely confident. I think the perception is that (Thursday's) game is worth five losses when in reality it is just one.

"If it would have been a tight game — 3-2, we had a guy at second and just couldn't get that hit — we would have been like, 'It's a loss.' It would have been worth exactly the same. So the only difference is the way we're perceiving this. We can either perceive it as a loss that was monumental and you can't ever recover from a coma. Or it's just a loss. We've lost before. We didn't go 162-0. We've got 65 losses.

"We choose to just scratch it off as a loss and look at this trip as a very successful trip because we took two out of three in Boston. When in reality, I think people were more like, 'I just hope they win one so they can bring it back to the Trop.' So not only are we back here, but we're here with a slight advantage."

That folks, is exactly the attitude the Rays need and what they've done all season. The Rays have suffered tough losses before and have rebounded with resounding victories. Win tonight, and the loss to Boston at Fenway is just an interesting stat that is melted away by the wild celebration that will begin in St. Pete.

James Shields told the St. Pete Times:

"They've got more pressure than we do. They're the defending champions. We're not. We were in last place in the league last year, and to get where we're at right now, we don't have as much pressure as they do."

And that is the truth. The Red Sox are the defending champions. They've done it before. They're expected to take this supposedly crushed Rays team and swat them away on their way to another trip to the World Series. The Boston media expects it. The Boston faithful (if that's what you can call a crowd of which many bailed on in the seventh inning) expect it. The National media expect it. Once again, the Rays find that only their fans and their own team believe they can do it. That's pressure on the Red Sox, folks.

I truly believe the Rays will win Game 6 and head on to the World Series to face Philadelphia. However, if Boston wins Game 6....well...let's just say I'll be a bit concerned, because then the pressure switches. I don't think we'll need to worry about it.

GO RAYS! Finish the job!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Rays let the Series slip away...

By JC De La Torre

7 outs - 7 run lead. That's what the Rays had to advance to the World Series. Instead of their third straight convincing victory over Boston at Fenway, the Tampa Bay Rays suffered the second greatest playoff collapse in Major League history as the never-say-die Red Sox refused to die, rallying for an unbelievable 8-7 win.

Wasted in this monumental loss was the tremendous pitching performance by starter Scott Kazmir, who pitched 6 innings, striking out 7, allowing on 2 hits and no runs.

Tampa Bay was staked to a big lead thanks to their power hitting. BJ Upton's 2 run homer in the 1st inning to give the Rays a 2-0 lead. In the 3rd, Carlos Pena's 2 run homer got Rays up to 4-0. Then Longoria followed with his own homer to go back-to-back for the second time in the seires, giving the Rays a 5-0 lead. It would stay that way to the top of the 7th, when BJ Upton doubled off the scoreboard scoring Bartlett and Iwamura to give the Rays a seemingly insurmountable 7-0 lead.

Bottom of the 7th, with Grant Balfour was on the hill, Lowrie doubled and but Balfour got the first outs in the inning quickly. Then the wheels fell off. Coco Crisp singled to left, advancing Lowrie to third. Then Dustin Pedroia down to his final strike, ripped a single to right to score Lowrie and get the goose egg off the board for Boston. Then disaster. David Ortiz - big Papi - found a Grant Balfour fastball blasted a 3 run homer to right to cut the lead to 7-4 and got the crowd back into the game. Dan Wheeler would check into the game and get Youklis.

After Papelpon put down the Rays in order, in the bottom of the 8th Wheeler walked Bay to lead off, then JD Drew blasted a shot to right - Fenway went bananna's - suddenly the dead Red Sox had risen and those Boston fans who left when the team was down 7-0 were scrambling back with the Sox down 7-6. Wheeler got Lowrie to fly out, then struck out Shawn Casey. Unfortunately, Kotsay doubled off of BJ Upton's glove. Then after a 10 pitch at bat, Coco Crisp singled to right, scoring Kotsay to tie the game.

The Rays got two men on with only one out in the top of 9th, but Pena, who only hit into two double-plays all season, hit into one here - ending the Rays threat. Then the bottom of the 9th, JP Howell trying to stop the bleeding gets Pedroia and Ortiz, Youklis hits an infield single to Evan Longoria, but then Longoria threw it past 1st baseman Carlos Pena for an error, allowing Youklis to get to 2nd. The Rays intentionally walked Jason Bay and then JD Drew singled over Gabe Gross head in right, scoring Youklis for the game winning run.

What a comeback by the Red Sox and what a devastating loss for the Tampa Bay Rays. So close to the World Series they could taste it, with the game in the hands of the bullpen that was one of the catalyst to their amazing turn around - and the bullpen implodes, blowing a 7 run lead and a terrifc effort from Scott Kazmir.

The good news for the Rays is that the live to play another day. They're back at the Trop and will have Big Game James Shields on the mound. The Trop fans need to pick up our young team - because I'm sure their not going to be feeling to good on the way home tonight.

Bolts Going Down the Tubes

By JC De La Torre

The Tampa Bay Lightning have now played four games and have yet to taste victory. Tonight, it was the Islanders getting the W as they jumped to a 2-0 lead before blowing it in the third period until the finally pulled it out in overtime, 4-3. Tampa Bay earned their 2 point of a possible 8.

