Mercy, Mercy, Percy!
If you have been watching Tampa Bay Rays baseball for any length of time, you will know that we have always had one big hole in our roster, and we have tried valiantly to find the right pieces to fit that puzzle. But it is not like we have not seen some success in the closer role, but the majority of the time we have been sunk by lofty or inadequate expectations of players either too young and inexperienced, or guys on their way out the door. We have had successful closers in our young history,like Roberto Hernandez, Danys Baez and Lance Carter. It is considered the hardest situational pitching position in baseball to master and keep under control. You either have the muscle and mind to handle the stress and pressures, or you fold quickly when pitching flaws come to the surface.
So with the announcement today that the Rays and Troy Percival are going to take a “vacation” from each other for awhile, you could hear the air sigh inside Tropicana Field. For the mighty Percy has finally struck out in his chances with the Rays. I mean I was not totally on board with the ex-Angels connection signing in the first place, but I was willing to give the guy a chance based on his past accolades, and what he could bring to this team in the way of leadership and teaching to the up and coming ballplayers. But, you have to admit that he has been here on borrowed time for some time, and if not for the genuine respect both Rays Manager Joe Maddon had for him, and Percival’s “never say die” attitude, it did make for a volatile and some time effective relationship while it lasted.
Troy Percival has been a giant in the closer’s role for so long in the MLB, that maybe a bit of it moved past him and he did not adapt. But you have to give the guy some credit for the past. He is eighth in All-Times saves with 358. That is only 9 away from the next guy, Jeff Reardon. He was the fourth highest closer actively throwing in the MLB, but I truly think his days are over. Even though he was 6 for 6 in save this season for the Rays, a few past decisions are going to haunt him for a long time. He has shown signs of being a great closer still, like before his May 13th appearance, he had not allowed a run in 10 straight appearances dating back to April 17th.
In 2008-2009, the Rays were 40-1 when he entered the game for a save opportunity ( He was 34-38 in those save opportunities). Percy has held opposing batters to a .188 batting average against him, which is the lowest average of any MLB pitcher with over 400 appearances. Oh, and before he started to show a slow decline in 2008, he had 28 saves for the Rays, his highest total since he left the Angels in 2004. But his decline started to take place before he got here, but the Rays also saw him take to the DL three times in 2008 and miss a total of 42 games. But you have to admire his the fight within him before you can condemn him here. He was truly one of the most fiery guys to ever grace our roster. But that also might have led to his disfavor with fans. But in the end the mighty Percy struck out.
You might ask how he struck out with the fans and maybe even his own team. I know of a few guys in the Bullpen who used to cringe when he warmed up, but kept up the team unity face for morale. Rich Herrera, who does post game and pre game for the Rays Radio Network once said, ” You can’t applaud the guy one day, then boo him the next day. Either you like what he is doing, or you don’t . Take a side.” Okay Rich, I will here. I think that he struck out with the fans based on three incidents, but there were more that could have merited the same outlook.
First off, his injury near the end of 2008 was for back stiffness and a possible knee injury. That being said, he was a ghost around the clubhouse at the time the team needed him most. I know it might be personally painful for you to sit there on a bench and watch the game like a fan instead of play, but to show support for your team mates at that playoff juncture of the year was a huge flaw in his character to me. Jonny Gomes and Chad Orvella were not on the team’s rosters for the playoffs, but they were there for them with emotional and vocal signals that “they had the team’s back”. Percy was not on the bench, and not even in the clubhouse for the first game of the 2008 World Series. To me, that was STRIKE ONE.
A couple of weeks ago there was an incident in a Sunday afternoon game where Evan Longoria went for a ball in the third base stands in section 121. This section pokes out a bit beyond the Visitor’s Dugout and always sees it fair share of foul balls and hard hit smashes during games. The ball is hit high into the air and the ball is heading for that section of the stadium, we all know that the fan did not see or hear Longoria coming until the last moment, or he might have given way for the fleet footed third baseman. Instead he misplays the ball and both he and Longoria miss the ball. Longo throws some choice words for the guy and also so steely glances the rest of the game.
Well, Percy comes in for the save in that contest and immediately after the third out begin to throw a few comments of his own towards the guy. This was about 15 minutes after the incident, but Percy was jawing the wagging a finger towards the guy. The language was not acceptable for a “Family Day” at the ballpark first off, but the badgering of the fan was not only insulting, but should have warranted a suspension or a public apology from Percival to the guy. It was another out-of-control moment probably brought on by emotion, but to me, It was purely STRIKE TWO.
