Results tagged ‘ Akinora Iwamura ’

Bird is the Word Last night

 

                Orioles 7,      Rays 5

           
                   Mike Ricigliano/www.baltimoresun.com

During last night’s game, a scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller, The Birds kept going through my mind.  You might remember the scene where they were stuck in the gas station and the pumps were about to blow up and the anxious and terrified adults were looking for options, but none came to their minds. That is the same rationale that was floating through my head after watching seven innings of the Tampa Bay Rays scrambling for answers and coming up blank.

I mean I could have only had to watch the game from the first pitch just past 7 pm until American Idol began on Fox Television at 8 pm, and I would have seen all the Rays offense in that contest.  I know there were more scoring chances in the game after that huge second inning, but the Rays did not execute or even seemed to have the ability to provide any additional show of consistent offense after that inning.  The wildest play of the night had to be on a fly ball hit by Ben Zobrist and a wild game of “catch me if you can” in centerfield by Adam Jones and Ty Wiggington.

That play was a negative Web Gem all its own. Jones came in for the ball and Wiggington stood to his right to watch him glove the ball for an easy out. But instead we had a Three Stooges (Wiggy was playing the part of Curly Joe) routine where Jones misplayed the ball and it popped off his glove and smacked Wiggy in the chest and he had a chance to be the hero, but the ball finally fell to the grass.  For his efforts, Jones did get an error on the play.

From the third inning on tonight the Rays only got five additional hits in the game. Unfortunately the Rays did provide the Orioles defense with 2 strikeouts and two double plays in those last 7 innings to secure their 14th win of the season. Missing were Akinora Iwamura and Pat Burrell from the Rays lineup tonight. Rays Manager Joe Maddon had decided to give Aki the night off since he has been working extra hard recently and did play extensively  and looked a bit fatigued coming off the field after the Red Sox series. And Burrell has been battling a neck situation that had come and gone for the last week or so.

Considering this might have been a perfect match up for Burrell tonight, one has to wonder if the Burrell injury might be a little more than advertised by Maddon. And it is a shame he could not even use him as a pinch hitter in the ninth inning when George Sherrill, the leftie closer for the Orioles was on the mound. Both Sherrill and Hendrickson might have been great pitchers for Burrell to get some needed hit and confidence at the plate from in this game. Hopefully, we can see Burrell again at the plate in Wednesday nights contest.

 
Nick Wass / AP

Rays Did Have Offense..Early

As I stated before, the top of the second inning was a great display of what the Rays can do against a struggling pitcher. They seemed to be putting pressure on the jugular in that inning and never let Hendrickson get any reprieve until Carlos Pena finally flied out to Nick Markakis to end the inning. But the damage was already done by then by the Rays, who had a 5-1 lead at that point. In that inning Gabe Kapler hit a nice sacrifice fly to deep left field to score Willy Aybar, who had singled to lead-off the inning. It was Kapler’s first RBI as a Ray.

Dioner Navarro then hit a RBI-single up the middle to score Jason Bartlett, who had doubled down the third baseline earlier in the inning. B J Upton then walked to put men on the corners with Carl Crawford coming to the plate. Crawford, who had doubled in his first at bat, took a hanging breaking pitch and hit a 2-run double to deep left that Orioles leftfielder Felix Pie tried to dive for, but came up short.  Evan Longoria then extended his RBI streak when he put a pitch off the out-of-town scoreboard in rightfield to drive in Crawford.

Carlos Pena then hit a long fly out to  Nick Markakis to end the inning with the Rays now up 5-1. In that inning, the three outs recorded against the Rays were also hit balls.  But a few great thing did happen for the Rays. Crawford moved past Aubrey Huff with his 2 RBI in the inning to become the All-Time Rays RBI Leader for the young franchise. And Longoria, after the Orioles announcers were debating if he could keep up his RBI pace, hit his ball off the scoreboard with the next pitch. Longoria is still the MLB RBI Leader, now with 45 on the year.

               
                Nick Wass / AP

Sonny is No Longer Money

Man how it pains me to write that last line. I really like the lunch pail work ethic of Andy Sonnanstine. I can see that he has the drive and passion to go out there ever five days and throw until his heart gives out, or his arm falls off. But when is enough going to be enough here. At this time last year he had a 4-1 record, not the 2009 version that sports a 1-4 record with a inflated 7.27 ERA. Is there something wrong here, or am I just be too critical of a guy we had total faith in last season and might have a few struggles on the mound in 2009.

I am not a Pitching Coach, so my opinion is based solely on what I see and what I know about pitching, but there is something tell tale about him in 2009. I am not saying he is tipping his pitches, but something is tipping off the hitters more this season than in 2008.  Or could it just be something a simple as he is not re-inventing himself a bit every start. Maybe the team Volvo has finally hit the point where team have scouted him so much they can even tel
l when he is exhaling now.

That does happen in the pitcher’s career, and they have to re-adjust or re-invent their pitching style to confuse and make hitter get back off their heels waiting for his breaking ball. I am not going to call for a change just yet because it might be fixable, but it will have to be fixed at this level and he can not go down to the minors and work on it. It either has to be done up here, or he might just be on his way out the door in Tampa Bay. Coming into the 2009 season, you looked at Sonnanstine as a consistent pitcher, but so far in 2009, that consistency is based more in the negative than positive so far.

Last night, he lasted only two innings, or 69 pitches before getting the hook with the Rays behind 7-5. Every one of the Orioles runs were attributed to Sonny last night. That second inning only paled in comparison to Hendrickson’s by two great plays by the Rays outfield. If not for those plays, the Orioles might have tacked on two additional runs.  I know the minds in the Rays dugout are spinning right now trying to figure out what to do with this situation.

Like I mentioned before, it could be a simple mechanic adjustment like Scott Kazmir, or it just might be the end of Sonny’s run as a start with the Rays. Either way, the bleeding has to stop. The Rays had a killer inning in the top of the second and had no reason to have to stand out there and see all their hard work go bouncing by them in the bottom half of that inning. Change has to happen……….either good or bad, but it has to begin starting today for Sonny.


Nick Wass / AP

Wednesdays Wild Writs

****  The Rays got a huge boost from their outfielders’ in the bottom of the second inning.  After Designated hitter Lou Montanez hit an RBI-double to right-centerfield. Greg Zaun hit a single to rightfield that Gabe Kapler quickly got a hold of and sent a rocket to Dioner Navarro at home to easily get Montanez trying to score. The ball was a one-hopper that came up to Navarro perfectly to secure Kapler’s third outfield assist of the year. That ties the part-timer with Carl Crawford for the team lead.

The second outfield assist came from centerfield as B J Upton got Cesar Izturis and second base for his first outfield assist of the year. Upton, who was the Rays leader in outfield assists in 2008 with 12 assists. This play, along with Kapler’s earlier assist in the same inning, kept two more runs from scoring for the Orioles in the second inning.

**** Every one was curious what had happened to the missing left fielder for the Orioles in the top of the fourth inning. It seems that during the bottom of the third inning after Pie had struck out looking against Grant Balfour, he reportedly was sent to the University of Maryland Hospital complaining of stomach discomfort and after a CT scan, he will be in the Orioles dugout for tonight’s game.

Orioles Manager Dave Trembley was not aware of the situation in the top of the fourth inning and went into the Oriole’s clubhouse looking for Pie, but had to send out Ty Wiggington to play left field for the inning. “We thought it was just a temporary thing, that he had a stomach ailment or virus, upset stomach,” Trembley said. “I went to the home plate umpire and told him and he said, ‘I’ll give you a couple minutes.’ And I told Wigginton to get ready and Pie couldn’t come back, so that’s why we had to make a change.”

