Coming off a pair of one-run wins over the Red Sox on Thursday, the Tampa Bay Rays will head to the Big Apple for a three-game series against the first-placed Yankees starting Friday. Fiery closer Grant Balfour will be hoping the trend of close contests continues.
Rays closer Grant Balfour will be looking to add to his six saves this season.
Mark L. Baer / USA TODAY Sports
By Andrew Astleford
Grant Balfour is a football player trapped in a baseball player's body. Watching the Tampa Bay Rays' closer in the ninth inning has become an experience. With all his screaming, fist-pumping and random displays of high-octane attitude, he looks misplaced in the rather tame world that exists on the diamond. He looks as if he should be picking chunks of dirt from a facemask.
Yes, he looks fit for another role. Strap pads on him, toss him a helmet, slot him at linebacker and let him smack someone. He plays energized. He plays with no fear. He plays like someone must to survive within the high-pressure cold-sweat life of a closer.
When he's on, he's unforgettable.
Balfour had some afternoon and night in a doubleheader Thursday against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. First, he brushed off manager Joe Maddon's suggestion to walk David Ortiz with two outs in the ninth of the opening game. He forced Ortiz to ground out on a harmless dribbler back to the mound to clinch Tampa Bay's 2-1 victory. Then he struck out Mike Napoli and Xander Bogaerts looking to clinch a 6-5 victory in the nightcap, all with Shane Victorino standing on third base after a leadoff double. He was relentless.
When watching Balfour pitch, you can imagine a Harley-Davidson motorcycle revving to full strength or a muscle car zooming down an expressway at faster than 150 mph. He has that way about him. He has an "it" factor. That's what the Rays need.
His show Thursday was well-timed. Balfour has converted on all but one of his seven save attempts this season. But on April 25, he allowed the Chicago White Sox to score five runs in the ninth inning of a 9-6 loss at U.S. Cellular Field. Afterward, Maddon said Balfour wasn't aggressive. He said Balfour didn't throw enough fastballs to his liking.
Well, Balfour threw heat Thursday. Time after time, he challenged Boston hitters with his fastball, pretty much saying, "OK, come get me." He didn't cower. He didn't back down. He was a beast on the mound. The aggression paid off.
There were many things to like from the Rays on Thursday after a poor start to their road trip: The offense did just enough, left-hander Cesar Ramos recovered after a rocky first inning in the opening game, Yunel Escobar and James Loney provided clutch hitting, right-hander Koji Uehara's spell was snapped in the ninth inning of the second game. But Balfour was the lasting memory. He was a sight to see.
Now, the Rays must continue the momentum. They are off to the Bronx for their road trip's last leg, where they will play a three-game series against the American League East-leading New York Yankees. Balfour will be there, attitude and all.
Here's a look at the upcoming Rays-Yankees series:
SCHEDULE AND PROBABLE PITCHERS
May 2 (Sun Sports -- pregame coverage begins at 6:30 p.m.) David Price (3-2, 4.75 ERA) vs. Vidal Nuno (0-0, 6.59 ERA)
May 3 (Sun Sports -- pregame coverage begins at 12:30 p.m.) Jake Odorizzi (1-3, 6.85 ERA) vs. Masahiro Tanaka (3-0, 2.27 ERA)
May 4 (Sun Sports -- pregame coverage begins at 12:30 p.m.) Erik Bedard (0-1, 5.52 ERA) vs. CC Sabathia (3-3, 5.11 ERA)
James Loney (Rays): He hit .333 (9 for 27) in seven games from April 25-May 1 with three RBI and two doubles. He has hit .302 with one home run and 15 RBI for the season.
Brett Gardner (Yankees): He hit .400 (6 for 15) with one RBI in four games from April 25-May 1. He has hit .270 with one home run and nine RBI for the season.
Matt Joyce (Rays): He hit .118 (2 for 17) with two RBI and two strikeouts in seven games from April 25-May 1. He has hit .314 with two home runs and 15 RBI for the season.
Carlos Beltran (Yankees): He hit .056 (1 for 18) with three strikeouts in five games from April 25-May 1. He has hit .253 with five home runs and 13 RBI for the season.
3: No-decisions by left-hander Erik Bedard in four starts with Tampa Bay. The most recent came when he pitched five innings and allowed one run with four hits in the Rays' 7-4 loss to the Red Sox on Tuesday at Fenway Park.
112: Seconds needed to review a play at home plate in which Jose Molina tagged out Dustin Pedroia during the seventh inning of the Rays' victory over the Red Sox on Thursday afternoon at Fenway Park. Pedroia appeared to beat Molina's tag, but Pedroia's foot missed the plate.
2: Rays games postponed because of rain this season, the most recent Wednesday's scheduled contest against the Red Sox at Fenway Park. The first was a scheduled April 15 game against the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards.
"It's hard. It's hard for both sides. The game was not meant to be played in this kind of weather. But you've got to fight through it." -- Maddon after the Rays' loss to the Red Sox on Tuesday. The game was played in a 43-degree temperature with cloudy skies and 15 mph winds.
"We were told that in the Basic Agreement there is a (provision) for teams like Boston and Chicago (Cubs) to basically exercise their own right to do what they want to do. So that's what they did. Major League Baseball told us it was their decision (the Red Sox), and they chose to do a doubleheader tomorrow." -- Second baseman Ben Zobrist describing why a doubleheader was scheduled for Thursday at Fenway Park after the postponement of Wednesday's game. The Rays had pushed for the makeup date to happen later in the season.
"We went back and forth. I didn't know what he wanted to do. I told him I really wanted to pitch to him." -- Balfour explaining his discussion with Maddon before forcing Ortiz to ground out on a roller to the mound to end the Rays' victory Thursday afternoon at Fenway Park. Maddon, in a visit with Balfour, had suggested that his closer walk Ortiz.