Mike Comrie opened up the scoring early in the first with a tap in goal at the 2:47 mark. They would extend the lead midway through the second period on a Doug Weight power play goal. Then things got a little dicey for the Isles. Vinny Lecavalier scored at the 3:43 mark of the third period to cut the advantage to 2-1. Vinny Prospal would tie it at 2 with a power play goal at the 12:02 mark. A minute later, the Isles would retake the lead on Trent Hunter's 3rd goal of the season. A minute after that, Ryan Malone would get his first goal as a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning to tie the game at 3. 51 second into overtime, Hunter would end it with a blast from Frans Nielsen. Game over, New York wins it 4-3.

Tampa Bay is now 0-2-2 on the season and still have yet to give new Head Coach Barry Melrose his first victory. On the bright side, they were even in shots for the first time this season, 36 a piece for both hockey clubs.

The Bolts are burying themselves in an early hole, but the good news is no team in the Southeast division has gotten off to a hot start (Washington leads at 3-1-0, 6pts).

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

De Ja Vu All Over Again - Rays Rip Sox - Within 1 Gm of the World Series

By JC De La Torre

This wasn't supposed to happen. The young Rays were supposed to falter under the bright lights of the post season, on the road in Fenway Park - home of the defending World Champion Boston Red Sox. Following a 9-1 facewash of Sox in Game 3, the Tampa Bay Rays destroyed Boston for the second consecutive night, this time reaching double figures with a 13-4 victory.

Andy Sonnanstine pitched a superb 7 1/3 innings for the Rays, giving up six hits and 4 runs (2 earned). Carl Crawford was 5 for 5 with 2 RBI and 3 runs scored. Willy Aybar was 4 for 5 with a homer and 5 RBIs.

But today would belong to the offense, as the Rays ripped Red Sox starter Tim Wakefield from the very beginning. Pena opened the scoring with a 2 run homer over the monster, and was followed by Evan Longoria's blast into the monster seats. Suddenly, Tampa Bay was up 3-0 before the Sox even came to the plate.

After a scoreless second, the Rays would pad their lead with a 2 run homer by Willie Aybar to make it 5-0. In the bottom frame of the 3rd, Kevin Cash would get Boston on the board with a solo shot to left field to cut it to 5-1.

After a scoreless 4th and the Rays added a run in the 5th on an Aybar single, the flood gates opened in the 6th. With Manny Delcarmen pitching for the Sox, he struck out Perez for the first out of the inning. Jason Bartlett would triple to deep right center. Aki would walk, setting up BJ Upton with a scoring opportunity. Upton would rip a single to left, scoring Bartlett to make it 7-1. Delcarmen would proceed to walk Pena and Longoria, walking in the 8th run. Lopez would relieve Delcarmen, but apparently didn't get much of a warm up. Carl Crawford would single in Upton. Aybar would single in Pena and Navarro would ground out, scoring Longoria. After 5 1/2, the Rays had a commanding 11-1 lead.

In the bottom of the 7th, David Ortiz would triple for the Sox, and Kevin Youklis would ground out on a fielder's choice, scoring Ortiz to cut it to 11-2. Both teams would exchange two runs in the 8th inning and after a quiet top half of the 9th by the Rays, Tampa Bay took a 13-4 advantage into the bottom of the 9th for Edwin Jackson.

With this victory, the Rays now own a 3 game to 1 lead in the American League Championship Series. One more victory and they are off to the World Series. They'll have three chances to put it away, one more in Boston, the final two in St. Pete (if necessary).

The TBS announcers, ESPN pundits, and just about anyone else you can imagine all reminded us several times about how the Red Sox rallied from being down 3 games to 1 last season against the Cleveland Indians to win the ALCS and eventually the World Series. We also were reminded several times about how the Red Sox in 04 were down 3 games to 0 to Yankees, rallied, won the ALCS and their first World Series title in 86 yrs. Basically the message is until you have that 4th victory against the Red Sox, you can never count Boston out. But you know what? I don't think the Rays care about any of that. They seem obvlivious to the pressure of the situation, they've treated Game 4 of the ALCS like a game in the middle of May. For some reason, I don't believe they'll be phased by the Boston history.

Let me repeat, your Tampa Bay Rays are ONE...just ONE win away from the American League championship and a trip to the World Series.

What a year...unbelievable.

Monday, October 13, 2008


By JC De La Torre

On the road, the young Rays were supposed to wilt under the pressure of October baseball against the powerful Boston Red Sox. The Sox did their job in St. Pete, getting a win in at least one of the first two games and they controlled the series. Win out and they wouldn't have to hear any more cowbells or deal with catwalks. The experienced Sox had their Ace, John Lester, pitching against the Rays whom he dominated this season. All seemed to be set for a series defining victory.

There was a series defining victory tonight...but it wasn't by the Red Sox. The Tampa Bay Rays lit up Boston for 4 home runs, punching the Sox squarely in the snoz 9-1 in Game 3 to take a 2-1 lead in the American League Championship Series. The Rays apparently failed to get the memo that they weren't supposed to win and became the first team in the long, storied history of the Boston Red Sox to score 8 or more runs in consecutive post-season games against the Red Sox.

