Rays Keep Riding The Momentum

The biggest question coming into the Tampa Bay-Texas series was how long the Rays could keep riding this extraordinary wave of September momentum. Would they be like the 2007 Colorado Rockies who took a stunning rally and rode it all the way to the World Series? It’s only one game, but the Tampa steamroller shows no signs of letting up.

It was the team’s resident veteran, Johnny Damon that struck with a solo home run off Ranger starter C.J. Wilson. Damon, now part of both the greatest regular season comeback in history this year and the greatest postseason comeback in history with the 2004 Red Sox, is one of those players with a knack for coming up clutch and he did it again in Game 1. And Kelly Shoppach, the backup catcher who was in the lineup only because Wilson is a lefty, is the first unlikely hero of this October. Shoppach hit two home runs, worth five RBIs. Both home runs came with two outs, and the Rays jumped on the home team early and often on the way to a 9-0 win.

Here is where I’d like to see Texas come back with Colby Lewis in Game 2. The righthander wasn’t as good this year as Derek Holland, who gets the ball, but Lewis was very tough in last year’s playoffs, going 3-0 through the American League side of the bracket and two of those wins came after a Texas loss. As for Tampa, I questioned Joe Maddon starting rookie Matt Moore in this game over the veteran Jeff Niemann, with the caveat that in general, this sort of boldness is what works for the Rays. If a young kid is good, they don’t hesitate to throw him into the fire. It worked yesterday as Moore pitched seven innings of two-hit ball.

The much-anticipated showdown of C.C. Sabathia and Justin Verlander in Yankee Stadium didn’t pan out and the game was called because of rain in the second inning. Play will resume tonight and Game 2 will be pushed back to tomorrow, but neither ace will be able to go. I disagree with any thought that this favors the Yankees, because they rely on Sabathia as much as the Tigers rely on Verlander. I also like the way Sabathia is asking for the ball on Sunday so he can be available to pitch a possible Game 5 on short rest. Verlander has not, and is focused on a Game 3 start Monday back in Detroit. Perhaps this is a case of someone knowing his limitations, but I wonder if this doesn’t show a championship mindset in Sabathia that will be the intangible difference in this series. Back in 2008, Sabathia gladly took the ball on short rest throughout September for the Brewers and pushed them to the playoffs. Now he’s offering to put the Yankees back in the LCS. I picked Detroit to win and I’m not changing my mind, but this contrast in approaches certainly caught my attention.

All four series are on the docket today. Here’s the rundown…

Arizona-Milwaukee (Kennedy-Gallardo, 2 ET, TBS): I’m already wondering why Zack Greinke was allowed to pitch the final Wednesday of the season and then being rushed back on short rest for Game 2 tomorrow. A rested Greinke should be pitching this game and Ron Roenicke has made the first really questionable managerial decision of this postseason.

St. Louis-Philadelphia (Lohse-Halladay, 5 ET, TBS): Tony LaRussa will move Chris Carpenter up to Game 2 on short rest as well. Unlike Roenicke’s move, this one makes sense, since Carpenter really had to pitch on Wednesday .

And the American League rolls on with Tampa-Texas at 7 ET on TNT, as Holland faces James Shields, while the Yanks-Tigers resume Game 1 at 8:30 ET on TBS, with originally scheduled Game 2 starters Ian Nova and Doug Fister picking up play in the second inning.