Then we have a nice tight game going on in May in Oriole Park in Camden Yards against the Baltimore Orioles on May 13th. Percival came in with the score in favor of the Rays 8-2 and proceeded to do something I found so insulting to the baseball gods I wanted to just jack him up and beat him down for it in a blog, but felt it was better to leave him alone at the time. He was going to bite the hand that fed him soon enough in the contest. In 1/3rd of an inning, Percival had given up 4-runs on 4-hits, including two home run pitches that looked more like some one throwing Batting Practice. The first thought in my mind was that he wanted to get the score close so it was going to be a save opportunity for him. Giving another team an opportunity to come back for your own personal gain is against the grain of the unwritten rules Percy. The score was 8-6 when in the bottom of that ninth inning Rays Manager Joe Maddon came out to chat with Percy.
We all know that Maddon had already made his decision to take Percy out, maybe for disrespecting the game, but more for his awful pitching performance. This was the last game of the most recent road trip, and the Rays wanted this game badly. But what we ended up with was Percy behaving badly. He began to vocally challenge and argue with the skipper to the point you could see spittle trailing from his mouth. He fought long and hard to stay in the game, but some of the words lipped from his mouth were not entirely in the rules of respect for your Manager. I admire the fire and spunk, but I also detest the disrespect and his blatant disregard for the team Manager. For me, this was STRIKE THREE.
So when the Rays came home, I was clam and cool in the stands, but I did not address Troy anymore as he walked past me to the bathrooms and Bullpen lounge area. I would not even look at the man. I was pissed and I did not want to see an ounce of this guy on the mound for the team again unless he showed a bit more respect for his longest supporters, Joe Maddon. He did enter the game on May 15th in the 7th inning, one of his earliest appearances of his Rays career. As he slunk off the Bullpen Mound and the stadium Jumbotron announced his music I turned my back to the field. That was my show of not honoring the fact this guy was still out there on the mound. I was firmly going to show my distaste for his treatment of this team, and his Manager.
Percival did not have the opportunity in these next two night to get either the win or the save as Dan Wheeler and Joe Nelson took the mounds in the ninth inning for the Rays. That Sunday, Percival did hit the mound in the ninth and got two strikeouts en route to his sixth save of the year ( At the time, that placed him 9th in the AL in saves). The performance was one of his best in the season, but I again stood towards the back wall as he entered the ballgame. Then the last straw might have been during a save opportunity that almost got away, but this time Maddon was not going to let the closer take this one away from his young team.
Percival entered the game in the top of the ninth, and while I was looking at the back wall I was admiring the new huge sign by the Florida Sports Network and Sunsports that looked like a game day roster. I had looked back there dozens of times this season and did not really see how great it was before today. Well, Percival lived up to his usual expectations and gave up two quick hits and runs before Maddon made a move to bring in Nelson again for the the game. At that time, the score was tied, and Percival this time did not totally try and even voice any fight or vinegar at Maddon, but strolled off the mound to the dugout.
That was the last time we saw him. Strolling off the mound after giving up two runs to tie a contest the Rays would eventually win. You want to say something poetic here, that will be admired for years as sage advice or even a recollection, but I was glad it was his last outing for the team. I truly do not care if he ever comes back. He has options available to him. He can either rehab as long as the team deems he should and not fight it, or he can walk away from the game for the last time. My feelings are he still has some fire in his beer belly for the game, but it might not fit well here anymore. If he does ever some back into a Rays uniform, he will probably have to take a reduced role with the team. More of a set-up role than a closer.
It is actually kind of odd, but curiously wild that Percival was all rah-rah about Jason Isringhausen signing with the team this spring, and he might be the guy who gets eventually slotted into the closer role. I wish Percy the best as he takes his time and contemplates and make decisions about his future on the mound. Maybe he is again ready for that role of managing like he did in 2007 in the Angels minor league system. Time will tell. But I think the time of the scruffy, pear-shaped closer going to the mound for the Rays is over.
He fought the sands of time as long as he could, but maybe he is finally starting to realize the door is shutting behind him. I have glad for what he has done for this club in the last two seasons, but I will not miss him. And Rays, do not forget to lock the door, or he will find a way back into this clubhouse. But for me personally, he has not only struck a chord in me with his actions, he might have finally struck out with other fans too.