Thought processes and conversations started under the tilted cap of Tropicana Field. Someday everyone will know the Rays play in St. Petersburg, Florida, not TAMPA, or the fictitious city of TAMPA BAY.
With all of the Tampa Bay Rays excitement during last night’s epic first match-up between the New York Yankees and the Rays, I was beginning to feel a bit drained of my usual high octane energy and my thought process was starting to bog down in meaningless trivia and dead ends. But thank goodness we had a up tempo musical interlude that instantly injected with a dose authentic Mexican boleros and nortenos music to jumpstart my enthusiasm juices.
Last night, during the Rays Latin Heritage Night in conjunction with the Rays Friday Fest celebration, the group Los Lobos (The Wolves) took the stage to supercharge the air in Tropicana Field. Some people remarked that the band had gotten older and had a bit more gray to them, but the music instantly showed that the band has not lost a beat over the years, and can still produce a great show for the fans who danced in place and also did a few impromptu Salsa moves on the Rays Field Turf during the performance.
Most people remember the band for their covers of the late Ritchie Valens hits during the production of the movie “La Bamba”, including the title song which became a number one hit for the band. The night was always kept at a high energy mode, and the dancing continued all the way up to the last song of the evening. The band has endured a long history within the music industry since their first release back in the late 1970’s. Their blend of Spanish and Mexican music was a great eye-opener to me since I am a bit naïve of this Latin music influence, but felt I got a great crash course last night during their performance.
The use of a few instruments like the Requinto jarocho, Jarana husteca, Bajo Sexto, and Guitarron intrigued me last night as it was the first time I had ever encountered these instruments during a concert. But that is also one of the things that got my blood going last night is hearing and seeing a new instrument used in a song or ballad and hearing its sweet sound magnified throughout Tropicana Field’s dome. But this is a band that fully uses the word “acoustic” and transports it to a whole different level.
Usually when you hear that word, the image instantly pops into your head of a few musicians up on bars stools in the small café with no amplified means of transporting their sound, but Los Lobos tome was more like your classic Mariachi band on steroids as they strummed and worked their way through their set. From the stage presence of David Hidalgo, to the dark shades of Cesar Rojas, their vocals were on point and seem to flow off out and into the crowd last night. The band definitely knew how to charm and engulf the crowd in front of them.
And we did hear their number one hit “La Bamba”, but also got a taste of a song I did not even realize the band produced for Disney for the Jungle Book movie, “I Wanna Be like You (The Monkey Song). They added a little extra to that song last night and fully had the crowd entranced both in the vocals and the acoustic instruments. But it was their rendition of “Saint Behind the Glass” that took me by surprise. I had also heard that song in the comedy flick “Nacho Libre” and now could picture the group that was strumming that song.
I do not know why, but the song I was truly waiting for that night was “Guantanamo (Guajira) in their set. Not sure why either. But it is a song I have always enjoyed and found soothing, and it just seemed to fit that night with the orange moon hovering in the Eastern Tampa Bay sky. The night was a huge success on so many levels with all of us Rays fans in attendance learning about another musical influence. As the concert came to an end, it almost seemed like the music should have kept flowing throughout the Trop as everyone exited the stadium.
Just seemed to be an anticlimactic end to a exciting and grand night as the Trop suddenly went silent. But in the remote recesses of the Trop., the serenade of music was still playing, and dancers were still doing Salsa and Merengue moves as the rest of us walked towards the exits. Perfect night with a win and some music to keep in our minds and hearts for the evening. Only thing missing now was a cool chilled tall Margarita to salute the night and the performance that Los Lobos gave us that evening.
Within the next three hours Sports Radio from Manhattan in New York City to 9th Street North in the borough of St. Petersburg will begin their suggestive superlatives surrounding this upcoming weekend in Tampa Bay. Comparisons and similarities will be analyzed, scrutinized and media savvy sanitized to try and drum up any emotions still left dormant among followers of both teams. No matter if you are a card carrying member of the Pinstripe Platoon or the Rays Republic, this weekend will set the stage fully towards what might happen at the end of the 2010 seasonal journey.
This weekend will put one team in a small, but substantial advantage of having a numerical edge on their closest competitor, and the team that wants to take their dream away of October glory. No matter if you side with the Evil Empire , or the Rebel Alliance this weekend, the battle lines have been drawn, and the fun is just about to begin. In less than three hours, when the Rays Fan Hosts open the outer doors of Tropicana Field, a large segment of the baseball viewing World will be focused on this hamlet off the Gulf of Mexico eager not only for the First pitch, but the last.
This series will do more than give a little breathing room to a possible Playoff berth, it could be the difference between the Wild Card and the American League East crown. Each team thinks they are fighting the “good fight”, the fight that will deem them victorious, but the reality is that just as the Highlander, Conor McCloud once said, “There can be only one.” With the home team boasting a winning streak and the visitor’s holding onto the climax runaway game fresh in their minds, both teams approach this game as pivotal and a “must win” situation.
With both teams separated by only a small slip of the offense and pitching, this series, even if it is only 3 out of the remaining 10 contests between these two Major League Baseball giants. Those pesky Rays who the Yankees have not been able to get out of their rearview mirrors for most of the season have two 3-game series left in their “Pit” while the Yankees have only a 4-game slate in mid-September to their advantage. You want to give the immediate advantage to the Rays, but these are two titans who will not go down without a messy and bloody fight. No matter if it is a one-run game or a blowout, every inning, every movement, every sound could play a convincing role in the outcome of this series.
You wanted something magnificent Tampa Bay……Well, you got it this weekend. For the first time in the Rays 13 seasons, this series will be sold out, with possibly only Standing Room Only selections still left to buy at the Rays Box Office. The enveloping ticket scalpers that circle Tropicana Field will be eager and willing to project their price upon you if you did not choose wisely and pre-purchase your chance to see these giants collide. Boosted by the fact the Yankee faithful can see one of their own possibly hit a Major League milestone only adds fuel to the inferno already encircling this series. You wanted a showdown of epic proportions…..Well you got that too Tampa Bay.
Out of the loop this weekend will be attendance concerns, stadium issues and even the Trade Deadline may take a backseat to the living and breathing beat this is this American League East collision. Someone will come out of this whole series with bruises, battered emotional scars and maybe even a few less protractors. But there is also a good side. And that side is that for once this season, no matter what team you root for, the Tampa Bay area will be the center of the baseball World…period.
