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07/06/2008 Archived Entry: "World Baseball Today (July 6, 2008)"

by Bruce Baskin
Radio Miami International

The Magical Mystery Tour that has been the Tampa Bay Rays 2008 season took another bright turn last week when the Rays swept a three-game series over the Boston Red Sox at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. Tampa Bay has now won eight of their past ten games, and their 52-32 record is the best in Major League Baseball. More important, the sweep over the fading world champion Red Sox (who’ve lost five games in a row) gives the Rays a three-and-a-half game lead over Boston in the American League East Division standings.
The Rays completed their sweep in classic fashion last Wednesday night with a come-from-behind 7-6 win over the Bosox in front of a sellout crowd of over 36,000 at The Trop. Tampa Bay was trailing Boston 4-1 before exploding for six runs in the seventh inning, sending eleven batters to the plate in the frame. Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett had two hits in the seventh, starting the inning with a leadoff double, stealing third and then being driven in by an Akinori Iwamura infield hit; then stroking a two-out, two-run single to put the Rays up 7-4.
The Red Sox were able to close the gap to 7-6 in the ninth when Manny Ramirez scored on a Kevin Youkilis drive to center field that B.J. Upton made a highlight reel catch on. With Mike Lowell on first and Jason Varitek at bat, Rays catcher Dioner Navarro took a second-strike pitch from Dan Wheeler and caught Lowell napping with a snap throw for the second out. It was left to Wheeler to strike Varitek out looking to earn the save and give the Rays their 33rd win in 46 home games.
While Tampa Bay is alone atop the AL East standings, the Chicago White Sox lead the Central Division with a 49-35 record, 2.5 games ahead of 47-38 Minnesota. The 51-34 Los Angeles Angels lead the AL West at 5.5 games up on 45-39 Oakland.

Florida Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez has been named the National League’s Player of the Month for June. Ramirez batted .298 in June, whacking ten homers, scoring 27 runs and going 7-for-7 in stolen base attempts. Ramirez had multiple homer games on June 4 against Atlanta and June 8 against Cincinnati. The 24-year-old leads all shortstops in voting for the National League All-Star team, and becomes the first Marlins player to win Player of the Month honors since Jeff Conine did it in 1995. Florida third baseman Jorge Cantu also received votes for Player of the Month in June. Marlins outfielder Cody Ross said of Ramirez, “Nothing he does surprises us anymore. He’s just amazing.”
The Marlins beat the Washington Nationals 4-2 Wednesday night to keep pace with the Philadelphia Phillies in the National League’s East Division race. The Phils lead the division with a 46-39 record, a game-and-a-half ahead of 44-40 Florida. In the NL Central, the Chicago Cubs have the best record in the league at 51-34 and are 2.5 games ahead of the 49-37 St. Louis Cardinals. The Arizona Diamondbacks lead the sad-sack National League West with a 42-43 mark, 1.5 games up on the 40-44 LA Dodgers.

The USA Baseball National Team completed a sweep of their six-game series with Taiwan last Tuesday with a 5-3 win in Cary, North Carolina. Christian Colon of Cal State-Fullerton and Ryan Lipkin from San Francisco each drilled two-run doubles to key the victory at the USA Baseball National Training Facility.
Playing as the home team, Taiwan scored an unearned run in the bottom of the first inning to take the lead, but Team USA turned in a three-run third and never looked back. Colon opened the American scoring with his two-run double on a full count, and was driven in by a single from Tennessee’s Kentrail Davis.
Taiwan narrowed the score to 3-2 when Lin Chih-Hsiang scored on a wild pitch in the fourth, but Lipkin’s two-run double in the top of the fifth made it a 5-2 advantage for the Americans. Team USA starter Kyle Gibson of Missouri allowed one earned run on one hit with seven strikeouts over five innings to register the win, while Liao Wen-Yang took the loss for the Taiwanese by letting in five runs on six hits in six innings on the mound. Colon finished the game 3-for-5 with a run and two RBIs. He was the only American with more than one hit.

