Today is the first day in almost two weeks that the Rays can officially sit back and relax a bit while jetting on to the West Coast for a road trip to visit one of my favorite spots and stadiums in baseball. Since it is an off day, I am not going to talk Rays baseball. I have been thinking this past off season that on true “Off Days”, I am going to try and find something outside of the Tampa Bay area to enlighten and bring to light for fans around the country. My first one has to be my favorite place to visit both for baseball and for relaxation.
I have to start by saying I am not impartial when it comes to my favorites. If I like something, I will proclaim it to be the best, and I will not back down from that until something better has moved it down on the list. But my favorite stadium will not ever be moved down the list. It is in a town that has had my mind and heart since 1976 when I first came out here as a child during a summer vacation. My uncle used to be a Navy submarine commander and he had a place in Coupeville, Washington that took my breath away from the get-go.
For that reason, it is going to be the place where I call home in my golden years ( which are not too far away some days). I love the smell in the air, and the fact that if I look east I see the beauty and elegance of Mt. Rainer in the backdrop. And if I glance to the west I see the expansive waters of Puget Sound. I forget about the smell of the paper plants and the strong aroma of coffee houses that line the streets and cobblestone paths of this great town. For it is here that I have enjoyed numerous exciting games, and some of the greatest stadium foods..Yes, I am talking about the town that funded a monster stadium after their team went to the playoffs. Where Ken Griffey Jr. used to smile as a wide-eyed kid under the dome and where the turf was as rough as sandpaper with small rolls and hills in it at field level.
I love Seattle with every bit of my being. Sometimes it might be for the awesome seafood and delicacies you can get in this region, like the royal and Bing cherry. But then other times it is the 12-egg omelete at Beth’s that still boggles the mind that people even try such a gastronomical malfunction for fun. Safeco Field has so many great qualities to it that I might have to do a two-part blog to truly get everything on the blog. But here we go with some of the wild thing I have seen, heard and also been told while sitting in this palace of baseball. When you first drive into Seattle you see to your west side of the car a set of while roofs that poke their way out of the tall buildings and watery backdrops to let you know you are close. One of the greatest functions of this stadium is their retractable roof, and the ceremonial music that goes along with it opening. The music streaming from the speakers, “Flight of the Valykries” is amazing while watching it either open or close…….breathtaking.
Even from miles away on Alaskan Way you can see the white monument. I always stay at a hotel in the Queen Anne district right across from the Sir Mix-A-Lot famous Dick’s hamburger ( Yes, I stay on Broadway ) stand just a stone throw from the Key Center and the Space Needle. The sight of that roof is a reminder to me of great baseball in this country. But it is not only the baseball that makes me yearn for this city. The fans are some of the best in the league, bare none. I am saying here that they are the friendliest and most open fans I have ever met in my baseball travels. Because of the businesses in this region, people from all over the globe have been called to Seattle. Be it American, Japanese, Korean or even Canadian, these fans respect the game and make you feel at home in their house.
No disrespect to Boston or New York here who defend their home. It is just a different way to approach the visiting fan. Both have their meaning and objectives, but Seattle fans want you to come back again and again. And there is so much interesting things around this stadium. From the Bullpen areas that seem to showcase the visiting team like livestock above the left field outfield walls, to the grassy and wooded terrain of deep center field. Even when you arrive at the stadium you get a different vibe when you enter it. The baseball bat structure positioned over your head is an example of art coming into play with baseball. The sculpture shows the classic baseball swing from start to finish and is an interesting sight to take in and follow to the end.
But then you take the first set of stairs up into the ballpark and you can finally see what all the fuss is about. 360 degree viewing, and you walk down into the lower bowl area. The concourses are huge and laid out in an expert way to invite you to chat with the regulars and take in the sights of the game from a high vantage point. If you wander to the north end of the park you can take in the breathtaking sights of the city and Puget Sound to the west. Take a few sets of stairs up into the upper regions of the stadium to really get a feel for life in Washington. At game time you might have on a light jacket and there might be a hint of coolness in the air. By the sixth inning, you are seeking a blanket or someone to keep you warm as the chilly breeze rips through the stadium, which is actually a great way to meet women ( hehehehe).
But if you have to get out of the cold, you can always go to the Diamond Club and see some amazing photos on their walls. They even have a picture of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig fishing together on the Gulf of Mexico in Tampa Bay. I was intrigued by this picture and was told it was one of the only times that they are photographed outside of a baseball uniform and in public together. Then your attention wanders to a photo of Babe Ruth in a Red Sox jersey throwing off the mound. And all of this is in a club section of the stadium that would rival any 5-star restaurant in town. I did not get to eat in this splendid setting, but it made me yearn to be a big wig for one night.
But some of the true treats in this stadium is the odd things that make it special. Things like that wind that comes in and engulps you during the late innings, or that almost haunting but comforting train whistle that blows from beyond the right field tracks during the games. I found it quite inviting and comforting myself to hear that whistle blow as the trains were whisking themselves past the outside of the stadium. It brought a small town feel to the stadium, and a comfort level of small time living in the big city. But something that caught my eye while strolling in the center concourse behind home plate might be the true test of being a Mariners’ fan.
The compass laid into the flooring of this stadium was also a work of art that must be seen if you ever get here. With every member of the original team that first played in this stadium immortalized in the compass points, it is a thing of beauty and elegance to view from above. From the Press Box area with their gas station type roll up windows, to the usher not letting any one sit down during the innings, this stadium is my top pick in this league. I know there are better places to different people, but the elegance and the baseball legacy here is still unfolding daily.
Every time I have come back to this Safe haven, I have found something new and exciting to see or hear. The last time was going into the Louisville Slugger shop in the gift area and watching them make a bat from a lump of wood. All the way to the engraving of the name and the branding of the bat are done on site, and can be completed during the game. Or maybe it is the huge mural of Ichiro on a building near the Space Needle that rises up out of the ground to make you take in this 20 story masterpiece. Most people come to this town for it coffee and it’s seafood. I came here for baseball and regain some of my youth.
I really do plan on spending my older days sitting in that ballpark looking up as they close the roof after a night game and seeing the star disappear for a few moments. I might not be as thrilled to come back for the sushi, but I am glad to take a sip of that Pyramid beer brewed not over 50 yards from the front gates. Seattle has a feel both in their baseball culture and city personality that makes you forget you are in a hub city for travel to Alaska, or even your hometown. It is my perfect home away from home, which is over 3,597 miles to my northwest right now, but I can travel there in seconds.
Photo credits: 1) Tartlime@Flickr.com
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.
The Dye was Cast
I hate to admit it when the umpires get a play right, but the circumstances surrounding their logic and reasoning last night boggled the mind. In the sixth inning last night with Dye at the plate, he hit a ball that seemed to go fair and then Aybar picked it up deep in the hole and threw to first base for a easy put out. At no time did the Third Base Umpire Gerry Davis or Home Plate Umpire Brian Gorman signal a foul ball. It was not until Dye and White Sox Manager Ozzie Guillen both started to act like a spoiled children that Gorman even considered the play by having a umpire conference just off the pitching mound.
During that time, I saw Rays pitcher Jeff Niemann do a really intelligent thing. Either he did it himself, or the Rays bench convinced him to roll the ball to the bench area before the umpire broke from their conference. Since none of the four umpires could of seen the ball go off of Dye’s big toe and stream down to third base, they made a judgment call on the action. Well, they got it right by replays, but the reasoning left something to be desired. Why couldn’t they have just left it as ” it went off his foot” and not say another word.
But then Rays Manager Joe Maddon came out and argued his case as to the odd reasoning they also gave to giving him a foul ball on the play and not letting the play stand as an out. The umpires called for the ball from the Rays dugout and Gorman decided that the ball did show that Dye did foul it off his foot. But Dye was wearing grey spikes during the at bat and could not have made a mark on the ball. Also obvious to the fans, but not to the umpires was the fact that Dye was using a black maple bat, and could have produced the mark on the ball from the initial contact with the ball.