Two best teams in the game stroking it out mano-on-mano with the victor getting a leg up on their competition. This series can end only two ways. Someone will win and put a bit of distance or overtake the other, or someone will see their confidence rattled and have to rebound quickly to stay hungry for the home stretch. As always, I have my front row seat to seeing these titans battle it out just feet in front of me with each squad eager and willing to lay down personal sacrifices that go way beyond those committed using a maple bat.
This weekend will either be fulfilling another step towards a destiny, or establishing a dominance needed to secure, insure and procure a chance again to fight for the golden chalice with 30 MLB flags upon it. To say this is for all the marbles is too cliché`. To say this series will define a team is too vague. But to say the winner of this series has an edge….Well, that is just the Rays and Yankees ways of doing things in 2010.
A few of us within the inner sanctum of the Rays Republic gasped aloud on Tuesday evening when in the top of the first inning Tampa Bay Rays Centerfielder B J Upton seem to get his right cleat stuck in the Trop’s Field Turf, and then came down ackward onto his left ankle. Upton immediately went to the turf and was holding his upper ankle region when Rays Head Trainer Ron Porterfield and Rays Manager Joe Maddon strolled out to see the extent of Upton’s injury.
After a few minutes lying on the turf, Porterfield assisted Upton to his feet and they tried to put adequate weight on his left ankle. After a few more minutes of flexing and checking Upton’s balance, Maddon decided to replace Upton with Ben Zobrist more to “err on the side of caution” than to try and agitate the injury any more than was needed. Upton made his way off the field under his own power, but had a distinctive limp to his step and immediately Porterfield and the Rays Medical Staff went to work on Upton’s injury.
After the game that evening, Maddon advised the Rays fans and media that Upton’s injury seemed to be a ankle sprain, but for caution, Upton would get a few days off to secure his services again on Friday when the New York Yankees head into Tropicana Field for a key end of the month match-up. Upton would be under the supervision of the Rays training staff for those two days, and then another injury acessment would be made by game time on Friday evening.
Upton was seen before today’s matinee series ending game against the Detroit Tigers doing agility drills and running movement with Rays Strength and Conditioning Coach Kevin Barr. Both walked out to the Rightfield corner and did a few agility drills and stretches before Barr observed Upton doing curly Q running patterns and multiple hard turning drills to check on the strength of his ankle.
With a thumbs up from Upton as he walked by today, I think we can safely guess that Upton will be back patrolling Centerfield tomorrow night when the Yankees invade Tampa Bay again. After watching Gabe Kapler, who started in Centerfield for the afternoon contest get tied up and running after a ball in the RF gap that Upton would have gotten to in 3 strides, it is a good thing we will have our best defensive Centerfield player back on the turf and running at full speed again tomorrow night.
It is something I always take a gander at before Tampa Bay Rays games. When they announce the Umpires for that night, I always look and see if we have a rotation on the field that might yield a few…Well, interesting moments. We all know what I am talking about here. When Joe West and his crew, which includes the Rays own Umpire devil Angel Hernandez comes to town, you know you will see a boosted game and every intention to keep the game under 3 hours. When C D Buckner and company hit the Trop., you do not see any blue metal chairs down in the Rays Bullpen area.
Each crew has its own professional personality, and their own special way of calling a series or even a game. And that is one of the thing that keep it exciting. Personally I truly believe that fans want to argue with something in every game, and usually the person that gets the blunt of that angst and anger is the Umpires. And how many people really think about that set of individuals? I had a brief discussion with a retire Umpire last night before the Rays game, and he brought up a few very interesting points.
” Baseball is the only sport where the officials let you come out on the field to argue a call. There is no rule anywhere in the Major League Baseball rulebook that lets you do that action, but it is done anyways”.
This is an interesting point. There is no revision, rule or even a mention of team’s or their Manager’s being able to come out onto the field to discuss or argue a called action within the scope of the game. It seems as though the Umpires have let the Managers come out and hash things out with them as a bit of a professional courtesy. In most American sports, the minute you step onto the field, even in football, you can be subject immediately to a penalty, an expulsion or worse, left there open for a blindside hit.
The fact that the Umpire lets players and Managers even discuss the ruling itself is a bit…Well, democratic of them, but it does add a nice mix to the game to have an open dialogue. But when was the last time you saw a Umpire and a Manager argue and the call was reversed. If you said never, then you are on the right track. By letting the Manager come out of the dugout on occasion, you get an added flair to the game and can usually incite the crowd a bit off their hands and get emotionally charged into the game again. Plus there is the added visual giggle of possibly seeing the Umpire give the “heave ho” sign to the Manager and then the fun really begins.
And there are three old masters of the art of getting thrown out, and two of them are calling it quits at the end of 2010. Chicago Cubs Manager Lou Piniella and Atlanta Braves Manager Bobby Cox are two of the best Managers to go toe-to-toe with the men in blue. Even if they do not have a leg to stand on in an argument, these two will go out there and maybe recite the phone book in order to get their opinion out there for everyone to hear and see. Sure we have all seen the wild antics that Manager have resorted to after getting tossed from a game, but Piniella and Cox have a classic style that will be missed next season.
But we also got to see another one of the masters on Monday night as Detroit Tigers Manager Jim Leyland went out to protest an obvious missed call by Second Base Umpire Marty Foster. Leyland did not have time to see the television instant replay, but he immediately knew that Upton was out by a high tag going into second base, and made sure Foster knew of his opinion. The only problem is that Leyland did not take out all the sunflower seeds within his mouth before barking at Foster, and you can see on the video replays Foster wiping his black shirt of a sunflower husk and immediately ejecting Leyland for the action.
The outrage that followed was fueled not by the missed Upton call, but by the fact that Foster would have to report Leyland for the action of “spitting on him” even if it was not an intentional action. In the heat of the argument, there is not time to decipher an immediate action, but the blatant action of even having a projectile coming out of your mouth is grounds to be run by the Umpire.
“Do you let someone spit on you? Think about it, if someone was to spit, eject or even throw something at you, don’t you also go on the offensive?”
