October 2008

World Series Matchups…………………Field Players’ and Bench.

 

 

Okay, now that we are a mements away from the biggest game in  the Tampa Bay Rays history, we have to select and disect and rumble under the hood to see what team maight have a “leg up” on this series. you can look at it in a million different angles, toss the cliche’s out the window, and book the champagne for almost anytime after the 4th game. This series is about the under-30 stars of Major League Baseball.

 

I do not know if this is the youngest accumulated age on a World Series roster, but it is one of the most exciting to me, and not just becuase the home team is involved in it. This series might just be the stepping stone to one of these two teams going on a spree of a few years of domination in their divisions. Time will tell if this hold true, but for now, let’s match these guys up and see where they fall:

 

Catchers:

 

Now I know that the Phillies have gotten alot of great contributions from their starting catcher, Carlos Ruiz in the regular season and in the playoffs up to tonight. He  hit .313 with 5 hits in the NLCS, and has hit only .200 in the entire playoffs this year. Ruiz  has been a constant plus behind the plate for the Phillies.

 

But you have to admit that the Rays Dioner Navarro has risen from the ashes to become one of the up and coming catchers in the MLB. He started his journey after the All-Star game last year by improving his plate discipline and taking more chances at the plate. In the off season, he went back to Venezulea and worked out and even played some Winter ball to get into the best shape of his career.

 

He came back to the Rays in Spring Training leaner and meaner than any other time in his brief career. This was his pitching staff to lose, and he went about his job with confidience and a renewed vigor that translated to the young staff. He may of only hit .268, with 5 RBI’s in the playoffs so far, but his leadership behind the plate, and his cannon on his arm lead to the Boston Red Sox only getting 2 stolen bases the entire series.

 

 

ADVANTAGE:   Dioner Navarro of the Tampa Bay Rays.

 

First Basemen:

 

Ryan Howard is a superstar in the league at a young age. I compare the pressure on him to the amount thrust upon a young Ken Griffey Junior when he was in Seattle. Howard has risen to the challenge more times than not this season. In the regular season, he hit 48 homers, with 146 RBI’s while striking out 199 times at the plate. He is not a liablity at first base as a defender, but he did post 16 errors this past season.

 

Carlos Pena has been one of the cornerstones of the Rays offense for the past 2 years. This year an injury in Boston took him out of the flow early and he is just getting his stroke back now in the playoffs. Some people believe if you are going to peak as a hitter, it a gift to peak in the playoffs. I think Pena, who hit .245 for the year with only 31 homers during the regular season is just getting started after stroking 3 homers, with 8 RBI’s. Pena has also posted a .333 average in the playoffs so far for the Rays.

 

The one thing Pena has going for him over Howard in a big way is his defense. For the season, Pena only committed 2 errors in 991 put outs. Pena has made the Rays defense better by being a Gold Glove caliber fielder on a team with high-throwers like Evan Longoria and Jason Bartlett. Having Pena at first is worth 1 earned run a game.

 

        

 

ADVANTAGE:   Howard on Offense…………………….Pena on Defense

 

Second Basemen:

 

This is another position where on the Phillies it depends on which hitter shows up for the series. If the Chase Utley shows up who was a MVP, then it is a no-brainer here.  He had an off year by his standards by hitting .292, with 33 homers in the regular season. He also committed 13 errors at second this year. In the playoffs,  he had caught fire and hit .363, with 6 walks  in the NLCS to give the Phillies a  boost in that series.. This series will depend on if the same Utley that sparked in the NLCS comes to head, or the guy who was just a bit above average in the regular season.

Akinora Iwamura had to learn the entire nuances of playing second base in the off season this year.  He came nito camp invigored and willing to put his best foot forward at the position. For the year he made the transition look easy and the smoothness and grace when he makes the double play pivot is ballet in motion.

He had struggle a bit at the plate this year only hitting .274, with 172 hits in the regular season. But he has been a reliable lead-off hitter for the Rays this year. He is one of the hardest players to produce a double play against in the league again this year, and committed only 7 errors at his new position. But his numbers during the playoff have slumped a bit, only hitting .277, with 6 walks after a hot start in the ALDS.

 

 

ADVANTAGE:    Chase Utley of the Philadelphia Phillies 

 

Shortstop:

 

Jimmy Rollins has always been the sparkplug of the Phillies. It is common to think that as Rollins goes, the Phillies go this year. He is the primary base threat on the team, having swiped 47 bases and only been caught 3 times this past regular season. During the playoffs, he has hit only .243, with 5 stolen bases.

 

Jason Bartlett has been a cog pin for the Rays this year on defense. Even though he is the team leader in errors with 16, it was his range and his committment to making the defnese better that has gotten Tampa Bay to the playoffs. The team’s defense is anchored by his play at short this year. Bartlett is hitting only .243 this playoff season, but his solo homer in Game 7 against the Boston Red Sox was a key moment in the game for the Rays.  

 

 

ADVANTAGE:  Jimmy Rollins of the Phillies

 

Third Basemen:

 

The Phillies have had a third baseman by committee outlook most of the season, with Gregg Dobbs holding it down offensively while Pedro Feliz  is the  better man on defense for the Phillies. Dobbs has gone 6 for 11 in the postseason for a .545 average, while Perez has hit a lowly .192 for the Phillies.  Feliz has seen action in 9 postseason games, while Dobbs has been at third in 6 games for the Phillies. Feliz has committed no errors in the playoffs, while Dobbs has been hit with 1 this playoff year.

 

Evan Longoria did not play with the Rays for the first 12 games of the season. He is  a rookie in the league this season, but he has not played like it in the field or at the plate for the Rays. During this playoff season, Longoria has committed 3 errors at third on rushed throws, but his countless stops behind the bag and on liners to the hole have kept the Rays in games this post season.

 

Longoria has hit .262, with 6 homers and 11 RBI’s. He is the clean-up hitter for the Rays as a rookie. A huge honor and responsibility, and had shown great maturity and patience at the plate this year. Longoria is by far the class of the rookies this year in the American League, and should win the Rookie of the Year honors fater the playoffs are completed.

 

 

 

ADVANTAGE:  Evan Longoria of the Tampa Bay Rays.

 

Leftfielders;

 

The Philies have relied on  Pat Burrell most of the year in left for the team. He is working on tired knees, but has been a hustling ball of enery all year for the team. He has hit .300, with 3 homers and 7 RBI this post season, and is coming off a .333 average during the NLCS.

 

Carl Crawford is a two-time All Star for the Rays and missed the enite month of September after surgery to repair a tendon on his right hand. He was expected to take a few weeks to get up to speed, but Crawford had a 5 for 5 night in Game 3 against the Red Sox during the ALCS, that boosted his average to .302 for the playoffs with 6 stolen bases.

 

He is one of two big threats on base for the Rays this post season. He is also one of only 4 outfielders’  to get a triple in the playoffs. The other 3 are also in this World Series.

 

 

ADVANTAGE:   Carl Crawford of the Tampa Bay Rays.

 

Centerfielders':

 

The Phillies have  Shane Victorino in centerfield. Victorino is one of the fastest outfielders in the National League and cover alot of ground that normal outfielder let fall into the gaps. His home stadium of Citizen’s Park is made for a guy with his speed. Victorino has been another offensive star for the Phillies in the playoffs. He has a .281 average with 3 stolen bases and 11 RBI’s.