Maddon was livid at this point because he knew that they had the reasoning wrong on the call. He even went over and pointed to Dye’s spikes to show that he was wearing a neutral color spike that would not provide evidence on the ball. For his action, he gained his 10th ejection as a Rays Manager. But think about this, how can a grey cleat produce a black spot on a ball? I can not. So Maddon was right in his argument. I wonder if Gorman or the rest of the umpiring crew might be on the lookout for similar situations the next three games at the Trop.
But the pure fact that none of the four umpires saw the play, or even made a vocal call on it tends to also throw some doubt on it all. The television replay is the only solid evidence that they got it right, and it was not a reviewable incident. They did get it right, but Maddon did have a few great points that I wonder if they even took a second look at before deciding that it was a foul ball and Dye again stood in the batter’s box. He did end up hitting a single in the inning.
Rays starter Jeff Niemann did start off last night game a lot different than his last outing. Tonight he seemed more in control and had the White Sox double thinking a few times at the plate. And that is a great sign for the Rays. Since his last outing some sites and outside voices have called for the Rays to bring up David Price, but after tonight’s performance, Niemann hopefully has given some confidence to the Rays faithful. His ball did seem to have a bit more snap tonight and his pitch selection seemed a bit more in line with the White Sox tendencies. His breaking pitches also seemed to be hugging the corner better, and his fastball had great movement.
So the Niemann haters had to give props to the tall rightie tonight because he did everything in his power to keep the Rays in the game. He did get hit around a bit for 9 hits in his 6 innings of work, but he only gave up two runs, and both of those was on a Dye homer run in the second inning. He did get into jams and a few pretty hairy situations, but the Rays defense stiffened and got him through it with no problems.
Niemann even helped his own cause in the sixth inning after a Alexi Ramirez short bouncer in front of the plate. the 6 foot 9 inch Niemann got to the ball and as he was tumbling to the turf threw a strike to Dioner Navarro to get the force out at home for the second out of the inning. The tall rightie looked like a down giraffe on the play, but completed it perfectly to record the out. But the biggest point of the night might have been in the first inning when he sent the White Sox 1-2-3 to start the game. That bit of confidence is essential for him this season. Knowing he belongs after the media and fans blasted him after his outing in Baltimore is critical for him.
After tonight’s display, where he also got White Sox second baseman Chris Getz to fly out to B J Upton in center with men on second and third to end the innnig, just adds to his renewed confidence. That might have given him the spunk to again come out in the third inning and shut them down again 1-2-3 in the game. Niemann left the game with it still tied at 2-2, and gave the Rays a chance to win this ball game, but the White Sox came up with a run in the top of the ninth inning to defeat the Rays 3-2.
How much pressure do think this guy has felt in the last 10 days. He was basically the last guy to be told he had a spot on this roster and has fought and clawed his way ever since in the long reliever r
ole. I actually think he has been the most solid member of the Rays Bullpen early in this season. I am wondering if he might just have the type of year that Grant Balfour and J P Howell had last season ans cement himself a rock solid spot in this Bullpen. So far this year he has appeared in 4 games and pitched for a total of 7.2 innings of work.
And in that time he might be the only member of the Bullpen to surrender over 6 hits this season,he has given up 9 hits so far in 2009. He is also the guy who has been on the mound the longest from the Rays Bullpen. And not lost in that translation is the fact he has been on the mound in critical parts of those four games against great hitting ball clubs. Tonight he went 2.1 innings and threw 55 pitches, and gave up the winning run to the White Sox.
In the top of the ninth inning, after getting a quick out from Ramirez, he gave up consecutive singles to Getz and Brian Anderson to put two White Sox on with one out. Josh Fields hit a sharp ball to Jason Bartlett that he hesitated for a moment before trying to get the speedy Fields at first. He did not get Fields, and Anderson scored to put the White Sox up 3-2. The play was very close at first base, and if not for Getz coming in high at second base, he might have gotten Fields with an earlier throw to first. But for the sake of argument here, Cormier has come in for some hairy situations this season and came out smelling like a rose. Unfortunately, tonight was not one of them.
Sometime I marvel at how much torque Carlos Pena gets when he arches his back and leans back a bit on his swing. There have been times this year that he might have had the distance to again homer past the wall, but his back was arched too much and it turned into a towering out high into the sky. But last night during the Rays game, Pena hit a monster foul ball moments before correcting the path and again depositing one in the deep right field stands of Tropicana Field. His foul ball was a monster shot, but his homer was of equal distance, and counted to give the Rays a tie at 2-2 at the time in the contest.
Pena has been consistent since coming to the Rays in hitting the long ball. And paired with Evan Longoria and Pat Burrell, the trio was the Rays best home run hitting product since the deflated “Hit Show” in 2000. And so far this season Pena and Longoria have not disappointed the home team. Right now Pena, Longoria and Nelson Cruz of the Texas Rangers all share the top spot in the American League home run contest with 5 this year. Pena is doing it without the usual protection of Longoria in the lineup, which is a huge factor. In the last two games, Pena has had to fight off breaking balls and sinking sliders to erupt into the home run race.
But with his line-up mate Longoria expected to be back in the lineup tonight, the duo can set their sights on the fans beyond the outfield walls. Pena also sit in a 6-way tie for the second spot in runs batted in ( RBI) this season with 12. Longoria is also in that mess of six tied with Pena in RBI’s. And even with him just beginning to get comfortable at the plate, with Longo and Burrell in the lineup in front and behind him respectfully, Pena is going to see more and more pitches this year for the Rays . This in turn will be good news, because with more pitches thrown to him, his chances of hitting one long and deep increase dramatically in games.
Escot Friday Night Bus Service to Games
Starting tomorrow night, April 17th, ESCOT Bus Lines will add three routes to provide transportation to and from Tropicana Field for Tampa Bay Rays Friday 7:38 pm home games. These three routes will service Pinellas, Hillsborough and Sarasota/Manatee Counties. Here is a tentative schedule of games that will provide the bus service and a example of pick-up points in the three counties served by the Escort service.
Date Opponent Game Time
Friday, April 17 Chicago White Sox 7:38 p.m.
Friday, May 1 Boston Red Sox 7:38 p.m.
Friday, May 15 Cleveland Indians 7:38 p.m.
Friday, May 29 Minnesota Twins 7:38 p.m.
Friday, June 12 Washington Nationals 7:38 p.m.
Friday, June 26 Florida Marlins 7:38 p.m.
Friday, July 10 Oakland Athletics 7:38 p.m.
Other games could be added to this schedule in the future.
Pick-up Times for Serivce:
5:15 p.m. departure from Tarpon Springs Shopping Mall
5:45 p.m. departure from Country Side Mall
6:30 p.m. departure from Courtside Grille( Carillion Park)
7:00 p.m. arrival at Tropicana Field
5:30 p.m. departure from Beef O’Brady’s, 9331 E. Adamo Dr., Tampa
6:00 p.m. departure from Channelside District
6:30 p.m. departure from West Shore Mall
7:00 p.m. arrival at Tropicana Field
5:15 p.m. departure from Beef O’Brady’s, 5942 34th St. W., Sarasota
6:00 p.m. departure from Beef O’Brady’s, 1795 Lakewood Ranch Blvd., Lakewood Ranch
6:35 p.m. departure from Beef O’Brady’s, 8913 US Highway 301 N., Parrish
7:00 p.m. arrival at Tropicana Field
Photo credits: All three photos are from Chris O’Meara / AP
Yankees 4, Rays 3
More than just Tax Day
Branch Rickey is a very special person to the city of St. Petersburg, Florida. It was his St. Louis Browns squad that first began the Spring Training ritual in this area more than 100 years ago. At that time the notion was that this small hamlet would be perfect for baseball. Funny how here we are more than 100 years after he might have said this same words celebrating our first American League Pennant this week with “Championship Week”, and also get to remember him and two of his crowning moments in baseball history.