Pie, who is hitting .180 right now  has essentially lost his starting left field position to Lou Montanez after being brought over from the Chicago Cubs in the off season to shore up that spot in the outfield. Ex-Ray Joey Gathright was recently traded also from the Cubs to the Orioles for infield/outfielder Ryan Freel. Gathright does have major league experience, and could be a nice speedy option in left field for the Orioles to consider for the position.

**** I give Sunsports some credit for at least giving us the audio feed from Oriole Park at Camden Yards as they were trying to fix their video problems last night. We got to hear the pre-game voices of Brian Anderson and Dewayne Staats as they ran down the match-up and only missed Upton long drive to the 364 mark in centerfield, and Crawford’s ninth double of the season. We got back into the 20th Century right as Longoria began his first at bat of the night, which ended up being a liner to center field to move Crawford to third base.

**** After the game, Todd Kalas interviewed both Aubrey Huff and Kapler about their feelings on the recent demonstrations by players and pitchers in the league. Huff told Kalas that he had ” gotten several text messages”.  I still thin it is a bit humorous that Huffdaddy had to wait two years before he got a chance to rub that fist pump back at Joba Chamberlain before Sunday;s 3-run homer. But it was Kapler’s comments that showed the best representation of what most of the league might be thinking on this subject:
 

“Personally,my standpoint is is that if the fans enjoy it.  And it is good for all of us, and as long as it is not, you know, completely over the top and out of line, I think that anything that makes puts fans in the seats, ends up paying all of our salaries. media folks included, So I do not mind seeing a little bit of showboat or something good roots out there.”

I think Kapler has a great grasp of this whole situation having played with the Boston Red Sox for several seasons, then taking off for the Japanese League, which views cheering and also displays of showmanship completely different than in the United States. Then he comes back to the MLB and managed in the minor leagues for a year before deciding in 2008 he still had the desire and passion to play the game.

Red Sox Post “7” on Rays in Win for Dom

 

  Red Sox 7,     Rays 3

         
          Charles Krupa / AP

Emotions Ruled the Game

From even before the first pitch tonight, the Boston Red Sox had a distinctive bonus in the game.  The emotion and the air held a faint bit of Dom DiMaggio in it. Here was a guy who was the lesser famous of the three center fielders who graced the name DiMaggio, but he played his entire career in Boston from 1940-1953.  the Red Sox paid homage to their fallen comrade in the several ways in this game, but it was the emotions of the night that carried this team to their 7-3 win.

Red Sox Head Grounds keeper Dave Mellor even put his own touches on the pitch for the contest. Out in centerfield, he had cut into the green grass of Fenway Park and “7” surrounded by a circle to commemorate the passing of this Red Sox legend. Also there was a awesome huge black and white reproduction picture of Dom DiMaggio that was attached high above the Green Monster in leftfield to show respect for one of their own. And this night from the first guest into the park until the last security guard left tonight, the magic of the night was not wasted by the Red Sox on the field.

When they had their stellar sixth inning rally, for the second night in a row, even the Rays bench had to know that invisible powers were upon them tonight. For no matter what Rays starter James Shields could have done at that point, the emotions of the night were beginning to overtake this game. The Red Sox did not hit that magical seventh run in that sixth inning, but the five runs scored in that inning only set up the additional two scored in the bottom of the eighth inning to cement the 7 runs needed to win the game.

But the Rays can take solace that they did not stand a chance against the spirits tonight. That even as I watched at home I knew the outcome of the game from that sixth inning on. It had everything to do with the vast history of the franchise, and the love of one of their heroes. DiMaggio did not have the celebrity wife, or play for the World Champs in pinstripes, but what he did have was a great career where he hit .300 four times in his career and his 1338 games in centerfield for Boston ranked eighth all-time in the American League annuals. How and he also had a hitting streak of his own, which spanned 34 games, and is still  a record to be broken in Boston lore. Even hitting streaks seemed to run in the DiMaggio families bloodlines.


Charles Krupa / AP

Crawford Hits for the Cycle ( In a Way)


One of the best ways to illustrate the current events of Carl Crawford is to look at his last at bat in the Yankee game on Thursday night, and his first three during last night Red Sox contest. Match those four at bats together, and C.C. has a cycle. I know it is a bit far fetched, and it is not going to be recognized as such in the newspapers or any online account, but the guy is beginning to feel like a new hitter at the plate. 

The cycle babble just shows that right now Crawford is seeing balls at the plate like beach balls.  In his last 19 games, Crawford is 17 for 42, or a .285 average. In those last 10 games, only once has he not gotten a single hit in a contest, and that was in  Monday’s game against the Baltimore Orioles at Tropicana Field ( He went 0-4). With his stealing of second base in the first inning, he is currently 23 for 23 this season, which is a Rays club record, and he is only one away from the current longest active major league mark currently held by  Pirates outfielder Nate McLouth (24).

And that is not the only thing going for Crawford right now. He also leads the majors in infield hits with 11 this season. He only had 7 in 2008.  In his last 16 games, he is currently hitting . 397, with 17 stolen bases and 11 walks. He has a total of 10 steals against just the Red Sox in 2009.  His career stolen base percentage of 83.4 ranks first in  active players, first in the American League, and is third in MLB history behind Tim Raines ( 84.7 %) and Eric Davis ( 84.4 %). To say we are not witnessing history on the part of Crawford would be insane. The guy is doing everything asked of him by Rays Manager Joe Maddon and his staff in 2009.


Charles Krupa / AP

Shields Just Not on Tonight

Some night you just seem to have your magical stuff on the mound, and some night it just disappears as fast as it shows up for you. Last night Jame Shield was taking the mound for his 11th career start against the Red Sox.  Coming into the contest, it seemed that the Red Sox had his number in Fenway Park. For his career he is now 0-5 in this historic park in his five starts.  He seemed to be on early in the night by giving up only three hits in the first three innings, but started to pay the price in the fourth inning when the Red Sox torched him for two straight singles. Neither of those runners scored and he cruised until the bottom of the sixth inning with no real problems.

In that inning, the Red Sox began to exert some damage on Shields first by  a hit back towards Shields by Dustin Pedroia that he deflected to the left of second base man Akinora Iwamura for a lead-off infield hit. Then David Ortiz walked on 7-pitches.  Then Shields left up a curveball to Jason Bay that he deposited over the Green Monster for a 3-run shot to tie the score at 3-all.  You could see that Shields was visually shaken by the bad pitch to Bay as he was screaming at the ground and pounding the resin bag as Bay rounded the bases. But that would not be the end of the horror for Shields tonight.

Mike Lowell then got a double off the facing of the Green Monster to extend the pain for Shields. Then J D Drew hit a first pitch 2-run home run to right into the Rays Bullpen to stake the Red Sox to a 5-3 lead in the game. It was the first time all night that the Red Sox had any offensive power against Shields. Masking the event was the eerie feeling of Deja Vu after the Red Sox scored 12 runs the night be
fore against the Cleveland Indians before posting the first out of the inning. Luckily for Shields and the Rays, the next batter, Jeff Bailey struck out. Shields then retired 3 of the next four batters to get out of the inning.

But the damage was done for the night. Shields did not come back out for the seventh inning as Rays Manager Joe Maddon instead brought in Rays reliever Grant Balfour. For the night, Shields threw 106 pitches in his 6 innings of work. He gave up a total of ten hits and 5 runs to boost his ERA to 4.02 this year. Coming into the game Shields wanted to buck his recent history against the Red Sox and get a win tonight. It was not in the cards for Shields, and he will have to wait another day to avenge this loss, his third of the season.

