Extra Pre-game work bring Rays a Win
Rays 9, Mariners 3
C C Comes Alive
To say that Tampa Bay Rays fans have been waiting for Carl Crawford to warm up at the plate might be a bit of a lost moment in time. The slugger had been mired in a bit of a slump where he seemed to be just swinging kind of flat to just make contact with the ball. It has been a increasingly difficult time to see our Second guy in the order struggle like this when the team really needed his bat to come alive. But he finally did come out of that slump and he did it with gusto going 4 for 5 last night, while crossing the plate 3 times for the Rays. It looked like the Crawford of 2008, when he used to use his speed and the playing surface to get hits based on his speed and played upon the agility and performances of the opponent’s infield players.
He started showing his renewal early by hitting a ball straight at Seattle first baseman Mike Sweeney, but the ball was hit so hard and also took a nice hop right before it got to Sweeney and it handcuffed him to give Crawford his first hit of the night. Crawford ended scoring on Carlos Pena’s 2-run double to the wall to help the Rays take an early lead in the game. Crawford again got a chance in the second inning on a slpa single to left field, but he was overly aggressive and Mariner outfielder Endy Chavez was able to cut him down trying to advance to second on the throw. I understand the aggressive nature of the team, but sometimes it just runs your team out of a potential rally.
Then in the fourth inning Crawford put his speed again to the test as he hit a ball hopping over the mound after hitting right in front of the plate and second baseman Ronny Cedeno had no play at first base to give him his second single of the night. Crawford again came around to score on Evan Longoria’s double to right-center field gap. That would be his second plated run of the night. In the sixth inning the Mariner’s went to the Bullpen and Crawford got a walk out of reliever Roy Corcoran to lead-off the inning. That marked the fourth time tonight he was on base. Longoria again hit a screamer into the right-center field gap and crawford scored from first base to score his third run of the night.
The Mariners finally got Crawford off the base paths in the seventh inning when he struck out against Seattle reliever Miguel Bastista to end the inning. His final chance came in the ninth inning when Seattle brought in reliever Mark Lowe to finish out the game. With two-men on base at second and third, Crawford hit another single up the middle to get his only RBI of the night when Jason Bartlett crossed the plate. The inning ended two batters later when Pena hit a ball to Ichiro in right field, but you want to think that Crawford looked skyward and loved his night at the plate. Sometimes a slump at the plate can follow you into the field and it gets into your head when making plays in the outfield.
I truly think this did happen to him during the Chicago White Sox series and during a few fly balls in this series. In the White Sox series he seemed to give up on balls hit in front of him a few times, including at least three on Sunday afternoon. But when you confidence is growing, you will stride faster and take a few more chances on balls. Crawford’s night at the plate saw his average rise from a suspect .224 to a more .270. All that in one night. Crawford might have been one of those guys that Rays Manager Joe Maddon worked with before the game with extra B P today trying to instutue more ground balls and using their team speed and abilities to test a defense. It paid huge dividends for crawford and the Rays last night as they broke out of their slump of scoring and putting their aggressive nature to the test against the Mariners last night.
Elaine Thompson / AP
Evan Oh Mighty!
Who would have thought more than 135 games ago when Evan Longoria finally made his Major League debut we would be talking about this feat at such an early juncture in his career. But the pure fact is this guy has risen above expectations and is now moving at his own speed towards the top to be spoken in the same sentences as some of the greats who have played third base in the majors. Considering this guy makes it look so easy only compounds the fact he might just become a true force on the Rays for many years. First off, only two other players have stroked the ball like Longoria to post their 100th RBI earlier than him. And neither of those guys even plays on the same side of the field as him.
Cardinal Superman Albert Pujols and Brewers Home Run wonder Ryan Braun are the only players to reach this feat faster than the Rays hot corner guy. Not let’s just take a peak at this a bit here. He is in the company of Pujols, who was the 2008 National League Most Valuable Player, and a true superstar in the making with his fellow State Farm Home Run Derby participant Braun. No predictions or forecasting here, but the future is so bright, he better wear shades. And all of this is coming in a time when the media and writers are forecasting a sophomore slump for the slugger. But Longoria is also taking a shot at putting his name up there for early consideration for his second All-Star bid with a some impressive offensive numbers.
