August 2011

Let Them Eat (Bundt) Cake

Not much of a dessert guy myself, but tonight, the Toronto Blue Jays got their just desserts. Funny how it was not a shaving cream pie, or even a Carvel sundae, but it was a special Tampa Bay bundt/bunt cake that did the trick.

Who would have thought the recipe for again awakening the Rays offense would be to start off in the bottom of the 2nd inning playing “ small ball”. That’s right, not aiming for the fences, but putting the bat on the ball and squirming it along the AstroTurf woke up not only the Rays bat, but reminded the Jays defense this team doesn’t quit.

Sure Ben Zobrist did his best “2008 Zorilla “ impression crushing a ball into the Rightfield bleachers for a short-lived 1-0 lead. Then after a Casey Kotchman fly out, B J Upton showed why the Rays gambled and kept him here instead of sending him away. A well crafted single to Leftfield, then well placed 9 iron shot by Matt Joyce into shallow Center put the Rays in a position to make some early noise.

With Joyce and Upton in scoring position, Sean Rodriguez dropped a beauty of a bunt just in front of Jays starter Carlos Villanueva who then proceeded to commit a costly error as Upton stamped on Home Plate. That was the first sliver of the bunt/bundt cake.

Then Rays rookie catcher Robinson Chirinos put down his own little bounding ball of short happiness for a infield single to First. Joyce came in to score, and all of a sudden it was 3-0 Rays on top. Second helping of bundt/bunt cake with a little extra dab of frosting.

All of a sudden last night’s lone Rays run scorer decided to get into the action himself as rookie speedster Desmond Jennings wanted to deliver his own bit of sugary goodness by placing a perfect bunt in front of Jays Third Baseman Edwin Encarnacion who was playing back hoping for a double play ball.

Suddenly bases were loaded with Rays, another slice of bundt/bunt cake delivered. Finally Johnny Damon ended the sugar rush by delivering a long and deep sacrifice fly to Centerfield that easily scored Rodriguez to make it 4-0 Tampa Bay. All of a sudden a little bit of pre-game prep work by the Rays in bunting drills snapped their offense out of its funk.

When the Rays came up in the bottom of the 3rd inning, it seemed the Jays were still infused and decimated by the Rays bunt barrage, and possibly a little sugar shock. Villanueva, a former Jays reliever, couldn’t seem to get out of his 2nd inning stride and quickly the Rays added some more morsels to their run/ sugar intake.

Of the 8 Rays hitters to go to the plate in the bottom of the 3rd inning, 4 produced extra base hits, and the Jays saw 4 more runs cross the plate. Suddenly after solo homer by Kotchman, a double by Joyce, Rodriguez getting pelted with a pitch, Chirinos decided it was time to put the cherry firmly upon the cake and delivered a 3-run shot to Leftfield that left more of a bitter taste in Villaneuva’s mouth than sweet.

Ex-Rays bat boy and Jays starter Jesse Litsch came in and stopped the flow of Rays runs getting Damon to strike out swinging.

Finally the Rays had figured out a way to get out of that 1-2 run lead routine with the Jays and tack on some needed runs with the small ball, then using the long ball to seal the win. This is the type of offensive show that we have seen so often in road games, but has been few and far between at Tropicana Field.

With a win tomorrow during the Parks and Recreation Day, plus the Rays Tweet Up, the team could head into their 3-game series against the Oakland Athletics, who the Rays hope they can extract some more sweet revenge on this weekend. This is the home offense we have been anxiously awaiting. Pining to see finally break through and produce at home.

What happens during the Thursday matinée will go a long way in providing comfort and stability that this team has finally broken out of the home rut and will again dominate. A win tomorrow will put then back at square one with a 26-26 mark at home.

Tonight the Rays delivered a beauty of a game hitting on all cylinders, providing not only a huge run support cushion for Rays starter James Shields, but a solid effort with this team finally figuring out their home crux. Tonight the Rays did deliver a sliver of just desserts to the Jays, but hopefully it is only an appetizer of what is to come in the next 4 contests.

Bon Appetit Rays Republic, for tonight, let the Jays eat some humble pie.

Time For the Rays to Go from “Feastmode” to “Beastmode”

Was just reading a tweet by a Toronto Blue Jays players (@JoeyBats19) who used a #beastmode hashtag in his posting about his team’s victory tonight. Starting to wonder if the Jays are in “beastmode”, does that mean the Tampa Bay Rays at home are in #Feastmode? Another tasty web byte taken at the expense of the lacking Rays offensive surge at Tropicana Field.

