September 2009

Maddons Maddening Bullpen Mania

 


Brian Blanco / AP

I know a lot of Tampa Bay Rays fans have been a bit anxious and upset at the recent development over the last part of this 2009 season where it seems that Rays Manager Joe Maddon is wearing out the turf from the mound to the dugout sometimes changing a pitcher three times in an inning. For all the clammering and yelling towards the dugout to stop the madness, there is actually a good reason for his “match-up” formula, and the more you really look at the number, the more it seems to make sense in the long run.

Maddon would love to have that classic Bullpen set-up where you have that designated 7th, 8th and closer to round out the game. But with the injury to Troy Percival, and his shutting down his candidate-of-the-day J P Howell, he is apt to continue this wild stroll to the mound over the next 4 games. If you have noticed over the last three games, Grant Balfour right now is the closer-du Jour, and he has come away with three solid saves in the last three games.

Now this doesn’t mean he is going to get any notion of becoming the Rays closer, but the true fact that Maddon does look over the opposing line-up before the game with an eye towards the later innings. And in that time he does do a bit of matching-up on the back of his scorecard based on lifetime averages against some of his guys, and their ability to get outs from left or right-handed batters. And so far in this wild experiment, the prognosis has not been bad.

So let me take the 8th and 9th innings of the game last night and break them down a bit more and see if I can make it a little more easy for all of us to understand when he begins his Bullpen Blitz again tonight during the Baltimore Orioles game. But first off, let me remind you that the pattern does change for every game, and for every batter.

This same pattern might not show up the next four games, or it could even resurface tonight based on the pitching match-ups and the hitters. And Maddon does even look towards the guys that will be on the bench and matches them up as a precaution to them entering the game. So let’s get this guess work started right now:


Paul J Berewill / AP

Starting with the 8th inning, the Rays send out Russ Springer to start the inning to go up against Ty Wiggington. Now tonight is the first time either of them have faced each other in their long careers. This match-up really seems to be based more on  a feel by Maddon than an actual scientific fact since Springer is allowing lefties to hit .342 against him this season, and righties hitting .268. But he gets Wiggington to line out to centerfield for the first out.

Russ Springer relieved by Lance Cormier.

Cormier comes into the game with a sub .250 average aginst both left and right-handed hitters this season. He is one of about three Rays relievers that Maddon might have total confidence in him battling against guys from either side of the plate.  Cormier’s actual stats are that he is allowing lefties ti hit .243 against him, and right-handers have hit .255 against him this season, and both side have 3 home runs this year. First up is Nick Markakis, who was 0-2 against Cormier this season before taking the fourth pitch and getting an infield single off a hard shot to Reid Brignac at shortstop.

Up next is Luke Scott, who has faced Cormier two time prior to tonight and has only gained a walk from Cormier. Scott ends up hitting a fly ball out to leftfield to get the second out of the inning.  Next up for the Orioles is young catcher Matt Wieters.  In 2009, Cormier has faced Wieters only one time, and that was here in Tropicana Field when Cormier struck him out. In tonight’s contest Wieters takes 3 pitches before he grounds out to Ben Zobristat second base to strand Markakis on base and end the scoring opportunity for the Orioles.

Dan Wheeler relieves Cormier

Maddon sends his veteran reliever Dan Wheeler to the hill to begin the 9th inning. The first man to face him tonight will be Melvin Mora. The reason that Wheeler is on the mound is because right-hander, like Mora are hitting only  .154 against him in 2009, and against the first batter in his appearances, Wheeler is allowing them only a .161 average. But a side note to worry about in this at bat is the fact that Mora is hitting .500 off wheeler this season. But Maddon is rolling the dice on that .161 average allowed to the first batter Wheeler faces tonight.  On the second pitch, Mora singles to leftfield.


Steve Nesius / AP

Randy Choate relieves Dan Wheeler

Maddon then quickly gets Wheeler off the mound since the next batter is leftie Michael Aubrey. The reasoning here is that wheeler is allowing lefites to hit at a .310 clip against him in 2009. So on comes Randy Choate to face the young leftie. Choate actually is the perfect guy to face Aubrey as he is allowing lefties to hit only .151 against him this year, with only 1 home run. Choate gets Aubrey to strike out swinging in their only meeting this season.

Orioles Manager Dave Trembley then pinch Hits Lou Montanez for Jeff Fiorentino. And the mind games get to be played all over again by both managers. Montanez has not faced Choate in 2009, but the fact he is a right-hander, and righties are hitting .306 with 3 home runs against Choate gets him an early night for the Rays.

Grant Balfour relieves Randy Choate

Maddon again makes his way to the mound and take out Choate so that Grant Balfour can face the right-hander.
For the season, both right-hander and lefties are hitting sub .250 against Balfour too. He is another one of the three possible guys that Maddon trusts pitching against lefties and righties in an extended outing in a ballgame. And with Montanez, a rightie due up, it is only natural that the Aussie, who is surrendering only a .236 average to righties gets the call. Balfour gets the job dome as Montanez goes down after 5 pitches after missing on a swing for th
e strikeout. For the season, Montanez is 0-2 now against Balfour.

Since Balfour is consistent between hitters from both sides of the plate, Maddon will leave him in the rest of the inning. Next he will face shortstop Cesar Izturis. Balfour has the upper hand on Izturis as he is 0-2 against him so far in 2009. But it is Iztruis, who swings at the first pitch and sends a fly ball to centerfield that B J Upton gloves to end the game. Balfour also recieves his hris save in three games for the Rays and might be the 9th inning guy for the Rays in their final 4 games.

The system emplyed by Maddon makes more sense when you look at the fact he also shut down one of his other great pitchers at getting guys from hitting from both sides of the plate. When he set down J P Howell for the rest of the season, he lost his current closer option, and also lost a pitcher who has allowed righties to hit only .180 against him this season.

Other guys on the bench for the Rays are more situated for spot work the rest of the season. Take for example Jeff Bennett. Right-handers are hitting .333 (7-21) against him this season, and lefties are killing him at a .500 clip (14-28). So his use will be dictated by individual match-ups the rest of the season. Bennett was actually brought onto the squad as a insurance policy for long relief, but he was one of the main pitcher in that blowout last week in Texas.

Dale Thayer was not brought up for his facial hair, but was also considered a insurance policy for any possible problem that might happen with any of the Rays relievers. And it is a good thing they did bring him up, because Chad Bradford is experiencing elbow pains again and is done for the season. But Thayer is also learning the ropes at the Major League level, and has been hit by righties to a tune of a .345 average this season. He does have some good stuff to punch lefties back to a .250 average against him in 2009.

But Bradford has been used only 10 1/3 innings this season as he has been battling injuries. But also the fact he has given up some really gaudy numbers to both sides of the plate this year is another eason he has seen spot appearances this season. Against righties, they are hitting .391 (18-46) against him, and lefties just begin to salivate when he takes the mound as they are hitting a robust .800 (4-5) against him in 2009.

So the match-up scenario used by Maddon right now is the best possible option to try and post a victory every time out for the Rays. It might not make much sense when you are sitting in the stands or watching on the TV that he uses  5 different relievers for a total of two innings. But the end result in the last three games have been victories. This is not to mean that this is going to be a indicator of a system that will be empolyed in 2010.


Ted S Warren / AP

This match-up system is only being used now out of necessity because we do not have a proven late inning trio to take the Rays from the 7th to the 9th inning every night.  The Rays do not have a Mariano Rivera or a Jonathan Papelbon in their minor league system at the time, and might have go outside the organization for one in 2010.  And isn’t it ironic that the two best closer in the league tend to be in our division.

Maddon is adapting to the cards he has been dealt, and even if it is frustrating to the guy sitting in the stands, it does have some logic to it all. I also found it frustrating until I began to look at the numbers associated with each reliever and their breakdown against both sides of the plate. Sure it might be all science and a hitter can get a lucky break of a hanging curveball. But the relaity is that the system is working for Maddon right now, and it is producing wins for the team. It is not a cure-all situation, but is a nice substitute measure that he can emply for now until we can again try and shore up the Bullpen for 2010.