Spring Training in the fair city might be special to Florida, but his second historical note changed the face of the sport. How much pressure he must have felt at the time he was considering this move. He would be the first owner to open his clubhouse doors to this minority, and he had to find the right ambassador to usher in this new era. As his luck would have it, he found a educated, smart and tolerant individual named Jackie Robinson to be the first black player to step upon a major league field. Now he could have made the choice a bit more controversial by picking the slick tongued Satchel Paige, or the power hitting Josh Gibson, but each of those two came with a little baggage that might have derailed the notion.
Rickey did something most baseball businessmen might not have done at that time, he forced history’s hands a bit, and also made the sport open to all players after that incident. But what pressure those two men must have endured. Rickey was lucky enough to spend most of his time in his Press Box where writers where more apt to kiss your behind than talk behind it. But Robinson had to take the abuse and treatments in a full frontal attack. But his grace and his baseball ability soon made the voices and the catcalls die down and people began to see his skills and talent for the game. So here I sit tonight and see one of his sister teams from New York play the Rays, with each member of both teams wearing that famous “42″ on their backs today.
If there truly is a place called heaven, and if you can see down from it, I hope Jackie Robinson can take pride that in all the torments and the pain he had to endure in Brookyln, that today the game is better for his initial sacrifice and his courage to press on, even in the worst environments. I have not been alive long enough to truly hear all the stories and the great plays by Robinson, but his best play ever might have just been that first step out of the dugout to take his place in the Dodger’s infield. Thank you Jackie Robinson for being a special part of this game we all know and love so much.
I can not still believe that I heard this kind of stuff out a fans mouth this early in the season. I mean we are only 8 games into the 2009 season and already I have heard the first word of doubt in the air at Tropicana Field. How can anyone be so far-sighted to even bring up the word “2001″ and the word “losing” in the same breath in this short start to the season. Sure we might be 4-4 right now and tied with these same Yankees in the division, but think about it this way. We are tied with the team that is suppose to crush our dreams this season, and the ” media darlings”, the Boston Red Sox are in the cellar right now.
Come on people, do you really think that 8 games, or 1/10th of your Home Games can be a true determining factor to your negative thoughts right now. So what if the offense is slow to wind up and get going. Sometimes this sort of thing happens during a year. Maybe we are lucky enough to have it happen now rather than in 2008, right before the All-Star break when we lost 7 in a row. To even bring up any negative thoughts right now is the sign of a true bandwagon fan, or just an uninformed fan at best. So what, we have now lost two game at home. Did you expect to win all 81 before the year? I know I did not.
But what is so frustrating is that people are throwing the season under the bus after 8 games, and they do not have valid reasons to do it. I mean if you had a valid reason, and can prove it, I might be willing to see your side of the argument. But to just throw the Bullpen, and the line-up under a general heading of ” going south” is a bit premature right now. I mean, let’s throw a positive vibe out here right now. We started the year taking 2 out of 3 in Fenway Park, our toughest place to play. We only took1 of 3 from the usual April darlings, the Baltimore Orioles to come home to a 3-3 record. And now we have a 1-1 record against the Yankees, and a few uninformed Rays fans are crying we are not 8-0.
Patience people. Seriously here, there is not a team that is 8-0, much less 7-1. That is the great thing about baseball. A team that was a losing franchise before 2008 can rise from the ashes and take on the big boys and fight all the way to the World Series. Is that not the same thing that can happen again in 2009? And if I remember, it did not bode well for the Rays after 8 games in 2008, we were 3-5. We also lost our Home Opener against the Seattle Mariners and went on to have one of the best home records in baseball. So put away the doom and gloom hats for a few months. My Gosh people, there is some great ball being played on this field and you are only looking at the score. Just remember, the Rays finished April with a 14-12 record on the way to a 97-
65 total. We have plenty of baseball to play before throwing in the towels people…..plenty.
Andy Sonnanstine has been portrayed by me before as a Volvo. He asked me a few days ago during batting practice what I meant by that. I explained to him that the Swedish car is considered the safest and most reliable car on the face of the earth. And that I in turn think he is one of those pitchers that you can predict good thing from, and expect the best from in every outing. He doesn’t have the external flair glowing from him that James Shields, Matt Garza and Scott Kazmir eludes right now, but he can be the guy to get the win without the pomp and flash.
I told him come on Andy, you were the guy to get to 12 wins first on this staff early on in 2008 and no one knew your name. Sometimes that can actually help you as a pitcher. You can sneak up on teams and take that win without them remembering who did them in on the mound, and that is special. I also explains I could have called him a pair of old comfortable shoes, but thought that analogy might be a bit hindering on him. But seriously, Sonnanstine had multiple chances to also rise to 14 wins in 2008, but hit a wall. Just because he did not post 14 wins doesn’t mean this guy should ever be discounted as a key to the Rays rise again in 2009.
Take tonight game for example, he fought long and hard against another “hot” pitcher tonight and held his own. I put the other Andy ( Pettitte ) up there in the top lefties still playing in the game. To stay toe-to-toe with him tonight on the mound is a testament to how far he has come as a pitcher in such a short time. Sure Sonny might have given up 2 runs on four hits, but it was not his hand that dealt the loss for the Rays today. He has his usual reliable night on the mound. Not big numbers in strikeouts, but he did face 20 batters and did not give up the long ball. But that is something you come to expect from Sonnanstine. Nice innings with no huge drama and a bit of excitement thrown in for good measures. Sometimes a great baseball game is just a boring Chess match and not the huge roller coaster that some pitchers throw at you for the Rays. Sometimes the old comfortable shoes fit snug and welcoming, even on the baseball diamond.
Longoria Gone Until the Weekend
The Rays will be without Rookie of the Year winner Evan Longoria for at least the next two days as he needs to head to California to attend to a personal family matter. All out thoughts and prayers go out to Longoria and his family at this time.
The third baseman hopes to be back for Friday night’s game against the Chicago White Sox at 7:38 pm. Willy Aybar is scheduled to take his spot in the outfield and be placed in the fifth slot if the lineup. Aybar began 2008 as the starter at third base before a hamstring injury brought Longoria up, and he never again left his spot until a wrist injury forced him to miss time near the end of 2008.
Friday Night Games
I want to take this moment to remind everyone that Friday night game are going to start at 7:38 pm this season. This gives Rays fans more time to get to the ballpark, plus can be a better starting time due to work and family events. This experiment by the Rays might be the best change in 2009 because it will give an extra 30 minutes for people traveling from outside the St Petersburg area ample time to get here before the first pitch. I know some people complained in 2008 that they were stuck in I-275 traffic, or even trying to get into the stadium’s parking lots before the old 7:05 start times. Hopefully this new start time will help eliminate a lot of that trouble, and also give other fans the opportunity to come out and see a Rays game.
Gold Glove for Pena
Before today’s game, Rawlings presented Carlos Pena with his 2008 Gold Glove for his outstanding play at first base for the American League. He is the first Rays first baseman to win the ward, but not the only one who could have won it. The Rays have been blessed with a great bunch of first baseman in the past, but in 2008, Pena was simply amazing on the bag for the Rays. He only had 2 errors the entire season, and one of those was a throwing error. At the presentation was his wife and darling young daughter.
I found it kind of cute that she did not seem to happy to be out there in the spotlight with mom and dad yesterday. She did not cry or pout, but you could see she either did not understand the moment, or that the camera flashes might have frightened her a bit. But she was cute as a button and by mom’s side as dad picked up that awesome piece of hardware. embedded in the middle of the base was a picture of Pena in silver and black, with a gold plated first baseman’s mitt on the top. I always wonder if they get a new glove and dip it, or if the player donates an older mitt to be plated and set on top of the award.
Photo credits: 1) Chris O’Meara / AP
2) Chris O’Meara / AP
3) Chris O’Meara / AP
I have been known to say in the past that a championship is not official until you have that ring on your finger. I unfortunately know the good and the bad out of that statement. I was with a team in college that won a conference championship to only have it taken away by NCAA violations. I was not a pretty moment, but the fact that we still got rings, but they stated “Number 1 in SEC” not champions still stings some days. But on Tuesday night, there was no taking anything away from the accomplishments of the Tampa Bay Rays in 2008. This was the night they got to put that finishing touch on their magical season by getting their own set of hardware. Proud Rays Principal Owner Stuart Sternberg, President Matt Silverman and Executive Vice President, Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman presented the rings to over 23 players, eight coaches and 14 executive members of the Rays front office yesterday.