Not sure what has happened to the Rays offense that seemed to finally awaken in their finale in Oakland and stared their series in Seattle devouring the Mariner’s pitching. Starting to really think the Rays should keep their road routine intact, even within the confines of the Trop.

After a single day of rest, relax and rejuvenate after a wishy-washy 4-6 road trip, this Rays team firmly put their foot squarely again in the bucket after tonight’s defeat and took a unhealthy slide backwards seeming to have regained their lackluster 2011 “home” form.

Funny how in odd numbered years now the Rays offense can not keep up with their pitching and defense. Not “ha-ha” funny, but funny “strange”.

Then again, how can you not think #feastmode when the Rays had bases loaded tonight with no outs, and not a single run crosses the plate. Not going to point fingers at anyone in the the Rays lineup except for their lead-off hitter rookie outfielder Desmond Jennings who gets a solid “thumbs up” for putting some solid wood on the ball and ruining a potential no-hit bid by the Jays Rickey Romero.

I think Rays Manager Joe Maddon hit it squarely on the head when he tweeted tonight post-game “From a pitchers prospective I’m sure they can’t make a mistake. Have to keep pounding on that offense door until it opens up. ”

Problem is Joe, right now one is answering but a select few, and even they can carry the whole team on their shoulders for long.

It definitely puts a huge burden on your starting pitchers and relievers when they realize every single mistake or error is magnified and that they are being held accountable for every slight error in their appearances since the offense can’t mend and heal a small mistake.

After tonight’s loss, the Rays fall to 2 games under the .500 mark at home this season. 30 home games still to go, and this team will have to dig deep if they intend to again rule the Trop. The Rays Republic was loud and proud tonight, but even their noise and encouragement could not trim the bird’s wings.

This is a team the Rays have to beat. Not just for their place in the American League East, but because they have a more solid base at this moment. But maybe the tide has turned, maybe the Trade Deadline deals by the Jays brought them that final piece of the puzzle to drown the Rays in their own tank.

A series loss to the Jays will do some considerable damage to the Rays post season dreams as the Jays could pluck the Rays out of their third place stronghold by taking this series.

Doesn’t help that the Rays hold a flimsy 5-4 seasonal series lead over the Jays heading into tomorrow night’s contest, and all 9 games this season, and 12 of the last13 between these two rivals have been decided by 1 or 2 runs.

This fact tells you immediately that any offense in this series by either squad comes at a premium in the seasonal series against these two, and the Rays currently are only scoring 3.22 runs per game in Tropicana Field in their 50 home contests. Throwing more water on the Rays offensive fire against the Jays, coming into tonight’s game, the Rays have only hit .206 against the angry Canadian birds, setting up perfectly tonight’s dismal showcase.

It was suppose to be a notch for the home team as Rays southpaw ace David Price had a 8-0 record and a 1.99 ERA lifetime against Toronto. But tonight it did not look like vintage Price as he seemed to be more stressed and pressured to produce outs than in any other start this season.

It was almost as if Price knew that if this team doesn’t buckle down soon and turn their 24-26 record at home around, there might not be any meaningful game come late September. And that is a lot of poundage to put on a young pitcher’s shoulders who doesn’t know if he can rely on his offense to basil him out of a untimely mistake.

One great thing came out of the loss tonight, finally the Rays scored a run of support for Price, but it wasn’t enough. Consider this interesting run support fact, when the Rays score 3 runs or more with Price on the hill, they have turned out a 9-2 record. When they score 2 runs or less, the Rays have failed considerably with a 0-7 mark.

I find it incredibly interesting that the Rays top two pitchers Price (2.91) and James Shields (2.23) started the night as the only Rays starters to not get at least 3 runs per game support from their offense. Even if you pitch a 1-hit shutout, or a 10-hit 1-run game, if the offense doesn’t cross the plate, it is sure to post up in the loss column.

It is almost like this team left some of their soul, some of their new confidence sitting possibly on the tarmac at Sea-Tac airport before embarking on their flight home. This team is better than this. They have the offense weapons, the ability to produce runs and hits to manifest more offense, but again a loss at home sending the masses back into the dark wondering about this squad.

