October 11, 2010

Carl Crawford is still a Tampa Bay Ray. At least for another day. With speculation swirling that Crawford will leave the Rays in the offseason for free agency, the longest-tenured member of the team helped the Rays stave off elimination by using all the things that have made him a valuable player - his speed, glove and bat. Crawford made two diving catches in the late innings - robbing Bengie Molina in the seventh and Josh Hamilton in the eighth of potential extra-base hits - then tacked on an insurance run with a solo homer in the ninth. It was redemption for Crawford, who struck out twice with runners in scoring position earlier in the game, including being called out on what appeared to be back-to-back pitches that badly missed the strike zone. Instead of getting down, Crawford responded with stellar play in the late going. "We kept telling ourselves to keep running out, keep running out, stay positive," Crawford said. "We definitely didn't want that to be our last game."

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One thing potentially in the Rays favor in today's Game 4 is how Rangers manager Ron Washington plowed through his bullpen in Game 3. The Rangers used six relievers, and even brought in closer Neftali Perez with two outs in the eighth inning - who ended up allowing the go-ahead run after giving up a walk and the run-scoring single by John Jaso. Washington faced several questions after the game about his use of the bullpen and said the killer was Perez's walk that moved the go-ahead run into scoring position. "(If we don't walk the hitter) we get out of the inning with a tie ballgame," Washington said, "and I'm bringing my closer in there anyway."


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Looking back, the Rays could've blown open Saturday's Game 3 several times. They put runners on base in every inning except the third, and stranded seven runners between the fourth and eighth innings, including five in scoring position.

The ugly rundown:

Fourth inning: Carlos Penaflied out to right with runners on first and second and two outs.

Fifth inning:Carl Crawford struck out swinging with runners on first and second and two outs.

Sixth inning: AfterB.J. Upton's run-scoring double, Jason Bartlett flied out to right with runners on second and third and two outs.

Seventh inning: With one out and a runner on second, Crawford struck out looking and Evan Longoria grounded out to second.

Eighth inning: The Rays did score twice to take a 3-2 lead, but John Jaso was stranded at second when Ben Zobrist popped up to second to end the inning.

Those wasted chances ended up playing no factor. for the Rays "Everybody really picked it up," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "The whole attitude in the dugout, the spirit, everything just came to life.

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The Rays might have lost a shot at a huge inning in the sixth because of a base-running blunder by rightfielder Matt Joyce. With Joyce on first and one out, Dan Johnson lined a single to right. Joyce looked like he was going to try for third, but suddenly slammed on the brakes after rounding second.

Rangers rightfielder Nelson Cruz fired the ball to second baseman Ian Kinsler, who tagged out Joyce as he was trying to dive back safely to second.

Instead of having runners on first and second with one out, the Rays had a runner on first with two outs.

"I was trying to be aggressive," Joyce said. "I looked up and saw (third base coach Tom Foley giving me) the stop sign. And I was caught in no man's land."

There's no way to say for certain that the following events still would have played out the way they did, but after Joyce was thrown out, Carlos Penawalked and B.J. Upton hit a double.

"It should've been a couple of runs," Joyce said. "Fortunately, it didn't come back to bite us."

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No Cliff Lee today

There was some talk the Rangers could bring back postseason star and Game 1 winner Cliff Lee today on three days rest, but manager Ron Washington said that will not happen. "We have never done it before," Washington said. "We checked the numbers and the numbers say that not very many pitchers have been able to come back and do that.''

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Local support

The crowd at Ferg's Sports Bar across the street from Tropicana Field took credit for the Rays' comeback win Saturday night, employing the inside-out-and-backwards rally cap to inspire Tampa Bay's come-from-behind win.

"Extremely nervous," is how St. Petersburg's Steve Kulchar described his state early in the game as the Rays fell behind 2-1 heading into the later innings.

But things turned Tampa Bay's way in the top of the eighth as the Rays scored three runs - drawing loud roars - before tacking on two insurance runs in the ninth, helping force today's Game 4 in the AL Division Series.

After the Rays took the lead, Kulchar was reminded to get his cap back on right by Kelly Harpin, 28, of Tampa.

"That's bad luck to wear a rally cap when we're up!" she roared.

Alls well that ended well.

"We turned the corner," Kulchar said as bartenders gave out complimentary blue shots to celebrate the win. "That's called a rally."

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Bullpen saves it

The unsung star of Saturday's Game 3 win was the Rays bullpen. Randy Choate, Joaquin Benoit and Rafael Soriano combined to pitch the final three innings, allowing just one hit. That was the Nelson Cruz homer in the ninth off Soriano when the Rays already led 6-2. Choate retired the lone batter he faced, Benoit went 12/3 innings and Soriano pitched the ninth. It was the first chance in the series that the Rays even had to get Benoit and Soriano into a game because they're usually reserved for hold and save situations.

"Our bullpen had a better day,'' Choate said. "We needed to get Joaquin and Sori the ball. They hadn't gotten to throw. Obviously, that's our eighth, ninth inning closer. It was nice to get the ball to them.''

That's because when they do get the ball, the Rays almost always win.

"I don't want to say 'Game over,' but those guys have been pretty impressive all year,'' Choate said.

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Family ties

With LF Carl Crawford's hometown of Houston just four hours away from Rangers Ballpark, he had some family in the stands for Saturday's game. That included his second cousins, Jacolby Conway, 19, and his brother Jacorey, 11, both wearing Crawford's jersey. The last time they had seen Crawford play was in May when the Rays were in Houston. "I'm actually a Rangers fan - don't tell Carl that," Jacolby said, smiling. "It's great being here, great to see him doing great things in the league."

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Glove save and a beauty

Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett turned in the defensive play of the game, making a diving stop on a Nelson Cruz liner with two on and two outs in the bottom of the sixth. With the score tied at 1, the Rangers had runners on first and second with two outs when Cruz ripped a shot up the middle. Barlett look two steps left and snagged the ball while diving. The catch saved at least one run. "Huge play," pitcher Matt Garza said. "Looking back, I'm like 'Thank God.' I made a mistake pitch and he didn't hit it out the yard. So, thank you, and great play by (Bartlett.)." Bartlett's great play probably saved second-base umpire Jeff Kellogg some grief. Moments earlier, it appeared the Rangers' Elvis Andrus would have been the third out while attempting to steal second base. Andrus beat the throw, but replays showed he slid past the bag while Bartlett was still applying the tag. Kellogg gave a long look, but called Andrus safe. "I couldn't tell," Bartlett said. "I heard (the replays showed he was out,) but I really couldn't tell. I didn't want to argue and be that guy." The key was Bartlett regaining his focus immediately to make the run-saving, diving catch. "Defensively, you just have to keep going on to the next one," Bartlett said. "I'm not helping out the pitcher or the team if I'm still worrying about the last play."