 

B J Upton is closing in on the all-time homer mark by a single player in the post season. Not even the legendary Reggie Jackson has had a year like Upton this years playoffs. He was truly the offensive MVP  for the American League during the Rays playoff push this year. He currently has a .302 average, with 7 homers and 15 RBI’s. He is also a threat on the basepaths swiping 2 bases during the playoffs.

 

 

       

 

ADVANTAGE:  B J Upton of the Tampa Bay Rays.

 

Rightfielders:

Jason Werth of the Phillies has been a godsend to the team this season.  He is not a guy they wrote into the lineup early in the year, but his offensvie number got better and his outfield arm is second to none in the National League. For the playoffs, he is currently hitting .243, with 4 doubles. It is his defense that has kept the Phillies in games this postseason.

 

The Rays have done a rightfield by pitching matchup this season. Against lefties, Rocco Baldelli has gotten the call this post season for the Rays. After taking time off to conquer a medical situation, Baldelli came on late in the season to sparkplug the Rays rightfield hole. He is hitting only .214, but his 1 homer during the ALCS, and his 5 RBI’s have been huge for the Rays.

 

Gabe Gross has been the player-designate during the righties this year for the Rays. Gross came into the World Series on a batting slump and is currently 1 for 16 in the playoffs. With his bat, his outfield confidence had been ahken and recently he has been replaced in late innings by Ben Zobrist.

 

 

ADVANTAGE: Jason Werth of the Philadelphia Phillies most nights    

                           Rocco Baldelli  of the Tampa Bay Rays against Lefties

 

Bench and DH’s:

The Phillies actually have a great DH on their bench in Matt Stairs. I actually think that the Phillies traded for him with the hope that they would make the World Series and use his experience as a key to their games in the American League parks.  Stairs is also a bit of a Rays-killer, having hit 3 homers and 5 RBI’s off the Rays while with the Toronto Blue Jays earlier in the season. He will be used primarily against the Rays tough right-handers in the series.

 

The Rays have used Cliff Floyd  as their Designated hitter this season against right-handers. Floyd has shown some excellient leadership and set a great postive example for the young Rays. Floyd has hit only .200 for the playoffs with 1 homer and 1 RBI.

But the real star for the Rays has been the play of super-sub Willy Aybar for the team. Aybar, a switch-hitter has come in late in the game as a DH for the Rays, and has been a constant threat at DH against righties this postseason. In Game 3 against the Red Sox, he had a 5 RBI night.

 

Aybar is hitting an impressive  .421, with 2 homers and 6 RBI’s. He has been the Rays secret weapon all  year long off the bench for the team. Rocco Baldelli has also been used as a DH this postseason against left-handers when not stationed in rightfield. The Rays also have a speedster on the bench in Fernado Perez, who was called the “Fastest man in the International League” by Baseball America this season as a pinch-runner.

 

        

 

ADVANTAGE:    The Tampa Bay Rays Bench

 

So with the matchups done for the field players’ you would think I was going to give the edge to the Philadelphia Phillies. I actually think this area both teams are a push in the series. Each team will give and take on defense with the Rays winning the majority of the battles on defense.

 

I would put B J Upton’s arm against anyone in the league, much less anyone on the Phillies. The corner outfielders for both teams will have a say in who is the better team. Both squads hit alot of balls into the gaps and down the lines. How they respond to the plays will be critical in this series. An error in the outfield during this series will cost a team runs.

 

Offensively, I think it is the Phillies strength on offense that gives them the lead right now. They have an explosive lineup that could be crippled a bit by the hard throwing righties of the Rays later in the series. Tonight’s game will go a long way in decididng the winner of this year’s World Series.  I do not think either team will or can win this series based on their fielders’ only.

 

This series will be decided by the next group I matchup later in the day…………..The pitchers’ and the Bullpens. I will post that after 4 p.m. today E.S.T.

 

 

 

Veteran Leftie Gets the Game 1 Nod

 

 

 

ST. PETERSBURG — Manager Joe Maddon announced Tuesday that Scott Kazmir will be the club’s starting pitcher in Game 1 of the World Series on Wednesday night at Tropicana Field, followed by James Shields in Game 2 on Thursday.

American League Championship Series MVP Matt Garza will get the ball for Saturday’s Game 3 in Philadelphia, followed by Andy Sonnanstine in Game 4. That would leave Kazmir, Shields and Garza available for Games 5, 6 and 7, if necessary.

Complete Coverage

Kazmir and Garza will be pitching on five days’ rest, while Shields will be on his normal four days between starts. Sonnanstine hasn’t started since Game 4 of the ALCS on Oct. 14.

The Phillies also officially named their World Series rotation on Tuesday, sticking with the same group and order that was used during the first two rounds of the playoffs. That means that Cole Hamels will pitch Wednesday’s Game 1, followed by Brett Myers for the second game in St. Petersburg. Jamie Moyer, despite his postseason struggles, will remain in the rotation to pitch Game 3 in Philadelphia, and Joe Blanton will start Game 4.

“Basically, [the decision is] based on rest,” Maddon said of the Rays’ rotation. “Kaz is ready to roll. [It] goes a little bit against what we have been doing. But we knew that going into the switch in Boston [when Kazmir and Shields were flipped in the rotation], that it may occur this way. I did not want to bring back Shields short. And theoretically, it puts Shields in this building twice, if it comes down to that.

“You could make a case Andy Sonnanstine [should be] pitching sooner than that. This guy is pitching really well. But I wanted to keep it in that particular order.”

Originally slated to start a potential Game 6 in the American League Championship Series, Kazmir was moved up in the rotation to start Game 5 on Oct. 16 after a disappointing start in Game 2 of the ALCS, when he lasted just 4 1/3 innings, surrendering five runs on six hits. His teammates bailed him out, however, as the Rays won, 9-8, in 11 innings.

The southpaw rebounded nicely at Fenway Park in Game 5, scattering just two hits over six scoreless innings. His effort went unrewarded, as Tampa Bay’s bullpen collapsed. Just seven outs from elimination, Boston erased a seven-run deficit to notch an 8-7 victory.

“Primarily what you’re seeing is his fastball command,” Maddon said. “If you’re around me the next couple of days, you’re going to hear me say fastball command. The other day against the Red Sox, I think you saw more sliders coming back into the mix, which I like. And he’s got a very good changeup. I don’t have a real intelligent explanation, other than I just thought that he got out of his delivery a bit, maybe started overthinking it a little bit. ”

 

 

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Kazmir has not used his slider much this season, never feeling really comfortable with the pitch thought to be his best entering this season. That was not the case in Game 5.

“The one thing that I saw was more slider, and he had some big strikeouts with it, too,” Maddon said. “That was primarily the difference. I thought I could just see his body language. He was really developing a rhythm out there with what he was doing. That’s what I saw as being different. His confidence was beginning to build up as the game progressed.

 

 

“All I’ve been trying to promote to him is narrowing the focus, seeing the catcher’s glove, and trying to prevent overthinking. When it comes to this game, there’s so much time to pause and reflect before something happens. And that’s why I used to love playing football ‑- you never had that time. You get hit once and you’re good. In baseball, you have all the intermediate time that causes all the concern. If you could get back into the flow of things, and just throw the ball, he’s going to be fine.”