What is surprising by the actions of Leyland is that he is a key member of the Major League Baseball’s committee on On-Field Matters that was established to help shape the game on the field. So it was interesting that he even stepped onto the turf with a few sparse seeds still lodged in his mouth, but you have to think his intention was not to fling a flying projectile like a sunflower seed at the face of chest of Foster. But eh following statement by Leyland after Monday night game shows he acknowledges that something might have landed on Foster’s black shirt:
“Now, did some of the sunflower seeds spray on his shirt? Yes, they did, without any question. [But] I don’t even spit on the ground. But I’m not going to take that. I’m tired of protecting umpires, tired of not being able to say anything. I’m defending myself. If they want to kick me out, that’s fine, I don’t care about that, because [seeds] sprayed on his shirt. But when you start accusing somebody of deliberately doing something, you better be careful.
For his actions, Leyland received a one game suspension that he served out on Wednesday night and will possibly have a small fine to contribute to the cause. But even if Leyland sat in the Visitor’s Clubhouse during that night’s game, his combatant in this volatile exchange was no longer in Tropicana Field. For some reason, Foster, who should have rotated to be behind Home Plate on Wednesday night was not on the field at all, and definitely not in the building. This makes me wonder if Major League Baseball or the Major League Baseball Umpires Association might have removed Foster from the Umpiring crew for this one instance to facilitate no further actions or provide an ounce of diversion with the rest of this Rays and Tigers series.
This is one of the first times I have seen an Umpire disappear in the middle of his crew doing a series at Tropicana Field, but it could have happened before without most of us even noticing it at all. But it is hard to argue with the fact that the MLB Umpires have become a aspect of the game now. They can inject their opinions (like Angel Hernandez), have careers outside of baseball that bring popularity to them (like Joe West) or even remain constant reminder that the game is not perfect, even with Instant Replay options.
No matter what your opinions are about Umpires and the game of baseball, they are the keepers of the rules of the game and provide a service that can not be measured in runs and hits. And because they are human, there are mistakes, misguided actions and un resolved conclusions we scratch our heads about during every game. But without them, the game would be less entertaining, have no drama and would mostly resemble a tennis match.
Last night we lost a bit of that entertainment value with both Leyland and Foster invisible to the fans and players at Tropicana Field. But there was still the hidden drama that at any moment, one of the Managers would again pop out of the dugout and argue something as simple as balls and strikes. Ahhh, what a great game!
Note: The Umpire quoted in this blog post was an active member of the MLBUA for over twenty years and also supervised Umpire crews in his career. I have left his name off the post to keep him invisible to the game. But his views are accurate and profound, and a pleasure to hear him tell stories of his war between the foul lines.
Within seconds of B J Upton’s collapse onto the Tropicana Field turf last night, I went into General Manager mode trying to think off the cuff of any recent Rays possible trade scenario, or even a totally multi-team aligned situation for completing a trade with any clarity today. As I sat there last night with camera in hand watching our Centerfielder who has been mentioned in numerous trade rumors, lying on the green Field Turf in obvious pain, the trade wheeling and dealing cogs were turning in my head.
Upton had just made a routine Centerfield catch of Detroit’s lead-off hitter Austin Jackson’s fly ball into the middle of the Rays outfield, but Upton went down to the ground like a sack of potatoes clutching his lower leg. Instantly it was time to venture into Rays trade mode.
Somehow it seemed like something as simple as Upton catching his metal cleat a bit off center in the blades of the artificial turf had caused his to roll his ankle on his follow-through to get the ball back into the infield.
As Rays Head Trainer Ron Porterfield and Rays Manager Joe Maddon jogged out to Upton’s location, a flood of recent Rays trade names began to swiftly race through my head of any possible Major League players that could fit firmly within the Rays needs. Not even thinking at this moment if Upton’s injury was long term, or even day-to-day, I want to revisit a few recent trade whispers to see if they were still relevant to the Rays needs.
Knowing in the back of my mind, that there had been recent darkened hallway whispers that Rays top outfield prospect, Desmond Jennings might not be ready for the day-to-day grind of the Major Leagues, the sight of Upton laying on the field instantly put me on the offensive to find a viable MLB ready option. There have been more than a few openly discussed prominent names from around the Major Leagues possibly finding a home soon with the Rays.
There had been more than one mention of even Upton possibly being mentioned as a trade piece with the Philadelphia Phillies for future free agent/rental player Jayson Werth, but the Rays seemed to be firmly committed to using their highly praised and stocked farm system as the catalyst for any player changes and were not actively considering anyone on their Major League roster. A trade of this nature would have brought a few new challenges to the Rays. Considering a short term investment like Werth would be a totally new adventure for Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman and the team.
The Rays have discussed bringing in short term players during the Trade Deadline period before, but the Rays have never pulled the trigger with any vigor. There was also some recent Rays trade chatter with the Kansas City Royals for a guy who could play almost anywhere, but that discussion was silenced and shelved quickly after multipurpose player David DeJesus suffered a broken thumb and could be out a substantial amount of time.
The Rays had discussing this trade with the Royals, and it seemed like the Royals were eager and willing to possibly trade for Rays farm hand LHP Jake McGee and send DeJesus to the Rays, but that scenario is just dust in the wind now. But would McGee have been enough to secure DeJesus?
There have been other names floating out in the MLB stratosphere with outfield possibilities for the Rays, but either the trade price would too steep, or the return product might not be a great trade-off. There was huge speculation a few weeks ago that Brew Crew member Corey Hart might find himself in the Rays outfield mix, but the demands from the Brewers were way too high, and could have made the Rays immediately discontinue any discussions. But there was a low cost option that was also floated by the Rays of maybe acquiring outfielder Jeff Francoeur from the New York Mets. The only problem with that scenario is that Francoeur is not the player he was two years ago when he was patrolling the Braves outfield.
But another scenario might have opened up just around the time of Upton’s injury last night on another baseball diamond up in Washington D.C. when Nationals starter Stephen Strasburg was shelved after findo out he had considerable inflammation in his right throwing shoulder. With Nationals starters Luis Atilano and J.D. Martin also on the mend, it could this recent injury bug within the Nationals rotation bring down the asking price of Washington slugger Adam Dunn, who has been known to be on the Rays “Wish List”.