Was Kazmir Andrew Friedman’s First Mistake?

.

 After I got home last night after the Tampa Bay Rays  victory, I did my usual routine of switching on the television after 1 am and the first thing to pop on the big screen was the celebration video of the Los Angeles Angels players partying like rock stars after they clinched the American League West. And within all that wild chaos on the video I saw a familiar face enjoying the moment. There among the red and white jerseys of his Angel teammates was their newest rotation member hoisting up a champagne bottle like he had done so many times before in the last year.

There jumping up and down and getting pelted time and time again with a jet stream of the  bubbly sweet nectar was ex-Ray Scott Kazmir. It was a bitter sweet moment for a Rays fan like me to see him getting that chance to again shine on the playoff front. But the silent events that unfolded behind the scenes to complete this trade to the Angels might actually have been the first honest mistake of  Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman’s  Rays career. 

There have been murmurs and innuendo coming from both Rays clubhouse and the 3rd floor offices since that trade transaction. That the Rays trade chattr device known to me as the “cloak of darkness” might have alienated not only fans, but some people within the Rays family. There have been more than idle chatter that the Rays Coaching staff was informed of the primary discussions, but as thing got more heated, they were left out of the loop in the process of this trade. Rays Manager Joe Maddon did have a hint of the Angels interest since they were biting at the bit back at the end of July for Kazmir. But during that latest development, it was thought he was on a “need to know” basis.

That most of the trade parameters were defined before Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s pre-game Press Conference, and the fact it was pushed back to 5:30 pm only heightened the anticipation of an “official” completion of the trade before that scheduled game against the Tigers. But what really showed the “cloak of darkness” in full effect might have been the disclosure by  St. Petersburg Times writer Marc Topkins  when he asked Kazmir in the Visitor’s locker room about the rumors, to hopefully dispel the rumors floatingf around, or get a great first reaction quote on the whole shebang, but Kazmir had no prior knowledge of anything brewing on anything at that moment. 

The media “cloak” has found its way into the Visitor’s locker room, and did not even include the main trade piece knowing anything about the proposed trade yet. Since Stuart Sternberg’s hand-picked group took over the everyday activities of the Rays, they have always employed a complete media “blackout” from discussions or even knowledge of things in the works concerning personnel decisions. It almost brings you to mind the dealings of traders on Wall Street to do not try and let any information out so that they can skirt problems with the SEC, and retain any questions of wrongdoing from the onset of an announcement.

And on that faithful night in Detroit, the Rays were still rock solid in their “cloak of darkness” motif about any sniffing around of any impending situationbetween the Angels and Rays. But the National media was not going to just sit around waiting for Friedman to finally announce anything, so they went to their Plan “B” and quickly consulted their trusted Southern Cali sources to began to decode the impending trade, and stay off the toes of the Rays management. The hunt for this “exclusive scoop” and “first-hand” information out on the deal was there for the picking, and they ran with it without a confirmation from the Rays. 

But even with the numerous reports filtering out of the Los Angeles area of a  strong deal in place, the Rays just remained completely silent. And that is when the real fiasco began to finally get legs of its own and was plastered wall-to-wall all over the Internet by sources like ESPN.com, MLB.com and Sports Illustrated all  throwing out Tweets and web postings reporting without a doubt that the Kazmir deal was going on and that it was entering its final stretch run. And all during this time Kazmir was frantically on his cellphone trying to get a hold of his agent to get some personal confirmation or denial of the event unfolding like a flag online. Becuase if the rumors were true, then he had to quickly get himself mentally and emotionally ready for any timely decision by the Rays.

And credit has to go to Kazmir for staying under control and doing his usual pre-game routine and not falling into the trap of getting baited to give out  false information or any nibblet of quotes about things that were not made public. And that is where I think Friedman made his biggest honest mistake of the night.

Even if the discussion was just in the first chats or coming to the final  tweaking phases, it was would have said volumes if Friedman had taken Kazmir aside and told him some of the parameters so he could at least play along with the Rays usual “cloak” during trade conditions until the official announcement later that evening.

But they left the young leftie out to dry, and even as he was out tossing the ball around with fellow leftie David Price before the game, the wheels were turning somewhere above him to finish this trade before the game. The Rays great idea of moving back Maddon’s pre-game chat with reporters  was causing a flurry of activities to confirm or deny anything before the game. At this time, even a small reminder from Friedman or PR Vice President Rick Vaughn to the media that “Trade discussions and actions are not being played out in the media, and if we have something to say to you……we will call you” might have meant volumes to the anxious media crowd.

And so began a three hour flip flopping of Sports websites along the Internet super highway jockeying for position by both posting and pulling posts concerning the possible trade. The media giants were going forward and backwards at the same time trying to gain  a foothold on this story, but without any confirmation, it was pure speculation at the time. I wish I had saved a bevy of the postings to a MS Word note pad about the hundreds of posting and retractions within that small period of time of credited media journalists that were at the mercy of their weak sources in this transaction.

And all the while, Friedman remained silent and out of sight. In reality, he was probably boxed up in a suite upstairs away from media ears and eyes to finalize this with a minmal of trouble. He might have been aware of the media storm brewing below him, but it was minor compared to the deal he was trying to complete at the moment. The episode took on a huge life of its own for a few hours, and even during the pre-game analysis with the FSNFlorida/ Rays television  announcers, you could see a sense of nervous energy bouncing off of them as they tried to make sense of all the drama being played out on the electronic media sources.

And in the end, it was not even Friedman that told us of the trade, it was Rays “walk-about” guru Todd Kalas after the team issued a formal Press Release on the transaction during the Rays post-game show. I am sorry, but I wanted to hear it from Friedman’s own lips. That Kazmir was no longer a member of the Rays. I wanted to see his reaction to the room when the news broke “officially”. At that time, Kazmir was no longer in the Visitor’s locker room at Comerica Park. He had left to go back to the Rays team hotel and get things sorted out for his next step in the morning.

Even with all the multiple postings and various retractions of comments by the media giants, the deal went on and was completed before the end of the Rays game against the Tigers. But what a circus it must have been in the Press Box between the first to the last inning. You wonder how many of the assembled media people felt slighted, and how many of them were proud of their skills to at least sense the deal and report on it accordingly to the public. But in the end, the Rays silence might have cost them a bit of trust with the public.

People, do forget the true magnitude of getting that deal completed and not waiting until the next morning. The deal had to be sign, sealed and delivered to the MLB Offices in New York so that the Angels could choose the option of putting Kazmir on the post season roster. On September 1st, he would not have been able to be included on the roster. Could this deal have actually taken almost a month to complete? Could this whole thing have been on the back burner since the July 31st Trade Deadline with an eye on how Kazmir would rebounded on the mound, and both teams letting that deadline pass with no resolution on Kazmir, knowing they still had time to work out a deal?

I can understand, and  in a small way admire Friedman for trying to keep the Rays business quiet and uncomplicated until the final results were hashed out completely. But in this odd case of leaked intel, since the proposed deal had flowed through the seams of the Los Angeles Times, I would have thought it merited a little smoldering of the fire before it got out of control. And it quickly festered into a media frenzy that no one could get an honest answer good or bad out of the Rays camp. And in that moment, a simple seed of deception was planted within some people’s minds.

With the episode done and gone now for almost a month, I look back and see the perils and the pitfalls that the Rays could have avoided and not made the Rays fans, and some of their own team feel alienated by their front office. Sure there are still unanswered questions that plague the event of that night. You want to know Friedman’s true reasoning for not even shooting down the untrue rumors or even acknowledging the truth after it was put out in the open. You want to believe all was done to protect Kazmir and the organization from unfounded speculations and rumors.