“Absolutely [it could be a growth moment], and he did his job superbly last night, gave us every chance to win this game,” Maddon said a day following Game 5. “I was trying to look at the entire event, him doing what he did [in Game 5], and if we continue to move into the next round. That game could really catapult him into the World Series and a great performance there.”

Shields was 0-2 in two ALCS starts with a 3.46 ERA. In Game 1 on Oct. 10, the right-hander allowed just two runs over 7 1/3 innings, but he was outdueled by the Red Sox’s Daisuke Matsuzaka, who allowed only four hits in seven-plus scoreless innings of the Rays’ 2-0 loss. In Game 6 at Tropicana Field on Saturday, Shields surrendered four runs on nine hits over 5 2/3 innings in Tampa Bay’s 4-2 loss.

“I was just a hair off,” said Shields after his last start. “[I] felt like I was just missing. That’s why they call it a game of inches.”

Garza was simply dominant en route to his ALCS MVP Award. The offseason acquisition from the Twins posted a 1.38 ERA in two starts. In Game 3 at Fenway Park on Oct. 13, allowed only one run over six-plus innings of the Rays’ 9-1 victory. In the pennant-clinching victory Sunday night, Garza again allowed just one run and two hits over seven dazzling innings of work.

Garza said he would embrace the idea of starting Game 3 in Philadelphia.

Starting on the road “doesn’t bother me a bit, as long as I get the ball,” Garza said. “As long as he gives me a chance to pitch in the World Series, I’m all for it. It doesn’t matter which game it is.”

And that means putting a bat in his hands, of which Maddon joked, “We’re trying to keep out of the fact that Matt Garza is the worst offensive pitcher of the group, and he has to play in Philadelphia.”

Sonnanstine, who posted a career-high 13 wins in just his second big league campaign, got the win in Game 4 on Oct. 14 in Boston. The righty allowed the Sox four runs on six hits over 7 1/3 innings to give the Rays a commanding 3-1 ALCS lead.

Sonnanstine “has a lot of deception in his delivery, but what he does really well — there’s a lot of movement in that delivery, and he keeps it intact,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. “He throws a ball or two and starts to get out of whack, he gathers himself, stays over the rubber, and he’s obviously very confident. … You can tell he feels good about himself — as he should.”

Maddon allowed that Sonnanstine could be used in long relief in the first game early.

“We’ve talked about that, too,” Maddon said. “He will be available to a certain point.”

 

 

 

World Series Tidbits……….The Tuesday Edition

 

          Tji_trophysnapshot_420

 

The biggest prize in baseball made a visit to City Hall in St. Petersburg, Florida today so that local fans can see and experience the sight of the Commissioner’s Trophy live and in person.  The beautiful piece designed by Tiffaby & Company, went on display at 11 a.m. today for picture and posing from a short distance.

The only person who has touched the Trophy since it arrived was a DHL employee and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker as they put ot on the podium today for the fans. It will only be on display today, but will probably make an appearance tonight at the Vinoy hotel as  Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig will hold a World Series party near the pool deck tonight for MLB officials and local dignitaries.

When you first look at the trophy you are taken aback a bit by the sheer beauty of the member teams flags on the spool of gold plated flagpoles around the structure. Then you just dream of hoisting it up yourself and parading it around the Trop like a champagne bottle and taking in all the history around it.

 I was lucky enough to see the Stanley Cup trophy after the Tampa Bay Lightning won it several years ago at a fundraiser this season. Just the thought of the stories that Cup could tell if it had a voice would have been worth a lifetime to me.  And this trophy has just as many memories and stories. Hopefully someday someone will try and toss all those mystical tales together and issue a premiere coffee table book about the life of the award.  Hmmmmm, I do have some free time on my hands?

 

 

I just got a text that the Rays World Series roster will probably stay the same except for 2 changes that are a being thrown up in the air right now. The Rays will stay with their infield and starter combos’ from the ALCS, but might insert Rays catcher Shawn Riggans into the 25-man roster.

Riggans is healed from a Bursa Sac incident where an infection took him out of the Rays plans for a bit near the end of the season. He has now healed, and if his jumping during the celebration is any indication, he is feeling fine enough to pop down behind the plate for the Rays.

Another decision being tossed around is the switching of outfielder Gabe Gross for Eric Hinske. Gross is a great defensive player for the Rays, but has hit a patch of unusual doubt and bad timing at the plate.

His defense is superior to Hinske’s, but Hinske does have magic in his bat this year for the Rays. Eric has also not been on the last 2 rosters for the Rays and might be due for a big series with the extra time to get into sync at the plate. I expect Hinske to get the nod more for the offensive power he can bring to the plate. We can always use Ben Zobrist or Fernando Perez in the late innings as a defensive replacement for Hinske.

 

 

The Rays are also doing some soul searching as to how to assign their starting rotation for the World Series. Do you start with Scott Kazmir, the longest running member of the rotation against Cole Hamels, or do you put James Shields up front with a possible Game 5 slate to start in the future in the series. Also in consideration is the way you are going to use number 4. Andy Sonnanstine.

Do you start Andy in Game1 and give the Philadelphia Phillies a  one-time look at Sonnanstine, then put him in the Bullpen as a long reliever from that point on in the series. Or do you adjust the series with Kazmir starting Game 2 so the Bullpen can be totally at the mercy of the game, with an off day for travel on Friday.

Decision, decision, decisons……..I would put the rotation as, Kazmir, Shields, Garza Sonnanstine, then  repeat the big 3 again until the 7th game if needed. But then again, I do not have the flowcharts and the graphs Rays Manager Joe Maddon has at his disposal for analysis.

 

 

Congradulations to Chris Westmoreland and the entire Clubhouse crew for again getting the Rays into another round of the 2008 Playoffs. The locker room scenes are incredible with the shower curtains and the protective gear keeping the lockers and the floors dry and without a huge amount of alcohol absorption. 

I am just wondering if Westy has thought of auctioning off any of those partitions after the Playoffs for the Rays Foundation, or might be willing to part with a section for a personal collection. I know I would bid for one of those great curtains with the Rays logo and the blue background. Not for my shower, but might make a great window treatment or background on a wall in the Rays collection in my spare room………….Call me Westy, you have my card. 

 

I am putting off my predictions and my profile on the series until tonight or tomorrow to get some more data and to think about this series for a bit. I am a bit perplexed by the Las Vegas odds-makers who have the Rays as the victor on the series, but the payout are a bit odd. Coming into the first game on Wed., the betting line is sitting so tha you would have to bet about $ 1.35 to win a $1 dollar on the Rays winning right now.

Considering the Rays were 200-to-1 odds of reaching the World Series in April, you might be thinking that the Vegas gamblers are trying to get some of their change back after taking bets on the Rays in April and noe haivng to break the bank to payout on the wager. I know I comtemplated putting some big money on the Rays in April, but decided we were a year away from anything big……… That is why I live in Clearwater and not in a house on Snell Isle or on the beaches’. I am not lucky when  it come to financial decisions, and I hate the Hard Rock, but they love my money.  lol

 

 

Case of the Disappearing World Series Tickets………

 

 

Wow, it is almost here. The thing that has been in the dream’s of all Ray’s fans since the team first put on the black uni’s with the black light lettering. We have a chance to be Worlds Champions in about 10 days. The Rays, the team that saw the light but couldn’t grasp it until they put it on our uniform is now only 4 wins away from basball’s biggest prize……..and most fans could not even get tickets for it.