A recent clarification by Dunn that he did not want to DH, but wanted to daily play in the field, might limit his possible usage for the Rays. But Dunn might be that missing right-handed bat the Rays have been eager for all season long.
But at what cost will it take to even get Dunn? Would sending a minor leaguer like starter Matt Moore be enough of a trade off to get a rental player? The Nationals might be seeking a MLB ready guy like Wade Davis or Andy Sonnanstine to fill in until their young pitching staff gets healthy. So would a trade for Dunn who could be waltzing right back to the Nationals after the season be worth the two month rental price right now?
More and more this week I am considering the true option that the Rays might be better served with just staying pat with their current options and fighting for a Playoff spot with the guys who got them here. With Rocco Baldelli getting into game day shape, there is a possibility he could be a useful right-handed bat the Rays could use down the stretch with minimal fiscal damage.
With the Rays announcing after last night’s game that Upton has a possible ankle sprain and might just miss a few Rays starts before possibly being in Centerfield for Friday night clash with the New York Yankees, the Rays have adequate in-house options like Sean Rodriguez and Ben Zobrist to cover a short term absence of Upton from the line-up. But the moment Upton hit the turf, my mind was wandering through the rosters of a few clubs looking for the suitable replacement to garner the Rays the best chance of success.
So I will put away my trade master cap and return to just being a Rays fan and trying to guess what direction Friedman and company might go before the end of the Trade Deadline. Will the Rays stand pat with the guys who got them here in the first place, or possibly rent a guy for a few months and hope for a great return in their invested trade. No matter what they do, there will be discussions and banter to go along with it. But that is the nature of the trade beast. Someone will always be unhappy, someone will always see holes, and people will always want more….That is the Rays Republic Way.
When you think of Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Matt Garza, usually the words patience, consistency and cool under pressure do not immediately come to your mind. Garza has always had the reputation on the Rays of being the lone wolf, the agitated always combustible pitcher who take everything a bit too personal, and craves perfection. Well, after tonight, we just might see a different side of Garza, because once you have had the ultimate confidence booster….A No-Hitter, the rest of the season seems to be on a rail sometimes.
And the beginning of the evening saw Garza with his I-Pod at his side bopping his head to his pre-game musical mix almost invisible within the confines of Tropicana Field. Even as Rays reliever Andy Sonnanstine was adding a few darker goatee touches to the image of the Matt Garza bobblehead on the Rightfield wall, Garza seemed immersed in his own hip-hop World tonight. And even as he began throwing in the Rays Bullpen before the game, he did not produce his usual “pop” when catcher Kelly Shoppach caught him tonight.
His ball seemed to flow off his hand tonight. His breaking ball was snapping with a nice downward spiral, and his fastball seemed to have a little more movement than usual. It was almost as if Garza and the ball knew something we all did not know yet. But as the Rays game began tonight against the Detroit Tigers, Garza seemed to be in a different set of parameters.
But early on, it almost seems as if both Garza and Detroit’s starter Max Scherzer were occupying that same unique space of rare air and traded zeros back and forth as both starting pitchers saw hitters being sent down 1-2-3 until Garza made the first blip on the radar by walking Brennan Boesch on 7 pitches in the top of the second inning. This removed the “perfect” label from Garza’s outing. Boesch was quickly erased from the basepaths by a 5-4-3 Double Play to end the scoring threat by the Tigers.
After his walk to Boesch, Garza sent down the next 22 Tiger hitters in a row to secure the first No-Hitter in Rays history. Now only two National League teams, the New York Mets and the San Deigo Padres are the lone members of the non No-Hitters Club. What was really impressive is the fact that before tonight’s game Garza had gotten close before on June 26,2008 when he lost both his shutout and a No-Hitter by giving up a Home Run to Hanley Ramirez in the bottom of the seventh inning.
Before tonight’s No-Hitter, the farthest a Rays pitcher had gone without surrendering a hit was actually shared by two players. Rays leftie Tony Saunders went 7.2 innings on 4/22/1999 against the Baltimore Orioles, and former Rays First Round Draft pick Dewon Brazelton went 7.3 innings against the Florida Marlins on 6/23/2004 before surrendering their first hits of the night. But as the innings seemed to progress, Garza seemed to gain more composure and confidence as the night commenced. On the night, Garza had only one 3 ball, 2 strike count( Gerald Laird/ 3rd Inning) before getting into a bit of a jam to begin the seventh inning.
Both Austin Jackson and Will Rhymes fought back to identical 3 ball, 2 strike counts before going down and preserving the night for Garza in the top of the seventh inning. Garza got Jackson to fly out to B J Upton, and Rhymes hit a grounder to second baseman Reid Brignac that was easily converted for the second out. Garza got Ryan Rayburn to strikeout on four pitches to end the inning. In the top of the eighth inning, it took Garza 16 pitches to strike out the side. But mixed into that bunch was a possible problem as Garza went down 3 ball, 2 strikes to Boesch, but he ended up just watching Garza’s strikeout pitch hit Shoppach’s mitt.
Then came the top of the ninth inning with goose eggs all over the Detroit side of the scoreboard. Garza spent a little extra time composing himself behind the mound for the ninth inning visiting the rosin bag, looking into his cap for the fortitude to get this game finished on his terms. Garza quickly got a first strike on Tiger hitter Don Kelly before he fell behind with three straight pitches just above or outside the plate. On the next pitch, Kelly hit a soft grounder to Brignac, who easily converted for the first out. Laird then came up and was whiffed on four pitches by Garza to set up the night most intense moment.
In the balance was the chance for Rays immortality as Tigers Pinch Hitter Ramon Santiago came on to hit in place of shortstop David Worth. The stage was set for Garza, and all he had to do was deliver and he would be the proud owner of a No-Hitter of his own. Santiago went to a 1 ball, 1 strike count before hitting the next Garza offering to Rightfield. The ball seemed to slowly come to Ben Zobrist’s glove, but the moment it hit leather, Zobrist erupted by jumping straight up in the air and sprinting towards the increasing mob of Rays players at the mound.
Even as the excitement and emotions were swirling all around Garza, he still seemed as cool as a cucumber and a bit oblivious to what had just happened to him. Even in the post game interviews, Garza seemed unusually relaxed and calm, a bit of cool “Zen” to him. But maybe it was the realization that he has so much to offer this Rays team. That maybe by going down into that fifth slot in the Rays rotation he can preserve and protect a few more Rays wins. Or maybe we just saw one of the last steps of pitching evolution tonight with Garza.
