May 2012

Joy and Agony Co-exist for One Rays Moment

I have to say watching the ball come off the bat of Tampa Bay Rays RF Matt Joyce last night, you knew if it was headed for Right field, it was as good as gone. But that is the thing about this new “replica” Yankee Stadium, it is designed with a nice air stream flight path for well-hit blasts by left-handers like Joyce.

Then Joyce did something that immediately took my joyous enthusiasm and turned into utter concern and a low agonizing groan. For some reason Joyce did something he usually doesn’t do when he hit the ball, he kind of laser-beamed on the ball and did an impromptu twist and turn with his left foot that somehow made him put his entire body weight on the outside of his left ankle as it sat perpendicular to the clay. Joyce then took a slow trip around the bases stepping gingerly each time he placed his left foot onto the clay surface.

I think if it was not for the extreme adrenaline rush of the moment, Joyce would have had a considerable time even walking around the bases after his unfortunate episode. And it brought a bit of bitterness to me in that moment in that Joyce could have been another on-field calamity to embrace this Rays squad. Already Evan Longoria and Desmond Jennings sat on the bench watching Joyce twist upon his ankle in that awkward position, and I know a few of the guys on that bench feared the worst for Joyce until he began to shake it off a bit.

In that instant, if Joyce had injured himself and somehow had injured himself just enough to warrant any considerable amount of time off-the-field, it would have benched another key ingredient of the Rays offensive arsenal with a lower body injury. Already hamstrings (Longo), knee (Jennings) and wrist (Fuld) aliments have put a damper on a offensive unit that most thought could dominate in 2012. If Joyce had been bitten by the injury bug, he would have been a huge cog missing from the Rays offensive machine.

Joyce’s 3-run bomb was the first blast of his career as a “go-ahead” homer in the 9th inning or later. Chalk another great feat by Joyce off his baseball bucket list. Considering Joyce leads the Rays in Home Runs (7) right now, and 6 of his HR have come in his last 19 games (17 starts). Put his 8 RBI and .400 OBP so far in May (8 games), and you get an idea Joyce is just warming up. His .598 Slugging Percentage ranks 4th in the American League, and Joyce also currently shares both the Rays and AL lead in triples with teammate Ben Zobrist.

After his scary moment last night Joyce may take a night off tonight to get some treatment and give a little extra tender loving care to his lead ankle. Let’s hope he can get well before the Rays head off to Baltimore this weekend where Joyce seems to love to play, and hit in that bandbox called Camden’s Yard. Still it was a frightening moment seeing Joyce roll over on his left ankle last night. Right now he is hitting the ball brilliantly, and we truly do not need to see another talented starter riding the pine awaiting his injury to heal. Last night we all witnessed the odd pairing of triumph and agony even before Joyce could take a full step out of the batter’s box. Hopefully we never get to see that pairing again….Right Matt?

We Need Moore Matt and Less Dudley

Someone’s got to say it, or at least write about. This subject has been at the tips of more than a few Rays Republic’s members tongues recently, and I know we have all thought it amongst ourselves. Are we seeing the “real” Matt Moore on the mound?

Even though he has shown a few strikes of brilliance in 2012, just seems a tick off, a centimeter high or low in his delivery and is not showing his usual total cohesive self on the mound. From the whispers of Moore giving indicators as to his pitches to the plate in Detroit and Boston, to his last outing on May 6th that yielded a highly ballooned 1-game ERA of over 15 because of 8 Earned Runs and some control issues.

So far Moore’s stats so far in 2012 is making him look more like a pitcher on the verge of being sent down than someone hoisted up as an early odds-on favorite to give the Rays their second consecutive American League Rookie Of the Year winner. Who in their right mind would have predicted Moore would have 18 walks to go along with his 38 strikeouts at this point of the season. Who would have imagined Moore wouldn’t get to the 6th inning in 50 % of his previous 6 starts this season.

When the Rays front office signed Moore to an extended contract this off-season, it hushed a lot of the chatter early on if he would be sent back to Triple-A Durham because of the threat of him pushing the MLB Service Time clock earlier than the franchise had expected. So when the Rays announced Moore would slide into the 4th slot in the rotation, no one thought this present danger or situation would ever rear its ugly head and we witness Moore strolling off the mound looking a bit dazed and confused instead of his past controlled demeanor.