But the true fact is now it brings Friedman down to earth in my mind. He is no longer the “boy genius” some people have labeled him. Like so many other MLB GM’s before and after him, this is going to be a event that will follow him for a long time. Some things might have been played different, but in the end, some will see this whole episode as a honest mistake in keeping the Rays party line strong and not bending to the media wants and desires. 

Opinions will vary on if the trade was done the right way from top to bottom. My personal opinion is that it made him human, it made him someone who might do it a bit different if he does it again, and that is part of the learning process of his chosen position. Even if he stays solid in the belief of the present “cloak”, he will know the pros and cons now of such a move, and what backlash or opinion might rise up after such a move. Moving a popular player will not be viewed the same by everyone. Some might feel betrayed, other open minded to a change if it is positive.

Sure, you and I might have taken both Maddon and Kazmir aside before Batting Practice that day and just gave them a small “head’s up” on what might go down in the next few hours. What finally told me that the deal was done was the simple fact Kazmir was in the dugout with the team for a few innings, then vanished from sight. If you have watched him at all over the season, he doesn’t go into the clubhouse and sit at all during the game unless he needs treatment. He is always out on the dugout rail or on the bench with the other pitchers watching those games. The absence of Kazmir from the dugout spoke volumes to me at that moment.

So in last night’s video you see Kazmir enjoying the moment, spraying his new teammates and relishing the fact he is going to make another trip to the playoffs. You know on his way home he probably called a few of his former Rays mates and told them he wished they were there with him, and was both excited and upset that he was not in a Rays uniform and celebrating with his old team that night. But what is done is done, and Kazmir now can go on and help his new team try and take the same American League Pennant his old squad hoisted into the rafters in April.

Kazmir might not be here anymore in body, but the smiling good-natured spirit of Kazmir is alive and well in the hearts and mind of Rays fans, who genuinely are proud he has another shot at the big prize. The Rays may stay within their “cloak of darkness” theory involving discussions and trade in the future, but hopefully this event showed them that when another source is openly discussing your business and boldly showing your hand, you have to man-up and also put your cards on the table. Andrew, the media went around you and called your bluff that day and you held the cards tight, but in the process, you might have lost some firm supporters both in the stands and within the organization. And that my friend, is not a winning hand at any time.

Yesterday’s win was totally “Rays Ball”

 


Way to go guys!
Way to prove myself and a few other voices around the Rays Republic that some of this team might have already packed their bags after Saturday night debacle and headed home, at least in their minds for the season. Way to reclaim your manhood and show some fire and gumption after a game like that…….purly inspiring to me right now. Seriously, the way some of you came off the field after that game on Sat night, your faces gave a bad impression that some of you might be shutting your game down and waiting until Spring to show us more awesome hit and scoring chances.

But as always, you guys had the last laugh. And I am totally okay with being wrong or even apologizing for doubting you for a second. I have to admit, I am a bit proud of all of you for coming out and taking that Sunday “getaway” game like that. For too long this season those series ending game or “getaway” games have been one of the perils of 2009. And because of that plight, the plane ride home after some of these road trips have not been a happy time together for the Rays. But to put a big black “W” stamp on the last game of  the last road trip in that fashion is only a motivator towards  bigger and better results in 2010.

And that is  one of the area that the Rays will have to focus on to again re-assemble and re-group for next season. Getting this team back towards a road .500 mark will be one of the biggest rebuilding porjects in the offseason for the Rays. Those road wins translate quickly into a realistic chance at a division or even a playoff berth for the team again next season. One of the deciding factor in the Rays fall from grace in 2009 has been their road record, which pales in comparison to 2008.

But in hindsight, yesterday  when this team took the game to the Texas Rangers in the last two innings and played inspired Rays baseball, it was a sign to all of us that the pride and the power is still very much a part of this Rays ballclub. Standing up and taking on the tasks at hand is a positive step for this team towards regaining their stride for the top echelon of this league.

But above all,  when you took the final innings of that game to the Rangers, you won on your collective sweat and heart alone. You not only avoided a  series sweep, but a seasonal sweep of all the Rays game splayed at the Ballpark at Arlington this year. And that was huge! For some reason this hot and humid stadium has been an albatross to your Rays team in 2009. But you not only exorcised that dang demon, but you put a stake right through its heart by taking down this team late in the game and then taking down their  confident closer in the end.


Mike Fuentes / AP

And you got to love that beautiful bunt down the First Base line by speedy Fernando Perez when they even knew it was coming. And Perez put the ball in a perfect spot to get the RBI and extend the inning. Not only  did that one play help score a winning run, but to keep the inning going with a possibilities for more runs was tremendous. Sure there were a few negatives attached to this game as it unfolded, but they were quickly forgotten like piece of paper in a windy day. The win is the thing. To take that last road game of the season , then get back on the plane and take it with you is huge. Now you just have to use it as an example that this team can grow and get better on the road in 2010.

Who knows why the road became such a odd stranger to the Rays in 2009. It could be something as simple as the opposition just getting better and the Rays staying with their happy medium for some reaon on the road this year. But in essence, it just could be a simple fix by translating another mindset for the team in 2010. We saw  Rays road trip Traveling Parties dressed in wild Cowboy gear,  finely pressed all-white outfits, and the “Johnny Cash” inspired all-black ensembles get on their bus at Tropicana Field with high spirits and  great team building moments this season.

But for  this 2009 season, the trips on the road have all ended. No more Westin-type hotels, the bevy of room service plates and foods, or even the  assembling of teammate eager to get a shot at playing on any of the portable Playstation 3’s set up in their rooms for a   simple distraction during the long night away from St. Petersburg and your homes. Maybe the team needs to do the “Stadium Tours” in2010 of each stadium the visit. Get into a different frame of mind on the road, to relax, be together and get out and about and put a different feel to the road routine.

So when you finally disembarked from your charter flight last night at the St. Pete/Clearwater airport, it might not have felt like a winning road trip, but you did leave the state of Texas with a winning attitude on the plane. And even though some of you have memories of coming home last year at this time to a bevy of screaming maniacs and fans within the concourse of the airport, it is mostly silent last night. But that easily could happen again in 2010 with a little tweaking. That moment doesn’t have to feel like a mirage,it was a special moment held in time by so many of us in the Rays Republic that we truly want to see it again……..and the sooner the better (lol).

But this season we have to leave the road trip memories alone for now. Forget the Rookie hazing during the last road trip, or even the silence of the trip back from Boston not so long ago. For their is hope that the plane was a bit rowdy last night, and all of you were celebrating the moment, knowing that for the last 7 games you will not only be sleeping in your own beds, but also hearing the cheering and noisy fans of Tropicana Field. So rejoice in the fact you came off the road as winners, and take that momentum and thrust it into these last 7 games to bring another special moment for all of us in 2009.


Mike Fuentes / AP

I know the season is beginning to run together for some of you, and the pains and aches are barking like guard dogs, but hopefully the cheers and the emotions within this dome for the next 7 nights will thrust you again into feeling like it is April again for a few games. To end this season on a glorious note would not only be great for each of you individually, but as a team, the bonding agent by winning can be so invigorating it can become even more addictive in 2010. You know we will be there 100 percent for you for the next 7 games, so why not come out as strong as you did against those pesky Rangers in those late innings last night and take the next 7 games to not only post a plus .500 season, but to set a standard for the 2010 Rays to follow.

Before the first pitch last night, a few of you  looked like you were waiting for October 4th to come so you could dismiss this season and prepare for the next one. But do not discount the fact that to stop playing “Rays Ball” now would damage this team and their fan base further than you can ever imagine. To simply want to be “shut down” even within your own mind could
ruin some of the fragile fabric set out in front of you with this fan base. This area has seen teams quit on itself before in a multitude of sports, but this years Rays team should never be a part of that sorted history. 