Hopes were high when pitcher Daniel Rios came to the Japan’s Yakult Swallows in the offseason after he posted a 20-win season in Korea last year. A former New York Yankees and Kansas City Royals player, Rios had double-digit wins for six consecutive seasons in the KBO, and the Swallows were hoping he would bring depth to their starting rotation in 2008.
Instead, the 35-year-old Rios struggled to a 2-7 record for Yakult with a 5.46 ERA before being dropped from the Swallows’ Central League roster June 2, and things got worse after he failed a drug test conducted after a May 21 game. According to Nippon Professional Baseball, the test showed traces of a metabolite of the banned anabolic steroid stanozolal. A second urine sample taken from Rios showed trains of the same substance. NPB suspended Rios for one year, and the right-handed was released by the Swallows last week.
Rios becomes the third import player in Japanese baseball to be suspended for using banned substances within a year. Last August, Softbank Hawks pitcher Rick Guttormson was suspended for 20 days for the use of finasteride, which was contained in a hair-growing agent he’d been using for two years. In May of this year, Yomiuri Giants infielder Luis Gonzalez was suspended for a year after a drug test turned up three different banned substances.

The Woori Heroes joined the Korea Baseball Organization this year under cloudy circumstances after the Hyundai Unicorns suspended operations after the 2007 season, and now the Heroes have missed the deadline for the first installment of their franchise fee. The deadline for the $2.3 million payment was last Monday, and the money was going to be used to cover severance packages to former Unicorns front office employees and to pay outstanding player bonuses or options.
Instead, the team skipped the payment with no explanation. The Heroes paid the KBO an initial $1.2 million in February, but nothing since. According to KBO bylaws, teams that don’t pay expansion fees can be dismissed from the league if two-thirds of the league’s owners consent to the expulsion.

The Monclova Acereros and Monterrey Sultanes occupy the top two slots in the Mexican League’s Northern Division second half standings, and the rivals locked up in an epic pitcher’s duel last Tuesday night in Monclova. The Acereros snuck away with a 1-0 win to stretch their record to 21-10, two games ahead of the 19-12 Sultanes.
The game was a scoreless tie going into the bottom of the eleventh inning when Monterrey reliever Jose Silva gave up a leadoff single to Jesse Gutierrez. It looked like the game might go into a twelfth frame when the next batter, Pedro Diaz, grounded into a 3-6-3 double play to erase Gutierrez; but then Gonzalo Meza, Saul Soto and Domingo Castro all stroked consecutive singles, with Meza scoring the game’s only run on Castro’s safety to end the contest.
While Monclova and Monterrey are the top two teams in the North, a three-way battle for first place has developed in the Mexican League South. The Mexico City Diablos Rojos continue to lead the standings with a 21-10 record, but the Quintana Roo Tigres and Campeche Piratas are tied for second at 19-11, just a game-and-a-half out of first as the league enters the final month of the regular season.

The Netherlands National Baseball Team is hosting a six-team tournament in Haarlem this week. Besides the Dutchmen, teams in the competition include Cuba, Japan, Taiwan, the United States and Netherlands Antilles. The tournament opened last Friday and will run through Sunday, July 13.
Dutch manager Robert Eenhorn and his staff named a 26-man roster for the host team, including three newcomers: Corendon Kinheim pitcher Nick Veltkamp, L&D Amsterdam hurler Pim Walsma and Amsterdam outfielder Wesley Connor. Connor is playing in Holland this year after several seasons in the Minnesota Twins organization.
Other Dutch team members include outfielder Eugene Kingsale of DOOR Neptunas, who missed most of last year with a knee injury, and catcher Tjerk Smeets, who had the game-winning hit for Kinheim in last month’s European Cup title game.
The Haarlem Baseball Week festival is in its 24th year in 2008.

As the German Baseball League enters the month of July, the league’s North and South Divisions each feature two teams that have broken away from the pack and established clear superiority over the competition.
In the German League North, the Solingen Alligators swept the Dortmund Wanderers in a two-game series last weekend to run their record to a league-best 22-1, while the Paderborn Untouchables remain right on Solingen’s heels at 21-3 after pounding the Neunkirchen Nightmare over two games by a composite score of 53-8. The Cologne Cardinals are in third place in the North with a 13-10 record, nine games out of the lead.
In the South Division, the Heidenheim Heidekopfe beat the Regensburg Legionaere twice last weekend to open up a one-game lead over Regensburg. Heidenheim scored three runs in the first inning and won the opener by a 7-4 margin, and ex-major leaguer Mike Hartley shut out Regensburg 7-0 in the second contest. After the series, Heidenheim had a 19-5 record to Regensburg’s 17-5 mark.

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