Nothing is terribly wrong with Shields right now, he is just not getting the quality pitches he needs to defeat his arch nemesis wearing those Red Sox jerseys. He is not out of control and issuing an odd number of walks or even not getting strikeouts against the Red Sox. But they are hitting timely and consecutive hits off him that lead to runs. This is just a mild roadblock for Shields, and he will find a way to finally take down the Red Sox in Fenway. But for right now, the Red Sox have been feasting on him and only Shields can change that outcome, hopefully sometime between September 11-13th, when the Rays again come into Fenway to play Boston.


Charles Krupa / AP

Saturday Scribbles

**** Prior to the game, the Rays recieved some bad news as Shawn Riggans, who is with the Montgomery Biscuits for a rehab assignment felt some discomfort in his throwing shoulder and will go to see Dr. James Andrews in nearby Birmingham, Alabama on Monday to see if he might have re injured himself. The Rays picking up Michel Hernandez late last season from the Pittsburgh Pirates is looking more and more like a steal as Riggans has been on and off the injured list since the last part of 2008 until this recent setback.  During that time, Hernandez has come in and hit .333 for the Rays and been a great asset behind the plate for the team.

**** There were several trade made during the day concerning both current and former Rays that could effect the Rays down the road. The first was the swap by the Chicago Cubs and the Baltimore Orioles in ex-Rays Joey Gathright and Ryan Freel. The players were swapped evenly with the Orioles maybe getting the better end of the deal. Gathright has tremendous speed and is a great utility outfielder. We will get our first chance to again see Gathright play later this week when the Rays go to Baltimore for two games on May 12 and 13th.

**** Another trade involved a play currently playing at the Ray Triple-A team the Durham Bulls. Highly liked infielder Adam Kennedy was traded to the Oakland A’s for a player to be named later. This is a huge plus for the A’s right now as they are experiencing a huge rash of infield injuries to Nomar Garciaparra, Eric Chavez and Mark Ellis. Kennedy will quickly have to adjust to his new team mates as he might be in the lineup right off the plane. The A’s are currently in Oakland with a series against the Toronto Blue Jays. It is reported that Kennedy will be in the lineup for the 1:05 pm game today.

**** In their last 8 games, the Rays offensive outburst has had some awesome results both in the standing and improving the Rays scoring punch. they have gone from averaging 4.5 runs a game to a more robust 6.5 runs per game. In that span the team has gone 6-2, with 13 home runs, 19 stolen bases and 19 doubles. the offensive explosion is coming at the right time as the Rays could move towards the .500 mark during this road trip.

Rays Steal Series from Red Sox

 

              Rays 5,     Red Sox 3


Mike Carlson / AP

The C.C. Show

How else could you describe the event more than just stating it was the Carl Crawford Show. For the Rays two-time All-Star did everything but sell peanuts and Cracker Jacks in the stands before the game. If you are a Tampa Bay Rays fan, you know the speed and the ability of this great athlete. And you have to remember, he is an athlete as well as a pretty good baseball player. But the simple fact that Crawford picked baseball over all the other sports that he loved as a kid is a telling tale all its own.

Here is a guy who could have gone into two other sports, and might have even reached the professional level in them too, but he stuck with the sport that he had the greenest talent in……….baseball. And the end result is that he is starting to get that National recognition for the things we have seen him do consistently since 2002. But does it really seem like 7 years ago that this skinny speedster came on board with the Rays? It seriously feels like he has always been here, because he is the face of this franchise in so many ways.

He has been here during the lean years when wins were as consistent as gas prices, and fans were still here cheering for the Rays, but the blue seats outnumbered the moving parts in the stadium. But now that the team is beginning to defend their first winning season, and their 2008 American League Pennant, Crawford is beginning to get his own personal engine revving up. The season did not start out particularly well for the team, and Crawford also had a few bumps in the road, like his team, but he stayed motivated and fought through the small slump.

He had gone a combined 2 for 10 in the last series before coming home against the Twins, and had to be at his best for this Boston series for the Rays to again establish dominance at home. During this series, he went  8 for 16 for a .500 average to boost his batting average to above .300 for only the second time since April 12th. In the early stages of this season his base stealing expertise was absent as he was held at bay by the opposing pitchers most game, only stealing a total of 9 bases in April. But in the last three games against Boston, he has emerged again as the front runner to again take the stolen base crown in the American League.


Mike Carlson / AP

He stole a total of 8 bases, only one of his previous months total in this one series. But he saved his best for last on the series finale on Sunday. Coming into the bottom of the eighth inning against the Red Sox, he had victimized Jason Varitek all day by stealing 5 bases before he again got on base with an infield single to shortstop. With Evan Longoria at the plate, Crawford again stole his sixth base of the day, and he did not look like he was finished there.

I know I was one of the people in the crowd wondering if he might attempt to also take third base in this at bat, but Longoria quickly struck out to make the chance moot and end the inning for the Rays.  You wanted him to go on the first pitch to Longoria after he had stolen second, but it was not meant to be today. Every pitch from that moment on hung in the air for awhile as you waited for Crawford to lunge off second and sprint towards that third base bag. But it was not meant to be today.

What Crawford did was amazing in its own right. He personally demoralized the Red Sox that day by being the man. Sorry, but it is true, he stole not only 6 bases, but the show that day. Oh, did I fail to mention he also went 4 for 4 with 2 runs scored and an RBI ? The feat had only been attempted by 4 men since 1900. One player, Eddie Collins also did it twice. Could that be the next goal for Crawford, match Collins. Also getting 6 stolen bases in a modern day baseball game were former Colorado Rockie and ESPN host Eric Young and former Brave Otis Nixon.
 

The pure fact that Crawford is in the company of these great base thieves is an honor all its own. So now Crawford is hitting for an .583 average so far in May, and the Rays are winning, you might have to keep your eye on Crawford because I can see a AL Player of the Week honor coming his way for his efforts. His base burglary has also now put him 4 stolen bases in front of early front runner Jacoby Ellsbury of the Red Sox. These guys will battle for the crown the entire season, but you can bet the guy who gets the most steals in this Boston/Tampa Bay series this year will walk away with the title in October.


Mike Carlson / AP


Rays Take Series

What is amazing to me is the fact that the only two series the Rays have won up to this point in the season is against their biggest rival in the AL East. They took 2 out of 3 in Boston to start the year, then went through 7 series without a win before coming home and taking 3 of 4 from Boston in Tropicana Field.  That is a total of 5 of 7 games in the series in 2009.  Considering these team have played each other more in the past 12 months than anyone else, there has to be a huge volume scouting report on both these teams that must weigh at least 200 pounds. But the win this season have been gutsy come-from-behind wins in most of the wins.

None of the games except for Boston’s victory on  Opening Day have had significant runs scored in the eighth inning or beyond this year. Most of the Rays and Red Sox’s win have been predetermined before the dramatic ending innings. But that doesn’t mean that this will hold true in the future contests. As these teams both heat up a bit at the plate, the dramatic endings and the luck of the past will again flow freely and we might see some of those classic Rays vs. Red Sox games real soon. Maybe even next weekend when the Rays come to Fenway Park again for three games.


Chris O’Meara / AP

Defense Wins Ballgames

You have to admit that this series did not always look like a defensive struggle for either team. Considering in this four-game series, both teams committed 4 errors in the series. The Red Sox did not commit their first error in the series until Nick Green’s errant throw to first in Sat night contest.  But the Rays did have a couple of errors in the second inning of the game by  Akinora Iwamura and Gabe Kapler. Iwamura was the first to commit an error on  a hard hit ball by Ellsbury to him and he bumbled the ball and Ellsbury made it to first in time. Kapler made his error a few plays later on a throw trying to nab Ellsbury at the plate. The ball was up the line and bit and went by Dioner Navarro.  

