Dramatic Moments Doom Rays
Momentum Swung like a Pendulum
I still can not believe what I saw last night during that game against the Minnesota Twins. These are the types of games we used to come out on top of in 2008. For some reason the karma or the magical ingredient is missing so far in this 2009 edition of the Rays. I mean that is a perfect example of the way we won games in 2008. We would fight and claw and produce hits and run scoring opportunities, then magically, a hit or a homer would open the floodgates for home plate celebrations. It is still time for this team to get back into that same groove, but we might have to dig to find it right now.
The person I feel the sorriest for right now is Rays reliever J P Howell. The guy is 0-2 this year after going 6-0 to begin 2008, and he should not have even had to go to the mound last night. How many defensive chances did we have in last nights game that could have turned the tide the Rays direction. Seriously here, there were plays that the usual Rays were adapt at getting, and one that would have secure the win even before Justin Morneau came to the plate in the bottom of the ninth inning. Is this defense the same reproduction of the 2008 model, or is it lacking a bit of intensity right now.
I know a barrel of hard hit balls can get through the holes in the infield, but when you do the “Maddon ” twist and add another infielder to the mix, a sharp hit ball should not take you out of the game. I mean on that special shift in the ninth inning, with the bases juiced, you know the pressure is at its highest level of the game. Morneau hit a screamer that takes a bad hop right in front of Akinora Iwamura and he has to field the ball off his stomach. With the Rays maybe still having a chance to end the inning, and a chance to win it, Aki tosses the ball to second base to get the force out on Brendan Harris. With Harris out, the ball is quickly thrown to Carlos Pena at first base, but not in time and Twin’s catcher Jose Morales hit the plate with the winning run.
The split second that the ball hit Aki in the stomach might have gave the Twins that victory. For if he had been able to cleanly get the ball and toss it to second an instant earlier, the Rays would have been up to bat in the top of the 10th inning. Those plays used to seem routine to the Rays in 2008, but in 2009, they are having to work for every out and run. Minnesota did what it took to win the game.period. They played the perfect National League scoring card to a “T”. They got Morales on base with a lead-off single. Nick Punto put down a nice bunt to move him over to second base and into scoring position. Denard Span hit a beautiful ball just past the mound for an infield single and put Morales 90 feet from the win. Then the ex-Ray Harris came up to pinch hit for Alexi Casilla and got walked. Then Morneau hit a routine grounder to Aki………..the rest is history.
Three Key Moments in the Game
I saw three moments in that game last night that seemed to seal the loss for the Rays. If any of these events had gone the other way, that is in the Rays favor, it would have been a Rays win. I know it is speculation that these events could have, or would have been different, but you got to believe they did have a momentum change for the team. Let’s start with the one that had me on the edge of my chair cursing out a base running blunder.
The first incident happened in the fifth inning, with the Rays down 2-0. Willy Aybar lead off the inning with a one-hopper to the left field wall for a double. With Aybar already in scoring position, it seemed like a easy chance for the Rays to cut into the Twin’s lead. Gabe Kapler hit Aybar over to third with a grounder to second for the first out of the inning. Then Dioner Navarro hit a ball to short that Punto decided to come home with for a force out at the plate on Aybar. Now the thing that got to me here was that Aybar was not moving on the play to the plate, or he would have scored before the throw. Instead he took a late break to the plate that Punto saw and he changed his throw from first to the plate.
The ball was there in enought time for Morales to post up in front of the plate perfectly to keep Aybar from sliding past him. Aybar was straight up when he bashed into Morales and sent him flying backwards, but he had enough time to firmly secure the ball and the aggressive thrust by Aybar was moot. I am sorry, but maybe it is the football player in me, but I used to dig my shoulder into the catcher and drive him off the plate from below to give him a sense of fear from landing on his head, not politely send him reeling backwards like a possum.
Incident number two might be more 50-50 to some people, but every time I saw that replay on television, I think I saw more of a chance to get that ball. In the bottom of the first inning, Rays starter James Shield issued a lead-off walk to Span. These lead-off incidents always come back to haunt you unless you get a quick double play ball out of it. Alexi Casilla then came up and struck out to post the first out of the inning. Morneau then came to the plate with the ability to hit one out on every pitch. Shields tried to go inside on him and the ball caught more of the plate than he expected and Morneau drilled the ball deep into left-center field.
Carl Crawford was there with a bead on the ball as it began to slowly come out of the air. He jumped high along the 7 foot outfield wall as the ball began to fall rapidly. He made a perfect play on the ball, but it somehow managed to dribble from his glove and Morneau had himself a 2-run homer to start the game. You want to yell Fan Interference, or something when you see a play like that. But there was not a Twins fan near the seat before it hit the concrete beyond the wall. Crawford seemed to have had the ball, but it slipped out of his grasp and it gave the Twins an early lead. 9 times out of 10, Crawford is coming down with that ball for an ESPN Web Gem, but tonight, it was instead labeled as Morneau’s fifth homer of the season.
Incident number three was not as obvious to a lot of people.
But it is beginning to destroy offensive chances for the Rays. As of today, Evan Longoria is hitting the cover off the ball at a .365 clip. His power hitting and timely singles have been a major player in the Rays wins. His 10 doubles also are a team high and makes him a scoring threat every time he hit the plate. But there is another Longoria stat that is beginning to rear its ugly head, and it is taking the Rays out of numerous scoring chances this season. The reason I mention this is that every time this has happened recently, it has taken the Rays fastest base runner off the base paths and made Rays rallies more difficult.