Make me believe Rays. Show me I am having acute tunnel vision and not fully grasping the big picture. Please prove me wrong during this 10-game home stand. I honestly feel the 2011 season is teetering towards the abyss without positive results. Make me eat my words. Time for this Rays team to transform their own current home “feastmode” into a Rays “beastmode”. Time to devour the birds.

” Friedman’s Anatomy”

Not sure why, but the moment I heard that Tampa Bay Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman was heading for a Seattle hospital with stomach pains, the fictional Seattle Grace/Mercy West Hospital instantly came to mind. Maybe one too many lattes in this cool and rainy town turned my brain into mush.

Maybe it was too many episodes of “Grey’s Anatomy” with my ex-fiancée’ that somehow perpetrated that image of Meridith Grey and Doctor McDreamy standing over Friedman just in time for MLB prime time, poised and ready to deliver another Emmy winning episode, complete with more singing and dancing as the Rays kid wonder was wheeled out of the operating room to his semi-private suite.

You could see feisty redhead/dirty blond/hair color du jour Doctor Lexi Grey using a nifty curving circular move with a disposable ER scalpel to cut the cellphone and blue tooth expertly away from Friedman’s hand and ear in one swift motion, watching it fall in slow motion to the floor with a MLB GM on the end end screaming “Hello?”

Somehow I could easily see one of the Rays most brilliant minds centered with one of ABC’s greatest fictional hospital drama……Oh, and did I leave out, it is based in Seattle. This medical emergency of Friedmans’ only deserved the best medical staff, and this fictional staff never seems to lose the focus, their determination or their patients….well, most of the time.

Seriously folks, how could you not see this kind of drama and action play out when the MLB Trade Deadline and a medical emergency both rear their ugly heads…It is a perfect ABC Movie of the Week in training…easy.

I know the whole enchilada with Friedman was not packed in a 41 minute segment like on the television series, but considering the time of the year, and the stakes that could have been at stake….it would be ratings gold…Even in NYC.

You know then even though Cristina Yang is a talented cardio-thoracic blades-woman, she would be extra assertive to get a chance to possibly slice, dice and julienne Friedman’s nasty appendix out with the skill of a medical Zorro. That is just the way she rolls baby. How perfect would it be if this really happened with husband Owen Hunt stands behind her doing that classic Macaulay Caulking “Home Alone” face.

But you know the always crafty and smug Alex Karev would find a way to either be in the surgery, or playing a key second fiddle position, possibly manning Friedman’s phone hitting ignore every time the Washington Nationals number flashed on the screen. Heck bring back a montage of George, Izzy and maybe even some Denny Duquette for good measures. All flashing through Friedman’s subconscious.

I could easily see Chief of Staff Richard Webber on the bat phone with Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg and conferencing in Rays President Matt Silverman making sure all is calm in the Rays camp at this critical evening and juncture of the Trade Deadline countdown.

I wonder if the Rays really do have a plan in place for just this sort of emergency? Maybe it was placed in a hermetically sealed crystal box just for this kind of occasion. More likely a “Doomsday Draft” scenario then a Trade Deadline dissection/appendectomy.

Sometimes they say timing is everything, and with Friedman buckled over in pain and going under the knife, it surely will bode well with Sternberg in hopefully keeping Friedman in Tampa Bay once those Houston rumors hit the fan after their new ownership group is approved this month. Fair warning Stu, if this guy will sacrifice his body and life for this team…long term deal…or a blank check.

Rays Senior Advisor Gerry Hunsicker must have been in his old Astros days battle mode at this moment not only fielding calls about players, prospects and trade scenarios, but also well wishes and “get well soon” texts, emails and You tube quality videos from the vast Rays Republic. Sometime being behind the main target is the safest place to be…even in sports.

Friedman did not have his surgery at Seattle Grace, the hospital isn’t located near the Space Needle, or even anywhere situated near Broadway or the old P & I building. Friedman was armed again on that sunny Sunday morning armed with the utility belt of technology used to hone the deal and squeak an extra player out of a team.

Somehow MLB took it easy on Friedman that day. No deals were finalized, no players changed hands, no harm, no foul, except for that dang appendix in the jar on his bed stand. Somehow just like an episode of “Grey’s”, in the end, all becomes one, and all the madness turned into perfection in the Emerald City of coffee and dramatic moments. I think even Amanda Bailey would have smiled.

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