In Sundays game, the only error was made in the early stages on the game on a toss by Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek, who was trying to catch Crawford stealing his first base of the day.  The ball ended up going into centerfield and Crawford moved to third on the errant throw.  But the series did have their exciting moments when Ellsbury was caught stealing by Navarro on Sunday, and the comical stolen base attempt by Green on Sat. night. Kottaras also got into the act by catching both B J Upton and Gabe Gross on Sat. night. Upton was trying to make his second steal of the inning and was nabbed at third base by a great throw, and Gross got caught stealing late in the game by going straight towards the bag at second.

But the big defensive moments were the 5 double plays made by the Rays in this series. Not to down play any of the great defensive plays by the outfield or infield, but the double plays helped prevent scoring opportunities and get short innings out of the Red Sox. By keeping the Red Sox bats on the bench, the Rays made their best defensive plays of the game. But not to down play the awesome play by both teams defensively this series, but the Rays seemed to have more of them go their ways. Diving catches by Upton saved runs and  Jason Bartlett made play after play to save runs and prevent more scoring opportunities by the Red Sox.


Mike Carlson / AP

Mondays Moments

**** Jason Bartlett has continued his hot bat into May as he again went 3 for 4 in the game to raise his average to .368 for the season. That currently puts him with the fifth in the American League.  Ever since the 2008 end of the regular season, Bartlett has been on a tear at the plate. Considering he ended the month of April with a .358 average, which is now the third best April start for a Rays hitter.  But this season, he has kept his best games for the Boston Red Sox. In the Opening Series in Fenway, he went a combined 4 for 10, with 2 runs scored to lead the Rays, and in this last four-game series he went 4 for 11, with an identical 2 runs scored in the just completed series.

****  The Rays have only had 11 home games so far in 2009, but they have seated 317,533 fans, which comes out to a 28,866 average so far this season. The figure puts them currently fourth in the American league. Those figures might go considerably smaller in the next two games as the Rays take on the Baltimore Orioles in a two-game series, with the last game an afternoon contest on Tuesday at 4:08 pm. Historically, the Orioles series is not a great seller for the team.

**** Dioner Navarro will appear at Coachman Fundemental  Middle School in Clearwater, Florida from 11:45 to 12:45 as a part of the Rays and Raytheon’s “Math Moves U” program.  The event will be a one-hour pep rally and instructional speech about the exciting possibilities of math.  

**** Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena are the fourth set of teammates since 1954 to record at least 27 RBI through the first 25 games of the season. They currently lead all major league teammates in HR and RBI. Pena is also the Rays second quickest player to notch 11 homers in 25 games. Pena missed the Rays record currently held by Jonny Gomes, who hit 11 homers in 24 games in 2006.

**** Longoria currently leads the majors with 30 RBI, 19 extra-base hits. He shares the top spot with Alberto Callaspro of the Kansas City Royals in double with 12, plus is  currently second in total base hits in the majors with 67 this season.   

Rays take first loss to Red Sox at Home




 
Red Sox 10, Rays 6


Steve Nesius / AP

Butterfly Balls and Odd Plays

To Say that last night’s game had an odd feel to it might seem like I am making excuses for the type of play. But come on people, when is the last time you saw a guy trying to steal second base and basically takes himself out half way to the base? I felt bad for former Ray Nick Green for about 20 seconds on that play before I was rolling in the aisle about it. I mean the poor guy was trying to steal second base off Dioner Navarro, which is hard enough, but he seemed to stumble out of the gate and finally came face first into the soft clay of the Trop’s infield before trying to save some face and get back to first to keep from making an out.

I know the throw from Rays catcher Navarro did get there a few seconds later, but got to admit he was probably laughing so hard he almost forgot to throw the ball. That bit of impromptu comedy was only a small slice of some of the antics last night. Besides the usual Boston showers going on in the stands ( beer throwing), the game had an interesting feel to it. You know that bringing in a pitcher like knuckleballer Tim Wakefield can put a crimp in almost anyone’s game. The way that ball flutters and dances at times, it can even make a .368 hitter look a bit foolish. But thank goodness no one was spinning in their shoes and falling down trying to catch up to the multi-directional pitch.

But then their was the throw in by Carl Crawford later in the game as Dustin Pedroia tagged up at second base. Crawford, who is not always known for his swift and accurate throwing ability somehow threaded the needle and got a nice hard throw to Evan Longoria to try and get Pedroia at third base. The odd part to it is that the throw did not make it into Longoria’s mitt, but got deposited right into the cup region of Pedroia, who was visibly shaken by the throw. We know it was not an intentional thing, but the odd timing of this play on the Red Sox team crybaby was a bit humorous at the time. And for that reason, it is always great to wear a cup if you play baseball. Another incident that caught me laughing was the fact that Tim Wakefield hit Dioner Navarro in the fifth inning with a knuckleball. You could see Navarro at the plate break a huge smile knowing that it is not only odd, but pretty funny to have a butterfly ball peg you. Thank goodness it was not a 76 mph curve or a 86 mph fastball, but a 46 mph flutter ball.  But that was not the only hit batter in the game that made you wonder.

In the seventh inning, with two men on base, Rays reliever Brian Shouse was trying to get David Ortiz with the count 3-2 on him and Shouse plucked the big guy with a pitch in the hip region. I mean if we are going to just walk the guy, let’s intentionally walk him like we did the previous batter Pedroia before Ortiz came to the plate. So basically the Rays used 6 pitches to walk Ortiz. But the wild part is that Shouse had him 0-2 before he issued 3 straight balls outside the strike zone. Last night had a wild vibe all around the Trop., but these events really made you wonder at times.  But there were also wild things going on in the stands last night. One spectator was watching a foul ball come towards him and did not even put his hands up to ward off the ball. Instead, he got plucked right in the cheek and it opened a good 10 inch gash on his cheek that might need stitches to close the wound.

             
               Steve Nesius / AP

Rays Bats  Went Silent


If Boston Manager Terry Francona was trying to slow down the Rays offense last night, he used the perfect weapon to get the Rays to take some time to adjust and then begin to again get hits off his starting pitching. Tim Wakefield, with his flutterball, effectively shut down the Rays offense for bits and pieces of this game without letting them string together any scoring opportunities like they had the previous two games.  Tampa Bay was able to pop a run across the plate after Evan Longoria hit a ball to the opposite field in right that fell only two feet from becoming his next home run. the ball hit on the green top to the outfield wall and bounced back into the playing area for a double.

Carlos Pena then hit a RBI single to right-center field that scored Longoria, and it almost looked like Francona’s idea was about to back-fire on him. But the Rays bats went silent after that moment and between the rest of the first inning until the fourth, the Rays only came away with a Carl Crawford single to right. Crawford then moved up on a stolen base to put himself into scoring position.  Leading off the top of the fourth inning, Pena got a hold of one of Wakefield’s mistakes and deposited it just inside the right field foul pole for his 11th home run. But that was the last hint of offense the Rays would have in the fourth inning.

In the fifth inning, when Wakefield had gone through the order a few times, the rays began to make some moves towards evening the score. After Gabe Kapler struck out,  Navarro got hit by a pitch after going 3-2 against Wakefield.  B J Upton then got three straight balls and finally gained a walk  to put two men on with one out in the inning.  Then Boston catcher George Kottaras had his first passed ball of the night to put both men in scoring position. Longoria then hit a liner down the left field line into the corner and both Navarro and Upton came in to score for the Rays.  Pena then got on base after four straight balls and put two men on base again for the Rays with two outs in the inning.  Pat Burrell then hit a double to left that scored Longoria and moved Pena to third base.  Ben Zobrist then struck out to end the inning with the Rays trailing by one, 6-5.