The excitement of Rays baseball over the next 7 games can be the best advertising for the team over the Winter months. To go out fighting in every game, taking defeat and turning it into victory, and smiling all the way is a beauty way to celebrate this season. 
You know where I am going to be for all 7 games.
You know how I am going to act for those 7 games.
I only ask that you too take that Rays pride and the strong character you have displayed for the last 155 games and throw it out loud and proud now. Then we all can celebrate as you take off those game-worn jerseys and put them on the backs of fans’ following that Sunday matinee.

From there it is off to where ever you call home for the Winter. To go home to family, friends and routines that you follow in the offseason. I know for some of you it has been a long, hard road, and it might be your last season in this team’s uniform, but wouldn’t it feel a bit more special, a rays of light on a darkened sky if we can take this thing to the house the next 7 games and thrust onward and upward?

I know when I went home after a victory in a game when I was playing ball, it always made the drive feel better if we won.
It always made me see things in a positive light, and it always made me proud to be playing the game.
Simple things can propel this team again back into the spotlight.

Rays Baseball circa 2009 still has a few special moments hidden within itself. Still has some thrills and exciting baseball crammed into the cubbyholes and the halls of the Trop. This season is growing to a close fast, but the next 7 games are also the last things we will remember of this season. To go out with a  huge bang would be tremendous not only for the team, but could also boost the excitement and the anticipation of the Spring for the rest of us. See you guys in a few hours when we can begin the road to the end…………..with a victory.

Is this the Beginning of the End?


Marc Avery / AP

You also begin to breathe deeper and the feeling of impending doom begins to filter through your head. There is something coming, and you feel it in your bones, but you are unaware of the aspects of unadulterated shock and awe that bombards your senses in just a few moments. You are drawn like a moth to a flame to the horror and dismantling being played out in front of you. You longingly gander at the instance of tragedy and the impending agony beginning to settle in front of your eyes. In the back of your mind, you are grateful it did not get thrust upon you that day.

You begin to act nervous and uneasy in your chair, looking for a place to guide your eyes to take this image out of your mind, to replace the scene with familiar things, better things, things that do not denote the events unfolding on the field. And unfortunately, you get that personal, up-front view of the whole thing. The carnage in front of you doesn’t take a property toll or even a life, but the events still throw you through the total gambit of shock and awe, and you wish you were somewhere else.


Marc Avery / AP

You want to be somewhere else, you want to crawl anywhere, do anything, see something else in your mind’s eye for a moment to take you away from the sounds and the motions of this events unfolding in front of you. Through more and more violent motions until that third out was clutched by B J Upton. And you hoped that it is all over……. or is it?

And in that silent moment, you notice the Rays players as they jogged off the field with their heads down, just  barely glancing into the stands as they entered the Visitor’s dugout, stun and emotionally embarrassed of what had just unfolded in front of them. And the worst part was the fact they were all helpless  and could only contribute when the flight of the ball and the flow of the game let them help. For once this proud team was powerless to the fury that unfolded in front of them.

You had a bit of uneasy confidence in going into that bottom of the fifth inning with a slim 3-1 lead. You knew that offensive woes have been the devil to this squad all season on the road, but tonight you almost got the feeling it might be enough to bring it home. But there was no way to honestly foresee the coming carnage within the next 50+ pitches. Matt Garza, who had great control most of the evening was not a candidate for a free fall that would see this game turn so fast. You knew that Garza was beginning to elevate the baseball, but something demoralizing as the next inning never played out in your mind.

And it was a bit surreal that the site of such an implosion would be on the same mound, the same stadium that evoked another meltdown of Garza a year earlier. Garza had taken measures after that chaos to gain control of himself, and you had no idea that such a event was to again unfold on that very same mound. And in a blink of your eyes you saw that uncomfortable 3-1 lead melt away like the last snow of Winter.

The damage was not subtle, it was not drawn out, it was a violent explosion of power and ability that had laid under the surface of this Rangers team all night. You knew the potential for damage was high with this Rangers team, but so far in the contest Garza had tamed the beast within. In the next long hour you saw  a constant rush of a dozen or so emotions entangle your brain and pull on your heart strings. You felt for this Rays team, and empathized with their pain. You wanted to do anything in your power to stop the implosion, but it was too late.

And you did not want to see Garza, Jeff Bennett or Dale Thayer take any more of this constant barrage of the Rangers bats. You wanted it to all end, you yearned for a reprieve from the past hours events. In your mind you knew you just might have seen the candle flicker out on this team and that with that 11-run carnage, you might have witnessed their last stand. An event like this with less than 8 games left in the season could put up massive walls to just “mail in” the rest of the schedule.


Bill Koustroun / AP

 
And this is the type of game that you can not wash from your skin in a short time and again take the field with total confidence. This one lingers for a while and has a deadening effect on everyone in that clubhouse. No where to run and hide, this one smacks you hard and deep and leave more than a few welts on your mind and heart.

But still for that hour you watched in horror, but did not look away. You found yourself glued to the watch the entire event like you do when the local new reports a disaster or flood in the Third World country. But this time the pit of your stomach aches and you personally feel the  emotions and the gloom you encountered as the events unfolded.
This time you felt like you might have been collateral damage from the game. That this one also stole a bit of you last night.

 

Trade Rumors Already circling the Rays

 


Brian Blanco / AP

I really did not anticipate having to judge,investigate or even remotely consider any possible Tampa Bay Rays trade rumors until at least the dense cloud of dust settles after the end of this season. But a few shallow whispers have begun their funneling effects into  that increasing in sound funnel to produce some media-based thunderous voices screaming among the MLB masses. The exploding thought turbulence has produced such a level of bravado from these so-called “expert voices”  that the Rays are deaf right now from being in the cross hairs right now.

And that is the comedic part of all of this right now. With the season still running, I doubt Rays President Matt Silverman, or even Boy Genius Andrew Friedman have even remotely consider the thought of the possibility of any salary of roster changes before the beginning of the Hot Stove season. I mean the firepower prognosticators usually wait until after the World Series to spew the fire and brimstone that player “A” and player “B” might need to have a Realtor on speed dial.

And there has been one rumor trying to grow legs and walk on its own. The  jumbled facts and  increasing rumors surrounding this player have made him the new “it-guy” for the upcoming postseason. And the hot news has been circulating hard and heavy around the Tampa Bay area recently, and this rumor needs to be shot down and destroyed now before it truly becomes an animal amongst the usual chatter in the stadium during our upcoming season ending home stand.

Because if this constantly revolving rumors becomes truth without a great bit of clarity by either party, it could destroy three years work by the Rays front office to bring this collective talent pool to mesh as one. Just like that simple Baby Ruth candy bar in the pool in Caddyshack, sometimes the publics  narrow perception of something can cause chaos when it is simply our own minds running rampant. And do we need a symbol of  the illness “Me-dom” within the Rays clubhouse? We have already seen what a mouthpiece and constant attention hound like Keyshawn Johnson could do to a football team, do we really need a baseball example of that on the Rays?

And this gentleman has been heavily debated pros and cons in the  hallowed Sports programs so heavily lately it might be a sin if he is not mentioned to be headed to Tampa Bay,San Diego, or even in the refined halls of your MLB team. Milton Bradley has done some incredible things with his wooden bat in his career. He was such a terror to American League pitching in 2008 as a member of the Texas Rangers, but that was then, this is now. 

And yes, the Rays did chat and discuss the open DH position on this very 2009 team with him. Who really knows just how close that negotiation actually got before he decided to take the multi-millions laying in front of him on the table in Chi-town. But, the Rays can say with great wisdom that they avoided a PR hurricane of category 5 velocity by passing on him. Imagine the hailstorm of comments and signs if he tried to consider our Rightfield to be “racist” and prejudiced against his abilities and opinions. I shudder to think what vocals and signage would be rained down upon him nightly.