 

I know as a season ticketholder I got  an early chance to get my tickets during the regular season. And those tickets are well in hand, but some people decided to gamble and try and get their in the Rays ticket lotto, or from Rays friends and businesses’. But the webiste last night at 5:03 p.m. for both game came back empty for me.

 

Are you serious here, 3 minutes into the ticket selection period and all the seat were gone, even the Standing Room Only in the Beach area. You have got to be kidding. For this reason, I think that MLB next year needs to put some type of programming on their webisite, along with Ticketmaster to keep large ticket brokers like Razorgator, or Stubhub in the same category as fans trying to get tickets. No computer programs that snatch up 50 tickets in 20 seconds, or  blocks of unusual amounts of tickets.

 

I know MLB and it’s sponsors get a share of the ticket bounty, but do you think all of their seat will be filled?  Hopefully, if not, you not only took the joy and experience away from a fan, you might have lost a return customer in the process. I am very sure there will be an extra 1,000 or more tickets in the hands of sponsors or the MLB after the First Pitch.

 

Missed mortgage for these tickets

                    

Maybe those groups can get one rep to volunteer to go outside the stadium and give the unused tickets to a fan circling the stadium. No scalping, no money changing hands, just great public relations gimmick for the home crowd. I know I went to the Super Bowl a few years ago in Texas on a corporate gig, and 25 seats in our section went unused and were vacant the entire game.

 

Think of the thanks and customer loyalty you could buy for free with just handing a unused ticket to a guy struggling to get one outside the stadium. You could even turn the PR into a press release if you are that shallow and promote yourself until the cows come home. Big time sports needs to check itself sometimes before they get beyond the experience of the average fan.

 

           A fan-tastic day

 

They need to remember that this is a huge investment ($ 175/ seat with Season Ticket advantage) sometimes in the hundreds of dollars by game day. In the Tampa Bay area, the unemployment rate is skyhigh and rising a little more every day. Soon the average guy will be priced out of Season Tickets and will have to buy the lesser half or 40-game package to even get a good deal on seats.

 

But that is also the burden of the beast.  As some go by the wayside, a new crop of fans will take their place, or seats in the Trop.  Corporate America has to remember that the Rays’ faithful might not see this  kind of excitement in the stadium ans in the town again for a while. People have talked about a mini-run of several years at the top of the AL East, but I do not take anything for granted anymore.

 

Been there, done that, and the fact is the World Series is never a guarantee to a team, even a good one.  So think about it bigwigs in the great seat and the All-You-Can-Eats Whitney Bank Club or Suites. If you were joe average and knew this was a once in a lifetime event, would you play $600 dollars for a $ 100 dollar seat in the nose bleed section to be here.

 

Oh, I forgot, your boss gave you your tickets for free.

 

Rays pumpkin

Rays Move on to Face the Fightin’ Phillies

 

 

Rays 3, Red Sox 1

 

First off, I want to thank the Boston fans I saw last night who had the class and the respect to clap after the game for the Rays. I am not asking anyone to be a Rays fan here, just saluting the positive image I saw last night from a few of the Boston faithful.

I can not speak for most of the Rays Republic, but I will say that this series is an instant classic and should be played on ESPN Classic for the nest few nights. It had everything that makes baseball fun. It also had a budding rivalry that will peak and ebb with the season.

You have nothing to be ashamed of in this loss. It was a dogfight from the first pitch, and any pitch could have turn it one hundred different ways. There are some in the Ray’s fold of fans who went out of their ways to antagonize and piss off the Boston fans in attendance. This is not acceptable. This will not be tolerated, and it will stop. We need to act like we have been here before.

I am not asking us to sit there with tea and crumpets, but you got to respect a persons loyalty to their team. I am an ex-Gator player living with a FSU graduate.  I do not need to be reminded of the irony here. But the fact of the matter is 27 people had to be removed from the Trop this weekend.  I know there were a few temper flareups, but the real problem is we inherited a few bad apples in the bunch.

I am not asking for the morality police to enforce anything here. Just a little humanity is all that is needed. It is only a baseball game. I am as passionate as the next guy about my team, maybe even more, but I will not throw down a gaunlet for the sake of being a fan. We have the foundation for a great run at the playoffs for a few years. Let’s not ruin our image around the league as the bullies and the vulgar slobs of the new order.  If the Cowbell Kidd can tone down this year, then the average fan  can do it too.      Go Rays!!!!!!!

 

                

 

Matt Garza

Guess James Shields will have to share that big game moniker with Matt Garza for a while here. Who would have imagined when we traded away some real trouble (Delmon Young) we would have recieved two pure gifts that got us to this level. Some say that Jason Bartlett was the keystone in that trade, but I am thinking Garza right now.

Matt has done whatever the Rays asked of him this season. He had a emotional and stress situation in June in Texas and asked for help. Since that time Garza has been the linchpin that has held this years’ playoff push and series win in check. And last night it was his job to stop up the dam and be the little dutch boy.

 

 

Who knew he could do it with such ease and grace. Garza went  7 innings last night, and you know he was over there politicing with Rays Manager Joe Maddon and Pitching Coach Jim Hickey to finish the game out himself. But he had done everyhting asked of him and more. And when they announced the American League Most Valuable Player, it was a no brainer that Garza was standing tall and taking in all the noise from this wild crowd. 

 

                                      

 

In his 7 innings, Garza sent down the Red Sox in order in 4 of his 6 innings. He had a dominating breaking ball tonight and it showed in his 9 strikeouts on 115 pitches. Garza did have problems tonight, but early they were with only one Boston Red Sox. Dustin Pedroia has owned the Rays’ pitchers this year.

 

 He is that gnat that keeps buzzing your head and will not go away.  He put his first bite on the Rays with a 1st inning homer to left that gave the Red Sox an early 1-0 lead.  Then in the 3rd inning, he stood his ground and took one for his team as Graza got him flush in the elbow with a nice breaking ball.

 

         

 

After stealing second on Garza, Perdroia was in position to put another stinger into the Rays. He never got the chance as Garza struck out David Ortiz to end the inning. Pedroia made one attempt to try and get some offense for the Red Sox as he walked in the 6th inning and then was caught stealing in a great throw by Dioner Navarro to end the inning.

For the series, Garza went 2-0, with a 1.38 ERA and got 14 strikeouts to lead the Rays to the World Series. I think we might have to just call the group of three pitchers the Big Game Gang from now on.

 

 

ALCS Series Tidbits and Morsels

David Price, who has neither won nor saved a regular-season game in his brief career, saved the Rays’ 3-1 win in Game 7 of the ALCS after winning Game 2. The only other rookies to post a win and save in the same postseason series were Adam Wainwright of the Cardinals (2006 World Series) and Rawly Eastwick of the Reds (1975 NLCS and 1975 World Series).

Price was the 18th player to earn a save in a postseason game in which he entered a bases-loaded situation, but he was the first rookie to do so.