That would be the end of the Rays offensive strikes until the bottom of the ninth inning with the team behind 10-5 at the moment. Hedecki Okajima had relieved Wakefield after five innings and 101 pitches on the night. He immediately gave up two hits to Akinora Iwamura and Kapler. After Navarro hit a sacrifice bunt to move both men into scoring position, they got stranded there after the Rays made
two quick outs to get Okajima out of the inning. But the Rays did get more chances in the seventh inning when Pena walked and  Zorbrist got an infield single to put Pena into scoring position.  Pena went to third base on a throwing error by Nick Green, but got stranded after Iwamura struck out swinging to end the inning.

]In the bottom of the ninth inning, Takahashi Saito came in for the Red Sox to close out the game. After a 12 pitch at bat, Crawford singled into  center to lead-off the final inning. After Longoria struck out, Crawford moved over to second base on defensive indifference and then took third base on Pena’s grounder up the first base line. On the third pitch, Burrell hit a RBI single to right-center to score Crawford and make the score 10-6. But then Zobrist struck out swinging to end the Rays rally and give the Red Sox their first win of the home series. In tonight’s game, Wakefield got the victory, which was also his 20th win in his career against the Rays. He is the all-time opponent record holder, with Mike Mussina formerly of the Yankees in second with 15 victories.

       
       
Steve Nesius / AP

Red Sox Bats were wild tonight

Rays starter Jeff Niemann came into the game  after several impressive outing since his first start debacle in Baltimore. There was hope that he could hold the Red Sox hitters at bay enough to let the team get a few early runs and set the tone tonight. But from the first batter on tonight, it did not seem to be Niemann’s night. The  tall rightie gave up an early walk to Dustin Pedroia, and then Hit Kevin Youkilis with the first pitch of the at bat. That gave the Red Sox two early base runners in the inning.  J D Drew then hit a strong double to right to score both Pedroia and Youkilis and stake the Red Sox to a 2-0 lead.

Mike Lowell lead-off the second inning with a single to center, and Kottaras then hit an RBI double to  Nick Green then hit an infield single to Iwamura that plated both Lowell and Kottaras and give the Red Sox a 4-1 lead.  Jacoby Ellsbury then hit a ball to Iwamura that he tried to get the speedy runner, but threw the ball past Pena for an error. Pedroia then hit an RBI single to right that scored Ellsbury, and moved to second on Kapler’s bad throw.  That put the Red Sox up 5-1 at the time. Then in the third inning, Jason Bay got an infield single to Jason Bartlett that was deep in the shortstop hole and he could not get Bay in time for the out.  Bay then stole second base, and moved over on Niemann’s wild pitch to put himself in scoring position at third base. Green then hit an RBI single to center to plate Bay and increase the Red Sox lead to 6-1.

The Red Sox bast went silent a bit until the fifth inning when Grant Balfour relieved Niemann at the beginning of the inning.  After Green struck out, Ellsbury reached on a infield single to third base that was put down between Balfour and Longoria, and he could not make the play and get the speedy Red Sox outfielder.  Ellsbury the stole both second and third, and Balfour ended up walking Pedroia. After David Ortiz ended up walking after a 10-pitch at bat, Brian Shouse came in to relieve Balfour in the game. Youkilis ended up with an RBI double to left that scored Ellsbury and Pedroia and raise the Red Sox lead to 8-5.

In the seventh inning, Lowell ended up hitting a solo shot on the third pitch from Shouse to up the score to 9-5 Boston. Green then doubled to deep right field and moved to third on Ellsbury bouncer to Shouse.  The Rays then Intentionally Walked Pedroia to set up a leftie-leftie situation with Ortiz. After getting him to a 3-2 count, Shouse hit him in the right hip with a pitch to load the bases. Youkilis then got another walk to score a run without even taking the bat off his shoulder and put the Rays in a 10-5 hole.  Jeff Nelson then came in to relieve Shouse and got Drew to pop-out to end the inning. That ended the Red Sox offense for the night as the Rays sent down the Red Sox 1-2-3 in the next two innings.

 

 

For the game, Neimann did not seem to be able to handle the Red Sox base runners and they stole their bases at will while the tall righties was trying to adjust and get a faster delivery to the plate. This is one of the thing that a pitcher has to learn to become more adapt at during their first few starts in the league. Teams get a flow and ebb from them and can time their deliveries to the plate and make their base stealing calls accordingly. Niemann is very uncomfortable out of the stretch, and it shows in his on-the-mound mannerisms. For him to be able to go to the next level, he is going to have to incorporate some side-steps and practice more effective moves to first and third base to begin to stop the base runners from taking advantage of him. When he makes these adjustments and a few guys get caught  stealing by Navarro, then teams will have to re-evaluate their  signals and come up with another alternative.

 

 

 

Rays Gain back the Trop in Win

 

             Rays 13,     Red Sox 0



Chris O’Meara / AP

Josh Beckett: You Got Served!

I have to admit, I was a Josh Beckett fan when he was on the staff of the fellow Florida squad, the Marlins. I was excited to see him raise his arms in victory as his squad fought for the World title. At that time I knew this guy was going to be a great pitcher, but I had no idea I would have to begin to hate the little thing that he does on the mound. Last night though, the Tampa Bay Rays manhandled the Boston ace within an inch of his collective life. They did everything to get under Beckett’s skin but flirt with his girlfriend. The Rays did an extremely effective job of taking his rhythm away from him and stepping out of the box and collectively just getting him off his game.


And the local Rays crowd, which numbered only 20,340, did everything in their power to chant,harass and try to also become a factor in his bad night. Beckett tried to do his stall tactics on the mound, but the Rays did not play that game with him for the most part all night long. A few times the Rays did toy with him by calling for “time” late in the pitch, or even just staring Beckett down instead of concentrating on the pitch coming into the plate. And it did take effect on the right-hander. Several times in the game he seemed to be physically bugged by the Rays tactics, which is a kudo to the Rays coaching staff to point the small ways to get Beckett a bit uneasy on the mound.

But the best part is that the Rays also manhandled him with their bats. They did not settle for the walks, or the singles, they wanted to make a statement to both Boston and Beckett that they are still the team of piranhas’ here even if they think they are the Great White in the division right now. But be that as it may, a school of sharp toothed piranha can take a shark any day of the week, and both Boston and Beckett got served that notice loud and clear last night. Beckett lasted 4.2 innings, and threw 113 pitches, but his night was over in his head about the third inning when the Rays got two straight infield hits to start the inning off.

That is right, Jason Bartlett and B J Upton got two straight nibblers to the third base side of the mound. Bartlett hit a good shot towards Mike Lowell at third, but he could not get a great throw off, and he was safe by a country mile. Upton then hit a short grounder off the end of his bat that Beckett finally got to, but could not get Upton at first base. Beckett then seemed to be a bit unnerved and gave up a walk to Carl Crawford on 5 pitches to load the bases for the Rays. What came next seemed to unravel him a bit on the mound for the next few batters.

Evan Longoria then came up and took a 2-1 count breaking ball to the gap in right-center field for a 3-run double. Longo basically took Beckett’s night in that one swing. Because at that point, it put the Red Sox down 3-0 in a game that Rays pitcher Matt Garza had total control over from his first pitch. After Carlos Pena struck out, Pat Burrell did the last surgical strike on Beckett in the inning when he hit the first pitch from Beckett to right field to score Longoria. But what might have really ruined the night for Beckett was the fact that the Red Sox went down 1-2-3 in the top of the fourth inning, and he got sent back out there already reeling from the top of the third inning.
 