The ring is 14 carat white gold featuring a raised Rays logo among a sea of clustered diamond and shimmering light prisms that seem to dazzle and confuse you. The idea of putting the Rays logo above a outline of a baseball diamond was a classic piece and adds to the glamor of this fantastic ring. But then you look into the center of the Rays logo and you see a unique sight. The Rays decided to add their own special touch to the ring by setting a specialty cut yellow diamond into the logo’s 18 carat gold star/sun burst. But the sparkle doesn’t end there as 48 individual sparkle factories seems to shimmer and shine off the lights to create a magical light display. If you ever want a disco light show at your next party, placing one of these rings within a line of light would produce quite a light show for everyone to enjoy. But that is one of the perks of winning, you get awesome pieces of jewelry to keep for life.
Replica Rings are the Bomb
I have to admit that when the Rays first told us they were going to give away American League Championship replica rings, my mind did wander to the Cracker Jack box rings and the plastic painted adjustable rings that team gave away in the 1990′s. I had a bad nightmare of maybe getting a ring that would turn my finger green or even fall off from lack of circulation because it was too small, or even had bad blemishes to the finish. But I was beyond pleasantly surprised when they handed me my ring on Tuesday night.
I came through the Season Ticket holder door as always and was presented with a blue satin sack promoting a local high end shopping mall on the outside of it. I knew that this establishment would not be privy to anthing cheap, so I looked quickly into the sack and found a gem of collectible quality hidden inside a small platic bag. The moment I first took a gander at this ring, my heart took a leap. It was beyond the simple words that I had read on numerous websites and had even thought in my own mind. The ring was beyond expectations and truly will be near me for a long, long time.
But I was in shock later in the night when a few Yankee fans were selling their rings for $ 5. I have to say, it was the best 25 dollars I have ever spent in the past 10 years. I am not putting them on Ebay or even trying to recoup anything financial with them. For me they will be additional rings to wear for the next 10 years. Mine is a bit snug on my finger and I will have to sand the inside down a bit to fit over my broken old knuckles, but I will wear them. Oh yes, they will be on my bony fingers for a long time. Treasures like this do not come along in life too often. This ring was no cheap substitute, it has real weight and real appeal. And it will be on my finger for a long time. Well, at least until I can figure out a way to get a real one……
AJ was more than OK
This is the thing that initially scared me about A J Burnett signing with the New York Yankees this season. He finally got a team that can score runs behind him this season. Last year. when he was with the Toronto Blue Jays, they had to have an outstanding game offensively to reward him some nights. But mostly he did it by himself by keeping the score close and letting his team catch up and overtake the opposition most nights. It is scary to consider that he was just that good, but lacked the firepower behind him. He now has that firepower, and his pitching confidence is sky high.
Burnett threw some impressive pitches last night. His breaking balls were falling off the plate at alarming rates. And his fastball seemed to have a new life of its own. He was truly on the moment on the mound. It was an awesome effort by a guy who has been close before to a no-hitter and miss. Well, last night he did not get that honor either, thanks to a Carl Crawford single to left field that broke up his no-hitter bid. But just how good was he up to that pivotial bottom of the seventhinning point?
Through 6 prior innings, Burnett had only allowed Rays DH Pat Burrell to reach base on a walk in the bottom of the second inning. Burrell even fought back from a 1-2 count to get his free pass off of Burnett. From the first pitch of the night until Crawford hit his single Burnett threw 74 pitches before giving up a single hit. But you have to also credit Crawford , who fought off Burnett with 5 straight foul balls before connecting on the Rays first hit. It was a classic pitcher versus hitter moment, with Crawford winning this time.
But that seemed to open the flood gates as Evan Longoria then hit a single to left on the first pitch he saw from Burnett. The Yankee starter was beginning to show some kinks in his armor tonight. Then Carlos Pena got an RBI single to right to score Crawford and also take the shitout away from Burnett. But the big blow again came from Burrell, who hit a RBI sacrifice fly to right field that scored Longoria and tied the game at 2-2. The Rays had battled for seven innings against a hot pitcher, and had finally broken through enough to get a tied contest.
Bullpen has a case of the Hiccups
Last night was not a typical night for the Rays Bullpen. The Rays had tied the game at 2-2 and gave the Bullpen a chance to secure the tie for them to try and take advantage of the Yankees in the eighth and ninth innings. But a few odd pitching performances gave the Yankees their fourth win of the season. Rays starter Matt Garza had thrown 7 innings of 5 hit 2 run ball and left the game after 112 pitches. The Rays problems on offense magnified the pitching of Garza, who actually had a decent outing by striking out nine Yankees tonight.
So with a chance at a free Papa John’s pizza in the wings, J P Howell took the mound for the Rays. Brett Gardner lead-off the Yankees top of the eighth inning with a double to deep left that split Crawford and B J Upton. Derek Jeter then hit a ball up the middle to put two on for the Yankees with no outs. With Gardner at thrid and Jeter at first, Mark Teixeira then came up and hit a blast into deep left field and Crawford did not attempt to throw Gardner out at the plate. That put the Yankees back in front 3-2. Jorge Posada then hit a ball back to Howell that he quickly threw to Carlos Pena to get out of the inning with only surrendering the lone run.
But in the ninth inning, the Yankees took control of the game from the Rays. Dan Wheeler came on to pitch and he got rudely awoken by Robinson Cano, who took for first pitch he saw for a single to left field to lead off the inning. Melky Caberra then kept the merry-go-round going by hitting a single to right on the second pitch he saw from Wheeler. After Wheeler got two quick out from Ramiro Pena and Jose Molina, it looked like he might be able to control this inning. But Gardner hit a ground rule double that went over the pulled -in Upton and bounced over the center field wall.
The Rays tried to play the odds and keep the outfielders in close to make a play at the plate more effective. The play backfired as Gardner’s blast was in the air a long time and Upton did give an honest chase for the ball, but could not get a glove on it before it hit the turf and bounced over the wall. Jeter then put the exclamation point on the game by hitting a 2-run homer to right field that just reached the first row seats. That gave the Yankees a 7-2 lead and the Rays could not convert any offense in the bottom of the ninth inning.
After the game the Rays learned that they will be missing Longoria, who is on his way to California to attend to family matters for the next two games. It is expected that he will return in time for Friday night’s game against the Chicago White Sox at Tropicana Field. While he is out of the Rays lineup, Willy Aybar will be manning third base for Longoria.
The Rays also officially put Shawn Riggans on the 15-day disabled list for right shoulder tendonitis. The move was made retroactive to April 10th. A collateral move was made to bring up Michel Hernandez from Durham to catch while Riggans is out of the lineup. Hernadez might see his first action of the year tomorrow in the Rays 4:08 pm start against the Yankees.
Photo credits: 1) www.raysbaseball.com
2) Chris O’Meara / AP
3) Chris O’Meara / AP
4) Chris O’Meara / AP
I thought I would never, ever even consider using that phrase to describe Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett in my life. But you know what, the guy is delivering at the right time. He is battling Longoria for the top batting average, and also pacing himself for a banner year on the home run front. Bartlett saved his lone home run in 2008 until he faced his old team, the Minnesota Twins in September 2008. He did greet the playoffs with one dinger, but that was on a pitch that just was begging to be hit out of the park by him that night.
But here we are in 2009, and the guy has already improved on that 100 percent by slamming his second homer of the season, and it also was not a shot that would be considered weak by any means of the word. He is making the Tampa Bay Media members look like Mensa candidates by selecting him as the team MVP in 2008. And in 2009 so far, it is the Longo and Bartlett show. After last night’s game he was hitting .444 for the young season. He ended up last night going 3 for 4, with a lone RBI, but also scored two runs. This is what is expected out of the leaders on a team, to provide the energy and the presence of greatness. Bartlett might not be the first name you consider when you think power, but the way he is playing right now, he is surely electric in the batter’s box and on the bases.