With Moore’s upcoming start against the Orioles in Camden Yards on Saturday, could he either have a short leash, or be given the chance to finally thrust himself out of his dark place pushing away his current 5.8 walks per 9 innings, or 1.6 Home Runs per 9 innings, which both are scary numbers for a rookie with Moore’s talent level. Could this be the best test for Moore as a Buck Showalter-led squad will wait patiently for Moore to hit the strike zone, and if he makes a mistake, deposit it in the seats as a gift for a bird fan.

If Moore struggles will the Rays finally say out loud what some of us have been thinking for so long, that possibly the team should have let Moore hit Triple-A until mid-May and develop his rhythm and confidence before thrusting him at the 4th slot and letting the MLB wolves thirst for a Moore mis-placed morsel. I do not know about you, but I think this rookie has magic in him, it is just somehow being bottled up or coming out of his hand a bit crooked right now. 

How soon we forget Moore started the 2011 season in Double-A Montgomery before hitting Triple-A for the first time on July 22nd, then was promoted to the “big club” on September 12, 2011. Moore only had 9 total starts in Triple-A before Moore was presented a Rays uniform and thrust into the spotlight against the New York Yankees 10 days after his promotion (Sept. 22nd). Moore threw a total of less than 500 minor league innings before he hit the hill for the first time in the majors last season. Kind of wild that Moore took the hill 3 times in 2011 before the post season, after less than 100 minor league contests.

Maybe what Moore needs is just a short time down on the farm, re-adjusting, getting his confidence back, proving again his 2011 late season heroics are the true foundation of his pitching style and his awkward start to 2012 might just be a combination of more video film available on him now and possibly his pitching tendencies are becoming transparent to some rival staffs. I mean the guy does have minor league options, and it is not a long-term solution, but possibly just a month or so, possibly until the All-Star break re-constructing himself then coming back with a vengeance is just what Moore needs right now.

 I have hope that Moore finds his way, possibly as soon as this Saturday’s contest and that we can shelf this kind of chatter. I truly think Moore is a special talent. Not for his strikeout ability or his calm demeanor on the hill with adversity smacking him around like a rag doll. I think the rookie has a long and productive career ahead of him, but every once in a while a pitcher hits a stumbling point, a road block in his road to success and maybe Moore has be rewarded his early on in his career.

 I want to be wrong, I want Moore to be able to give celebratory chest bumps, smile from ear-to-ear and enjoy his MLB experience…Maybe this Saturday will be his defining moment finally turning it all around against another great young club of patient hitters, or could Saturday be another in a line of moments where we wonder who this shell is on the Rays mound, and who kidnapped the real Matt Moore, and what we need to do to bring him back again.

Tale of Two Gomes

Each stood facing the other last night trying to do damage. Each was hellbent within himself to defeat the odds and place their names upon our lips of the baseball world for at least for 24 hours. In the end it was an old Tampa Bay Rays soul, current A’s LF/DH who won the cosmic interaction while his last namesake counterpart could only watch from the discomfort of the Rays dugout as Gomes #1 strolled around the bases after the eventual finally happened. One hoisted up by the universe as the victor while the other could only watch it all unfold. This is the tale of two Gomes, and by the end of the night, each would walk a different path.

Brandon and Jonny Gomes are not related, but last night both of their names were on our lips and minds for reasons that could be considered by many as polar opposites. Each confronted his namesake on the field last night trying to make their own versions of history, each wanted their name connected with a moment that would be talked about, who’s image would be plastered on television screen as the other look on in disbelief and wonder. Last night they were the “Ying and Yang” of Tampa Bay, each of their careers set to move in different directions.

We all knew as Jonny sauntered to the plate for his final appearance of the night against Rays pitching stalwart Joel Puerperal, this “Gomes” could change the playing landscape with a swing or by imposing his own brand of “throw-back era” hustle into the contest. In that moment when the ball met the bat and screamed all the way out of the park we remembered why Jonny was so beloved by us all.

His personality was simply that of a human cartoon character (in a good way), his curly shaggy hair removed for the first wave of Ray hawks, his energy and action synonymous with the energy and vibrant nature of the 2008 Rays and their “Magical Season”. He was a game-changer even back then. His emotional power rivaled his physical. His antics amused and confused us, but they were done with the right intentions. Some loved his reckless abandon while other thought it cost the team chances, you either loved him, or loved to hate him. Each had their own army of followers.