Joe Maddon used five pitchers to nurse his team’s 2-1 lead through the seventh inning. It was the first time in postseason history that as many as five pitchers combined for a scoreless inning.

With a pair of 24-year-old starters, Matt Garza and Jon Lester, Game 7 of the ALCS was the second winner-take-all postseason game in MLB history in which both starting pitchers were under the age of 25. The first was Game 7 of the 1934 World Series, in which Dizzy Dean of the Cardinals beat Elden Auker of the Tigers.

The Rays committed six errors in the ALCS, the Red Sox committed none. Since the playoff format was expanded in 1969, only one team won a postseason series in which it committed at least six more errors than its opponent: the Red Sox (8) over the Cardinals (1) in the 2004 World Series.

 

 

Willy Aybar

Isn’t it funny how certain trades have risen to the top for the Rays this year. Maybe there is something about those flowcharts and risk management sheets in Andrew Friedman’s office. Maybe a few other AL team will be riffling in his file cabinet this off season looking for the next ‘Willy Aybar” for their team.

This guy has just been superb for the Rays this year. When you trade for a guy who had an injured wrist and a few problems on and off the field, you hope for a good investment. If this is how Stu Sternberg’s group does their investing, the U S Government should ask Stu what to do about the economy. Seriously here,

 

                  

 

Aybar was not counted on to be the player he was out of Spring Training. He was suppose to be the stop gap until Evan Longoria was ready to man thrid for the next decade. He has done more than just rescue this franchise when Longoria went down, and given the team countless hit when they were needed this year.

In tonight’s game, Aybar went 2-3, with 2 runs scored and a RBI on the night. Aybar started off by hitting a scorcher down to Kevin Yuokilis at third, but was out vy a foot. that did not set him back, in his next at bat, he took a 1-2 count breaking ball and lined it to within a foot of going over the short leftfield wall for a double to put himself in popsition to score for the Rays.

 

        

 

He moved over to second on Dioner Navarro’s infield single to short and scored on Rocco Baldelli’s single to leftfield. Aybar actually stopped at third before Third Base Coach Tom Foley asked what he was dong here and scored easily before Jason Bay’s throw got to Jason Varitek to put the Rays up 2-1.

Then in the 7th inning he put the exclamation point on thenight by hitting a solo homer to left that left the Red Sox fans looking for the exits. It was a beautiful shot that gave the Rays a cushion going into the last 6 outs of the game.

 

 

 

Rocco Baldelli

I have a few favorite players on this team, but no one carries more emotion for me than Rocco Baldelli. I was under the stands watching the news conference during Spring Training when Rocco announced the medical situation that was plaguing his system and his baseball career. At that time I thought I might see the last of this great player.

But medical teams found a reason for the fatigue and gave him the ability to again play some ball for the Rays. And this team needed that kind of leadership and committment from the Trading Deadline on this year. He was the in-house version of the big right-handed bat we needed to contend down the stretch and in the playoffs. So mwhen he got that RBI single in the 5th inning tonight.

 It brought tears to me eyes that he has gone so far and seen so much and can now drink the sweet  nectar of champagne knowing if he doesn’t play again next year………..he is a true champion in the record books now too. People who have known him know he is a champion off the field, but this single gave him the satisfaction of knowing that all the hard work was worth it, and he still has some special work to do against the Phillies.

 

 

Carlos Pena

I was watching the  turf a few minutes after the Rays won the game, and there was their leader, Carlos Pena doing his patented dance in front of the dugout to the adolation of the crowd. If there is a true leader this year for the Rays, then number 23 has to be on the podium shaking his fist and loving life right now.

Pena has been the rock in the 3-spot for the Rays and has been a solid rock on defense when they Rays needed that extra push on the field. But in the 4th inning tonight. I think Pena sent a message to the Red Sox and the Phillies with his hustle and his determination as he went from first to home on Longoria’s double down the rightfield line that bounced right in front of my seat.

 

 

I was watching as J D Drew took the ball and tried to catch up to the speeding blur heading for home. Pena hit the plate with a force that made him explode up and show one of the biggest emotions from him this season. He expolded all over the plate in a burst of emotion and pure energy. It was a delight to watch him. I almost thought he was going to grab Home Plate Umpire Brian Gorman and do a salsa with him.

 

In one of the wildest thing I have ever seen in my life, the Rays used 5 relief pitchers in the 8th inning. First Dan Wheeler came on and went 1/3rd of an inning. Then J P Howell came on to face Ortiz and got him to hit into a fielder’s choice, and in 7 pitches he was gone from the game. Chad Bradford then came on and got Youkilis to walk on 6 pitches. Then Maddon brought in the rookie …. 

 

 

David Price

What else can the Rookie do for the Rays this year. He has not even pitched in the regular season, but already has his first big league win and save in the same series. David Price came in with 2-outs in the 8th inning last night and dominated the Red Sox. His last out of the 8th was a strikeout to J D Drew to end the Red Sox threat.

He then came back out in the 9th and further took control of the game after walking lead-off man Bay on 8 pitches. He then got both  Mark Kotsay and Varitek to strike out before putting a nice curveball over for pinch-hitter Jed Lowrie to hit to Akinora Iwamura to make a force play out at second and seal the victory for the Rays.

 

 

 

ALCS Celebration Photo Blog………….The Lost Photos 2008

  

                                      

 


I swear this is the last Photo blog of the American League Championship Series I am doing this year. I had too much fun last night and still can not find my car keys. But anyhow, here are the last few photos that I have gotten since I got home from a vastly unprepared road trip to Tampa with some people who felt like it was 1999.

 


I am glad there is not a Game 8, because I know a few people who will not be awake until almost 6 p.m. tonight. This is something that will change this town forever. Some people have called my hometown a “Sleepy little hamlet”, “God’s waiting room”, and my new personal favorite, “Where Bums and Benches meet in perfect harmony”.

 

But to be a part of a World Series against a fellow Spring Training site-mate is spectacular and  will make the area more energized than usual. So enjoy my little photo fest and I will see you all on Wed. night when the champagne stains should be out of my new ALCS Champs cap, and my brain is ready for another exciting series against the Philadelphia Phillies.

 

 


Akinora Iwamura and “Big” Cliff Floyd. Cliff has been here before, but you can tell it never gets old for the veterans either. I saw people like Dan Wheeler and Floyd, and even Trever Miller acting like kids in the candy store tonight……………and I like it.

 

 


I am starting to believe that Rays Rookie David Price is starting to like all the celebrating in the clubhouse this postseason. He deserves the save tonight, and he will surely be on the World Series roster when it comes out in a few days.

 

 


I can tell by the broad shoulders that this is Rays Bullpen catcher Scott Cursi getting the crowd into the celebration tonight at the Trop. Scott is a huge reason these guys are psyched and ready to go every night coming out of the Bullpen.  He is the Enforcer.

 

 


James “Big Game” Shields is also known as the true master of champagne bursts and celebrations. Shields is one of the big 4 starters that will try and bring home the Rays first World Series title.

 

 


Scott Kazmir is becoming an old professional at this celebration stuff. He is now reknowned as one of the true cork poppers in the Rays clubhouse. Kazmir is also one the premier lefties in the game today.