This served the Rays purpose perfectly. They knew they had him on the ropes and with a fast half an inning, they could still inflict more pain on Beckett before he got adequate time to adjust and cool down. After Bartlett started off the inning with a sharp shot to Julio Lugo on the second pitch of the inning, Michel Hernandez then came up and deposited his first career home run to left-center field to stake the Rays to a 5-0 lead in the game.  the the Rays began to truly twist the knife into Beckett as both Upton and Crawford hit back-to-back doubles to put Beckett on the ropes early in the inning. And the Boston Bullpen was still silent at this time. No one up throwing or even stretching out at all. It was Beckett only for this inning.

Beckett did get out of the inning with only Upton scoring after Hernandez’s blast to keep the score respectable for the moment. But in the bottom of the fifth inning, the Rays decided to inflict one more wound onto Beckett’s night. After another fast 1-2-3 inning by Garza, in which he only threw 19 pitches, it was Beckett’s turn to again get within the Rays sights.  After a lead-off 6-pitch at bat by Gabe Gross that saw four foul balls Beckett thought he had a grip on the game for the first time since the second inning. But Akinora Iwamura hit a double off the second pitch he saw and gave the Rays an early scoring opportunity.

After Bartlett struck out to give Beckett some breathing room, Henandez then came up and hit an RBI single to left field to put the final run up against Beckett on the night.  Red Sox Manager Terry Francona then came out and brought in Red Sox reliever  Hunter Jones to finish out the inning. For the night, Beckett ended up giving up 10-hits and 7-runs, plus 3 walks against the Rays. It was a great performance by the Rays bats to take the Boston ace out early in their 4-game series. Now for the next three games all Beckett can do is sit on the bench and reflect on what he could of, or would have done differently in that contest. But the fact remains, that in this second test between him and the Rays in 2009, this round goes to the Rays by a  bloody knockout.

          
                
Chris O’Meara / AP

 Michel Hernandez Has Banner Night

The post-game shaving cream pie by Rays starting catcher Dioner Navarro could not keep that Cheshire cat grin off his face. Even with a mountain of white suds dripping off his face Michel Hernandez was having the time of his life during his Rays Radio Interview on the field. And I can think of no one better to feel like he had a huge part in this contest than Hernandez. Not only did the Rays current back-up catcher have a fantastic night by going 4-5 with 3 RBI’s, but Rays Radio call-in comments were calling for Rays Manager Joe Maddon to play the “hot hand” behind the plate right now instead of Dioner Navarro, who has seen some offensive up and downs this season.

Hernandez also is the second Rays back-up catcher in two seasons to catch a Garza one-hitter. Shawn Riggans caught the other in Miami last season against the Marlins. But if you are not a Rays fan, you might not have ever heard about this fine catcher.The guy has been in the minors for the past 11 years. Going from club to club getting consistent results and reviews, but not finding a home for his talents. The 3-year old catcher was also an add-on to another great Rays moment when he was the second player called up in 2008 to get to Boston in time for the Rays game against the Red Sox. His flight companion that day, Dan Johnson, ended up being the Rays hero in that game when he hit a solo shot off Red Sox closer Johnathan Papelbon.

Hernandez got his first major league home run in the fourth inning and really did not even know it had gone out before turning at first and seeing it on the Rays Jumbotron. You could see his toothy grin the rest of the way around the bases, and the mob scene on the Rays dugout stairs were a testament to this guy’s heart and abilities. But that was not the end of the night for Hernandez, he ended up going 4 for 5 on the night also collecting his first double and RBI. Before this game, he had a total of six major league hits. But all this would not have been made possible if he had not made a huge decision as an 18-year old.

You see at that time he was playing for the Havana Industriales of the Cuban  National League on his current road trip brought him to the Yucatan Peninsula. That night, along with a few fellow team mates he made his marl for freedom and his chance to play baseball in the US. He ended up hiding out for almost two months as his wife Marta, who was in Venezuela at the time worked on his visa paper and his eventual freedom. Hernandez now lives in the Tampa Bay area, and with his new prize that first home run ball coming home with him  last night, finally might feel like he achieved that dream he envisioned 12 years ago while lying in Mexico. But you know the first person to see that ball in the morning will be his son, Michael who also enjoys playing baseball.


Chris O’Meara / AP

Garza Gets a Bit of Deja Vu

Rays starter Matt Garza had been there before. He had felt that burning in the pit of his stomach as the pitch was hit by the bat, and it was not that long ago. the last time he ad heard that sound during a pitching performance like this it was on a balmy June 26, 2008 day in which Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez hit a blistering home run in the 7th inning to take his no-hit bid away, and also post the only run given up by Garza on that day. Even though he had struck out 10 Marlins that day, that sound of the bat crack is all he remembered of that day. So we flash forward to last night game and we again see that Garza is pulling off a miracle by blanking the Red Sox through six innings. 

With the Rays comfortably with a 8-0 lead at the time, Garza is on cruise control right now just following the flow of this tidal wave waiting for it to break onto the beach. The game really did have a great feel and pace to it with Garza getting the ball and setting up fast to want to just go at the Red Sox. Through his previous six innings, he had a masterpiece on his hands and did not do anything out of character to play with the mojo that was happening on the mound. He had just gotten the ball and fired the previous six inning, and this one was no different.   

He faced Jacoby Ellsbury first in the top of the seventh inning and had not even granted a walk at this time in the ballgame. He was working on a perfetc game before the speedy outfielder put a softly hit swibbler just past Garza’s right ear to finally get something going for the Red Sox. The ball had taken a soft path towards Garza, and he could not adjust in time to grab the ball before it fell to the turf. Bartlett came in quickly from short and tried to scoop and fire the ball to first, but Ellsbury had already touched the base before Pena gripped the ball in his mitt.

The frustration was immedidate on Graza’s face. He quickly asked for another ball and got back to his routine by then getting Dustin Pedroia to ground into a double play to end Ellsbury’s time on the base paths. Without any base runners, Garza then returned to the mound, but you could see that the hit had effected him. He quickly gave up his only walk of the night to David Ortiz, but rebounded with a great inside pitch to Jeff Bailey that got him to hit a ground ball to Evan Longoria and get out of the inning. In the past, Garza might have gotten into his head a bit and maybe ruined hids great pitching performance with frustrated throws and maybe a visual meltdown in his head on the mound.

Garza went out again to the mound in the top of the eight inning to complete his night. After striking out Jonathan Van Every, Garza had given the Rays faithful a free Papa John’s pizza, but he gave us better thing to remember on this night from his pitching performance. He only pitched to Van Every in the eighth inning before Rays Manager Joe Maddon came out and brought in Grant Balfour to close out the masterpiece. Even as Maddon was heading to the mound, the Trop crowd, even Red Sox fans were on their feet to applaude the effort of the Rays rightie tonight. He had also fanned a duplicate 10 Red Sox tonight as he did in that June 26, 2008 game, but tonight he did it in front of the home crowd, which made sure he knew how much they needed and loved the effort. It was a thunderous clapping of hands and cowbells way until he was gone from the playing field.

But tonight, I think we saw the right hander take the right path and readjusted himself  on the mound and stood he tall and gained inner growth that will do wonder for him in his future starts. Last night’s performance was a true masterpiece. It is another great point in Garza’s maturation process and personal growth beyond the baseball diamond. To night he might have lost his perfect game and hos no-hitter, but in his development to be more consistent and mentally up for the challenge, Garza threw nothing but strikes all night long.


Chris O’Meara / AP

Longo and JB Fight for the  April Record

Coming into tonight contest, Evan Longoria and Jason Bartlett were battling to become the next Rays hitters to get recognition as the Best hitters in the month of April for the team. Bartlett came up in the bottom of the eighth inning with a chance to overcome Rocco Baldelli for second on the list, but his pop out to third base ended his chances at the spot and he settled for a final .358 average for the month. Now I have to say that a .358 average is not too shabby at all, and he should take great pride in that mark, but I also know he wanted that top spot and was eager in tonight’s game to hit. He ended up going 1 for 5 tonight, which is one of the first times in recent games that he has hit less than tweo hits in a contest. 