As one “Gomes” triumphed, another would in fall on his Rays sword. Brandon did not factor into the final demise of the Rays last night as he fought valiantly tossing 2 innings of shut-out baseball, but one to his 2 walks in tonight’s appearance came to his Gomes counterpart on 4 pitches, and might have set into motion some of the events that would conclude his Rays tenure, at least for now. Even before their 10th inning lead-off encounter tonight each Gomes was on a different path.

5 straight batters came to the plate and Brandon factored significantly in the innings outcome as Kila Ka`aihue bunted a ball into the air to him, Kurt Suzuki was struck by a pitch, then Daric Barton walked on 4 pitches. Suddenly Jonny stood 60 feet at Third Base with 1 out from inflicting his own sword upon Gomes. But Brandon regained some sense of composure and got Brandon Inge to strike out the n finally let someone else play as he pitched inside to Jemile Weeks and got him to tag a dribbler to teammate Carlos Pena who stepped on the bag and ended the drama.

But this outing, even thought it was triumphant in the end for Brandon set into motion some post game decisions, possibly fostered by his outlandish 7.71 ERA. That first Gomes-on-Gomes event of the evening would be their only meeting of the night as Brandon got 3 straight ground ball outs in 2 plate appearances for the Athletics as Jonny stared in from the On-Deck Circle. As Brandon walked from the mound to the dugout you have to wonder if he felt the “Gomes” energy shift towards the other dugout.

Jonny headed to the plate in the top of the 12 inning poised and focused on somehow finding a hole in Rays relief stalwart Joel Peralta’s game, hopefully pushing this contest towards a conclusion. In true Gomes fashion, with 2 strikes on him in the at bat, Jonny turned on a Peralta pitch and deposited it 354 feet into the Leftfield stands. There was an awkward moment during Jonny’s stroll around the bases a some in attendance clapped for him while others seemed perplexed as to if they should salute or Bronx cheer the effort, not knowing yet it would be the final dagger in the Rays winning streak’s heart.

In a second, one emerged as the game’s hero while the other felt more like Nero watching his city burn to the ground. Each played the game with extreme confidence, brilliant expectations, but in the end it was a mighty stroke that pounded the white sphere while the other Gomes could only watch from the confines of the Rays dugout. Who would have guessed at that moment one Gomes was set for glory, and the other destined for an extreme moon-lite car ride to the airport.

After the game Rays Manager Joe Maddon and Rays Executive VP of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman were nestled behind a closed door in discussions on options. Who would have guessed at that moment as one Gomes celebrated in a locker room not 50 feet from the other, his counterpart would be packing his belongings sent back to Triple-A Durham once again.

But that is the way it is with baseball. No matter if you are the hero or the goat, or just a bystander to the final blow, you never know your fate. This ended the chance of another Gomes-on-Gomes encounter in this series, but even as both pack for different destinations today, I have a feeling this will not be the last time they meet in 2012. We still have 7 more games between these two squads in 2012, so possibly this is not the end of the “ Tales of Two Gomes”………..To be Continued.

Get Well Soon Zim, We Miss You

When I think of the Tampa Bay Rays, he always comes to my mind. From his customized golf cart at Spring Training camp, to his presence at Rays fund-raisers and any baseball function, his presence just makes you feel royalty has embraced the cause. He has never gone to the plate or hurled a pitch in a game for this franchise, but he has forever been engraved as a icon of this club. To me Rays Senior Advisor Don Zimmer might have forgotten more baseball than any of us will ever know, but the man is eternally the Grand Puba of baseball in my mind.

It still amazes me the years that have flown by for Zimmer since his first days as a Dodger via Brooklyn not Los Angeles. From taking his spot at shortstop to manning a spot on the bench or rail as a Manager or Coach, Zimmer has been inspirational to generations of ballplayers and fans alike. He truly has lived the perfect baseball life, and still is a vital cog in the Rays baseball machine. The man is a 2-time author, definitely an inspirational speaker and can tell you baseball tales and events that can make you bask at his words like a child no matter you age. He is the quintessential MLB storyteller. They definitely do not make them anymore like “the Zim”.

Sometimes I think of him more as an immortal baseball god than a human, and possibly that is why when I recently heard Zimmer had been absent from his customary seat in the Trop. since right after the first home series against the New York Yankees, I became nervous and anxious. I have come to find out Zimmer has been has been hospitalized in the last week with a kidney condition and will soon begin the dialysis process. I came to find out “The Zim” has been hospitalized 3 times in the last 5 weeks for diabetic related ailments, possibly Father Time finally found Zimmer and threw him a inside curve ball Zim could not make solid contact with.

