Tag:Grant Balfour
Posted on: October 26, 2008 2:00 am

Phillies win crazy Game 3, take 2-1 lead

PHILADELPHIA -- Goodbye Florida, hello elements.

The nasty Philadelphia weather may not have decided Game 3 Saturday night, but Mother Nature sure made her presence known during the wildest World Series game played in years. Following a 91-minute rain delay and the latest start time in Series history (10:06 p.m.), Philadelphia won it 5-4 on an infield hit that somehow won it in the most crowded infield you'll ever see.

Catcher Carlos Ruiz, who had homered in the second, chopped a bases-loaded roller down the third-base line that charging third baseman Evan Longoria couldn't get to in time. He made a heroic effort, lunging flat on the ground and trying to shovel the baseball toward catcher Dioner Navarro.

He had no chance. Eric Bruntlett slid home ahead of the throw.

And what a scene it was. After J.P. Howell hit Bruntlett with a pitch to lead off the ninth, Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon summoned Grant Balfour. Then he pulled right fielder Ben Zobrist into the infield, positioning him up the middle, by second base. That gave the Rays five infielders as they attempted to defend a 4-4 tie and push the game into the 10th.

Balfour intentionally walked both Shane Victorino and Greg Dobbs to load the bases with nobody out. But instead of a double-play grounder, starting with a force at home, Ruiz was able to put the ball where Longoria couldn't get to it.

The end came at 1:47 a.m. and gave the Phillies a two games to one lead in this increasingly close World Series.

The game had nearly turned on one three-batter span in the sixth inning. While finesse artist Jamie Moyer clung to a 2-1 lead and spent most of the evening fooling Rays hitters, he left a pitch up with two out in the sixth. Oops. Longoria drilled it.

But instead of putting the Rays ahead 3-2 -- B.J. Upton was on second base -- a howling wind knocked down what would have been a sure home run at Tropicana Field (and, here, on a not-so-windy evening). Moyer's reaction walking off of the mound following the close call was terrific: Fully extended tongue hanging down toward his chin.

His teammates' reactions were pretty good, too. Chase Utley led off the bottom of the sixth by smashing the ball to right field. Bit of a tailwind in that direction, and gone. Up next Ryan Howard did the same thing, and the back-to-back homers made it 4-1 Phillies.

The wind messing with Longoria looked even more important in the seventh, when Tampa Bay pushed two runs across to pull to within 4-3.

One of those runs, though, should never have scored. Carl Crawford led off the seventh by pushing a bunt down the first-base line. Moyer rushed over and dove to field it, then flipped it with his glove to Howard at first. Howard barehanded the throw ahead of Crawford reaching the bag.

However, first-base umpire Tom Hallion was shielded by Howard and the odd angle of the play and called Crawford safe. Hallion appeared to be watching the first-base bag to see when Crawford crossed and listening for the sound of the ball thudding into the glove. It never came, though, when Howard softly barehanded it.

The Rays tied it in the eighth when Upton led off with an infield single, stole second and third and scored on catcher Ruiz's throwing error.

But an inning later, after Balfour hit Bruntlett to start the ninth, he wild-pitched Bruntlett to second and the Rays' own catching error -- Dioner Navarro threw the ball into center field -- sent Bruntlett to third and positioned the Phils for the win.


Posted on: September 18, 2008 12:26 am

Tampa Bay's Magic Number(s)

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- It feels like the beginning of a New World Order here.

Tampa Bay cleaned Boston's clock in two out of three games, and not only does Tampa Bay now have a couple of Magic Numbers, but those Magic Numbers are extraordinarily, incredibly, impressively ... low.

Here's a sentence that's never before been typed:

Tampa Bay can clinch its first-ever playoff spot by winning two games this weekend against the Minnesota Twins.

The Rays' Magic Number to clinch a playoff spot is 3.

Their Magic Number to win the AL East title is 10.

You'd better believe they sense October is close enough to reach out and touch.

"Minnesota's coming in, and whatever our Magic Number is, we can do it in two days," reliever Grant Balfour, who out-dueled David Ortiz in a key fifth-inning at-bat Wednesday (Ortiz flied to center), said. "We can do it on Friday night. I think the guys know that.

"I think we're in good shape. I've got a feeling we're going to do it pretty quick."

Two wins over the Twins simply gets Tampa Bay an October ticket. But the Rays say they're still gunning to win the AL East title. By virtue of beating Boston on Wednesday, they win the season series against the Red Sox, which would give Tampa Bay the tiebreaker if the two clubs finish with the same record.

But Tampa Bay holds a two-game edge with 12 games left. Boston has only 10 games remaining.

A division title would come in handy, because the Rays have been incredible at home. They're 55-22 at Tropicana Field. And when fans actually show up, they're even tougher: They're 20-1 now in front of 30,000 or more fans at home, and they've got a 20-game winning streak after losing on Opening Day.

When Boston catcher Kevin Cash reached first base in the fifth inning Wednesday, he told Carlos Pena that Tropicana Field was "the loudest place he's ever heard."

"That's great," Pena said. "It really has an effect on the players."

Manager Joe Maddon said he thought the fans were "a little bit more anticipatory. They were really into it even before the first pitch, and it was kind of nice."

The manager also said that the Rays will celebrate as soon as they clinch a playoff spot, even if the AL East title is still up for grabs.

"Sure, that would be cause for celebration, absolutely," Maddon said. "You look at where the Rays have come from. I'm into celebrating.

"If we get to that point sooner, we'll do it in the appropriate way."

Likes: One of Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon's things is to push for Meatloaf series wins. Huh? That's his funky way of preaching to his players the goal of winning two games of each three-game series. As in, you know, the old Meatloaf smash hit from the late 1970s: Two out of three ain't bad. The Rays have responded, too, they own a club-record 32 series wins, most in the majors, and they've lost only nine of their past 41 series. That kind of stuff will get you a division title. ... I hadn't been to Tropicana Field since 1999, and I still much prefer my baseball outdoors. But I will say, they've brightened the place up considerably since I've last been here. ... I figured the White Sox were a lock to win in Yankee Stadium on Wednesday night when, earlier in the day, I checked the pitching probables and saw the Sox were listing kid pitcher Lance Broadway as their starter. How can you go wrong in New York with a kid named Broadway? But alas, manager Ozzie Guillen went with Clayton Richard. And lost. Oops. ... Nice late-morning run on the Jefferson High School track -- home of such alums as Tony La Russa and Tino Martinez. But it is humid and sweltering here.

Dislikes: Milwaukee's Ben Sheets leaving Wednesday's game in Chicago with forearm stiffness. Not a good sign for the Brewers, who need every good fortune they can get down the stretch. ...Very noticeable how many political ads they're throwing on the television in the state of Florida -- at least, in the Tampa area. One after another, John McCain and then Barack Obama, then Obama and then McCain. And the negativity gets old, quick.

Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:

"You'll never find your gold on a sandy beach
"You'll never drill for oil on a city street
"I know you're looking for a ruby in a mountain of rocks
"But there ain't no Couple de Ville hiding
"At the bottom of a Cracker Jack box"

-- Meatloaf, Two Out of Three (Ain't Bad)

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