Welcome Back B J
Isn’t it grand to know that for the first time in the Rays short history, they have been anticipating and yearning for tonight ever since Spring Training began. It has been one of the most talked about and wrote about situation concerning the Rays this year. And now, here we are sitting here just waiting for it to happen. No, I am not talking about the banner ceremony, or even the introduction of the Rays players during this Home Opener. I am talking about our speedy outfield weapon, B J Upton. Ever since his off-season shoulder surgery to repair a problem that popped up in a late season Baltimore game on the road, the fans and media have been yearning for this day.
For some reason, the pulse and blood flow of this squad in the outfield has moved a bit away from left field and is now centered squarely on Upton and his second campaign in his learning process about one of the hardest positions in baseball. I heard a quote one time that the best center fielders are not made, they are born that way. Well, Upton might not have done a huge amount of time in the minors , or even outside of the infield in his life, but now his life’s blood is warming up the center field blue star on the turf. The guy is one of the games new exciting players to watch both in the field and on the bases. His potential could be a 40-40 man, but could the sky really be his limit?
Every newspaper and website was excited to report that he would be back today, just in time for a trip into Tropicana Field by the Yankees. but what is so amazing, is the fact that Upton might not even be 100 percent, and he is still better than our current options in center. And he did nothing to discredit that in his first time back on the field with the Rays. His first inning bunt down the third baseline was textbook, and started the Rays rally against Chien-Ming Wang. He lead off the inning with that bunt, but he might as well just hit it into the corner and stood on third base because the minute he was on first, he had Wang’s attention, and it truly effected the right-hander.
He kept Upton in his sights before releasing the ball, but the preoccupation with him cost Wang as Upton first stole second, then completed a double steal with Carl Crawford in the same inning to put both of them in scoring position for Pena. For the night, Upton only went 1-3, with that bunt, but his three walks did most of the damage as he ended up scoring 2 times tonight. For a bit, everyone questioned the idea of Upton in the lead-off role because it might hurt his power production and RBI capacity. Well, if you really do feel that way, then you did not pay any attention to last night’s game.
With Akinora Iwamura and Jason Bartlett going to be swapping the 8 and 9 slots during the year, if either of them are on base when Upton comes to the plate, he has the potential to score one or both of them in one swing. Think about this for a moment. the Rays now have power and speed at the 1 and 2 spots, and can use either of them in multiple situations besides just stealing bases. then you have the possibility of Iwamura and Bartlett to also be speed demons on the base paths and set up RBI situations for Upton and Crawford. That to me is a well-balanced offense with another slot of power coming in the middle of the lineup.
Nick Swisher was the Yankee “Ace” last night
I am not going to sit here and blow smoke about the state of the Yankee pitching last night. It was a bottomless pit for a few innings. I am not going to throw Wang under the bus too much, but what is up with the gifted right-hander. He did not even seem to have the mental ability to throw strikes last night. Is he still hurt and afraid of saying something for fear of the retaliation of the New York media circus? The guy was a rock for the team in the past, but now just looked confused and down right awful. I mean the poor guy did not even last more than 1 inning tonight. He gave up as many hits ( 6 ) and runs ( 8 ) in that one inning that used to take over 8 innings of his past pitching skills. His ERA at the beginning of the game was a robust 17.18, but that was very kind considering he left in the first inning of tonight’s contest with an inflated 28.93 ERA.
I thought I was seeing a pitcher totally implode into himself tonight, and unlike a recent Rays game, this pitcher did not salvage anything good after the initial inning. But the guy behind him were not any better for this game. It was not until the bottom of the eighth inning when Nick Swisher took off his first baseman’s mitt and got his outfield glove that the Yankees seemed to have a pitcher who could mow people down. Now I am not sure of Swisher’s credentials as a reliever, but he did impress me a bit last night. Not for the fact he made the Rays Gabe Kapler look foolish by striking out, but by his control.
He was an upgrade on a bad night. Yankee Manager Joe Giardi might have done an extremely difficult thing to some people, but it was a pretty good situational idea to me. He knew this was going to be a long series, and he needed all his relievers intact for possible long innings, or even short stints. By him placing Swisher out there, it might have sent the signal of surrender to some people, but it actually saved his Bullpen arms for another day. Sometimes managers have to leave a struggling pitcher out there because he can not sacrifice his Bullpen arms to save the guy. This was just that same kind of night.
With no true long-reliever on this staff, he had to anoint inning by inning the way be wanted this to play out. He knew after the third inning that he was not going to score 11 runs on a hot pitcher like Scott Kazmir tonight. So he cut his losses a bit and used an alternative to burning another Bullpen arm. For his credit, Swisher threw 22 pitches, with 12 of them for strikes. His basic sidearm delivery did seem to catch the Rays hitters off guard. Think about it, when was the last time someone scouted Swisher on the mound? High School maybe. He did give up a hit and a walk, but considering that the Yankees pitched a total of 239 pitches in that game, his 22 might have been the best of the night.
A-Rod and Tex take in the Game
I was asking this to fans about the second inning of the game last night. What do you get when you place A-Rod and Mark Teixeira on the bench at the same time? You get the entire payroll of the 2008 American League Champions payroll. That is right, the Yankees sat down the almost to the dollar amount of the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays entire season payroll. $ 46 million dollars sat on the bench last night and took in the debacle. I know A-Rod was not happy seeing Cody Ransom blunder at the plate ( 1-4 ) and in the field. His misplays and mishaps might have cost at least three of the Rays runs just by himself. His error in not calling an infield fly ball cost his team a sure out, but also gave a error to Robinson Cano that he caused by almost backing into him before he misplayed the ball with his glove.
Swisher did great for Teixeira, going 1-3 with a huge home run and also playing the relief pitcher role with grace. I think when the Yankees traded for Swisher this off season, it was for his bat and his defense, not his reliever skills. But sometimes you have to take one on the chin to get up and fight again. Even though it might have been the biggest defeat of 2009 for the Yankees this year, I am a bit concerned about tomorrow night game. Usually when a score get to this type of blow-out, the team bus on the way back to the hotel can be a lonely place where everyone questions their ability and their roles.
It can make or break a team, and with the talent and the experience that the Bronx Bombers have, it might just be the opening of a can of whoop *** tomorrow. But then again, sometimes an emotional night and a huge explosion on offense can also be met with a false sense of security by the other team. Since it is the first meeting of the season for both teams, I would be afraid of that rubber band effect. You know what I mean here, you stretch and stretch that rubber band until it is tight and ready to go, but then when you think you have a fraction more of power and ability, it snaps and gets you right dead center of your own head. If I was the Rays, tomorrow I would wear a batting helmet all day long.
Photo Credits: 1) RRCollections
2) Steve Nesius / AP
3) Steve Nesius / AP
4) Steve Nesius / AP
5) Steve Nesius / AP
6) Steve Nesius / AP
Prior to the beginning of tonight’s game against the New York Yankees, the Tampa Bay Rays had a bit of business to resolve with their decor in their domed stadium. It seems that a few articles that were needed to spruce up the joint were not in place yet, and they wanted to get this business finished before the game began. So about 6:45 pm tonight, the Rays began a much needed and truly memorable ceremony where the team was to finally going to place those two fine banners in their respective place over left field just under the “D” ring.
The ceremony began with the Raysvision crew showing a tribute video to the team from their humble beginnings in April 2008, until the final out in the World Series in Philadelphia . It was a long, long road, and it was great to see the pride and the attention each players and coach gave to this short video before the ceremony on the field officially began. There were flame throwers that doused the air inside the Trop with a heat unknown to us before today. the video and the players reaction made even the wily vets seem to tear up a bit in remembering how we got there in 2008. But when Fernando Perez first poked his head out of the Rays dugout with the rolled up American League East Championship banner on his shoulders emotions ran high throughout the stadium.