I guess you would not get that rainstorm of commentary if you did not  produce bonehead plays like throwing the baseball up into the Rightfield crowd during a game after only TWO outs. But that is another issue entirely. And the fact that these rumors are catching fire in Chicago of all towns is amazing to me. But the fact that the Chicago Cubs, even after an apology by Mr. Bradley will do everything within their powers to rid their franchise of this guy tells you he has overstayed his welcome amongst the ivy walls.

And the Cubs new management has already awoken to the facts they might have to eat an enormous chunk of Bradley’s 2010 salary, with no dressing, to even get  a team to  begin discussions on him. And wasn’t it nice of Bradley to saddle the new owners of the Cubs  as their first order of business after the season to be the expulsion of Bradley out of Wrigley Field. They finally get control of the team, and they have to deal with an out-of-control manipulator of the system………Irony in its simplest form.

And Bradley himself might be the trigger point to several deals considered outside of Chi-town. Names around the league might not even be mentioned until the baseball world knows the destination of the newest spoiled child of baseball. Could Bradley be the link piece for the second year in a row to the final destinations and possibilities for players this off season? And is he really that good to take such  great bargaining power away from some of the games power hitters?


Brule Laker @Flickr.com

Well, the ways the Rays have wandered into this puzzle is based on a rumor that they might consider a straight swapping of Pat Burrell for Bradley, with the Cubs maybe picking up most of MB’s 2010 salary. On paper, that could look really appealing to a team that could shed a $9 million contract and get a player for basically FREE in 2010.  It could free up revenues to maybe get a closer or some solid Bullpen help for the coming season, but do all of the possible negatives still outweigh the positives in this deal? Sure they can both hit, and they both might be in the wrong league right now, but does a swap like this really make sense? Or even have any serious foundation to even begin a dialog?

I am of the mindset that Burrell is a “National League” guy, with a swing that is adapted to the Senior Circuit. He has looked like a fish out of water this season, and if we can unload, I mean, get him back into familiar grounds, then he can strive again at the plate. Now I have not given up on “The Bat”, just think that he might be a perfect fit for the MLB player relocation program. But would sending the mild-mannered Burrell, who only caused one trickle in the wading pool with a guy who would be constantly doing Cannonballs and Preacher’s Seats into the shallow end of the pool be worth the risk? 

And if we did consider it, would their be an adapted clause added to Bradley’s contract that envisions penalties and possible financial slaps in the booty if he becomes a destructive force with the Rays? You would have to think that such a provision would have to be in place within the confines of Bradley’s contract before the Rays would even pick up the phone a second time. Friedman has always made it a policy to not discuss any trade possibilities or even the remote chance that the Cubs have already started a discussion towards unloading Bradley.

But you hope that in this once instance, if the Rays are considering a guy like Bradley we might at least get a “press warning shot” fired by Friedman over the Rays bow. I know players can change, and sometimes a change of scenery can be a boost to morale and production, but does it all equal a discussion, or is this more wind just gusting through our sails at a time when we are feeling low about our season? Consider this Rays fans, this team has divorced itself repeatedly from association with negative-based personalities before, and they have the mindset that a negative force can destroy a positive move in a heartbeat.


Zcreative@Flickr.com

So is a Bradley for Burrell trade even remotely possible if you  do not take the following into consideration. Would the Rays be a better team with Bradley in their line-up?  Can he be the force behind either Carlos Pena or Evan Longoria that will make AL pitching staffs throw to them instead of trying to work around them? The honest answer is Burrell right now is not feared by any staff. Sure there have been smatterings of great games and an occasional long boom boom, but they have not shown any consistent pace or motion, and that is counter productive to trying to keep pitching staff honest with the Rays line-up. Some day I think we should send up Burrell’s bulldog Elvis to the plate, at least he might run out there and bite a few ankles.

If you are seeking a huge bat with power, then you might have to stick with Burrell and take your chances he rebounds in 2010. Since 2000, Bradley has only hit 115 home runs. In comparison, Burrell has done almost that in less than 4 years.  And the fact that Burrell has only been on two teams, but Bradley, if added to the Rays roster, would be on his 8th team in 10 years.  I see a huge red flag flying on that situation.

People point to Bradley’s two straight seasons of over .900 in OPS as an i
ndicator of his increasing power and ability to get the job done, but in reality, they seem like a smokescreen to me. Sure in 2008 Bradley had his best season as a professional, but he also had a line-up that dictated he had to be pitched to, with sluggers like Josh Hamilton, Michael Young and a slugger-in-training Ian Kinsler in the Rangers line-ups. Pitching staffs had to pick their poison, and he might have been the least likely to hit a grand slam or winning run.

So the basis of any talk about a trade of these two players might have to be rooted in if the Rays want to truly dump Burrell and are willing to “rent” Bradley  for at least 6 months. You can easily see Bradley dealt at the Trading Deadline at the end of July 2010 no matter if he is the second coming, or becomes dead weight in the Rays line-up. If you had to push me into the “big chair” for the day and consider this option for the Rays, I would immediately delete any Emails and put the phone on “ignore” for any calls from the Cubbies. Burrell might have been a pain in the booty for the Rays Republic in 2009, but he has a higher threshold of possibilities for 2010.


Chris O’Meara / AP

If the Rays even did decide to consider Bradley, will they need a psychiatrist or sports psychologist on-call for him? Or maybe we can send him to one of those leadership camps that the Japanese executives go to like in the movie Gung Ho.  So with all the turmoil and the stress that Bradley could produce on the opposition, just how much might actually be turned back onto the fans and the team during down times? This looks to me like a total lose-lose scenario, and the Rays like betting on sure things more than projects. So I am going to hit that special “Mute” button within myself right now and not even consider any more rumors or even revolving chatter about these two players. Burrell is a Rays, Bradley is not, and hopefully we will never see him in a “21” jersey for this team. not matter what the cost….period!

Way to make us smile BJ!

 


Chris O’Meara / AP


Oh Melvin Emmanuel Upton, how we have all collectively been waiting to envision that explosive bat again taking control of games since you won that American League Player of the Month award back in June 2009. And during this past small 2-game series against Seattle, you showed why your star has always been shining bright amongst the great young talent in the A L. That the offensive firepower hidden within that black and brown maple bat of yours can come out screaming again and make us gasp at its magic. The past few games have been another edition of the Upton fireworks show that we have all been waiting so long this season to again admire and giggle with anticipation. 

And how you, yourself needed that explosion to boost yourself. Not only did it help your baseball sanity, but it was a perfect example of how to push back the growing whispers of negative detractors and submerge that recent debacle with Pat Burrell  where he called you out in the locker room and you took the painful comment barrage. People have no idea what has gone on behind the Rays closed doors recently with you, but you have endured a lot this season from sporadic injuries and personal mental demons to again show the  crowds that spark of promise we have all seen since you were first drafted by the Rays out of High School. You made people again want to clap loud and proud for B J Upton.

It is amazing that no one besides a small handful of fans saw the transformation during that last three games when you posted back-to-back-to-back multi-hit nights, it was the first time since June 27-28th against the New York Yankees that you felt that offensive power swell up within you and explode onto the field. For some reason, people only want to remember the 4-38 slag mire you have been dragging yourself through, and continue to ride your back as their personal Rays scapegoat this season. And some of them have not even given you a moment to collect yourself or breathe. But you got a sweet reprieve during that series. Oh, you got some sweet revenge my friend.

Most of them did not see or have forgotten that during Wednesdays game, just like Ben Zobrist you got a rocket off to the plate to catch a mis-guided base runner. But unlike Zorilla, your perfect throw did not accumulate with Dioner Navarro preventing the run from scoring. When you threw that guided missile to Navarro trying to gun down M’s first baseman Jack Hannahan at the plate,it was the late glove sweep by Navarro that kept you from the spotlight.

