Rays Drop Finale to White Sox
I have been a member of the Rays fan base for a long time. I have seen some of the best and worst moments of April played out before me either in person at games, or on television. We have seen 7-6 records after 13 games in 1999. Then there was the 5-8 record of 2000. But wait, that is the same record as this season. And within that 5-8 record in that year, we went 1-5 during that first home stand. In 2009, we have begun with a 2-5 record at home, which is almost the same as the first home series in 2008, which ended at 3-5 before heading to Minnesota for two games during the week. But why is the radio waves got so much negativity right now when we are par for our normal course? Are we expecting more this year because this is “Championship Week”, and forgetting it takes an entire season to make a championship dream come true.
But why are people already throwing out the doom and gloom card.This is a better team than the 2008 squad, but every other team might have gotten better too in the American League knowing they have to either keep up in their teams skills, or sit on the curb and watch as we roll on by in the standings. Heck, we all know the money moves made in our own division this year to combat the Rays way of playing baseball. The American League might be the player-for-player monster of the league right now. The scales have not turned either way for the Rays right now, this is the “feeling out” month where teams take additional chances and try and format a strategy for the rest of the year.
So why does it surprise people that some teams are finding early success, like the Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles and other teams like the Rays are chugging on 7 cylinders right now. I mean why throw doom and gloom out their on the radio waves because we sit in the cellar after only 13 games. There is a huge amount of baseball left to be played just in April, with another long road trip on the book starting on Tuesday night in Seattle. You see some of the faces on the guys as they jog down to the dugout after the games puzzled on what is going on with this team. But it is the fans, and maybe a handful of newbie fans that are throwing players and team decisions under the bus on the post game shows. Players being questioned on ability and heart only 13 games into the year, you have to be kidding me.
Then there is the minority of callers voicing roster moves without thought to the structure of the offense or Bullpen. People are calling for a mass exodus of Triple-A guys to be brought up, with no real constructive reasoning to even throw guys under the bus. I feel real sorry for Rich Herrera, who does the Rays post game on the radio. He has had to defend the team and their tactics almost nightly, even when we have won. I know we have some great baseball minds in the Tampa Bay area, who can see what is going on here and know that this is just a bump in the road. But then we have the other set of experts who just have not given up the Rays negativity train.
They are the one who look at the box score in Friday night’s win and sees that Carl Crawford and Gabe Gross both did not get a hit in that game. But they also miss the awesome appearance by Ben Zobrist where he went 2 for 2 with a Grand Slam and 4 RBI’s, or the Carlos Pena home run that came after a monster foul ball that hit the FSN advertisement scoreboard in the back of Section 134. They want to dwell on the imperfections, not the fact that this team is struggling and still winning some of these games. They have focused on the 5 strikeouts, or the pick-off of Zobrist in the bottom of the eighth inning by Clayton Richard as “keys to the game”. Really?
Come one people. Put you complaining lips down and begin cheering for this team to succeed. Negative thoughts breed negative actions. By the end of Sunday’s contest, you could hear the White Sox fans chanting. That is the first time this year we have not silenced an opponent’s chant in Tropicana Field. For the first time this year, we let the Rays players down by not holding our part of the bargain. We did not cheer and provide cowbell ammunition to combat the White Sox fan’s voices. Come on everyone, this is OUR HOUSE. We fought long and hard in 2008 to make teams respect and fear coming in here. I would hate for all of that positive work to go by the wayside now.
Is there anyone besides Twins hitter Jason Kubel who is as hot as Ben Zobrist right now? The guy is white hot at the plate, and with his 2-run homer to right field in the seventh inning today was the bulk of the Rays offense. I mean we did have a small carload of hit today by other guys, but it was Zobrist that took the shutout away and posted the only two runs by the Rays in that 12-2 loss to end the home stand. Zobrist, who is currently hitting .308 got to play for another red hot hitter in Jason Bartlett today. Zorilla took over the shortstop duties today and I remember one fans remarking that “Bartlett” looked good on a 6-4-3 double play today in the fourth inning. The fan looked totally confused when I told him Zobrist was the shortstop today.
But during this home stand, Zobrist did not start off with the hot hand going 0-7 in three games before this weekend. But during this White Sox series from Friday to Sunday, he has gone 4-6 with 6 RBI’s and has hit two homers including a Grand Slam on Friday night as a pinch-hitter. Life has been more than grand for him this weekend. But the start today before a rough 9 game road trip might have done more good than Rays Manager Joe Maddon could imagine. It puts him in the driver’s seat for consideration for more playing time in the outfield, maybe even starting this Tuesday in Seattle.