 

 


Edwin Jackson is cooling down the “Old Man” on the Rays, Carl Crawford. He was here during the lean years in Tampa Bay, and to see a winning team and a playoff berth was a dream to Carl before this season. Now the Rays can go beyond any of their wildest dreams and contend for a World Series title starting on Wed. night.

 

 


One last photo of Rookie David Price getting a cold shower to go with his first professional save tonight in the game against the Boston Red Sox. 

 


Okay, that is the end of all three blogs, I swear.  But I truly hoped you enjoyed going into the picture world of the Rays celebrating their first American League Championship tonight.  Be sure to tune into FOX starting this Wed night at 8 p.m. when the Rays take on the National League Champs, the Philadelphia Phillies in the best-of-seven series for the World Championship.

 


Also, if either team steals a base during a World Series game, Taco Bell will be rewarding every American a spicy beef crunchy taco for FREE the next day. Considering that the Rays stole 10 bases in the ALCS, we all might be eating tacos for a few days.  Go to www.stealabasestealataco.com for more information.

 

 

ALCS Celebration Photo Blog………….Part 2….2008

                  

 

World Series tickets on sale today


Tickets for World Series games 1 and 2, to be played Wednesday and Thursday at Tropicana Field, will go on sale today to those who won the ticket lottery. Winners will be notified by e-mail this morning, with the pre-sale beginning at 5 p.m.  Fans can still register for  a chance to purchase tickets for potential games 6 and 7 at raysbaseball.com.

Not a lottery winner?

Well, there’s stubhub.com.

 

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I have decided that this celebration can not be totally done in one blog, so I am expanding the Photo Blog to two-parts to get more photos to you, the fans before the morning.  So please enjoy the photos and make sure to keep checking out my blog throughout the World Series for Rays updates and game recaps until the end of it all………………maybe another celebration!!!!!!!!

 

             

 

Rays catcher Shawn Riggans running around the right field wall slapping the hands of fans and enjoying the moment as the Rays are the 2008 American League Champs.

 

 

Rays Manager Joe Maddon and ALCS MVP Matt Garza taking in the scene and finally letting it soak in that they are about to play in the World Series against the Philadelphia Phillies on Wed. night.

 

 

Rays reliever, Dan Wheeler striding down the right field line near the Rays Bullpen slapping hands and celebrating with the fans base.

 

 

How cool is that, a rookie like David Price comes in and set down one of the best lineups in the American League and now he gets to hold the AL Championship Trophy.

 

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Aki again among the Rays faithful who stayed beyound 1 a.m. to help celebrate another Tampa Bay Rays victory and their first run at the World Series Championship.

 

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I had to add one more photo of that world class dog pile that David Price and Dioner Navarro are on the bottom of here. I know it hurts, but it also feels so good guys.  Congrats again to a great team, and a great set of human beings. You are our heroes and our inspirations guys.

 

Shop Now!

I have not even left the ballpark yet and they are almost out of the Rays American League merchandise sent in the first wave by MLB. How crazy is that.  I am so glad the fans are excited about the World Series. I hope at least 25 percent of them come back to the ballpark in 2009 and fill the stadium.  Oh, news flash here people………..We play the Phillies in Philly next season as part of the Inter-League schedule.  How cool is that!!!!!   Road Trip.

 

 

Team getting personal time with the AL Championship trophy. Do they pass it around and can keep it for one day like the Stanley Cup?

 

                   

 


This Photo is going to be firmly planted in my mind for a long, long time. This is the final out of the game…………a force out of Jason Bay by Akinora Iwamura to seal the deal for the Rays.

 

 

Carlos Pena getting ready to do that dance he loves to do at celebration.  Maybe Carlos can teach the entire Tampa Bay area that dance some time.

 

 

Tell me that is not one proud owner. He promised us a winner and he delivered ahead of schedule…………he could run for President right now and get elected on the Rays ticket.

 

            

 

Carlos and Ben Zobrist a few minutes after the final out of the game. This team is more like a family than the Pittsburgh Pirates teams in the 1970’s……………..We Are One Team!!!!!   Tell me the marketing department is not proud of thst slogan now!

 

 

This is what the Trop. looked like 2 minutes after the last out. Rays players running everywhere looking for a teammates to hug and slap some fist bumps on them.

 

ALCS Celebration Blog………….American League Champions 2008

 

As you already know, this will be a blog in the works all night long as I get more and more photos sent to me of the celebration after the Rays win their First American League Championship over the former World Champions, the Boston Red Sox.

 

So please be patient as I get more and more great photos in the blog tonight. I have a  associate with the media who sends me some locker room photos, so I will get those up as soon as they hit my computer.

 

 You knew Mr . Emotion, Jonny Gomes would be at the top of that dogpile. It might have taken a few extra days, but you know they wanted to enjoy this with the home fans too.

 

 I bet to Jonny, this is better than a “E” ticket ride at Disney, or the last 2 celebrations. By now these guys are getting to be old hats at celebrating the good stuff. Congrats to everyone on the Rays and to the entire organization. I will be phoning a lot of you tomorrow about the great night, and the great future for this team……………Go Rays !!!!!!

                       

 

How about David Price, still a rookie and he just put some hurting on the Red Sox to get his team to a date with the Philadelphia Philles for the World title. I bet this is better than anything that happened to him at Vanderbilt University.

 

 

I think we can safely say that Dioner Navarro does not want to let loose of David Price, because the team was bearing down on them when this photo was taken.  Just remember to breathe before the pile gets on you guys.

 

Go ahead David, yell loud and proud. This entire team deserves this. They are some of the best individuals I have ever met………….and to think, I have a team photo now with the AMERICAN LEAGUE CHAMPIONS on my wall.

 

                 

When Stu Sternberg bought this team he said he was going to change the dynamics of this team from losing to winning. I do not even think he thought it would turn around so fast for this franchise.

          

 

If this guy is not the Manager of the Year award winner, we should just pack that award away and never give it out to anyone this year. As a “Maddon’s Maniac”, Joe you are a true inspiration to this community and a thrill to hear talk about baseball………….You derserve every moment of this.

 

 

I hear hear Joe now, ” Um, Stu, You think we can re-adjust my contract now”  just kidding guys. We have until Wed before we have to worry about anything right now.  Celebrate with everyone gentlemen. Tampa Bay is open for you right now.

 

           

What can you say about this guy tonight. He only went 2-0 in the ALCS, with a 1.38 ERA, and he got 14 strikeouts.  Can you say American Leagues Championship Series Most Valuable Player………….Matt Garza.

 

            

You deserve it Matt.  You toppled the World Champions twice in a week, and you also got to celebrate at home.

 

 

Gabe Gross getting some cold bubbly from Rays starter Scott Kazmir in his infamous beer goggles.

 

 

Scott Kazmir getting a direct hit on Rays center fielder B J Upton in the celebration in the Rays clubhouse following the on-field celebration.

 

 

Akinora Iwamura doing his home celebration his own way by coming out and celebrating with the Fans in the Trop.  that is why he is a fan favorite.

 

 

Akinora Iwamura again up on the dugout thanking the fans that are still here and helping the team celebrate their American League title.