The ball was there in time, but Navarro could not get himself settled in far in front of the plate and tag Hannahan before he slid just beyond Navarro’s glove. But what would the talking heads in Bristol, Conn. have said about the play then?  Would they have gushed and admired the defensive gem by the struggling outfielder? Or maybe they might actually  have to admit to themselves and the world that you were on your game during this series.

We all know the answer to this question all too well. You have the talent, the ability and the swagger to be mentioned every night, but they forget who you are at times. You have changed position three times with this team to help the team. You took on the lead-off role without much hassle and even if you did massively struggle in the role,you pressed on until you were finally put down in the order in the spot where Jason Bartlett spent most of the season. But people want to remember you comments about the 9-spot in the line-up and not anything else. Sometimes I think we relish seeing people fail on the field and do not appreciate our players enough.




Chris O’Meara / AP

But you made sure people did not forget your name as they were getting out of their seats and driving home on that night. No, you made sure that if they forgot that laser to the plate and those 3 RBI, that they could not forget that fielding gem in that contest. And the funny thing is, if I was not present sitting in the stands watching this, I would not have seen the true grandeur of the moment. People might not even have envisioned that third out being that dramatic, or that spectacular, but you did.


Chris O’Meara / AP

That even during your long sprint towards the dead centerfield fence you had an air of confidence in your strides. And that even as you were leaping like a cheetah towards that tasty meatball of a pitch, you thrust yourself up high on that centerfield wall and took that sure home run ball from above that yellow line and preserved your teams victory. It was he perfect exclamation point on this series for you. It was the perfect way for you to put your name on their lips as they filed out of the stadium.

You made sure that if they did not know you have hit for a .545 average, with 5 RBI and a solo strikeout in your last three games. You might have flown under the radar for most of this home stand, but on that night, you are out of the shadows and right up there in the spotlight for all to see and enjoy. For during this season, most of the Rays Republic have remembered you for untimely strikeouts and an unusual plate discipline, but recently, you have re-adjusted yourself mentally and started to show us again that pretty power swing that has been missing for some time in your game.
 


Chris O’Meara / AP


The Rays fans seemed to only want to remember that you were hitless in 7 of the last 8 games before this trio of awesomeness. They only wanted to see the struggles and the pain as you walked back from the plate after a bad at bat. They wanted to thrust all the frustrations and the anguish on you, and not see the multiple reasons for failure on this 2009 Rays squad. They singled you out as their token reason for not repeating, but you still played on amongst all the riff raff and the BS.

And I have to admit, I was one of those people wondering a bit BJ. I was wondering if you might have finally gotten so tired of all the gruff and comments bent straight towards your  head and shoulders that it might have finally made you shut down a bit. I was thinking of replacing you in the MLBloggers Fantasy League because during this weeks last Championship Playoff match I needed offensive moxy. But you proved me wrong, and I am glad of that. You showed me and the Rays fans you still have the desire and the passion for this game, both at the plate and in the field. 

And BJ, I did not drop you from that Fantasy&
nbsp;roster. Hey how soon people forget I traded Angels closer Brian Fuentes for you. I had that much faith in your abilities. Or maybe it is rooted more in the fact that I have watched you play professional baseball since you were 17, and I know the passion and zeal you have for this game. It is that glint in your smile and that cock of the head that tells me you are still very much centered in this game. And for that reason, you still have me as your fan.

And with that spectacular catch to keep you on the minds of Rays fans for a bit, maybe it is time to again show the Rays fans why you are the real star in centerfield. Forget that painted on yellow sunburst that you sometimes put your left foot on while setting up in centerfield for an inning. You are the bright star in that outfield, and it is about time that we again see that shine. So hopefully that same magic is stuffed in your bag for the last road trip of the season so we can again marvel at your skills this weekend.

This is the time BJ. This is the moment where you can again get people excited for 2010 and the possibility of you again making plays like that and being the man at the plate.  Some people say that first impressions are the most important, and in normal life they are totally correct. But in sports, it is what you have done in your last impression that keeps you on peoples minds and in their thoughts. So what you do these last 10 games might set up the fans mindsets even before you take the field in 2010. People remembered the massive homers in the post season in 2008 and envisioned a career year from you this season. Maybe it is time to revisit that glory and again make us salivate and yearn for more baseball in 2009.

Fat Lady Left a Sour Note

 

I actually think it was kind of ironic and prophetic last night that the called third strike against Evan Longoria was actually under his knee caps. So many times this season we have just seemed to let things glide under our radar. The many missed  game-winning opportunities and failed scoring attempts  just all cam together in that one monet when we got to watch the Rays ship flounder on the rocks…. again this season. The last ditch attempts to right the ship have led this team to half baked ideas and irrational  base behaviors before  that final voice of the umpire squandered another chances at victory. 

The climatic, slow motion movement by Home Plate Umpire Scott Barry  of thrusting the stirkeout signal carried so much force last night because with his right arm cutting the thick air in Tropicana Field like a Samurai sword, Barry cut the still beating heart out of all of our chests and finally ended the Rays scramble for the playoffs. Among the huge outpouring of moans and groans was the agony that the Fat Lady finally got her moment. That she got to finally show off those pipes of hers a lot later than even the  so-called experts expected it.

No matter how upset you are today you can take solace Rays fans in knowing we lasted until the 151st game of the season before finally bowing out. that silver lining might seemed tarnished to some, but the truth is……… we lasted a long time past expectations. The Rays have now established a bench mark of going the the second farthest into the season before an elimination from contention.  I know that might not seem like much right now with our hearts in our hands, but it is something to build on totally here. And how soon we forget we used to be out of contention by mid-August at the latest before the last two seasons.

And as I got up this morning, the sky was still blue, the water was still running and the air was crisp and not full of fire and brimstone. The world did not end in the last 12 hours since the end of that game.  And unlike the movie trailer of “2012” above this paragraph, we will again breath fresh air  and eat great tasting foods. Our local sports world might have taken a death blow to the middle of our skulls, but our community and the Rays themselves should be proud of the fact we survived this late into the race. And that is a  solid reason to clap and celebrate.

But the  final trip down this road has not ended for us yet. We still have 11 games (including tonight’s game) left in the season to make people sit up and take notice that we might just be the 2010 template for the  rollercoatser 2007 Colorado Rockies model. You remember that team, they  fought their way to the World Series ( like the Rays), then fell upon hard times in 2008 when they missed the playoffs after a hard run, before finally  regenerating themselves and kicking some major booty this season to be in a line for a National League Wild Card slot.

So think about it Rays fans, if they can do it? Why can’t we return to that same glory too? In 2010  we have a young and solid rotation coming back and will sport three different seasons “Rookie of the Year” candidates possibly on the same 25-man roster. Third Baseman Longoria (2008 winner),Starter Jeff Niemann ( possible 2009 ROY) and true rookie pitcher Wade Davis. For the third year in a row the Rays will have a possible ROY candidate on their team as a new Rays crop of young players begin to hit the Major League level. And there are more than a few Bulls players currently at Triple-A just chomping at the bit waiting for their shots too.

There is so much to look forward to in February 2010, which really is not that far away. For the first time in the Rays history, they should have 4  starting rotation slots configured for their pitching staff even before they report to camp. There might be some player tweaking by the front office with the field staff, but you can bet the Bullpen will need some of those “HI!, I’m_______” tags for that first session after the Rays Fan Fest. And that might not be a bad thing either.

So our hearts right now might be breaking a bit, but we have to stand tall because we still have some people to upset starting on Friday night. We could throw a huge monkey wrench into the post season parade for the Texas Rangers and maybe even help eliminate them from consideration during our 3-games series in Arlington this weekend. Then, after a 4-game bruise cruise with the Baltimore Orioles during our final home stand, we could jumble up the playoff pairings by putting a few “L’s” on the Yankees ,and maybe send them into the playoffs on a awkward note.