Rays starter Matt Garza has matured a lot since last season. He has gotten married and is confident on his abilities this season. He is also one of the Rays big three pitchers’ who has openly been vocal about wanting the ball in key moments. With the Rays offense sputtering along right now, Garza could not do it all himself as the Rays could not hold off the White Sox and split the series. In the game, Garza only went 5.2 innings and gave up 7 runs on 6 hits. But during his 98 pitches today, he did get some defensive help as the Rays got three double-plays today, but it was not enough to stop the bleeding on the base paths.
Garza did take control early in the game, but after a A J Pierzenski 2-run shot gave the White Sox a 2-0 lead, he seemed to run into trouble. In the third inning, two quick singles and an inside breaking ball that clipped Carlos Quentin loaded the bases for a Jim Thome ground out to shortstop. For some reason, the Rays did not try and get the lead runner at the plate, but instead threw to first to get the sure out. Garza then took control of the game until the sixth inning when he gave up a lead-off walk to Thome and he moved to third on Jermaine Dye’s double.
Thome then scored on Paul Konerko’s sacrifice fly to left field that was deep enough that Carl Crawford could not make a play at the plate. He then walked Pierzenski to set up one of the wildest plays of the day. Brian Anderson hit a short bouncer to Garza on the mound, and he turned and fired a 94 mph slider to Carlos Pena at first base. The ball ended up going past Pena and bounced off the first base seating wall and into shallow right field. Garza was given an error on the throw and Dye came in to score on the play to make it 5-0. Most Rays fans know that any time a ball is hit to Garza, it can be an adventure. He is not considered the best fielding Rays pitcher on the staff.
Congrats to the skipper Joe Maddon who got his American League Manager of the Year award before the game. We in Rays-land know that he has done more for this team last season than make a few slogans and tell a few quotations to the media. He instilled a confidence and produced a team chemistry that has been missing in this franchise. His use of experienced players like Cliff Floyd and Eric Hinske as mentors for some of the younger Rays helped build unity and produced the team’s first winning season en route to their first trip in the playoffs and eventually the 2008 World Series.
Gate 4 Now for Season Ticket Holders
During this recent home stand, the Rays informed us of a new gate for Season ticket holders. In order to improve the stadium’s crowd flow on game days, the Season Ticket holders can now enter via an exclusive entrance at Gate 3. The Gate 3 entrance actually provides better access to the escalator service to the Press box Level and Upper Deck sections of Tropicana Field. This gate will reduce the crowding and the confusion that has plagued the Gate 4 entrance the last several seasons.
From this moment on, Gate 4 will be used exclusively for:
* Individual Suites
* Home Plate Club
* Whitney Bank Club
* Club 105
* Fans with special accessibility needs.
Sun Sports and Comcast Cable company have agreed upon a contract to provide service to their customers in 2009. This service will include the 75 games being shown on the Comcast system in the Tampa Bay area. In further news, Knology and Sun Sports have not reached a similar agreement, and their subscribers will still not be able to view the 75 Rays games yet this season. Both Knology and Sun Sports are currently working on the problem and hope to have it solved soon.
I ma beginning to see it more and more done in other parks, including last Sunday in Baltimore, where they actually threw a Ground Rule Double by Dioner Navarro back onto the field . I have to tell you I hate that tradition with a passion. I believe that it is a once in a lifetime thing for a fan to usually catch a home run ball. And for that reason, he should keep it. But I also know that some fans do fall to the peer pressure during the game and want to be a part of the action and throw it before actually thinking about their actions. I am of the theory that if you do not want the ball, do not throw it back, give it to a kid who will be wide-eyed by your gesture. By throwing a ball back onto the turf, you are causing a disturbance at the game, which can get you kicked out of the stadium, plus you are showing younger fans the wrong message.
I am not a Chicago Cubs fan, and I am not in Wrigley Field, where such behavior is common, if not encouraged. I think as a young franchise in the MLB, we can be better suited in not copying a bad habit by a team that has not won a World Series in 101 years. However, as a tradition, Cubs fans inside and sometimes even outside the park will promptly throw any home run ball hit by an opposing player back onto the field of play, a ritual depicted in the 1977 stage play, Bleacher Bums, and in the 1993 film, Rookie of the Year. I am not sure if either of these two started the actual event, but it seems to me to be a bad example for future Rays fans to conduct it here at Tropicana Field.