Saturday, July 16, 2011

Zobrist Slam Downs Red Sox; Karstens Shuts Out Astros, 4-0; Pirates Take First Place

Players of the Day for Friday, July 15, 2011

American League

Ben Zobrist
If there's one thing the Tampa Bay Rays don't want, it's to become irrelevant to the outcome of the AL East race, especially with first place Boston in town for a three game series, so, with David Price on the bump, they looked to open the second half with a home win.

Iy didn't exactly turn out as planned, but the Rays got their win, despite four Red Sox homers, offset mostly by a Ben Zobrist grand slam.

The Rays jumped all over Boston starter Andrew Miller, scoring seven runs over the course of the first three innings, all charged to Miller.

Zobrist got things started when he and Evan Longoria walked in the 1st, with Zobrist scoring on B.J. Upton's one- out single.

In the 2nd, Zobrist came to the plate with the bases loaded and one out, unloading off Miller with the grand slam to left, putting the Rays up, 5-1. In the 3rd, Zobrist again got to the plate with nowhere to put him, but reliever Alfredo Aceves walked him, was Zobrist walked in his 5th RBI of the night.

Tampa would survive the four home runs (all solo shots except for Marco Scutero's 2-run blast in the 7th) for the 9-6 win, getting to within five games of the Sox, with the Yankees failing to take advantage, remaining 1 1/2 back after two consecutive losses in Toronto.

National League

Jeff Karstens
There were at least two things well known about the NL Central this season. One was that the division was likely to be a multiple-team scramble; the second was that the pirates were loaded with young talent, but that's been the case for most of the past decade of discomfort in Pittsburgh.

Normally, the Pirates would win some, lose more, and finish near or at the bottom of baseball's most competitive division. This is not a normal season, however, as the 48-43 Pirates took over first place by percentage points over the 49-44 Cardinals, thanks to Brandon Phillips' 9th inning homer, which gave the Reds a 6-5 win, and Jeff Karstens' 5-hit, complete game shutout, as the Pirates beat Houston, 4-0, the seventh win in their last nine outings.

Karstens, 8-4, locked down the punchless Astros, getting 14 of the first 15 Houston batters in order and cruised to the victory without allowing a walk, fanning two, for his fourth straight win and fifth in his last six starts.

His teammates supported his mound efforts with a run in the 1st, two more in the third and another in the 8th. It was Karstens second career shutout and his first since 2008.

The Pirates lead in the division, their first after the all star break since 1997, is tenuous. They are tied in the standings with St. Louis, with Milwaukee 1/2 game off the pace and the Reds lurking, three games back.

Pittsburgh fans better enjoy it while it's there. After their three-game series with Houston ends, the Bucs close out July with 13 straight games against the Reds, Cardinals, Braves and Phillies. If they're still even close to the lead on August 1, that will be something to shout about.

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