And sure, we might have been on life support for about two weeks, but that is the thing about faith and determination, until that last percentage point of a chance fell off the board, that sliver of hope, that last movement of the second hand moving slowly, we still had a prayer for the 2009 Playoffs. And you got to admit, both the New York Yankee and Boston Red Sox fans loved that last strikeout. It not only forbid the Tampa Bay Rays a chance to repeat, it gave both teams exclusive bragging rights up until the 2010 playoffs begin.

And that might be the thing that hurts the most today. Not only did we give a small segment of Red Sox Nation and the Pinstripe Posse a reason to ridicule and tease us for the next 6 months to a year, but we gave them a solid example of why we were not good enough to be in the playoff this season.  In the first two innings last night the Rays stranded 5 out of their 6 base runners without a chance to cross the plate. We had the chance to deliver a swift  killing blow to the hearts of the Mariners, but let the situation unfold like a cheap house of cards and it instead became a loss.

So maybe it was fitting that we go down on a bad call because for so many games this season we have not been the better team, or even the worthy team of posting a win.  So the  downtown parade to the playoffs will be canceled, the energetic pep rally held in downtown St. Petersburg will not happen, but the season is not over by a long shot. We still have a few messages to deliver to the other MLB teams. They need to remember that this is a proud Rays team and have the backing of their community, and that we do not plan to stay down long or for the standing 8-count again in 2010.

For all the people sulking and moaning about the loss of a potential playoff berth, it is time to strap on the boots again and get back to work cheering and banging our Cowbells for this team to finish out on a high note. Even if it taste bitter right now, this Rays team needs to see us standing behind them and showing we have their backs. Everyone knew this was going to be a hard and lonesome road to get back into the post season. Both of the teams in front of us re-tooled and re-formulated their rosters before and even during the season to fight the Rays at every crossraods to block their path and possibly moving up the standings.

And think about this Rays fans. We are in the most competitive division in sports. Playing with less than a $70 million payroll this season, we forced the ‘big boys” to open their deep wallets and bring in some effective hired guns to take us out. Our talent might not have stood the test of time this season, but they both know we are right behind them for many years in the future. And that  the level of this squads potential and drive for more might be the best secret weapons we have coming into 2010. Now that the chance to play into late October is gone, it should make more than a few of the Rays vets and rookies even more hungry to again taste the champagne. And if we do get back to that lofty perch in 2010……….How sweet will that nectar be on our lips. 

I am Glad the Rays passed on the Milton Bradley Game

 

When the news hit the Internet sites that the Chicago Cubs had seen enough of the explosive verbal game playing by Milton Bradley, the disgruntled outfielder, not the gamesman, the beseiged franchise actually was giving the Tampa Bay Rays a bold High five of confidence without even knowing it. Think about this for a moment, Bradley had come into Tampa Bay  several times during the 2008 off season looking for a deal to DH for this team, and the Rays at some point, might have been heavily salivating before turning their sights towards a more calm scenario by selecting ex-Phillie Pat Burrell.

In what was considered a huge signing for the Cubs for 3-years and $30 million, might have actually been a push-to-the-side by the Rays because of something their top brass,scouts, West Indies voodoo doctors or even their psychic friends network connections might have witnessed in the aging and sometimes volcanic Bradley.  I can now say without a hint of remorse, this non-signing might be the biggest vote of fan confidence I can give the Rays front office since Stu and the crew have taken over. It was a  visual dismissal of maybe again going through the notions of purging team demons and  shows they want to utterly dismiss all things negative to their brand of baseball.

Bradley unfortunately  would have come to the Rays with a van full of baggage, and maybe the Rays saw beyond the unfield contributions to the possible PR disaster that prevailed amongst the assembled stacks of steamer trunks and carry on bags to see that the stable environment of the 2008 Rays clubhouse might not be able to endure a extroverted maniac like Bradley and not implode upon itself.  And for that, I applaud the Rays 3rd Floor gurus.

It must have been so tempting to take a chance on a guy who had the highest OPS in the American League last season with the Rangers.  For that would be a huge upgrade in possible offensive outbursts for the team, but maybe the unpredictable outbursts of another nature put a huge red stop sign in their eye sights before extending an olive branch or contract to Bradley. But you have to wonder why the Texas team did not come out openly and entice teams to take on Bradley? Why were their not teammates and former coaches anxious to voice approval or even dismay over a team taking a pass on this guy?

    Tttarasiuk@Flickr.com

Could there have been a non verbal sign to other teams to take a step back and take a through psychological imprint of their team and see if one crazy piece would turn them spiraling towards the division cellar. Of course the Cubs seemed to have been the best scenario for Bradley. He was going to a team on the verge, and who had a high profile stickler for individual responsibility in their present Manager, Lou Piniella. It seemed like Piniella would be the perfect man to rein in Bradley when he went a bit, well ‘psycho”.

But this is not your older brother Piniella, his fight is still there, but has been dampened by the years. Not that the cooling properties of Aquafina had taken the fight out of him, but time had worn him down a bit, and he was not the same guy now. And that might have been a huge factor in Bradley even getting beyond just the ranting and raving stage. Piniella might have let him dig his own grave, and in retrospect, it might have taken his Cubs team down in the process.

Negative energy in a clubhouse can ruin even a bright sunny day in Wrigley Field. My grandmother had a saying, “It only take one grumpy soul to turn a room of bright sunshine  smiling people into a solemn, miserable lot”. Bradley might have done his worst damage to those arounf him, and not to just his own career. And because of that, Bradley was a Category 5 Hurricane stuffed into a small wooden box. You knew he was going to get out of that well made box, but you hoped to contain the damage to a small area, then retract him again within the confines  a bigger wooden or steel box to calm down and again become more human.

But why didn’t the Cubs see this internal fire and demon storm churing out of control themselves? The signs were all around them, but they chose or either ignore them or look the other way and just overly insure themselves. Did the Rays have a body language professional or a psycho analyst hidden in on the teams discussions with Bradley and  they watched him closely for signs of anxiousness, volitile moments, or even a sense of uneasiness sitting in that big leather chair? Maybe it was just a simple gut reaction or feeling that doomed the “Bradley Experiment” from ever darkening the Rays clubhouse doors.

What could have been the determinating factor that pushed him out of the Rays mindset and onto the Cubs?  Whatever that pencil thin item or viewpoint was, thank goodness we saw it before we got pen to paper and had him sign with the Rays and be witness in our front row seat to his emotional and mential implosion in front of our very eyes. Believe me, if he had come here and treated the Rays rightfield fans the way he scolded and admonished his Cubbie faithful, then I pity the franchise when the would read the venom I would have spewed amongst this page.

Maybe it was something as simple as a bad handshake. You know the type, felt more like a wet fish getting slapped into the palm of your hand than a powerhitter looking for a job. Maybe he didn’t look the Rays in the eyes while talking to them,or maybe he got  a tad upset because there was no half and half for the coffee? Whatever it was, thank goodness we did not have to endure,speculate or even experience the enduring nightmare the Cub fans and  his teammates have seen in the last few months. It is said to see a talent waste away in the petty and obsurd innder world they create for themselves. 

But also in this case, it is a bed he set, made and purchased all his own. Right now he might be his own worst enemy and is catching up to imfamous Steve Bartman as a hated figure in Cubbie folklore. So Bradley has been sent home from playing the game he “supposibly” loves, but doesn’t respect anymore. Hopefully the loss of time from his favorite game, and the revenue it creates for him will shake his  fragile foundation and he can again find a neutralizing center for which to build upon. If not, a team desperate for a power hitter will bite again on his services, but  that squad might have a contract laden with out clauses in case his act again surfaces and starts to divide and conquer another team.

Milton Bradley has given a lot to this game during his career. But it is what he has also taken and destroyed in it that will be remembered most by the fans of baseball. So the Rays dodged a huge bullet by instead staying with the coll, calm demeanor of Burrell in their DH spot. Burrell is beginning to heat up a bit, but the volitile nature and the negative energy doesn’t flow from him like it does with every word from Bradleys mouth right now. Bradley can still repair his career and go on to do things that will make people forget this episode. But the Rays door will not be open to him, and for once, that is a good thing.