As every player and coach on the Rays walked from the dugout around the clay infield of the Trop., upon the Field Turf II that was the site of the American League Championship clinching game, Every fan in the entire stadium, even some of the Yankees faithful stood and cheered for the accomplishment of 2008. For us to be able to hoist these banners in the presence of the team that has multitudes of World Championships, Divisional and A L Pennants to their credits might have seemed a bit pointed to some, but the evolution of the Rays turned the corner in 2008, and the Yankees had a front row seat at their upward climb.
Upon reaching the 370 sign on the left-center field wall, the team gathered and help roll out the first banner to be hoisted into the air tonight. After the banner was attached to eye clips, the paratroopers representing the Central Command at McDill Air Force Base in Tampa, began their down ward fall, which also keyed the hoisting of the American League East Championship banner to the rafters of Tropicana Field. Players just stood in awe of the massive banner going upward and onward and several were huddled towards the wall getting a view of the raising from a complete underneath angle. After this first banner took its rightful place in the rafters of the Trop., the team made their way to the second banner and began to repeat the same procedures.
Next to be lifted for eternity into the rafters among the “D” ring at Tropicana Field was the American League Championship banner. Most of the players by then were huddled together under this banner also and were talking amongst themselves probably trying to remember moments and situation that took place only a few months ago. You could see emotion on some of their faces as to the effort and the struggle they under took to get this championship for the Rays. The fans remained standing the entire time clapping and screaming and whistling during the entire time the banner was slowly lifted into place again by the Special Forces members from McDill AFB. Upon the completion of the two banners being immortalized among the heavens in Tropicana Field, hundreds of flash bulbs and a huge rush of emotions and pride surfaced in the entire stadium as the roars and cheers got louder and louder . It was a tremendous sight, and a blessing to witness tonight. As the first picture stated, ” The Magic continues Tonight.”
As much as the Yankees and Boston Red Sox fans want to take this moment from us, we stand proud tonight in the triumphs and the sweat produced by our 2008 ban of players and staff. From the Team Owner on down to the Clubhouse Attendants, this is a ceremony for everyone on the field, and in the stands. Hundreds of people in the offices and the cubbyholes of the Trop tonight are celebrating this crowning achievement. We are on the path to try and duplicate our journey, but we also know that the path will be riddled with more holes and traps than in 2008. But hopefully, we can make the journey again, and be proud in what ever course the season takes us in 2009.
But for tonight, we are the reigning American League Pennant winners, and the current divisional winners of one of the toughest divisions in baseball. It is going to be a long and hard season, but with an event like this that was witnessed by a sellout crowd, the pressure to win and to repeat is growing stronger every day. It was fun the first time we did it, think of the deja vu of even attempting it again. I would be willing to go through it all again, how about you?
All Photos are from RRCollections tonight.
Rays 11, Orioles 3
Rays Even Road Trip Out 3-3
If you asked Rays Manager Joe Maddon if a .500 split on their first road trip would be acceptable, you might be surprised at the answer. Considering the Rays actually played 8 games on this road trip including 2 games in Philadelphia to close out the Spring Training schedule, they got a usual 10 day regular season road trip. you could hear it in the voice’s of the Rays Radio Network commentators the other night. Everyone wanted to go home. It is rough to start on the road, and the Rays have done that consistently since 2006.
Early in the month, it was reported that in 2007, the Rays requested to start at home this year. Since that time it has been learned that they in fact only petitioned this year to start 2010. The information I got off the Internet was incorrect. I am only bringing this up because I try and get the right stuff and the right information for you all the time. It is not unusual for bad information to get out here, but sometimes it gets nipped in the bud before the blogosphere picks it up. For that, I am sorry. But I know I am not the only one who got this. A few respected newspapers also got this bad information, but I doubt you will see any retractions.
Sleepy Offense Wakes Up Big Time
To say the Rays offense took a deep nap during Saturday night’s game would be an extreme understatement. But for what they lacked in that game, they more than made up for in this Sunday’s series ending contest. The Rays even started off first thing today as Akinora Iwamura lead-off the game with a single through the hole to right field. An interesting fact is that is the first hit ever given up by Orioles starter Adam Eaton to the Rays. After a strike out by Carl Crawford, Evan Longoria kept up his hot hitting by lacing a shallow single to center field to give the Rays two base runners early. Longoria then got his running shoes on and stole second base to put both himself and Iwamura in scoring position.
But the Rays floundered in their attempts to get both runners across the plate in the inning. The last out was made by Pat Burrell, who was 0-7 lifetime against Eaton. But the Rays did get Eaton to throw 27 pitches in the inning, which could lead to an early day for the Orioles starter. But in the top of the second inning, the Rays again began to pressure early on Eaton when Ben Zobrist hit a “Texas Leaguer” into left field that dropped in left field before the foul line. Gabe Gross then got walked on 9 pitches. Gross fought off Eaton from a 3-1 count in his favor with 3 straight fouls before Eaton threw a ball high for ball four.
Jason Bartlett then hit a single to left field to load the bases for the Rays. But Iwamura, who was 4 for 13 with the bases loaded in 2008, could not convert and was struck out. Crawford then came up and laced a ball into the right field that Nick Markakis had to hustle to get to, but not before Crawford unloaded the bases with his 3-run triple. Longoria then hit a long ball to right that went over Markakis’s head and landed just shy of the right field wall for an RBI double. At that point, the Rays were up 4-0 on the Orioles.
But in the 4th inning, it got really interesting for the Rays. Gross lead off the inning with his second walk of the game, this time on 6 pitches. Bartlett could not move him over after popping a ball in foul territory taken by Aubrey Huff. But Iwamura then laced a ball between Huff and Brain Roberts to move Gross into scoring position at third base. With Crawford at the plate, Iwamura stole second and put both men into scoring position. Crawford then hit a one-hopper into center field that Adam Jones came up throwing towards home plate.
Gross was heading for home and Orioles catcher Chad Moeller got situated in front of the plate. Gross did not plow into Moeller, but instead decided to try and side-step him. But there was a problem in that plan. Moeller had the plate blocked and Gross ended up falling over Moeller’s ankle and missed the plate. Bot men went sprawling backwards with Gross flipping behind the left side of the plate. He then realized he had not cross the plate and scrambled to try and get back to the plate before Moeller could tag him out. He was not successful and he was tagged out at home on one of the oddest play I have seen in a long time. The Rays did not score in that inning and stranded both Iwamura and Crawford on base.
In the fifth inning, the Rays again went for the jugular after Carlos Pena struck out to lead-off the inning. Burrell was walked by Orioles reliever Brain Bass, who came on for Eaton in the top of the inning. But the next batter, Dioner Navarro, laced a liner to the right field wall for a double. Zobrist then came up and crushed a shot over the out-of-town
score board in right field for a 3-run homer, his first of the year. But that was not all for the Rays in that inning. Bartlett got on infield hit when he hit a slow roller to Robert Andino, who was playing short for the Orioles today. Aki then hit a gapper into left-center field that scored Bartlett to give the Rays a 8-0 lead.
In the sixth inning, Burrell got his first extra base hit off Bass when he got a double into the right-center field gap. He was stranded on base, but it showed that maybe Burrell was beginning to climb out of his season opening slump. When he was Philadelphia, Burrell was infamous for streaks, both good and bad. The Rays got a bit of a surprise in the seventh inning when Bartlett hit his first homer of the season to dead center field. Bartlett hit only one homer in the regular season in 2008, and 1 in the playoffs for the Rays. It was a welcome sight to see him rounding the bases.
But in the eight inning, the Rays finished their scoring in great fashion. After Crawford was called out on strikes to start the inning, Longoria hit his 5th homer of the season off Bass’s misplaced cutter to left field. Carlos Pena then hit his second homer of the year to right field to complete the scoring for the Rays and post an 11-0 lead on the Orioles in the top of the eighth inning. Seeing both Pena and Burrell go a combined 3 for 9 might be a great indicator of both men beginning to come out of the darkness and begin to produce some more scoring chances for the Rays. Before today’s game, they were a combined 6 for 36 with a homer and 2 RBI’s, both by Pena.