So I am asking the Rays Republic to all not only say some blessing and good vibes towards Zimmer today, but to raise your Cowbells high and ring them like never before as the Rays take the field today. Stand, clap, ring the clapper until it ends up detached and 5 rows in front of you, move that turkey wing of your in such a manner you need Tommy John’s, remember the things we love about Zim, and why is so endeared and beloved by fans both in Tampa Bay and in other hamlets around the baseball World.

I have not brought out my big black Cowbell in 4 years, but today I will get a new drumstick, position myself accordingly and bash that thing until it bends again from the force and effort. That is how much this one iconic member of the Rays means to me. From the first time I met him when I put Premium Pure Oil gasoline in his car, to countless moments just saying hello in the stands and around the Rays complex, this man has become one of the most respected people I know, or ever want to know.

Zimmer’s son Tom offered a nugget of future hope today when talking about Zim again taking his rightful spot again in Tropicana Field. “Once his Father gets comfortable with the dialysis schedule and routine he should be back with the Rays”. I truly hope so, the man means more to this franchise and the guys in the clubhouse than most fans can imagine. I remember seeing him sit down and talk to former Rays P Scott Kazmir once during Batting Practice and Kaz was beaming from ear-to-ear listening intently to the knowledge and wisdom that came out of Zim’s mouth.

He might have never stepped on the field as a player, never struck the sweet spot or hurled a missile during infield practice, but name me one other Rays who commands instant respect, get noticed the moment he walks into a room and is embraced by the Rays and the rest of the baseball world. Can’t wait to see Zimmer back in his seat. That will be an emotional moment, I hope we all do not flood the Trop on that day.

Beckham Career Could Go to Pot

When I saw him during February in Port Charlotte, Florida weeks ahead of the report date for the Tampa Bay Rays field players, I thought he finally had his ducks in a row and was going to strike hard and fast to hitch his wagon to a Rays roster spot. His body seemed more toned and muscular than before, and his concentration in the cages showed he had a serious intention to stay in the “Big Boys” camp as long as possible this Spring.

It truly felt like Rays prospect Tim Beckham had made a decision in the 2011 off season to finally thrust his name into the running for a infield slot with the team, and I truly had the vibe that only thing that would defeat Beckham in this process would be himself. So it was beyond disheartening today to learn Beckham has been slapped for the second time in his minor league career with a suspension for a “drug of abuse”.

50 games is a long time in the minor league system. It is more than enough time for a fellow competitor to pass you in stats, experience and possibly be a direct link to your season ending around September 1st instead of having a month up with the parent club. I guess Beckham’s “drug of abuse” which was pot has its own opinions as to whether it should be legal or regulated, but it is still a banned and illegal substance. We could debate for hours, possibly days considering this substance, but the final say is that minor league baseball considers it illegal and a harmful drug and the suspension has merit.

Even though Beckham is currently on the Triple-A Durham disabled list trying to rehab and conquer his wrist ailments, immediately the focus has to be re-directed towards this “drug of abuse”. The most important thing right now is the first move Beckham makes post revelation of his pot smoking reveal. Does he do counseling, treatment or can he go “cold turkey” and beat the ganja gangster? Whatever his plan of action, it must be swift, concise and show an honest effort and chance for change both in his lifestyle and his demeanor…Without the combination, his career could evaporate.

Truly this event could not have happened at a worst moment for Beckham. You had to think the Rays would of at least entertained the notion of bringing up Beckham with Rays slugger Evan Longoria out of the line-up for at least 4-8 weeks with his hamstring injury. Possibly Beckham would of gotten ample chances at either side of the second base bag to leave a lasting impression on Rays Manager Joe Maddon just as he had this Spring, but now all that prior work, all that hustle and sweat might just be for not.

This suspension doesn’t mean the team will turn its head away from Beckham. The Rays have established a long history of helping their player conquer abuse problems, and have held players within their system fighting internal demons, some with success, and some to utter failure. The path Beckham takes now will determine if he is going to be a vital cog in the Rays future, or possibly just another example of great talent before the Draft, and a fall from grace while establishing himself.