It is something everyone does during their year hitting, but so far in 2009, Longoria is making a bad habit of hitting into these plays day in, and day out. Longoria is currently ranked tied for second in the American League in this category. It is an “offensive” category to me, but not in a good way. So far he has hit grounded into 6 double plays this season. He is the only member of the Rays with over 2 this season. And in last night’s game in the fourth inning, after Crawford walked to lead-off the inning, Longoria took two pitches to take the Rays scoring chance off the board. Most people would say, ” So what” to this, but it is a pattern in recent games.
Do I need to go back into the 21 game annuals and show you key moments this has happened? Number 6 is listed above, but how about a few other recent examples.
Example number 5 .
This past Sunday during the Rays 7-1 loss to the Oakland A’s. In the third inning, with one out and Jason Bartlett and Carl Crawford both on base, Longoria hit a ball to second baseman Mark Ellis that he tossed to Orlando Cabrerra, then to Giambi to end the inning and the Rays rally.
Example number 4.
During the Rays last home stand, on Sunday, April 19th in the sixth inning, with again two men on base, Longoria hit into a inning ending double play. That day he had Michel Hernandez on second and Gabe Kapler on first base when he hit a ball to Alexi Ramirez at short that he flipped to second and on to first base to complete the inning.
I am not trying to throw anyone under the bus here, but this is a habit that the young Longoria can fix before it gets to be a situation for him. Considering the Rays have only hit into 14 double plays all season long shows that Longoria is heads above the rest of the team in that category. In two of the three examples listed, his action of hitting into a double play might not have changed the course of the contest. But last night, it could have made a monumental change to the game.
Zorilla Needs More Plate Appearances
He was one of those hidden gems on the Rays roster in 2008 when he made 48 starts for the Rays. His bat was just developing into the creature it has further morphed into in 2009. We saw glances of his increased power and his ability during the season. His . 249 average does not jump out at you, but his 10 home runs and 48 RBI’s in limited at bats does make a bold statement about him in 2008. He even put an exclamation point on the last series in Detroit in 2008, by stroking three home runs, including a 420 foot shot to dead center field in that game. His two Grand Slams in 2008, the first against Baltimore on August 29th, then added one against Sidney Ponson in the Rays versus Yankees night cap of the double-header on September 13th.
Now consider he hit all of those in only 193 at bats. that is right, he hit 11 extreme homers in less than 200 plate appearances in the year. Considering he spent the first 38 games of the season on the disabled list with a left thumb fracture, I guess we can say that Zorilla has made his full transformation into not only the “Super Utility” guy, but also a needed tool for the Rays offense. Yes, I am very high on this guy. Not because he is on my countless Fantasy teams ( Which he is), but because I can see the desire and the drive for several years finally peaking with him gaining more time to show his wares to the Rays coaching staff in 2009.
Considering he did not come back up to the Rays until August 5th, for his fourth tour of duty with the Rays, what could he have done if he was healthy all season long and not missed a stretch of the year rehabbing and gaining at bats in the minors. But in 2009, he has done nothing to push him onto the bench, or even be considered a secondary player. Right now I truly feel you play your “hot” card. And right now, he is the hottest guy on the Rays roster. Last night is a classic example of his pinch hitting in 2009. He comes up in place of Gabe Kapler in the top of the ninth inning and blasts a shot into the baggie in right-center field to tie the game up for the Rays.
Pressure, what pressure? This season, Zobrist is 2 for 4 as a pinch hitter with 5 RBI’s. Both of those hits have been home runs, including a Grand Slam pinch hit on April 17th. Before this season, in his three prior years with the Rays, he has gone only 0-12 in that role. So the 24-year old is stepping up his game in 2009, trying to gain either a spot in the field every day, or just be a top option off the bench for Rays Manager Joe Maddon. Now let me throw another wild fact at you about Zobrist. And no, it is not the fact that his wife is an extremely talented singer ( Julianne Zobrist ), but it a Rays career record that might impress you. Zobrist is currently tied with Carlos Pena ( 3 ) for the team franchise record for Grand Slams. Oh, and he has hit all three of those Grand slams in only 86 total at bats. He could run for mayor of St. Petersburg, Florida right now and win by a landslide.
**** In last night’s game, 3 of the Rays 9 hits were doubles off Francisco Lariano. The Rays have now hit 74 extra base hits this year, which is ranked fifth in the American League. Their stolen base percentage of 87.1 is also fifth in the AL this season. The Rays are also fifth in the AL in homers, with 24 this year. But the team is ranked third in doubles this season with 46 so far. But on a bad note, they are also ranked third in the AL , with 165 total in strikeouts this season.
**** In last night’s game, the Rays had their best chance of the season to increase their win total against left-handers. As it stands now after the loss, the Rays
are 1-8 against southpaws this season.
The only left-hander the Rays have defeated this year was Boston’s Jon Lester in their second game of the season. In that 7-2 Rays first win of the season, they tacked 8-hits and 5-runs on the young leftie. In the upcoming 4-game series at home against the Red Sox, the Rays will not face Lester again as he is starting the Wednesday night game against the Cleveland Indians to conclude their series in Progressive Field.
**** Injured literary Ray Fernando Perez will be adding the title public speaker to his resume tomorrow as he will be the guest reader at the Rays “Open Doors for Children” event at the law offices of Holland & Knight ( 100 N. Tampa Street ) in downtown Tampa at 10:30 am. The Columbia University graduate will be reading the popular children’s book, H is for Home Run to about 35 children from “ A Brighter Community” Day Care”, which is one of the oldest day cares in Tampa.
**** Tickets still remain for the Thursday and Friday games of the upcoming Boston Red Sox series. There are limited numbers of seats for the Sat. and Sunday games, but plenty of variety seats for the first two games of this series. The Rays are currently ranked fourth in home attendance in 2009, even with only 7 home games so far in the season. The average of 28, 986 after the seven games is a 60 percent increase over last year’s attendance figures for the team in 2008. The team will play only 13 of their first 35 in the confines of Tropicana field in 2009.