Tonight was his night to shine like the moon outside. Big, bold and bright, with clarity and instant confidence. Just a few days ago a local Sports Radio icon began to question Garza and his pitching abilities. He wondered if we might have seen the best of Garza and would see a slow progression downward now. Guess this outing firmly put that question into your face like a shaving cream pie.
A night like tonight can define a players and take him to another level, if he lets it. I got a feeling the sky is the limit right now for Garza, or at least he can go outside right now and howl at that big old bright full moon. The first No-Hitter in Rays history is now firmly in the books by a guy who has always let little things frustrate him, but tonight, the only frustration felt by Garza is if his pitching glove is off to the Baseball Hall of Fame tomorrow.
With the Colorado Rockies on Saturday night finally being able to erase their name off the four-some of current Major League Baseball teams without a No-Hitter thrown by a pitcher on their staff, the list has now been funneled down to only a trio, with the Tampa Bay Rays being the only American League team still searching for a No-No. And sharing this distinction with National League squads the New York Mets and the San Diego Padres, it is actually only a matter of time before another name is dropped off this list.
Honestly with the Mets farm system not having a highly-touted prospect in the pipeline, and the Padres having some talent in the lower levels, but nothing on the immediate horizon, it seems logical that the Rays might have the best chance to be the next team to throw a huge “X” through their name and eliminate the American League from this special list. But this is not to say that a pitcher from either the Mets or Padres could not have a once-in-a-lifetime pitching performance and one-up the Rays with no notice.
In my honest baseball opinion, the Rays seem to have more viable options either close to the MLB level, or presently throwing some impressive ball for the team. So I am going to toss out three categories here today, showing who I think is the odds-on Rays pitching favorites to produce a pitching gem, and a few who might fly a bit under the radar, but with good command and some great defense behind them could shock the world.
The one obvious visual choice has to be Rays current uber-competitive demon Matt Garza. Everyone around baseball knows the maximum competitive fires that brew deep within him every time he hit’s the mound, and that a pitching gem is just within his reach with every start. And the reasoning for this is quite simple…. He has flirted with this gem before…twice and still is just as hungry to taste it again and again until he finally is granted within the special club just for hurlers who possess a “No-No” on their MLB pitching resume`. And with him showing these glimpses over the last two seasons, he is the odds-on favorite in deed to finally take the Rays name off that “Non No-No” list.
We first got to see that future dominating pitching ability during the 2008 MLB season when Matt Garza took the mound against the Florida Marlins in an Inter-League contest. In the contest, Garza completed his first career complete game, but more importantly, he threw a one-hitter with 10 strikeouts against the Marlins giving up one hit on the day via a solo Hanley Ramirez Home Run to lead off the seventh inning for Florida. On the day, Garza only faced 28 batters on the day tying the Rays club record for fewest batters faced in a nine inning complete game setting also held by James Shields. But this was only our first glimpse into his possible future chance to throw a no-hitter.
Garza also gave us a second glance early on in 2009 when on April 30th against the Boston Red Sox in Tropicana Field when Garza went 6 innings of perfect baseball before Boston’s Jacoby Ellsbury infield single to lead-off the seventh inning ruined the longest bid for a perfect game in Rays history. And in that contest Garza retired 18-straight Red Sox hitters before Ellsbury’s single. But Garza tied for the third longest no-hit bid in club history while striking out 10 batters and walking one. He combined with Rays reliever Grant Balfour for a one-hit 13-0 victory for the Rays.
As you can see by the above situations, Garza is my favorite to be the first Rays pitcher to ever post a No-Hit or even Perfect Game performance for the team. This is not to discount the rest of the Rays starters in the least as I truly think there are a few others who might conjure up the chance to also venture into this hallowed pitching grounds if the right situation came their way. Rays left-hander David Price has the pitching pedigree that he could also be on the mound with a chance to produce his own pitching gem, but I think he might need a bit of defensive help behind him, but with the likes of Carl Crawford, B J Upton and Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena on the corner infield spots, Price could also produce a stellar pitching performance….but not within the next several MLB seasons.
This takes me to the guy who I truly think might be the one Rays pitcher you might not think of throwing a no-hitter, but pitchers who have the same abilities as this Rays right-hander have produced gems of their own. Some times it has noting to do with killer speeds on your fastball, or even the ability to read and adjust during the game. Some times it is just something as simple as a game rhythm you get into early as a pitcher that can set the tone and get you amazing results. That is why the one pitcher who might beat Garza to the punch and produce a no-hitter before him, or be the second Rays to perform the task might be Jeff Niemann.
The Rays former First Round pick has had a pretty mild-mannered career so far with the Rays, but we have all see just what kind of dominating performances he can throw out there when his breaking ball and his fastball placement both sync up and his 12-6 curveball buckles players knees at the plate. The first time I got the realization that Niemann could possibly be a hidden gem to throw a no-hitter might have been during the 2009 season when he lead the Rays in ERA and wins, becoming the first rookie to lead a team in those two categories since New York Yankees pitcher Bob Grim in 1954.
What is simply amazing was the true fact Niemann has shown an increased dominance in several areas that could help him reel in a no-hitter bid. In 2009, Neimann allowed only 0.85 Home Runs per nine innings, which was the sixth best in the American League. But he also held lead-off batter to an astonishing .240 batting average in 2009, which was the lowest in the Major Leagues, and walked only six batters in 192 opportunities, which lead the American Leagues. And all of this was only during his Rookie campaign against aggressive American League East hitting teams.
What really pushed the thought in my mind that Niemann might be a dark horse, but a distinct no-hitter possibility might be in the fact he did not lose a home start at Tropicana Field after May 2,2009. Niemann was an impressive 6-0 in 10 starts after that date and his 3.05 ERA tied him with Seattle hurler Felix Hernandez for 1oth best in the American League….as a rookie. But what ultimately put the exclamation point on the whole debate for me was the fact he was the only rookie to EVER bet Toronto’s Roy Halladay twice in one season, and was joined later in that exclusive club by teammate David Price later in the 2009 season.