Balfour’s Game Went Down Under
Grant Balfour’s 2009 time with the Rays has not been his favorite times. This spring he fought some control issues, and thought they might be gone now that the regular season has arrived. Little did he know before yesterday’s game that the problem was about to crest and produce one of his worst performances in some time. This spring Balfour appeared in 9 games for a total of 8 innings and 12 hits and 6 runs. But, something else happened that was not your usual Balfour signature, he also had 7 walks to go along with his 9 strikeouts. His release point and mechanics seems to be off a hair or two.
And so when he made his second appearance of 2009, he expected to be in a better frame of mind, and also a renewed vigor on the mound. But what ended up happening is that he had a minor meltdown on his release points and ended up throwing 24 pitches, 10 for strikes in the outing. He came on in the ninth inning to preserve a beautiful pitching performance by James Shields, but ended up worrying both Rays Manager Joe Maddon and Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey as to his value with the club right now with the Yankees and White Sox coming into Tropicana Field for the next 7 games.
Balfour was officially credited with 0.0 innings pitched yesterday, but he allowed 2 hits and 3 earned runs, plus gave up three walks to balloon his ERA to 20.25 in the young season. He started off the bottom of the ninth with a 11 run lead, but he did not even last until the first recorded out of the inning. Markakis lead-off with a walk on 6 pitches. Then Huff managed to again beat the Rays shift for a single into left field. That was the second time this series Huff had popped a ball down the left side of the infield for a hit. He then gave up another walk to Ryan Freel on 6 pitches to load the bases for Baltimore.
Luke Scott then hit a ball to right field for a RBI single that broke the shutout for the Rays. Balfour then walked Felix Pie on 4 straight pitches to force in a second run. At that point, the Orioles had Scott sitting on third base with no outs. Maddon decided to come on out and take Balfour out of the contest before it totally bombed his confidence. Rays Reliever J P Howell came on to get Moeller to hit into a 6-4-3 double play that scored Scott to make it 11-3 Rays. He then got Andino to take a called third strike to end the Orioles rally and send the Rays home with the victory.
I am not sure what was wrong with Balfour last night, but it looked a bit similar to the pitching reversal of Rob Bell a few years ago for the Rays. Hopefully it is something mechanical that can be fixed in side work and he will again be back to old self. Sometimes just an inch can change a pitcher’s velocity and accuracy to the plate. Hopefully he was just losing his release point for some reason and it will just be a matter of throwing a bit to get back into a groove. If not, it opens a huge hole in the Rays Bullpen because of Balfour’s aggressive nature on the mound.
Shields wears Rare Road Win
James Shields made a few changes to his routine on Sunday to try and figure out the reasoning for his odd road woes. If you noticed on the mound, Shields wore short sleeves under his uniform for the first time on the road this year. Sometimes superstitions and rituals can be the life breath of a ball player. Some like to eat the same thing on game days, or drive the same way to the ballpark. Other have uniform rituals like wearing an old t-shirt under their uniform, or wearing three pairs of socks.
Whatever it was that Shields did yesterday, I hope he wrote it all down so he can do it again after the Rays next road trip in about a week to the west coast. He started the game by retiring the first 8 men he faced in the game yesterday. Shields did not even have a ball leave the infield until Andino single through the first and second base hole for the first hit of the game. He got out of that inning without a problem, until Jones doubled into the left-center field gap to lead-off the fourth inning. Then Shields shut down the next three batters in a row to strand Jones at third base.
A simple 1-2-3 inning in the fifth gave him more comfort as the Rays were then up 8-0. And it wasn’t until Jones again came up in the sixth inning that he gave up his fina
l hit of the outing. After Huff struck out to start the bottom of the seventh inning, Shields gave up his only walk of the day to Freel on 5 pitches. But after two quick unassisted plays by Pena, the Rays got out of the inning. Dan Wheeler than came on in the bottom of the eighth inning and Shields was done for the day. You could see him over there trying to convince Maddon to let him finish out the game.
But the Rays Bullpen needed to get some innings, and Wheeler, Balfour and Howell ended up completing the outing for Shields. For the day, Shields went 7 innings of 3-hit shutout pitching, and ran his record to 1-1 on the year. He threw 88 pitches, 53 of them for strikes on the day. He did give up 1 walk to go with his three strikeouts. Hopefully Shields did remember every move he made in his pre-game rituals and warm-ups to again try and duplicate it when the Rays again take to the road from April 21-29, 2009. At that time the Rays will be making a west coast trip that will end with 3 games in Minnesota.
Sunday’s Scattered Thoughts
Carl Crawford coming into Sunday’s game has hit .352 in his last 30 games with 13 extra base hits and 26 runs. He also has added on 18 RBI’s during that time. But right now the hottest duo on the Rays might be the two guys who will flip flop in the eighth and ninth slot in the lineup for a while for the Rays. Iwamura and Bartlett each went 3 for 5 yesterday, but Bartlett is hitting .391 currently and is winning the batting average stats of the duo. Only person hitting better than these two is of course, Longoria who is at a lofty .481 right now and is leading the majors in homers, and is tied with Miguel Caberra for the hits lead with 13 for the year.
With B J Upton primed to rejoin the Rays on Monday at Tropicana Field for the home Opener, the Rays sent Matt Joyce down to the minors after the game. He will join the Triple-A Durham Bulls and be their primary right fielder for the season. Hopefully while he is down in the minors, Joyce can get some quality at bats against left-handed pitchers and give the Rays more confidence to give him the right field job for good upon his return up to the Rays.
The Orioles and James Shields have some interesting history together. It was the Orioles who first got a glimpse of Shields on the mound on May 31 2006 and gave up 5 runs on 9 hits in his Rays debut. The Rays have now won 8 straight wins when Shields has faced the Orioles.
I am going to be on “Good Morning Tampa Bay” with the rest of the Maddon’s Maniacs on Monday to promote the Opening Day chatter and cheers for the Rays. Be sure to check it out since I know I actually have a speaking part in the telecast about the purpose of the “Maniacs”. As usual, we will be loud and proud and cheering for the Rays today. Also anyone coming to the ballpark early can check out our video we did with the Raysvision people a few weeks ago on the “Ground Rules” for Tropicana Field.
All Photos are from Gail Burton / A P
Can I Worry A Wee Bit
I am not worried about the season, or the aggressive nature, or even the pitching of the Rays right now. But I do have concerns on their attempts to score runs. I mean before tonight, the Rays cored all 8 of their runs off of homers. That is right, no hit-and-runs, no situational hitting of any type, it was just plain slap the ball and hope it hits the holes. now I know that the Rays did manage to get 8 total hits in this game, but they only got three chances tonight where they either had two hits or a walk and a hit to try and score some meaningful runs without the long ball.
I am sorry to tell you that Evan Longoria came down to earth a bit tonight and only went 2 for 4, to post a .455 average so far this season. the closest Rays player to him is last seasons team MVP Jason Bartlett with a .333 average. In the third inning, the Rays did get Gabe Gross to slam a liner past Brian Roberts for the Rays first hit of the night. Bartlett then did his part by drilling a ball into the gap that one-bounced over the wall for a ground rule double. that put two men into scoring position for the Rays with one out.
It looked like the Rays might have a chance to get a few runs back on the Orioles, but Akinora Iwamura hit a soft dribbler to Orioles starter Jeremy Guthrie. But Gabe Gross guessed wrong on the play and made a break for home plate. Guthrie saw this and spun around and threw to Melvin Mora at third base. With Gross in a run-down, they played the dance for a few seconds before Gross tried to out-smart Baltimore catcher Gregg Zaun. But it was Zaun who got the last laugh. He also did a head fake on Gross to make it seem he was going field-side with his block, then popped his glove to the foul side of the plate and tagged out Gross before he reached the plate.
That basically made the Rays rally run out of gas, and they went harmlessly down after Carl Crawford popped out to shortstop Cesar Izturis to end the inning. The Rays again tried to mount a rally in the top of the fourth inning when Evan Longoria started off with a single to center. Carlos Pena then tried to keep the rally going by hitting a single down the left field line away from the Oriole shift. But Guthrie got into a groove and put his pitches in on the Rays hitters and got the first two to pop out before ringing up Dioner Navarro with the strike out to end the inning.
