Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Memorial Day Miracle: Tribe Rallies to Defeat Rays With 7 Run Ninth

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If you are a Tribe fan, Memorial Day 2009 is best referenced as the Memorial Day Miracle, if you are a fan of the Rays, it is best known as the Memorial Day Massacre.  The Rays held a 10-0 lead with David Price on the mound.  The Rays would hold a 10-4 lead in the bottom of the ninth inning only to watch the Cleveland Indians mount a 7 run uprising, finished off by a walk off 2-run single by Rays nemesis Victor Martinez, to win 11-10 (boxscore).


Memorial Day marks the first benchmark of the baseball season.   The Rays and Indians would meet on Memorial Day 2009 to play the first game of a four game series.  The season had started out slow for the Rays following their surprising appearance in the World Series in 2008. The Rays record stood at 16-20 after a disappointing loss to the Cleveland Indians at Tropicana Field on May 14th.  The Rays, led by BJ Upton, would go onto win the next three games in a series that frustrated the Indians and culminated with a benches clearing brawl in the series finale (recap series video here).  The Rays seemed to right the ship over the next week or so as they came into Progressive Field winners of 7 of their last 10 to even their record at 23-23.  The Rays were now playing with the energy of a team ready to defend its American League Title and to make that push the Rays recalled left handed pitcher David Price from Durham to join their rotation.  

Price would face a Cleveland Indians team that had mild expectations of competing for the AL Central  after finishing the last eight weeks of the 2008 campaign with the second best record in the American League at 35-21.  Over the offseason, the Indians added versatile Mark DeRosa in a New Years Eve trade and signed closer Kerry Wood as a free agent contract.  The season hadn't worked out as the Indians or their fans had hoped.  On Memorial Day, the Indians entered play at 17-28 and in last place in the AL Central. 

The Rays were entering their private house of horrors as they had a record of 12-34 at Progressive Field and had lost 13 straight games.  The last victory in Cleveland was a nightmare game for the Indians as the Tribe was trying to keep pace with the Chicago White Sox for the Division Crown and the staving off the Red Sox and Yankees for the AL Wild Card.  Seth McClung, "Big Red" would pitch the game of his life throwing 8 shutout innings before turning the game over to former Indian Danys Baez to save the 1-0 victory (boxscore) for the Rays.  The Indians would fall short of the playoffs in 2005, despite 93 wins, and many fans point to the Rays series (Rays won 2 of 3) as a big reason why they failed to advance to the playoffs.

Indians starter Fausto Carmona would work a perfect top of the first including two strikeouts.  The second inning would see Carmona lose home plate.  He would walk the first four hitters (Carlos Pena, Willy Aybar, Ben Zobrist, and Gabe Gross) to force in a run before striking out catcher Dioner Navarro.  Carmona would find the strike zone only to have Reid Brignac, BJ Upton, and Carl Crawford all deliver run scoring singles.  Crawford would steal second base and Evan Longoria would draw a walk, and Carmona's day was finished.  Jensen Lewis would relieve Carmona with the Indians trailing 5-0 and retire Carlos Pena and Willy Aybar to end the inning.   The Rays would add two more runs against Jensen Lewis thanks to a two-run home run by Gabe Gross in the top of the third to extend their lead to 7-0.

Manager Eric Wedge would try to extend Jensen Lewis for a third inning of work, but Lewis was unable to respond.  In the top of the fourth, Lewis would walk Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria before yielding a run scoring hit to Carlos Pena before being relieved by Rich Rundles who would make his only appearance of 2009.  Rundles would retire Willy Aybar for the first out before giving up a run scoring double to Evan Longoria, issuing a walk to Gabe Gross, and hitting Dioner Navarro with the bases loaded and forcing in a run.  Rundles would strike out Reid Brignac and get BJ Upton to ground out to end the inning.  The Rays would enter the bottom of the fourth with a 10-0 lead.

David Price, making his 2009 debut, had struggled with his control and inability to efficiently finish Indian hitters off through the first three innings of play.  Although Price enjoyed a 10-0 lead, Rays manager Joe Maddon would not allow Price to overextend himself past the 100 pitch count.  Price would give up a lead off single to Mark DeRosa and Ryan Garko would hit a two run homer to put the Indians on the board.  Price would then strikeout Indians rookie Matt LaPorta before issuing back to back walks to Ben Francisco and Jamey Carroll.  The last pitch to Jamey Carroll was David Price's 100th pitch of the game, and as expected Joe Maddon went and made the pitching change, summoning Lance Cormier to the mound.  Cormier would retire Grady Sizemore and Victor Martinez to end the Indians half of the fourth inning.

Thayer.  Thayer would give up consecutive singles to Shin-Soo Choo,  Mark DeRosa, and Ryan Garko before inducing a 5-4-3 double play off the bat of Matt LaPorta.  Ben Francisco would deliver a two out run scoring single to make the score 10-4.  Jamey Caroll would fly out to end the inning.

The Indians would enter the home half of the ninth inning trailing 10-4.  Rays manager Joe Maddon would allow Dale Thayer to finish the game and give the rest of his bullpen the night off.  Dale Thayer would do nothing to inspire confidence in his manager by walking Grady Sizemore to leadoff the inning.  Thayer would rebound by getting Victor Martinez out on an infield pop fly for the first out.   Johnny Peralta would line a single to put Indian runners at 1st and 2nd with one out and Joe Maddon would remove Dale Thayer from the game and bring in Randy Choate to face Shin-Soo Choo.  Choate would get a ground ball to short that would at least get the force out at second, but young shortstop Reid Brignac threw the ball wildly to second for the error which allowed Grady Sizemor to race around to score making the score 10-5.  Maddon would again head to the mount to replace Randy Choate with Grant Balfour.

Balfour entered the game with a comfortable 5 run lead and runners at 2nd and 3rd with one out.  Balfour would get Mark DeRosa to line out for the second out in the inning before Ryan Garko would hit a three run homer to tighten the game up 10-8.  With nobody on and 2-out the chances for an Indian rally were still slim.  Balfour increased the odds by walking pinch hitter Asdrubal Cabrera bringing the tying run to the plate.  Again, Joe Maddon would go to the mound and make a pitching change, this time bringing in Jason Insringhausen. 

The recently activated Isringhausen was making only his fourth appearance on the year and was unscored on upon in his previous three appearances.  Isringhausen would walk the first three batters he faced., Ben Francisco, Jamey Carroll, and Grady Sizemore, to force in a run and make it a 10-9 game.  The Indians had the bases loaded, only trailed by a run, and had Rays nemesis Victor Martinez at the plate.  Martinez would line the 2-2 pitch right back up the middle, scoring two runs and give the Indians the walk off 11-10 victory in one of the most improbable comebacks in Indians history.  The Indians would score their 7 runs on only 3 hits.  The Rays pitching staff would issue 5 walks and Reid Brignac would commit an error which allowed the Indians to piece together the ninth inning comeback.

The Indians would extend the Rays losing streak in Cleveland to 17 straight games by defeating the Rays in each of the next three games.  The Rays would lose their 18th straight game in Cleveland on July 23, 2010 before finally winning a 6-3 game, won by David Price, on July 24, 2010 (boxscore).

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