Chemistry Boiling under the surface


Rob Carr / AP


There has been a huge cloak of silence since the heated riff this past week by Tampa Bay Rays players Pat Burrell and Carl Crawford in the Visitor’s clunhouse in Baltimore. It was initially reported by the StPetersburg Times that the two got into a heated argument before the team headed out for the stretching session before the start of Batting Practice for last Wednesday nights game.

The back and forth bickering went for a few minutes before Rays starter James Shields stepped between the two and gently eased Crawford away from Burrell. What was not known at the time to the public is the fact that Burrell, the MLB veteran, but not a Rays veteran, might have crossed that imaginary line and called out one of his fellow Rays.

I am not finding fault with Burrell trying to be productive and emerge as a clubhouse leader since Carlos Pena was injured, but the “tough love” treatment is not the norm in the Rays environment. Burrell seized the moment to fire up a higher energy and motivation level during the last leg of the Rays demoralizing road trip.

But the tough chatter actually backfired on him,and might have alienated him with more than two teammates. For the betterment of the team, both Burrell and Crawford left the heated discussion in the locker room. I actually have always admired the old clubhouse wisdom of “what happens in the clubhouse, stays in the clubhouse”. And to be totally honest, Burrell tried to provide some positive vibes since the loss of the Rays clear clubhouse voice, Carlos Pena who was back in the Tampa Bay area after his successful hand surgery.

But the way the heated episode unfolded, it might have played better in another teams clubhouse, and did not fit the Rays persona at all. The laid-back Rays crew is used to Maddon taking them into his office for private discussions, or even impromptu talks out on the field before games. The harsh venom and criticism pointed towards a fellow teammate was not usual component of this Rays squad.


Brian Blanco / AP

There were 29 players present from the 2008 Rays roster in the Team Photo taken with me nestled in the middle last May. A total of 14 players from that American League Championship roster no longer wears the Rays logo. But even in their absence,this Rays team has a deep and respected core of players that this 2009 team was built around.

Including Burrell, the Rays have added 12 different players, either signed or promoted from the minors experiencing their first Rays season.And that is a huge bowl of new personalities and attitudes that needed to be meshed into one unit. Some has seen this incident as a crack in the Rays armor, that maybe everything is not so great in happy valley. But the reality is that the 2008 squad had a great chemistry and a common bond that might not be duplicated ever again by the Rays.

Both Maddon and his Coaching staff have used road trip Travel Party themes and events such as the “All-White” ensemble or the recent “Ring of Fire” tour as bonding moments for this team. Each events has seemed to bring this team more together and forming as a unit, but hopefully this episode has not taken them a few steps backwards in their development as a unit.

The plain truth might be that there are a few coarse sandpaper personalities on this years team that might grind upon a few of the fine grit members of this team unit that embodied the 2008 team. Trial and error has been the happy medium to try and mesh this team solid  again. Distrust and walls might have been pushed up by this small outburst, but in the long run, they too should fall by the wayside.


Bill Koustroun / AP

A veteran like Burrell is sometimes looked upon for motivation and inspiration. This episode might have been a misguided attempt for him to also put his personal stamp on this Rays squad, but it  should not undermine his leadership skills. But the road he took that day just ended up in disaster than in harmony.

There have been speculation that this Rays squad might have finally just fell apart under the guise of stress and failure after the Boston debacle on that day. But emotions run high in sports, and sometimes a change in the regular routine can spark an uplifting of spirits, or it can cause damaging effects beyond repair. The calling out of a fellow teammate did nothing more on that day than divide their clubhouse for  a few moments.

Burrell might have a new found respect for Crawford now by him defending a teammate. And that is sorely missed by this team right now. With Pena out for the season, this Rays team of introverted players will have to go beyond their own personalities and keep the fires burning  hot up until October 4th.

Burrell was in the wrong for calling out a teammate in so many ways, but it was not productive of Burrell to call out someone hitting the same Batting Average as himself, plus a player who has been battling an injury bug of his own this season. But he might not have seen the hidden devotion and team bond that still remained from 2008. This recent episode may soon fade to black and never rear its ugly head again.

You have to admire the strength to try and fill the leadership void by Burrell, even if it had a alarming result. But that also might be an issue for Maddon and his staff to consider before this team departs after the last game. The team will discuss off season goals and aspirations for 2010. Maybe one of the biggest goals of this team coming into the 2010 Spring Training might be a few more veterans standing up and being counted on as leaders on this team. Trial and error should not be the way to test the fabric of your team. You should be able to trust your instincts and know it will work. Burrell got some on-the-job training in that art form.

 

Salsa Please!

 


I have admit, it was not one of those night that I was really looking forward to in the Rays Saturday night Concert Series, but in the end, it was a great time seeing a stadium full of people swaying and dancing to a very distinctive Latin beat. I know there are a couple of people, including Rays Bullpen Coach Bobby Ramos who were looking forward to the concert by Salsa king Tito Nieves last night.

All around the stadium you could see fans just taking in the definite Latin inspired beats and fully reminding me and a lot of other people that the Tampa Bay area has the second highest Hispanic population in the state of Florida.  For last night was a celebration of Latino Night, and with Rays starter Matt Garza throwing a shutout, it gave the home crowd more of a reason to celebrate last night.

And the Rays have a definite Latin flair to their team with veterans like Carlos Pena, Matt Garza, Dioner Navarro,Willy Aybar and Rays coaches Dave Martinez and Ramos. And with former Los Angeles Dodger star Pedro Guerrero throwing out the first pitch and signed for fans in Centerfield Street before the game fans were feeling En Fuego early last night.

So I decided to stay with the theme of the night and hit one of the only Latin inspired concession stands in the stadium. I got a nice pressed and hot Cuban sandwich with a huge amount of melted cheese, a bowl of black beans and rice and two chicken empanada for after the game during the concert. All three items were doused in a fine hot sauce and were marinating quite nicely by the time I got back to my seat.

And the night had its hot and spicy moments from the 4-run barrage of the first inning to the home town crowd booing Rays Manager Joe Maddon when he came out to take Garza out of the game. The crowd made sure they voiced their displeasure in the action, but also made sure Garza got a good sendoff if this might be his last home start of the season. Garza left the game with most of the 22,750 fans on their feet showing their love for a long and difficult season.

But the highlight of the night was still the fans who stayed behind for the Nieves concert who were swaying and singing to his music in the stands. Multitudes of Salsa fans were using the flat regions of the stadium up at the top of the bowl, including space down by the Bullpens dancing the Rumba and the Salsa  for the adoring crowds. That is a dance I have never attempted, but after seeing the style and fluid grace of the movements, it is one I want to learn just for the sex appeal.

So as we are winding down this season with about 10 home games left, the excitement and the exhilaration of this exotic and erotic dance might have been the boost of energy I needed to get me through the rest of the season. One of the characteristics of the Salsa that I did not know before last night was that it the intense passion and tight movements needed to make it seem so effortless and graceful.

It was a night I was not looking forward to before entering the stadium, but it was one I was glad we had before the end of the night. For years in my job with Pepsi I coordinated the Puerto Rican Festival in Pinellas Park, and I was working so hard and never really took in the majesty and the tradition of it all. But last night I took it in, and all to the last drop or note.

It was a night that ended up as one of the  highlights of this season because I let myself learn more about Salsa and even Latin music last night. And that is something that I will never forget. And the sight of seeing Ramos striding up in front  of the band also doing the Salsa on the turf of the Trop will stay with me for a long time. Before last night the pulse of the Salsa beat was foreign to me, but now it is something I am yearning to hear again, to dance to, and to just celebrate life.

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 288 other followers