 

 

Rays Manager, Joe Maddon visiting with his old bass, former Los Angeles Angels owner Jackie Autry, the widow of the singing cowboy Gene Autry before giving the team the American League Championship trophy on the field.

 

 

Rays First Base Coach, George Hendricks, who got to celebrate like this with the Oakland A’s and St. Louis Cardinals as a player, with Rays starter, James Shields getting the cold shower.

                 

 

B J Upton has the goggles in the down position and taking on hostile champagne in the clubhouse.  you know that cork is going to leave a mark BJ?

 

 

Game 7 Shootout Set for Rays and Red Sox

 

 

 

How many people do you think in Tampa Bay did not buy a game 7 ticket thinking it would never get this far. I can honestly say I predicted 6 games, and to think a 7th is going on tonight is not only amazing, but the best Sunday night entertainment in St. Petersburg since the advent of TIVO.

Seriously, how many of you around the country were cursing the throwing things at your big screens when TBS (This Broadcast Sucks) network made their 2008 rendition of the “Heidi Game”.I am going to name the 2008 model, “Harvey-gate”.

 I can tell you I got about 5 really fast texts telling me about it, and you know I can not wait to blast an established company for something as dumb as forgetting to pop a switch.

 

         

 

But I am here to chat about the import ramifications of a Game 7 to our Rays.  I honestly would love to know how many local fans did not even purchase a Game 7 ticket online before today. I know the local hype had everyone going nuts about the possibile celebration last night, but if you really think about it, a Game 7 just could be the re-birth of the Rays-way.

All year long when the count was against them, with 2-outs and no one on base, we have come back 31 times. At home we have lost 2 out of 3 to Boston in this series, but we did the same to them in their house. So the slate is clean, and who ever wins tonight, gets to play another day. It is just that plain and simple tonight. The Rays just have to decide if they are done playing baseball this season, or of they still want to play 7 more games.

 

 

Last night’s game was exciting from first pitch to the last with explosive homers by both teams and a umpire controversy/injury, and let’s not forget “Harvey-gate”.  But Rays Manger Joe Maddon summed it up best last night when he was referring to the style of game we were playing as the old style of the Devilrays, and not his Rays.

If you have been a fan of the team for a long time, you remember the “Hit Show” fiasco. that was the high-powered trio of  Fred McGriff, Vinny Castillo, and Jose Canseco brought in to make the Trop a hitting man’s dream. the trio, and their 22 other players’ relied too much on the hype of the long ball and did not produce as well as advertised.

The Rays right now are also trying to sit behind the long balls and hope, pray and wish for the last win they need to go to the next level.  That is not the personality of the 2008 Rays. This is a team that take what you give them and makes you pay by timely hitting and stealing bases like they were lotto prizes. This is a team who’s pitching surprised and eluded you. Who could be counted on to make it a close game up until the last out in the 9th inning. This is a team that played like 12-year olds going for the free pizza and sodas after the game.

 

          

 

This team has lost it’s mojo of sorts. It is losing it’s personality on the bases, and losing its focus at the plate. I am proud of the fact the B J Upton and Evan Longoria are striking a huge blow with their bats, but the other 7 guys have to step to the same beat and smack the heck out of the ball to all fields.

 

 Not just out of the fields, but out of the reach of fielders, fans and most of all, Kevin Youkilis. Come on guys, if for nothing else, we should win to hear him cry like a whinny baby about no respect and the Red Sox have to go golfinf now until the frozen ground makes it impossible to play.

 

 

 

Cliff Floyd still has that passion deep inside him. On the play where he hit the ball down the line to Mark Kotsay, he hustled to the bag and did not give an inch. He drove through the bag even though Josh Beckett was heading there for the ball. Even after the ball was in Beckett’s mitt, Floyd was still churning and burning in case of a missed foot or a bad catch. That is the 2008 Rays style. Hustle until you are exhausted, treat every play like a game winner. That is the mystical spirit that has been missing the last few games.

 

The 2007 Rays watched the games, the 2008 Rays won those games. Even if it was a 5 runs behind, there was never a dead look on their faces. The 2008 team stood above the crowd by having an emotional edge that no one could describe or duplicate. It was a team first mentality that had made this team the National darling in the eyes of true baseball fans.

 

                

 

So tonight we put the biggest game in the franchsies history solely in a former Twin’s 1st round pick. People forget that Matt Garza is a prime time stud. He had the task if going against the guy the Boston’s papers dubbed the second coming of Clemens and defeated him pitch for pitch. Seriously, did you really think you were going to get any less from Garza.

He had no pressure on him in that start. the World had already given the Red Sox the game, without a single pitch being thrown. All he did was go 6 innings and gave up 6-hits and a solo run in the outing. He earned the win while Lester got shell-shocked by a  Rays barrage from the 2-3-4 hitter unseen by him this year. Garza got the win in a game that was given to the Red Sox before the first pitch was thrown.

With his confidence and his mental fortitude, most pitchers would have mailed the game in and just cruised to their final pitch. But Garza has been a changed man since that blow-up in Texas this summer. He has found a renewed energy and a vitality that is a spark to this young pitching staff. Do not forget he is only one of three pitchers who can hurt you in a variety of ways on this squad.

Sooner or later the entire nation will see what we already know about Matt Garza….. He is a big-time gamer, who loves the pressures of competition. He is the man on the mound tonight and as Garza goes, the Rays shall follow tonight.

 

 

 

 

You know what sight I would love to see tonight after the game, it would be the sight of Jonathan Papelbon slumping over the Dugout railing. Lat time he pitched in Boston he had Papelbon downtrodden, hopefully he will get no chance to make a difference in this game tonight.

 

 

Red Sox Force a Game 7 Showdown

 

 

I got a text about 2 minutes before the first pitch that TBS had some sort of malfunction in Atlanta and most of the country got to watch an old Dick Clark America’s Funniest Videos for a while. I guess some one either for got to plug in one plug, or Atlanta decided that the “Heidi Game” needed a 2008 twist.

I was told that the channel got it corrected about the middle of the 1st inning and all was well in TV-land. I even heard that they were kind enough to recap the inning and show B J Upton’s catwalk homer to the home audience. Well, TBS (Totaled Botched Signal) I guess we can forgive you if you can lay off the pro-Boston comments for at least one more day. I am sorry we are ruining the networks plans of a Boston vs. LA series, but another team also is at fault………..blame Philly, they throw snowballs at Santa Claus.

 

Red Sox 4, Rays 2

 

 

 

Umpire Goes Down

It was a night for the weird and unusal at the Trop. I was told by a friend in the St. Petersburg Police Department that only about 7 people had to be escorted out of the building tonight. That is a major improvement over the 32 or more that had a bad night about a week ago for Games 1 and 2. But that was not even the wildest thing to happen in the game.

In the top of the 4th inning, Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek finally hit something tonight. He actually got his first hit off the home plate umpire, Derryl Cousins. It saeems that when Varitek fouled off  his 0-2 pitch, it hit the mask of Cousins and traveled down towards the shoulder and chest area.

At the top of the 5th inning, Cousins conferred with Umpire Crew Chief  Tim McCelland ans they decided that he had to be removed from the game and transported to a local hospital. McCelland came out in his gear and officiated the rest of the game as the home plate umpire.