Longoria then tried again to mount something for the Rays when he hit a double off the out-of-town scoreboard in right field. Longoria has tried to do so much for the Rays this road trip, even getting his 10th hit tonight. But again, the Rays could not figure out Guthrie and stranded Longoria on third base. But one good thing happened in this inning, the Rays moved their first runner of the game over a base when Pena hit a soft liner down to first that Aubrey Huff had to toss to Guthrie to complete the put out. The in the seventh, Navarro tried to do his part as he hit a looper to right field for a single. Gross then walked to put two men on base for the Rays again in this game. But the Rays could not convert and stranded both men.
Then in the eighth inning, with the Jamie Walker in for the Orioles Bullpen, Carl Crawford hit a single to right field to lead-off the inning. It was only the second time tonight the lead-off man got on base for the Rays. The other was Longoria in the fourth inning. But Crawford was quickly erased from the base paths as Longoria hit into a 6-4-3 double play. their last chance in the top of the ninth actually looked like their best opportunity of the night. Matt Joyce walked and then Navarro hit a ball that bounced into the stands for a ground rule double. So with two men in scoring position, both Gross and Bartlett struck out to end the game and the Rays chance to break up the shutout.
For the night, the Rays went 0-11 with Runners in Scoring Position. Is this just the effects of a long first road trip for the Rays, or is this offense just feeling a bit anemic right now. Seriously, the team is batting .254 so far this season as a squad, but that might be helped a lot by the hitting of Longoria and Bartlett right now. Pat Burrell is mired in a bit of a slump, only connecting on 2 of his first 16, or a .125 average. the only other Rays near .300 are Crawford ( .286 ) and Iwamura ( .294). It is great to know that the four hitter listed above have comprised basically the 1-2-3 hitters for the team. Great to know they are getting their licks, but when is the rest of the team going to catch their winds and contribute nightly…….Hopefully before we head home tomorrow night for a 7-game home stand.
Tale of Two Pitchers
Jeff Niemann might had a bit of nerves welling up in him when Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey and Navarro met with him to go over the strategy for the first inning and the game tonight. Niemann probably had the situation totally under control and knew what he wanted to do on the mound. But little did he know that even with the best preparation for a game, if your stuff is not there early, it is going to be a long, long night on the mound. Brian Roberts lead-off the game for the Orioles by watching the first strike go by him before connecting on a screamer into right-center field that skipped once and went over the wall for a Ground Rule Double.
But Niemann might have just thought he had just hit a good pitch and went about his usual pitching style. But little did he know he was about to implode on the mound by throwing B P balls to the Orioles in the first inning. Adam Jones came up and was hit by a pitch to but two men on quickly in the contest. Nick Markakis then hit a long drive over the head of Matt Joyce that also skipped once and scampered over the wall for an RBI Ground Rule Double. But the inning was far from over at this point. Huff then came up and walked on 5 pitches to again load the bases full of birds.
Rays Manager Joe Maddon went to the mound, with the entire infield also in on the group conversation, but he was the only one chatting in the circle. You know that must have been quite an intense conversation, with Maddon pointing out they needed this game to pull out the series against the up-start Orioles. Maddon can be a great communicator and is well respected for his mind and situational guesswork. But tonight, for at least two more pitches, his magic did not work at all. For on the second pitch to Mora, he drilled the ball into the left-center field stands for a Grand Slam and all Joyce could do is look up at the ball.
Niemann gave up a single to right to former Rays/Astro Ty Wiggington two pitches later, then I think the light bulb went off in Niemann’s head. He then seemed to turn into a different pitcher and got three quick put outs to get out of the inning, but the Orioles were spotted a 5-0 lead. From the bottom of the second inning until he left in the sixth inning, he shut down the Baltimore hitters. In those innings, he only allowed two hits, a single to Markakis and a single against the Rays shift by Huff in the fifth inning.
Neimann threw a total of 25 pitches in that first inning. But in the next 4.1 innings he threw on 69 total pitches. He showed the promise again that the Rays had in him when they traded Jason Hammel and handed the fifth slot to him last weekend. I wonder if Maddon verbally questioned his manhood, or just brought up Hammel’s name as a motivator? Either way, Niemann was a completely different pitcher after Mora’s homer. He did get charged with another run after walking Zaun before he exited, and Rays reliever Brain Shouse could not shut down the Orioles But at that point, he was looking like a completely different pitcher. If you subtract his first inning stats of 4 hits and 5 runs, with a single walk and a hit batsmen, his final stats would be a pretty good night on the mound. Without to implosive inning, he would have only given up 2 hits and a single run, with 3 walks and 3 strikeouts. A completely Dr. Jeckle and Mr. Hyde kind of night.
Brian Shouse’s Website
I had heard before Brian Shouse signed with the Rays that he had a wild cult following since he broke into the major leagues. Little did I know just what kind of following it truly was until I went out and checked out his website. I mean you have to go to www.brianshousefanclub.com and see it for yourself. The photos totally cracked me up, but if you really want to see some magical moments, click on the links near the right bottom of the page and see what else his followers have in store for fellow Shouse sect.
I mean the guy has his own Brian Shouse fan Myspace page and also they have included links to articles and stories based on their head guy throughout his MLB career. I am beginning to become a bit of a follower, but not like these people. I love the fact that he was basically signed as a leftie specials like Trever Miller had been in 2008 for the Rays. But he threw 2/3rd of an inning tonight on 12 pitches. His sidearm delivery can make you question his ability, but the guy has the stuff. I am curious to see if a Rays fan will redesign or even start their own Brian Shouse online shrine this season. If I ever get down about his abilities, I can always go to his website and again click on the Shousegandi photo and all will again be right in the world. Well, at least in Brian Shouse’s world.
No I am not implying that the Orioles have lost their hair or their feathers tonight, but I am noticing a certain different look to them this season. I mean Huff has always seemed to have a bit of a goatee and beard going his entire career, but tonight he did not have a stitch of hair on his chin or face. I also noticed the usually mousy moustached Jamie Walker also was missing his signature hair follicles under his nose.
Could Orioles Manager Dave Trembley have instituted a clean shaven look, or was this maybe a bonding agreement by the entire team to get some confidence and karma going their way. Either way, it seems to be working for the Orioles who are currently half a game back of the Toronto Blue Jays for the American League East lead. I know it is too early to make remarks about the AL East leader board, but the Orioles have been famous for making fast runs at the top in April in years past. Could this hairless look be a great indicator th
at they are all about business this year?
David Price Short-changed in Durham Debut
For the last month or so people have been harping and complaining about the Rays sending their budding star David Price back down to Durham for a bit to start the season. I am thinking after tonight performance, they will be a bit more understanding of what the Rays might have saw this spring, and maybe they do know what they are doing with the young pitcher. Price did not get to make his debut on Friday night as originally planned since the game was rained-out, but the Bulls let the leftie take the mound today and he showed why he was there.
Price ended up only going 3.2 innings and was taken out after reaching his pre-determined pitch count for the outing. In his short time on the mound, Price gave up 4 hits and 2 runs, but did get 4 strikeouts today. He did not have a chance for the win, but the Bulls did pull out a 8-5 victory over the Norfolk Tides today. Rays Olmedo and Justin Ruggiano both homered for the Bulls. A early surprise is the low average of Jon Weber ( .125 ). Weber was tied with Pat Burrell as the Rays RBI leader this spring with 15 RBIs.
Some people seem to forget just how fast and easy he came through the Rays system last year. He mad the leap from the Class-A Florida State League all the way up to the major leagues last season. He did post impressive numbers, but did not get the repetition and game experience he needed before taking over the reins in the fifth slot for the Rays. It is always better to be careful and nurture a young pitcher than to try and force feed him at the major league level. In the minors he can tinker with his pitches without destroying his confidence in himself and his pitching. The Rays made the right choice.
Photo Credits: 1) Gail Burton / AP
2) Gail Burton / AP
3) Gail Burton / AP
4) Gail Burton / AP
6) Gail Burton / AP