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Closing Time: Another rally from the Rays

Scott Pianowski
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The Rays had the most important and exciting win of the Wednesday slate, a 14-inning corker at Boston, so we'll tip the Closing Time cap to them and give them the lead items.

Evan Longoria (arm) took 30 swings Wednesday and felt great, according to the Tampa Tribune, and there's a chance he might get a quick rehab game at Durham. Either way the club expects Longoria to take live BP at New York Friday, and possibly play against the Yankees that night. Willy Aybar hasn't been bad as a temporary fill-in - he's at .294 since Aug. 1, with five homers - but obviously Joe Maddon will make room for Longoria as soon as the kid is ready.

A sore back dogged Troy Percival Wednesday and he was lifted from the game in the 14th after loading the bases. Jason Hammel closed up shop in place of the veteran; look for Dan Wheeler to step back into the ninth-inning role for the next few days while the team evaluates where Percival is at.

Carlos Pena's deciding homer Wednesday wasn't the blast of the century, but don't let that .263 average in the second half fool you, he's been clouting the ball for a while (.577 slugging, .988 OPS since the break). I can see him being a downright afforable 30-40 homers at the table next March.

Matt Garza and James Shields are set to flip-flop in the Tampa Bay rotation; Garza goes Friday against the Yanks, and Shields follows Saturday afternoon. The move was made in part because Maddon wants Garza pitching one of the double-header games against Baltimore on Sept. 23; Shields is a safer bet to go deeper in any game, and that saves the bullpen when it's needed most. Maddon hasn't made it clear how Tampa Bay will handle the second game that day, which opens the door for speculation on David Price. I can't imagine why the club doesn't want Price with the club earlier, but they don't consult me on these details.

Mark Teixeira sat out Wednesday afternoon due to an infection and temperature, and while it's not a serious thing, the Angels now have the AL West locked up and can be as deliberate as they want to be with their nicked guys. It doesn't make sense to put the main guys on ice for two weeks - you need some sharpness entering October - but a day off here and there for the big names won't come as any shock. Plan accordingly.

Derek Lowe took a line drive off his right knee in the sixth inning against San Diego. It was a shame to see him leave (5.1 IP, 1 R), but the Dodgers cruised without him and he kept his victory. This doesn't seem like the sort of thing that will keep him from his next turn but we'll see what we learn through the end of the week.

Armando Galarraga had a rough turn for the second straight outing Wednesday, which makes you wonder if the Tigers will opt to close him down for the year. "He looks like he's starting to run on empty a little bit," Jim Leyland told the team's official site.

Two more hits for Elijah Dukes, including homer No. 11. He's doing all he can to wreck the sleeper value for next year (in competitive leagues, forget it), but in less-competitive groups, take heart that many of your opponents checked out two weeks ago. Dukes should bag a 20-20 season easily in 2009, and 30-30 looks very much within reach. I'm probably going to own more Nationals next year than a rational fantasy owner should (Lastings Milledge, I'm looking at you).

Make it seven saves from Luis Ayala, who's really bailed out the Mets since he came to town. The Nationals can't figure out what happened to the guy who pitched underhand over 62 appearances (5.77 ERA, 1.47 WHIP). Thankfully the Ayala redemption keeps Aaron Heilman out of high-leverage situations; he worked the sixth inning Wednesday and promptly fritted away Mike Pelfrey's lead (Pelfrey didn't have it either, but that's beside the point).

David Wright was in line for last year's MVP before his team took the pipe over the last two weeks. Maybe he's going to get the trophy a year later (4-for-4, homer Wednesday). Give me one position player to start a new team with, tomorrow, and he's at least in the conversation.

I can't promise anything with Oakland's offense and rotation next year, but this has the looks of a nasty, nasty bullpen. Brad Ziegler (save No. 8 Wednesday) and Joey Devine just don't allow runs these days, Huston Street is starting to come around, and Santiago Casilla was dynamic earlier in the year. The underrated Ryan Sweeney led the bats in the win over Detroit, rapping out a couple of hits including his fifth homer. He's been parked in the 2-3-4 slots of late, so Bob Geren is clearly a believer.

Injury Lap: Rafael Furcal (back) took some at-bats in a simulated game Wednesday and the club is hoping Furcal might be able to play again this year. Given that Furcal needs to run to be a fantasy factor and he's coming off surgery, I'm not clearing the runway here . . . Brad Penny (shoulder) is off the disabled list but he's going to be a middle reliever for the Dodgers. Don't bother . . . Yadier Molina suffered a thigh bruise Wednesday and is probably going to miss a couple of days . . . Troy Glaus had another shot in his shoulder and probably won't go the rest of the week . . . Carlos Guillen (back) says he's feeling much better, but the Tigers keep pushing back the return date and you have to wonder if it will happen . . . Milton Bradley (back) wants to return Thursday, probably so he can injure some other part of his body. Get the Milt-o-Meter ready.

The need for speed: Josh Beckett had his good stuff for the second turn in a row (6 IP, 1 R, 7 K), so fear not, Red Sox Nation . . . Kyle Lohse dropped the appeal of his five-game suspension, so we won't see him again until next week . . . You probably won't add Brad Hennessey even off his six strong innings against Arizona (4 H, 1 R), but any mention of his name allows me to loosely segue into this timeless ditty from the late 1980s . . . Another homer for Taylor Teagarden, giving him four shots in 24 Texas at-bats. I just wish we had more of a minor-league resume to get behind . . . Brian Moehler negotiated six scoreless innings over the Pirates and bagged his 11th win, but you have to be skeptical of any successful turn that comes without a strikeout. Still, when you get 14 ground balls for 18 outs, you're doing something right . . . The Indians haven't forgotten about Kelly Shoppach even with Victor Martinez's return. Shoppach clouted a couple of homers against Baltimore, and has gotten the majority of catching starts over the last week (five of eight) . . . Good to see Jerry Hairston Jr. back on the field this week. He homered off CC Sabathia Wednesday.

Fred Lewis was a heck of a story for most of 2008, but the book is now closed on the underrated Giant for the season. He's set to have season-ending foot surgery on Friday (removing a bunion). Nate Schierholtz gets the short-term bump, pushed into a regular job for the last two weeks, but Lewis surely will be considered a regular as the Giants assemble their 2009 plan over the winter.

Handshakes that didn't make our survey: Salomon Torres (27, three strikeouts), J.J. Putz (13), Kerry Wood (29, backing a sharp Ted Lilly), and of course Jose Valverde (42) and Francisco Rodriguez (56).

I'm going to spend some time Thursday reflecting on the events of seven years ago. No heavy message here, I just think it's important to appreciate what you have, and how quickly things can be taken away. Hope you collected a bunch of stats tonight, and we'll have another look under the hood 24 hours from now.

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