The rest of the umpires then did the Harlem Shuffle and they left the leftfield outfield area vacant becuase they did not have an additional umpire on hand to take Cousins’ position. Word finally came back that Cousins had suffered a bruised Clavicle and would possibily return for Sunday’s contest.

 

 

B J Upton’s En Fuego

To say that B J Upton is hot is an understatement in the ALCS. His 1st inning shot off the “C” ring at the Trop. would have cleared the Green Monster tonight again. It was a grand high shot that would have maybe reached the Beach if the ring was not there. That give Upton now 7 homers in this playoff season, which tied him with Former Angel Troy Glaus, who hit 7 in 2003. It might only be 4 homers in the ALCS, but Upton is putting on a show at the plate during this series.

 

 

James Big Game Shields

The Rays were questioned when they decided to swap their starters for Games 5 and 6. I really do not see the hassle since tonight’s starter was a combined 9-2 at home this year and it would also have put him back in line to pitch the first game if we clinched tonight. Shields has been one of those guys this year who wants the pressure cooker situations and has come out smelling like a rose on most nights.

Tonight, tho, he did get into trouble early, when Red Sox lead-off man Coco Crisp laid down a bunt towards Evan Longoria, but it was moving so slow there was no play. Shields did make amends as he picked Crisp off  of first after the thrid pitch to Dustin Pedroia.

 

 

Shields then got into trouble early in the 2nd when lead-off batter, Kevin Youkilis hit a 1-2 count hanging fastball overe the left-centerfield wall to tie the score at 1-all. He then gave up 2 hits to the nest three batters before getting control of the inning and getting the last 2 bstters to fly out to strand 2 Boston baserunners.

In the 3rd inning, he walked Pedoia, who advance to third on David Ortiz’s double down the rightfield line. Youkilis then hit a ball to Jason Bartlett and Pedroia waltzed in to put Boston up 2-1.  In the 3rd inning, Shields threw 31 pitches and issued 3 walks to the Red Sox.

Shields was cruising along until in the 5th inning, J D Drew hit a liner just over the glove of Gabe Gross in rightfield for a double. Drew ended up getting stranded on base.  In the 6th, Shield gave Jason Varitek his first hit in the ALCS, and his first homer that went into the first row of Section 146 in the Trop. That did not end the scoring in the inning.

Crisp then came up and hit a single off Shields that deflected to Akinora Iwamura, but he could not get a throw off in time.  Shields exited the game after Crisp’s hit and went 5.2 innings and gave up 9-hits and 4 runs on the night.

 

                   

 

Rays Bullpen Troubles

Rays reliever J P Howell then came on to try and get the last out of the 6th inning for the Rays. This brought up Pedroia again, who hit a ball to Bartlett, but the throw went high and wide of Pena and the Red Sox had runners at the corners with 2-outs.

David Ortiz then hit an RBI-single to center to score Crisp and put the Red sox up for good 4-2.  Howell threw 1 inning tonight and got 1 strikeout and gave up a single hit for the night. His ERA is sitting at 3.60 for the Rays. He also hit Jason Bay in the 7th inning to put a Red Sox runner on with 1-out.

Grant Balfour then came on in the 7th inning and walked the first batter, Jed Lowries before settling down and getting Varitek to fly out to Gross for the last out of the inning.

 

 

Chad Bradford then came on in the 8th inning and Pedroia hit a ball back up the middle that hit Bradfors in his leg and he completed a high but good throw for the first out of the inning. The Rays then Intentionally walked Ortiz. The plan worked out great for the Rays as Youkilis hit into a perfect 5-4-3 around-the-horn double play to end the inning.

Bradford then came out for a quick fly out by Drew to left, and a grounder to Bartlett for an easy 2nd out before leaving the game. Trever Miller then came in and got Mark Kotsday to hit a pop up to Longoria to end the top of the 9th inning.

 

                

 

Jason Bartlett

The mighty shortstop is not known for his power, but tonight hit a slowly curving ball that evaded the leftfield foulpole for his first postseason homer of his career. It was also the 2nd homer this year for Bartlett. They Rays did not have alot of offensive power tonight as both their runs came off homers by Bartlett and Upton.

 

 

Unusual Offensive Night

The Rays had a few plays that made you just sit and wonder tonight.  With the Red Sox up 2-1 Bartlett got hit on the elbow by a pitch and the Rays could not capitalize on the play. The Rays usually could and would have gotten somehting out of that play in recent games.

In the 4th inning, Carl Crawford reached out for an outsdie pitch and sent a dying quail into left for a single. He then stole second base and with Cliff Floyd at the plate, the Rays looked like they were about to do something in this game. But Floyd hit a hard ball down the rightfield line that was stopped by Kotsay, who barely got the throw to Beckett in time to get Floyd.

 

 

Then in the 5th inning, Dioner Navarro hit a nice single to center to start off the inning. Then he tried to steal second base, and was gunned down by Varitek.  After Zobrist hit a long fly to center for the 2nd out, Bartlett hit his homer to left. If Navarro had not tried to steal the base, it would have been a 2-run shot for Bartlett. Longoria walked in the 6th inning, but a Crawford double play ball ended the inning for the Rays.

 

In the 7th inning, the Rays went down 1-2-3 on 12 pitches. In the bottom of the 8th inning, Bartlett was again hit by a pitch and was stranded on base by a quick strikeout and 2 pop ups to second base. In the 9th inning, the Rays went down 1-2-3-, with Willy Aybar hitting a strong liner down the third baseline that Youkilis grabbed to end the game.

 

                  

 

Gabe Gross in Rightfield

I mentioned the play in the 5th inning before, but above is the picture of that liner hit by Drew. Gross started to go back on the ball, and either it changed flight, or he lost it for a second in the lights as the ball went about  6 inches to his right before falling to the turf.

In the bottom of the inning, Gross was pinch-hit by Ben Zobrist, who remained in the game in rightfield for the Rays. For the ALCS, Gross has gone 0-10 and had a few mis-guided play in right. Some poele say he had a chance for the ball on Thursday night, but we will never know as the ball skirted over the wall for the game winning single.

Weird thing there, since Drew did not go past first base, he was credited with a single only and not a ground rule double on the game ending play. Some say that Gross had a straight shot at the ball if he left his feet and dove at the ball. But that is hind-sight at this point.

 

 

 

In the 9th inning of tonight’s game, the Rays bench did not have that electric look it has had all season long. It seemed a bit subdued and emotion-less for the first time in a long time. If the Rays are to win tomorrow’s Game 7 showdown with the Red Sox, they need to regain that fire tonight.

There is no time to sulk or pity anything tonight. They have to get that motivation back and recharge themselves to take the Red Sox on by the throat and throttle them tomorrow night. It is a due or die situation, with the winner getting to play again on Weds. against the Phiadelphia Phillies. With a Rays loss, not only is their season over, but they will give the Home Field Advantage gaunlet to the Red Sox.

They have to come out like gangbuster and take this series back, or head to the golf course. I personally want to see a little more baseball this year guys, so let’s go out and kick some bean-town booty tomorrow night. This town has been crazy the last month or so, more than it has in a long, long time. And you guys are the reason for it. Treat yourself, treat the fans, and treat the nation to a little more Rays-ball this Fall.

 

See you at the Champagne bin.

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