The scoring started in the 2nd inning, when Dioner Navarro grounded out, but allowed Evan Longoria to score to give the Rays a 1-0 lead. After the Sox failed to score in the bottom of the 2nd, the game opened up in the 3rd inning. Barlett opened the inning with a single to left. Aki Iwamurra doubled off the monster, putting men on 2nd and 3rd with nobody out. BJ Upton would CRUSH a 3 run moonshot over the monster to give the Rays a 4-0 lead. After a Pena strike out, Longoria would add another run, blasting one over the monster as well. After three innings, it was 5-0.

It would stay that way for awhile, as Matt Garza pitched a masterful game. Garza went 6 innings, striking out 5 and and allowing 1 earned run. The run occured in the 7th, when Ellsbury's sacrifice fly off of JP Howell scored Varitek. Howell would then get Dustin Pedrioa to ground into an inning ending double play to end any chance of a Boston rally.

In the top of the 8th, the Red Sox nation began to flee Fenway as Rocco Baldelli blasted a three run homer over the monster to balloon the lead to 8-1. What a story Baldelli is, battling a strange mitochondrial disorder that threatened his career, and he homers to put the game away in game 3 of the ALCS. Carlos Pena would add another insurance run in the top of the 9th with a solo blast to left center field, Edwin Jackson would come in for his first action in the post season to get the final 3 outs.

Tampa Bay takes a 2-1 lead in the series and puts the pressure squarely on the shoulders of the Boston Red Sox. Tomorrow night Tim Wakefield, a Ray-killer goes for Boston. However, the Rays have been able to hit Wakefield this season, getting two wins against him. The Rays will have the steady Andy Sonnanstine on the mound for the good guys. If Tampa Bay gets Game 4, they'll have three shots at closing out the defending World Champions. For the Red Sox, tommorrow night, the series may be on the line.

Bucs Smackdown Panthers!

By JC De La Torre

There haven't been many opportunities to say this - so I will enjoy this while I type it. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers up and laid the SMACKDOWN on the Carolina Panthers yesterday. The Bucs crushed Carolina 27-3 in a game that really wasn't even as close as the score. This was as a complete victory as we've seen from this Buccaneer squad in some time. The special teams contributed (blocked punt), the Offense contributed (20 points), and the defense absolutely dominated (3 interceptions of Jake Delhomme).

The Panthers turned the ball over three times and were limited to only 282 yds of total offense (most of which came in garbage time when the Bucs were playing reserves). The game not close from the outset. Rookie Linebacker Geno Hayes blocked Carolina punter Jason Baker's punt, recovered and took it in 27 yds for a score to give the Bucs a 7-0 lead. With 5:21 left in the first quarter, Tanard Jackson intercepted Delhomme, setting up a 5 play, 26 yd drive that culminated in a 2 yd Garcia to Alex Smith TD pass.

The teams would trade field goals in the second quarter and Matt Bryant would add another in the 3rd quarter to increase the lead to 20-3.

The Bucs would put the finishing touches on this one, driving 56 yds in 10 plays, as Earnest Graham plunged in to the end zone from the fullback position to stake Tampa Bay to a 27-3 advantage with 14:11 left in the ball game. The rest of the game consisted of failed Carolina drives and Warrick Dunn's running, as Warrick became the first back in 2008 to rush for over 100 yds against the vaunted Carolina defense. Dunn finished the day with 115 yds on 22 carries.

Tampa Bay didn't escape the game in perfect shape. Penalties continued to be a major issue for the team, as they were flagged several times for unsportsmanlike conduct. The Bucs finished the day 7 penalties for 80 yds. They also sustained injuries to FB Bryan Storer, WR Maurice Stovall, and LG Aaron Sears. Injured players Sabby Piscitelli and Barrett Ruud made it through without issue.

Then, there's the QB debate. Jeff Garcia looked steady, moving around in the pocket and making plays. He didn't turn the ball over and made the plays that resulted in the two Tampa Bay offensive touchdowns. Garcia was 15 for 20, 173 yds, with 1 TD. He was not sacked, which is a credit to the o-line who had a terrific day handling one of the fearcest front fours in football. I said to a friend, if Griese is going to be gun shy - he is no use to us. He may turn the ball over, but he also takes more chances that moves the chains and gets the Bucs into scoring position. Against Denver, he looked afraid to make a mistake, and that's not going to help the Bucs. Garcia looked confident, made plays, and most importantly, didn't turn the ball over. He looked like the old Jeff Garcia from last season. I think if Jeff Garcia has his head on right and is playing like he did last season - he is the choice for quarterback.

The Bucs improve to 4-2, dropping Carolina to an identical 4-2 record and enter a 3 way tie for first place in the NFC South with Carolina and Atlanta - two teams the Bucs dominated at home. Next week will be a big one, as it is Mike Alstott Commemorative Night. The Bucs will honor the A-train in front of a National television audience. The struggling Seattle Seahawks provide the opposition.