As you can see, the Rays do have the pitching firepower to be excluded from that list within a short period of time. But as we have seen as recently as the Mark Buehrle no-hit game against the Rays last season on July 23rd. You can have the ultimate command of the strike zone and get the seams of the balls itching on the black corners of the plate for strikes, but the final test might just be a single defensive play by your teammates behind you.
All three of the Rays trio mentioned, Garza, Price and Niemann have the tolls and the skills to post this gem any time they step on the rubber for a game. But it might take a leaping catch by Upton, Crawford, or maybe a diving play down the line by Longoria or Pena to produce the Rays first shinning pitching gem amongst the dust of the baseball diamond.
Isn’t it great to know that the Rays can effectively produce those sparkling moments on the mound and might someday soon also be celebrating late into the night a performance worthy of not just a no-hitter, but eliminating their name from that lonely list forever.
If you are anything like me at Tampa Bay Rays home games, I can sometimes described as a rabid fan who’s game knowledge sometimes rivals the thought processes of the professionals sitting in the dugout. I have a tendency to think outside-the-box sometimes, then re-think the game from the comfort of my blue plastic chair out in the Baseline Box seats. Sometimes the fact that our Rays Pitching Coach is still sitting there contemplating a move with his backside firmly on the bench while letting our Rays pitcher get lit up sometimes drives me beyond the realms of insanity. You want to see something positive happen at that moment, but usually you are rewarded with more questions than answers about a move.
And if you are at home watching in the confines of your own home, there is the added dimension of the broadcasters own opinions and hearing the amplified cheers and jeers in surround sound that can drive you simple batty. So today I decided to maybe just give you a few situational pitching ideals and beliefs I have gathered in my dust-covered memories since I first picked up a ball over 40-some years ago.
Now I am not professing to be a professional pitcher or expert. My ideas might be as ill concieved as some of the MLB Pitching Coaches currently employed around the league. As fans, we always seem to be open to second-guessing pitching decision with every game and every late game scenario, but hopefully some of these “life” accumulated facts and ideas might enlighten some of us with an extra added supply of pitching information before we yell, scream for the Rays Bullpen to “get someone up” next time. The job is not as clear cut as we all might think it is at times.
I know it is an extremely hard position to be one of the 30 MLB Pitching Coaches. I know I could never do it for a living, but sometimes, even the best of them need to be questioned for their actions, or non-actions in a game. Most post-game interviews are with the team’s Manager, not the Pitching Coach who might have errored in leaving someone to bake on the mound, or pulled someone early. And Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey’s “pitch to contact” style is either viewed as a success or a failure depending on your pitching viewpoint, and if the team is on a winning streak.
But Hickey is actually a “no-win” situation when it comes to the Rays fans. If a Rays pitcher goes out there and performs fantastic, you never hear a question towards the Rays Pitching Coach, just the Rays Manager, Joe Maddon. But either way, as Rays fans, we always have a few unanswered questions in our minds concerning the parameters of why or how a certain pitch or situational pitching scenario unfolds within a Rays game. Keep totally in mind here I am not trying to portray myself as a pitching guru or saint here,I am trying to give one Rays fan-based Pitching tutorial.
I still have foggy recollections and vivid memories of situational strategies that I was taught when I was much younger, and could throw a lot harder. So lets begin my little journey into the simple basics of some pitching strategies. Former Chicago Cubs closer Steven Ellis uses to say that the best way to pitch was to “keep the batter uncomfortable at the plate.” Sounds like a simple method, but isn’t pitching suppose to be more than just about throwing a baseball across a keystone-shaped plate?
Brian Blanco / AP
Well to most baseball fans, that is the basic aspects of the pitching game. It sometimes seems like the ultimate pitchers’ have a tendency to want to place their offerings all over parts the plate and not just biting the corners or high and tight on the hitters. Most fans want to see the power-versus-power battle at the plate like the Roman gladiators, with the player quessing right coming out on top. But that is not always the way an at bat ends in the major leagues. Sometimes plain old luck can ruin the perfect pitch, or a shattered bat can deliver an infield hit that can easily be converted into an out.
We always wonder what game day thoughts or basic fundamentals might go through a pitcher’s mind when he is out there on the mound. Some of the simple ideals of finesse and power pitching can become complicated and diluted if mixed up and turned sideways by a Pitching Coach trying to impliment too much on a young player.
Baseball is a very simple game, but it is the so called ‘experts” in the stands that can make it more difficult. So here are a few of my personal pitching ideals on how to be effective on the pitching mound. These ideas have come from the Coaches and Instructors I have known since my first days of Little League at Northwest Youth Center in St. Petersburg, Florida to my college days basking in the sun.
Every baseball fan has a different spin on their own school of pitching philosophy. The below ideals are just a slight hodge podge of the pitching instructions that have stayed within my mind in regard to pitching over the years. Some are very simple, but just like KISS, keeping It Simple Stupid, I can not guarantee toyou that any of these thoughts will transform you into a 20-game winner on the mound. But they are simple ideas taught to me by legions of Coaches who experimented and analyzed their own players over the years. Hopefully some of these suggestions hit home and do not seem to trive and trivial in nature.
You always want to make the inside of the plate your own. You have to make the hitter at the plate anticipate a possible inside pitch, so you begin by attacking him inside and make him respect the speed on your fastball or the vertical drop on your breaking ball.
2) Show some of your off-speed stuff early in the game to keep the hitter guessing throughout the contest. You do not get in there and throw a massive amount of breaking stuff because the hitters will quickly get an accurate gauge on your pitch’s timing. But your curveball, change-up, slider and cutter can help you dictate the pace of the game from the mound.
3) Be careful with your change-up. Just because you might think it is the right pitch, you have to mentally adjust to the fact the hitter might be guessing right too. Just because it has worked for you all day doesn’t mean he is not sitting there waiting for it again. The slower it comes in, the faster it will go out if he guesses right. 4) I was personally partial when I was younger (over 14) to throw a nasty curve ball during 0-2, 1-2, and 2-2 counts. The only reason I did this was that the hitter was usually waiting on a fastball to strike him out. Not that I did not mix it up at times, but it was just my own personal pattern. But it is important for you to develop your own pitching style that synchs with your team’s strong points.