Longoria went 3 for 5 on the night, which included his sixth homer of the season and also 3 runs to go with his 4 RBI’s. The night helped him boost his average up to .369 for the month. This was enough to top Baldelli’s previous .366 record he set in 2003. How fitting was it also that the guy currently sitting in the top spot for an April average was also sitting in the Visitor’s dugout for the game. When Longo hit  a single in the bottom of the eighth, you could see Baldelli’s huge smile for the guy. That was a great sight to see. For these two guys not only have a great respect for each other, but they both share the fact that they both were the faces of this franchise in different times. Congrats Longo, with your .369 average you have also posted the fourth best April by a reigning ROY candidate. Now it is on to May’s mark for both of them.



RRCollections


Friday’s Funky Findings 

**** In tonight’s game, we will see the debut of the Rays Alternate jersey. And who better to show you the new uniform than tonight’s starter, Andy Sonnastine. Tne new additon features a navy blue button-down with RAYS outlined in white trim with a light blue shadow across the chest.  Light blue piping surrounds the sleeve and collar and extends down the front of the jersey. The usual “sunburst”  emanating from the “R” is 40 percent larger than the team’s ususal home and road jerseys.

****  I was talking with Shawn Riggans during the game about his up-coming rehab assignment and found out that he will be heading to the Double-A Montgomery Biscuits to begin his trek back to the Rays roster. He is putting a hopeful target of May 10th, which could be one of Matt Garza’s starts for his return to the Rays. Riggans had been out with shoulder tendinitis and was put on the disabled list on April 13th.

**** Rays starter Jeff Niemann was awarded the Al Lopez award before the game. This is the Rays award to the best rookie during the Rays Spring Training. During the 2009 Spring Training Grapefruit League season, Niemann  had a 2-1 record with a 6.32 ERA. He appeared in 6 games and started in 3 while throwing 15.2 innings of work.  Niemann also was in the fight the enitre Spring Training for the Rays fifth rotation spot, finally garnering that spot on the last day of Spring Training.

**** Throwing out the First Pitch tonight will be a local baseball star who recently got exposure on ESPN and numerous publications for his pitching. Patrick Schuster, a senior at New Port Richey’s Mitchell High School will throw out the first pitch tonight before the game. He recently set a Florida State High School record with his fourth  consecutive no-hitter. Schuster lost his bid for five straight no-hitters in a recent game against  Tampa Gaither. Schuster, who is off to the University of Florida to play college ball,ended his year with a 9-4 loss to Gaither in the Class 6-A District 7 semifinals. Schuster had thrown 26 consecutive hitless innings coming into the game.

**** Is this a growing trend against the Rays? If you go down by 10 runs, you bring in your right fielder to toss an inning of work. The Red Sox brought in right field Jonathan Van Every to throw the last 2/3rds of the game last night. Is this a growing trend? For his efforts, Van Every did his best to re-produce a “Nick Swisher” moment on the mound, but was tagged by one hit in his fifteen pitches to finish the bottom of the eight inning. you might rem
ember that the Yankees inserted Swisher to pitch against the Rays in their season opener and the leftie blanked the Rays, also getting Gabe Kapler to strike out in that inning.

Dramatic Moments Doom Rays

 

                 Twins 4,     Rays 3


Jim Mone / AP

Momentum Swung like a Pendulum

I still can  not believe what I saw last night during that game against the Minnesota Twins. These are the types of games we used to come out on top of in 2008.  For some reason the karma or the magical ingredient is missing so far in this 2009 edition of the Rays. I mean that is a perfect example of the way we won games in 2008. We would fight and claw and produce hits and run scoring opportunities, then magically, a hit or a homer would open the floodgates for home plate celebrations. It is still time for this team to get back into that same groove, but we might have to dig to find it right now.

The person I feel the sorriest for right now is Rays reliever J P Howell. The guy is 0-2 this year after going 6-0 to begin 2008, and he should not have even had to go to the mound last night. How many defensive chances did we have in last nights game that could have turned the tide the Rays direction. Seriously here, there were plays that the usual Rays were adapt at getting, and one that would have secure the win even before Justin Morneau came to the plate in the bottom of the ninth inning. Is this defense the same reproduction of the 2008 model, or is it lacking a bit of intensity right now.

I know a barrel of hard hit balls can get through the holes in the infield, but when you do the “Maddon ” twist and add another infielder to the mix, a sharp hit ball should not take you out of the game. I mean on that special shift in the ninth inning, with the bases juiced, you know the pressure is at its highest level of the game. Morneau hit a screamer that takes a bad hop right in front of Akinora Iwamura and he has to field the ball off his stomach. With the Rays maybe still having a chance to end the inning, and a chance to win it, Aki tosses the ball to second base to get the force out on Brendan Harris. With Harris out, the ball is quickly thrown to Carlos Pena at first base, but not in time and Twin’s catcher Jose Morales hit the plate with the winning run.

The split second that the ball hit Aki in the stomach might have gave the Twins that victory. For if he had been able to cleanly get the ball and toss it to second an instant earlier, the Rays would have been up to bat in the top of the 10th inning. Those plays used to seem routine to the Rays in 2008, but in 2009, they are having to work for every out and run.  Minnesota did what it took to win the game.period. They played the perfect National League scoring card to a “T”. They got Morales on base with a lead-off single. Nick Punto put down a nice bunt to move him over to second base and into scoring position. Denard Span hit a beautiful ball just past the mound for an infield single and put Morales 90 feet from the win. Then the ex-Ray Harris came up to pinch hit for Alexi Casilla and got walked. Then Morneau hit a routine grounder to Aki………..the rest is history.

          
         Jim Mone / AP

Three Key Moments in the Game


I saw three moments in that game last night that seemed to seal the loss for the Rays. If any of these events had gone the other way, that is in the Rays favor, it would have been a Rays win. I know it is speculation that these events could have, or would have been different, but you got to believe they did have a momentum change for the team.  Let’s start with the one that had me on the edge of my chair cursing out a base running blunder.

The first incident happened in the fifth inning, with the Rays down 2-0. Willy Aybar lead off the inning with a one-hopper to the left field wall for a double. With Aybar already in scoring position, it seemed like a easy chance for the Rays to cut into the Twin’s lead. Gabe Kapler hit Aybar over to third with a grounder to second for the first out of the inning. Then Dioner Navarro hit a ball to short that Punto decided to come home with for a force out at the plate on Aybar. Now the thing that got to me here was that Aybar was not moving on the play to the plate, or he would have scored before the throw. Instead he took a late break to the plate that Punto saw and he changed his throw from first to the plate.

The ball was there in enought time for Morales to post up in front of the plate perfectly to keep Aybar from sliding past him. Aybar was straight up when he bashed into Morales and sent him flying backwards, but he had enough time to firmly secure the ball and the aggressive thrust by Aybar was moot. I am sorry, but maybe it is the football player in me, but I used to dig my shoulder into the catcher and drive him off the plate from below to give him a sense of fear from landing on his head, not politely send him reeling backwards like a possum.

Incident number two might be more 50-50 to some people, but every time I saw that replay on television, I think I saw more of a chance to get that ball. In the bottom of the first inning, Rays starter James Shield issued a lead-off walk to Span. These lead-off incidents always come back to haunt you unless you get a quick double play ball out of it. Alexi Casilla then came up and struck out to post the first out of the inning. Morneau then came to the plate with the ability to hit one out on every pitch. Shields tried to go inside on him and the ball caught more of the plate than he expected and Morneau drilled the ball deep into left-center field. 