Coming into tonight’s 6:30 start, after a great 3 for 4 night , with 3 RBIs, he is currently sitting in the number 3 spot in hitting with a .415 average. But that is not his only posting in the League Leaders right now. His 3 RBI’s last night put him in a 3-way dogfight in third for the RBI’s with 16. Of course he is trailing team mate Pena, who is sitting in the two spot with 17 this season, But that puts a total of 33 RBI’s into the thrid and fourth slot of the Rays lineup. That is impressive because with Longoria getting on base, it increases the chances for Pena to be able to produce runs and get the Rays into the Wins column. And his record 100th RBI in the fourth inning came off his 7th double of the year. Oh, and by the way, he is tied for the lead in that category too.
Longoria might have thought last season was the magical one, but so far in 2009, he is exceeding expectations and also seeming to just be letting us all go along and enjoy the ride. I am not saying the Rays should hitch their wagons to this star, but you always ride the hot hand, and right now Longoria
is as hot as the sun. And if all the above was not enough, he is still the top dog in Slugging Percentage, hitting a robust .830 right now with hard hitting Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler right behind him. How much of a compliment is that, Kinsler is a hitting machine and is trailing Longo. I do not know about any of you, but I am truly enjoying watching this guy hit, field and also wreck havoc on the base paths this year. I compared him to Mongo last year played by Alex Karras in “Blazing Saddles”. Not for the character’s brain power,or lack of it, but for the brute force and ability he showed. Longo is making all of us rethink third base, and maybe even that sophomore slump idea.
Navi reverting to Old Habits?
I really like Dioner Navarro. The guy has been a force behind the plate for the Rays for several years, but his current hitting struggles make you again question what is going on with him. Granted it has been almost two years since he started off like this, but if you remember back at the All-Star break in 2007 when he was hitting an anemic .177 for the Rays. I am seeing some of the same swings and desperate slices at the ball hoping for contact again this year. He is currently not at that mark, but after last night contest his average has dipped to .184. But what is more upsetting is this might creep into his defensive work soon, and the Rays do not need that to happen.
Last night was not his night in several ways. First he is the only Rays hitter to not get on base last night going 0-5. A good sign id that none of those 5 at bats resulted in a strikeout, so maybe his salvation is only a stroke away. But his night was hampered by another play that he should not have been pegged with an error last night. In the fifth inning, Seattle catcher Rob Johnson hit a ball high into the sky underneath the roof of Safeco field and Rays pitcher Jeff Niemann was pointing it out to Navarro, who came from behind the plate and was camped under the ball for the easy out.
But at the last moment, Rays first baseman Pena came in and bumped into Navarro causing him to lose focus and the ball fell to the grass. Luckily for the Rays, Home Plate Umpire Larry Vanover called the ball foul, or it would have been Johnson standing on second base after the play. Navarro was given an error on the play, which I do not agree with, but he did seem to have a clear shot at the put out, and for that fact he should have been given the error. But here is the place that the official scorekeeper can also have given the error to Pena for his interference in the play.
It did not work to the Rays disadvantage, but was an example of the piling on right now of Navarro’s woes. He did however have a bright moment in the sixth inning when he mowed down Ichiro, who was trying to steal second base. Niemann, becuase of his large size can be a bit slow to the plate, but Navarro got the ball and sprung up throwing and got the tag perfectly online so that Bartlett could apply the tag to his left shin for the out. That might just be the one thing that could spark confidence in him and he could again begin to rebuild his hitting, just like in the last part of 2007 when he went .289, or in 2008 when his .295 average showed everyone he had the abilty to hit and play great defensive catching for the Rays.
Elaine Thompson / AP
Niemann looked Golden in Victory
Rays starter Jeff Niemann must have thought he was in a dream before the beginning of the fifth inning. He was sitting on a chance to put an exclamation point on the reason he should be the fifth starter for the entire year. He had been able to work out of the wind-up the entire game and did not have any worries about base runners. Since those first five batters he faced in 2009 in Baltimore, Niemann has ressurected his season by posting a 2.61 ERA in the last 10.1 innings for the Rays. But coming into the fifthth inning, he was facing a blank slate in hits and runs, but that soon would change for the 6 foot 9 inch right-hander.