5) With runners in scoring position, I tried to not let the batter get a good read on my fast ball. A badly placed fastball can unload the bases just as quick as a well placed ball for a third strike for an out. You are not the only one playing this “guessing game”, the batter is also trying to get the right answers to get his guys’ home. Never think you are smarter than the hitter, you might have just been lucky to that point in the game.
6) Changing the eye level or height of your pitches can be more effective than changing your overall pitch speed. A fastball low and inside followed by a curve up by the chest changes the batter’s depth perspective on your incoming pitches. It can also open up the outside corner for a nice breaking ball to get that hitter walking from the plate shaking his head. Always leave him guessing, Always leave him questioning himself on that long walk to the bench.
7) I personally loved to throw a 2-seam fastball on either the first pitch, or during counts like 1-0,2-0,2-2, or 3-2. It might seem predictable, but if placed right, it should be an effective pitch. To me, a breaking ball on 3-2 is too risky unless you have no one on base at the time or someone prone to taking a wild swing at times. But it is better to go down in flames with your best stuff than gamble on a breaking ball hitting the plane outside on a full count.
8) One of the worst thing a pitcher can do on the mound is get predictable, even with his first pitch every at bat. By changing the eye height of the pitch and hitting the corners of the plate you can put doubt in the hitter’s mind, and that is your best weapon to defeat him. If you have him guessing or confused, you have already won half the battle.
9) Everyone always hear the phrase “throw up a zero”, but it is important for team confidence to shut down an opponent after they either score, or you have scored in the game. The confidence of the guys behind you will make them more relaxed and want to make plays for you. A confident defense is ready to make outs.
10) This might be the most important one to me. Throughout the game, always remember to adjust, re-focus and make the hitter remember the pitches they saw in previous at bats. When you are facing them the second time, or even third time through the batting order, you still have to out-think them every time. Just because you threw a slider for a first strike last time up doesn’t mean you should do it again. Pitch the game wisely, make the hitter guess right to get anything off you. Do not reward his short-term memory by giving him the same pitch twice at the same part of the count in a game. Make him earn every swing, and every contact.
Chris O’Meara /AP
Those are just my own personal 10 simple ways to develop a simple pitching strategy for a game. I am not a Pitching Coach, or even a Little League Coach, just a fan who played baseball into his mid-20’s and still develops more knowledge about the game s I ge each year. I am simply a Rays fan who has loved the game since I unwrapped my first glove at athe gae of three during Christmas.
Even if I am not an amateur or professional Pitching Coach, I can visually focus on good and bad pitching patterns and fundemental delivery errors. With teams in the Major Leagues now actively downloading video and deeply analyzing opposing pitchers’ charts on every probale starter in an upcoming series, it is getting harder and harder to surprise MLB teams.
If your team does employ these basic and simple pitching ideals, it can make the rest of your day at the ballpark flow a bit better. Worst thing about pitching, you can hit all your spots during that day, could be hitting the glove perfectly every time and still lose the contest on one simple mistake or miscalculation. But that is why we play the game.
If it was so simple to play the game professionally, then we would have people like you and me out there hitting and playing the game until we were too old to pick up a bat or field a ball. Some of us evolve to become those “off-the-field” coaches who can ruin even the best games of some of our Rays players in our own minds. I enjoy reading blogs where people question a pitching situation, or even a pitch selection at a certain point in a game. I just hope this short list can give some people a hint of more insight into pitching.
Sometimes even a 10-year veteran pitcher can forget the basics and gets drilled in the process. I do not know who said it, but baseball is a game where we reward people for hitting a batted ball coming in at a high rate of speed a third of the time. And that is so true. Baseball is simple, but it is the fans and sometimes the coaches and players who can make it seem more difficult by muttling up the clear waters.
Post Note: This is my 850th post on MLBlogs.com today. Funny how a refreshing activity to remember why I love to write has transformed into such a great adeventure, and meeting such great baseball friends and fans. I feel blessed every day as I write these blogs.
It is the one thing we have grown to love as members of the Rays Republic. It is a constant home field advantage that the Tampa Bay Rays have over their other Major League Baseball competitors during their 12+ seasons. The pure fact that you will always be dry and comfortable at 72 degrees within the Teflon dome of Tropicana Field is one of the greatest things that endears me to the domed stadium. The pure fact that only twice during the Rays existence has a game ever been cancelled or postponed due to torrid Summer Florida weather patterns is a true testament to building a domed roof on the field.
The most memorable postponement came because of the threat of Hurricane Frances on September 4-5, 2004, with the Rays and the Tigers taking the days off from attempting to play the game because of the impending weather and instead deciding to reschedule the game for September 30,2004 , which would make the date historic as the Rays first and only chance at playing a doubleheader under the dome. What is more surprising is that the Rays then flew to New York to play the Yankees for a previously re-rescheduled double header that had to be rescheduled twice during that series before they finally played two games on September 9,2004. Ironic, but true.
Because of the Teflon-coated dome above their heads, the Rays have only had to re-schedule one set of game for a doubleheader in their existence, which most teams would envy in a heartbeat. Take tomorrow (7/25) for example, the Detroit Tigers will have to play a doubleheader against the Toronto Blue Jays to finish up their weekend series after a torrid rainstorm postponed their Friday night contest. It is the one constant that a fan of a team with an open air stadium can guarantee at least once in an MLB season. that rain will end up ruining your day at the ballpark.
But at Tropicana Field, it is a given that the Rays will play a 81-game home game slate played out in its entirety without rain delays, field prep after a sudden downpour, or even postponing a contest after waiting around at the stadium for 90 minutes. When you hit Tropicana Field, you know you are going to see the entire baseball game that night. And that is a distinctive advantage that the Rays fans can embrace and find as a beautiful constant to attending and enjoying Rays games.
And because of its warm and dry comfort, the aspect of having a field tarp on the sidelines of Tropicana Field to cover the playing surface has never been a concern for the Rays groundskeepers. Sure there are a few slits in the roofing where moisture can dribble down on you within the Trop (Centerfield), but the ability to keep the fans and players dry when the winds is howling outside and the rain is beating upon the roof like the Cleveland Indian’s famous kettle drum, makes the Trop a needed necessity for professional baseball in Florida.
