05/09/10 10:00 PM ET
Rays respect Braden's accomplishment
'He's a battler. He's a competitor,' Shields says of opponent
By Eric Gilmore / MLB.com
For the second time in less than a year, the Rays were on the wrong side of a perfect game.
Chicago White Sox left-hander Mark Buehrle threw a perfect game against the Rays last season on July 23 at U.S. Cellular Field.
On Sunday, Oakland A's left-hander Dallas Braden pitched a perfect game in a 4-0 victory over Tampa Bay.
The Rays, who fell to 22-9, have now been no-hit three times in franchise history, and two of those were on perfect games. Derek Lowe, then with the Boston Red Sox, also no-hit Tampa Bay on April 27, 2002.
The Rays are the second team to be victimized by two straight perfectos. The Reds' Tom Browning threw the 12th perfect game in Major League history against the Dodgers in September 1988, and the Expos' Dennis Martinez followed with the 13th perfect game, also against the Dodgers, in July 1991.
"He threw great," Rays right fielder Ben Zobrist said of Braden. "He threw a great game, obviously. He mixed his pitches really well. He didn't leave very much over the middle of the plate. He kept us off-balance with his changeup, kept hitting the corner with the inside fastball. He did a really good job."
On April 28 at Tropicana Field, the Rays battered Braden for eight hits and six runs over four innings in a 10-3 rout. This time, the Rays got Braden's best stuff.
"This guy, he's a battler. He's a competitor," Rays starter James Shields said. "That's what I like about him. He competes every single time out, no matter if he gets hit around the time before or not. He deserved that today. He pitched his butt off. You've got to respect that."
Earlier in the season, Yankees hard-throwing left-hander CC Sabathia one-hit the Rays. But the Rays seem to have a bigger problem against lefties who rely more on control and offspeed pitches than heat. Rays manager Joe Maddon said Braden and Buehrle pose similar problems when they're on.
"They're similar kinds of pitchers, actually," Maddon said. "That's what it comes down to. There are some similarities between the kind of velocity, the kind of pitch selection Braden uses and Buehrle uses. They're very similar in a lot of ways.
"He just kept us off-balance with his change of speeds. He had good command of his changeup and that really mattered a lot, because he was able to get a lot of called strikes and then he was throwing his fastball in."
The Rays hit only a handful of balls hard, and most of those went almost directly at well-placed A's fielders. Shortstop Jason Bartlett led off the game with a line drive down the line, but A's third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff made a leaping grab.
Gabe Kapler nearly ended Buehrle's bid for perfection last year, sending a deep fly to center leading off the ninth. But center fielder Dewayne Wise made a leaping catch to rob him of a home run.
In the sixth inning Sunday, Kapler gave Braden a tough 12-pitch battle with two outs. He sent one pitch deep into the left-field seats but foul. He hit two other pitches hard but foul. Ultimately, Kapler popped out to Kouzmanoff in foul territory.
"When he needed to, he made good pitches," Kapler said. "It wasn't about getting close. When he needed to make his pitch he made it. He made it all day."
One inning earlier, the Rays were so desperate to get on base that cleanup hitter Evan Longoria attempted a drag bunt. It went foul, and he wound up striking out.
Maddon said he was fine with Longoria's attempt to get something started with a bunt, although some might consider that a violation of one of baseball's unwritten rules.
"We're trying to score runs there," Maddon said. "We're not just trying to permit him to go into the record books. Our intent is to win the game. And actually if he gets it down, who knows what could have happened. That's one of those other unwritten rules that I'm not a subscriber to."
With one out in the ninth inning, Rays catcher Dioner Navarro lined out to left field, forcing Eric Patterson to backpedal a few steps.
"I knew he would catch it," Navarro said. "As soon as I hit it, I knew he was going to catch it.
"He pitched a great game. Strike one. He got ahead of almost every batter. He did a great job. He mixed his pitches good. He just did a great job today."
After Navarro's out, Kapler came to the plate for the third time. He worked Braden to a 3-1 count but grounded out to shortstop Cliff Pennington, capping the perfect game.
No team in baseball history that has been "perfected" has had a higher winning percentage than the Rays' .733 entering the game.
"Obviously you don't want to be on this end of it," Kapler said. "Give Braden credit for pitching well. He mixed up his pitches. He threw the ball to both sides of the plate."
Eric Gilmore is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.