I hope Becks finds the light, turns the corner and proceeds to get himself straight and ready to again claim a shot at a Rays roster spot. Wild how not even 90 days ago Beckham had his entire Rays world in front of him for the taking. He was more confident, physically and mentally prepared like no other time in his career and put up some impressive displays both at the plate and in the field this Spring. I still think Beckham has the right stuff to be not only a Rays player, but one we cheer and embrace for a long, long time.

But first, Beckham has to step forward, profess and cast off his demons, then work to get healthy inside and out, get back to playing the game he loves and the rest will take care of itself. I hope Becks can make that transition, find that serenity and peace to expunge his demonic partner and again thrive both on the off the field. If he can do that, I promise to be one of the first to stand and applaud and hopefully shake his hand and welcome him back not only as a Ray, but as a true baseball survivor.

“Oh No….Longo!”

I swear at that moment I saw the cloth fabric of Tropicana Field move like a sudden wind gust had enveloped it. The collective gasp and exhale after a botched stolen base attempt by Tampa Bay Rays 3B Evan Longoria made the Trop. silent as we watched Rays Head Trainer Ron Porterfield and Rays skipper Joe Maddon trot out to Longo. I immediately let out a long drawn out moan of “Oh No! Longo!” that made a few people laugh as it sounded more like the old SNL Mr Bill character than my usual voice, but it hit me like a rock that suddenly one of the true keystones of this amazing run by the Rays stood favoring his left knee and we all wanted it to heal instantly.

This season Longoria seemed to want to be the “go-to” guy, he wanted the pressure, the stress and the responsibilities that go along with being the player constantly in the spotlight for both praise and criticism. It is always a good sign for a player to leave the field on his own power, but when it is a central figure standing there trying to keep his weight off his sore and aching knee, the Rays Republic could only think the worst. Even before Longo hit the Rays dugout steps the dulled whispers and a active hum hit the stadium.

The early prognosis is that Longoria is suffering a bit of soreness in his left knee region, but then we heard the three letter that instantly horrified us all..M..R..I. That doesn’t mean as much today as it would 3-4 years ago as every athlete even with a minor aliment gets this imaging test nowadays as a precaution more than a insight to injury. Still, this one test can see deeper into the situation, and possibly bring to the surface our darkest fears, a extended bench vacation for the Rays offensive weapon.

That would put a deep crease in the Rays offensive machine as Longoria was a key figure in the Rays 5th ranked American League offense, and was experiencing a great start in 2012. Going into this match-up against Seattle, Longoria himself boasted a .550 average with runners in scoring position, which lead the majors. To put it into deeper prospective in Longo’s last 12 plate appearances with runners in scoring position before Monday night’s contest, he was an astronomical 9-for-10 with 2 doubles, 2HR, 2 walks and 11 RBI. Instantly by this you can see a major clog in the Rays machine has a sudden health issue.

Let’s expand a bit more into the offensive presence of Longo for this 2012 Rays squad. He already has 19 RBI in 95 plate appearances in 22 games. That is a huge improvement over 2011 when it took Longoria 151 plate appearances to hit the same mark. Longoria had 15 RBI in 13 road games this season as well as since last June, his 105 RBI in 120 games leads the entire tier of sluggers in Major League Baseball.

If Longoria spends any significant time off the field it hits the Rays in a multitude of areas. It takes a huge piece of the Rays hitting factor our of their 2012 equation as well as a team on-the-field General and leader. Even with his fumble-itus recently at the Hot Corner, his experience and solid foundation at Third Base will open a huge hole with only utility guy Elliot Johnson and possibly Jeff Keppinger currently on the Rays roster who can play the spot with any consistency. It would also throw a huge monkey wrench into the Rays winning formula that has already sparked an impressive 8-2 record over their last 10 contests.

It is too early to think negatively. Longo maybe needs a day or two off his feet in the field, possibly resting and icing the knee. I do not want to fathom the thought of 30 days or longer without the Rays spark plug at the Hot Corner, I would rather think of this as a short vaca to do some much needed R&R.

Possibly as early as this afternoon or tonight we will know more, so I will keep the negative Nelly stuff deep within me, hoping the MRI shows minimal or no significant damage. I know the Rays Republic are sending positive vibes and emotions to Longo, hopefully they have the power to heal and bandage this evolving Rays situation. I truly did have the shivers last night watching the event, and it was hard to stay positive. Hopefully Maddon will be the bearer of great news later today.

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