Even if the Rays home, Tropicana Field is the last dome of its kind still playing games under its illuminated white roof in the Major Leagues, it is still home, and an always dry home to us. And that is a great thing in a state where the weather can change every five minutes…or less.
Amazing enough, the Florida Marlins, our MLB brethren to the Southeast has to constantly be on guard to worry about the threat of a band of late afternoon or evening showers raining down on any of its 81 scheduled games.
The Marlins had to re-schedule 3 games in 2009 due to weather conditions affecting their outdoor stadium crowd and team. Rays fans and players know confidently that they are going to be dry except for the sweat they produce on the turf at every Rays home game.
I agree that baseball was originally designed to be played under the sun and stars, and I can respect that thinking. But in a humid and unstable moisture-based climate like Florida, having a roof over your head can be a beautiful thing. Especially with the Summertime storms that turn rain sideways and can produce wind gusts beyond 50 mph. And I have experienced a rain delay in Cleveland back on May 15,2004, and I had a grand time just being within the wet droplets and experiencing a rain delay and all its aspects personally.
I love the pure fact that when I go to a Rays game, there is a constant that I will see a baseball game that night, and even with the inner fabric of the Trop swirling from the wind gusts outside, I will be dry and comfortable up until the last out of the ballgame. Rain delays can wreck havoc on the mood and demeanor of a home crowd, but with a roof like the Trop over our heads for the next 10 years, we can be confident to see great games without a hint of delay or impromptu rain that sends both players and fans into the overhanging stands.
But I do miss a little rain on my face and the fun and special moments that a rain delay can produce…like meeting new friends at another ballpark and learning something new in a foreign town. I will leave you with a great quote from “Bull Durham” by Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh, “This is a very simple game. You throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains.” Think about that for a while.
What is it about Cleveland that turns the Tampa Bay Rays sunny side-up optimism into an instant shade of of impending dread and doom? That somehow this “City by the Lake” can twist any form of Rays positive momentum and watch it simultaneously flush itself into the neighboring Cuyahoga river. That is rusting former manufacturing center can crush a Rays winning streak instantly like an aluminum can just by having the Rays set their feet on the tarmac at Cleveland-Hopkins Airport.
This town has a Indian curse on the Rays. For some reason, Cleveland puts the Rays instantly on your heels. In recent years, the Rays have known Progressive Field/Jacobs Field to be the place where Rays wins go to die. Somehow this scenic downtown stadium has given the Rays multiple chances to come out on the winning end, but just as quickly, the grey omnipresent urban landscape seems to rapidly impose its civic and emotional will upon the game.
This is a town where not only the two-legged creatures who walks its heavily constructed streets cheer for the Indians, but Mother Nature surely has an Indians hat on her armoire. It is a town that has seen known the Cuyahoga river aflame back in 1969, to the baseball Fall infestation of the midgets( insects, not little people) that has borne more imposing urban legends towards the unique mystic of this ballpark.
Combine the above items with the defensive gems by a partisan legion of Indian faithful seagulls who play havoc with the opposing outfield players, and both a human and animal home field advantage.
This locale pulls at your sense of reality by the macabre and unexplained happens that dwell within this stadium. Teams seem to come here with hearty winning expectations, but leave scratching their heads wondering how events unfolded to enhance their demise. But this Blue collar town just seems to find a way to win, especially when the Rays venture into town.
How many of us Rays fans remember the enthusiasm and the excitement we all shared going into the 2008 All Star break with the Rays riding high in the American League East. A simple 4-game stop in Cleveland seemed to be a mire stepping stone towards the Playoffs. But immediately, the Cleveland curse immersed the Rays and they lost all four games by a combined score of 31-8.
Funny how the Rays come into tonight with a 57-37 mark, almost identical to the 2008 mark( 55-39 ) after they left the “Sixth City” at the All-Star break that season.
This is the same ballpark that saw Rays starter David Price back on May 25,2009 last only 3.1 innings after his Rays team built a 10-run lead. But in the bottom of the fourth inning that night, the Indians lead by the tom-tom beats silently took this “assumed” Rays victory away. The Rays went down in defeat after the Indians scored the last 11 runs of the game to post a 11-10 victory. Interesting enough, the Rays scored more runs (10 ) in this first game of the 4-game series than they would in the next three games combined ( 9 ).
Can any Rays fan tell me the starting pitcher of the last Rays win in the stadium nestled near the Cuyahoga? You have to go back a bit into Rays history for that special nugget. Back to a time when the team wore more green and white than Carolina blue or Rays blue.
It was suring the era of “Big Red” Seth McClung who started the 158th game of the 2005 season for the Rays on Sunday, September 28, and threw a 4-hitter for his 7th win of the season, with Rays closer Danys Baez getting his 41st save during that 1-0 win.
The win by McClung also secured the last time the Rays have won both a series (3-1), and the seasonal series ( 5-1 ) within an earshot sounds of the rumbling tom-tom drum. During a previous 2005 visit from August 12-15,2005, the Rays posted their last 3-game sweep of the Indians on their home hunting grounds. In their 13 Major League Baseball seasons, the Rays are a combined 12-38 when they enter the city limits of Cleveland.
Even though the Indians have ambushed and defeated the Rays in their home hunting grounds in 17-straight home games since “Big Red’s” last stand on the Cleveland mound, there has always been a chance to change history and post a Rays victory. Tonight is the first time since last season’s shameful outing that Price takes the Cleveland mound again.
Redemption and revenge might be in the back of his mind, but giving his team a chance to win is firmly implanted in his psyche. Both Price and the Rays have come a long way since that game.
Does the Rays Republic again collectively have to remember that inspirational comedic speech by Bluto in “Animal House” to firmly reminds each and every one of us that “when the going get tough, the tough get going”. Do we have to play that usual ninth inning Raysvision inspirational video segment in our own minds subconsciously before the game to get us in the right mood to again take to the Indians home grounds and produce a winning outcome?
Or maybe we have to remember that streaks come to an end, and that this season’s Rays squad holds a 4-1 advantage already this season against Cleveland, and with a victory we can guarantee the Rays first seasonal series win against the Indians since 2005. In a few hours, we find out if history within Progressive Field will repeat itself, or of the Rays are ready to write a new chapter to book of winning in this Cleveland home field saga. Can’t wait to read the ending.
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