In the matter of a few batters his night would completely change dispite an impressive and entusiastic outing in Seattle. In the fifth inning he seems to begin to show signs of maybe second guessing himself and the fatigue of the night. The inning started off with Adrian Beltre hitting a hard ball deep into the hole to Jason Bartlett at short, but Bartlett was high with his throw and Pena could not come down with the tag in time to get Beltre on the play. It went in the books as an E-6 on the play saving Niemann’s bid for the moment.
But the next hitter, Ronny Cendeno, who had come in after Mike Sweeney went down with a back strain, gave Seattle only their second base runner of the night when he walked on 4 pitches. Niemann was beginning to show signs of letting this game get away from him when Jose Lopez came to the plate. Lopez had hit 18 home runs in 2008 and had the ability to ruin Niemann’s bid in one stroke. After working the count to 0-1, with a called strike, Niemann tried to put a ball on the insdie corner that Lopez turned on and hit into the Mariners’ Bullpen in left field for a 3-run homer.
After the inning, the scoreboard showed only one-hit on the night for Niemann, but the three runs put the Mariner’s in striking range 7-3 at the time. Niemann ended the night in the sixth inning when Rays Manager Joe Maddon came out and got him after going 5.1 innings and giving up 3 hits and 3 runs on the night. Niemann’s effort lowered his ERA to a more respectable 5.40 this season, which is the same ERA as Scott Kazmir this season. That might put some emphasis to just how far he has come in his last few starts on the mound. He has a better ERA than Andy Sonnanstine and is equal with Kazmir. If you take away those first five batter, he might even be the most productive pitcher this season for the Rays. Not bad for a guy who was fighting for a chance not less than three weeks ago to even be on this team’s roster.
Hump Day Happenings
I thought it was great that the Rays let Rays Bullpen Catcher Scott Cursi take out the official line-up card to the umpires before last night’s game. The guy has been one of the hardest working people on this Rays staff for years. The guy does a hard job with a smile and it was a great sight seeing Scottie at the plate before the game. With that in mind, do you again send him to the plate with the line-up card tonight? Do you toy with the Baseball gods and break from superstition, or do you ride the karma of Cursi and his aura of professionalism to the bottom of the wave. I hope he again gets shot, because you might remeber that he did it also during the 2008 season and team also won that contest. Cursi is 2-0 in that position, can we go for 3-0 Joe?
Another Rays blog, the Rays Index came up with this gem that current Rays DL candidate Fernando Perez is doing a column for the New York Times. As many Rays fans know, Perez is a graduate of Columbia University and is a well-versed guy on the bench right now rehabbing his wrist injury. You can still see him before the Rays games doing his running in the field with his light blue foam cast hoping the days come fast that it can be removed and he can resume baseball activities. Here is a link to that column for those interested: http://bats.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/04/17/fernando-perez-rays-fandom-up-close/. You will not be disappointed in his style or impressions of life as a Ray. I look forward to more of his writings this year for the publication.
I still think it is funny when something goes wrong with a uniform or a team plays a joke on a player with mis-spellings or an alteration on their jerseys. I remember when the Rays put only “Rocco” on Rocco Baldelli’s jersey a few years ago to play a joke on the center fielder that he should be like Ichiro and have only his first name ob his jersey. Baldelli actually played an inning before it was pointed out to him by an umpire at second base as he was running into the dugout. I could see guys falling off the top seat rail in the dugout and it was a priceless moment in Rays history.
But I do have to say that the recent embarrassing moment for Majestic, who make all of the formula game issued jerseys for MLB really did show a huge vulnerable situation in their Quality Control department when two Washington Natinals players were spotted with grammarical errors on their jerseys during a game. I can see it getting by the QC department and getting shipped to the team, but the teams put their own names and numbers on the jerseys in-house, so the blame has to also go with the Washington Clubhouse staff. I would think you would double-check your work before you hang it up in a professional player’s locker for game use.
I know the job is some times bang, bang in the Clubhouse, but to let something like that get to the field is a major problem. I mean,there have been names wrong on jerseys before, and even patches upside down or even wrong. But to put a jersey out on the field that displays your teams name wrong is a huge insult to the organization. I bet from now on there is going to be a huge amount of double-checks and balances in place to keep this from happening again in Washington. And by the way, Majestic should not have issued such a huge apology, it should have been caught before it hit the player s back, or at least before the beginning of the first inning.