Carl Crawford was there with a bead on the ball as it began to slowly come out of the air. He jumped high along the 7 foot outfield wall as the ball began to fall rapidly. He made a perfect play on the ball, but it somehow managed to dribble from his glove and Morneau had himself a 2-run homer to start the game. You want to yell Fan Interference, or something when you see a play like that. But there was not a Twins fan near the seat before it hit the concrete beyond the wall. Crawford seemed to  have had the ball, but it slipped out of his grasp and it gave the Twins an early lead. 9 times out of 10, Crawford is coming down with that ball for an ESPN Web Gem, but tonight, it was instead labeled as Morneau’s fifth homer of the season.

Incident number three was not as obvious to a lot of people. 
But it is beginning to destroy offensive chances for the Rays. As of today, Evan Longoria is hitting the cover off the ball at a .365 clip. His power hitting and timely singles have been a major player in the Rays wins. His 10 doubles also are a team high and makes him a scoring threat every time he hit the plate. But there is another Longoria stat that is beginning to rear its ugly head, and it is taking the Rays out of numerous scoring chances this season. The reason I mention this is that every time this has happened recently, it has taken the Rays fastest base runner off the base paths and made Rays rallies more difficult.

It is something everyone does during their year hitting, but so far in 2009, Longoria is making a bad habit of  hitting into these plays day in, and day out. Longoria is currently ranked tied for second in the American League in this category. It is an “offensive” category to me, but not in a good way. So far he has hit  grounded into 6 double plays this season. He is the only member of the Rays with over 2 this season. And in last night’s game in the fourth inning, after Crawford walked to lead-off the inning, Longoria took two pitches to take the Rays scoring chance off the board.  Most people would say, ” So what” to this, but it is a pattern in recent games.

Do I need to go back into the 21 game annuals and show you key moments this has happened? Number 6 is listed above, but how about a few other recent examples. 
Example number 5 .
This past Sunday during the Rays 7-1 loss to the Oakland A’s. In the third inning, with one out and Jason Bartlett and Carl Crawford both on base, Longoria hit a ball to second baseman Mark Ellis that he tossed to Orlando Cabrerra, then to Giambi to end the inning and the Rays rally.
Example number 4.
During the Rays last home stand, on Sunday, April 19th in the sixth inning, with again two men on base, Longoria hit into a inning ending double play. That day he had Michel Hernandez on second and Gabe Kapler on first base when he hit a ball to  Alexi Ramirez at short that he flipped to second and on to first base to complete the inning.

I am not trying to throw anyone under the bus here, but this is a habit that the young Longoria can fix before it gets to be a situation for him. Considering the Rays have only hit into 14 double plays all season long shows that Longoria is heads above the rest of the team in that category. In two of the three examples listed, his  action of hitting into a double play might not have changed the course of the contest. But last night, it could have made a monumental change to the game.

          
         
Jim Mone / AP 

Zorilla Needs More Plate Appearances

He was one of those hidden gems on the Rays roster in 2008 when he made 48 starts for the Rays. His bat was just developing into the creature it has further morphed into in 2009. We saw glances of his increased power and his ability during the season. His . 249 average does not jump out at you, but his 10 home runs and 48 RBI’s in limited at bats does make a bold statement about him in 2008. He even put an exclamation point on the last series in Detroit in 2008, by stroking three home runs, including a 420 foot shot to dead center field in that game. His two Grand Slams in 2008, the first against Baltimore on August 29th, then added one against Sidney Ponson in the Rays versus Yankees night cap of the double-header on September 13th.

Now consider he hit all of those in only 193 at bats. that is right, he hit 11 extreme homers in less than 200 plate appearances in the year.  Considering he spent the first 38 games of the season on the disabled list with a left thumb fracture, I guess we can say that Zorilla has made his full transformation into not only the “Super Utility” guy, but also a needed tool for the Rays offense. Yes, I am very high on this guy. Not because he is on my countless Fantasy teams ( Which he is), but because I can see the desire and the drive for several years finally peaking with him gaining more time to show his wares to the Rays coaching staff in 2009. 

Considering he did not come back up to the Rays until August 5th, for his fourth tour of duty with the Rays, what could he have done if he was healthy all season long and not missed a stretch of the year rehabbing and gaining at bats in the minors. But in 2009, he has done nothing to push him onto the bench, or even be considered a secondary player. Right now I truly feel you play your “hot” card. And right now, he is the hottest guy on the Rays roster. Last night is a classic example of his pinch hitting in 2009. He comes up in place of Gabe Kapler in the top of the ninth inning and blasts a shot into the baggie in right-center field to tie the game up for the Rays.

Pressure, what pressure? This season, Zobrist is 2 for 4 as a pinch hitter with 5 RBI’s. Both of those hits have been home runs, including a Grand Slam pinch hit on April 17th. Before this season, in his three prior years with the Rays, he has gone only  0-12 in that role. So the 24-year old is stepping up his game in 2009, trying to gain either a spot in the field every day, or just be a top option off the bench for Rays Manager Joe Maddon. Now let me throw another wild fact at you about Zobrist.  And no, it is not the fact that his wife is an extremely talented singer ( Julianne Zobrist ), but it a Rays career record that might impress you. Zobrist is currently tied with Carlos Pena ( 3 ) for the team franchise record for Grand Slams. Oh, and he has hit all three of those Grand slams in only 86 total at bats. He could run for mayor of St. Petersburg, Florida right now and win by a landslide.

                     
                     
Jim Mone / AP

Tuesday Tidbits

**** In last night’s game, 3 of the Rays 9 hits were doubles off Francisco Lariano.  The Rays have now hit  74 extra base hits this year, which is ranked fifth in the American League. Their stolen base percentage of 87.1 is also fifth in the AL this season. The Rays are also fifth in the AL in homers, with 24 this year. But the team is ranked third in doubles this season with 46 so far.  But on a bad note, they are also ranked third in the AL , with 165 total in strikeouts this season. 


**** 
In last night’s game, the Rays had their best chance of the season to increase their win total against left-handers. As it stands now after the loss, the Rays
are 1-8 against southpaws this season.
The only left-hander the Rays have defeated this year was Boston’s Jon Lester in their second game of the season. In that 7-2 Rays first win of the season, they tacked 8-hits and 5-runs on the young leftie. In the upcoming 4-game series at home against the Red Sox, the Rays will not face Lester again as he is starting the Wednesday night game against the Cleveland Indians to conclude their series in Progressive Field.


**** 
Injured literary Ray Fernando Perez will be adding the title public speaker to his resume tomorrow as he will be the guest reader  at the Rays “Open Doors for Children” event at the law offices of Holland & Knight ( 100 N. Tampa Street ) in downtown Tampa at 10:30 am.  The Columbia University graduate will be reading the popular children’s book, H is for Home Run to about 35 children from ” A Brighter Community” Day Care”, which is one of the oldest day cares in Tampa.

**** Tickets still remain for the Thursday and Friday games of the upcoming Boston Red Sox series.  There are limited numbers of seats for the Sat. and Sunday games, but plenty of variety seats for the first two games of this series. The Rays are currently ranked fourth in home attendance in 2009, even with only 7 home games so far in the season. The average of 28, 986 after the seven games is a 60 percent increase over last year’s attendance figures for the team in 2008. The team will play only 13 of their first 35 in the confines of Tropicana field in 2009.

Oakland Walk to a Win over the Rays

 

             Athletics 5,      Rays 2


Ben Margot / AP

Frustrations Mounting Fast

The worst part of the last couple of games is that the Rays have had their chances to mount sustained drives and have come away either empty-handed, or shot themselves in the foot on multiple occassions.  Some whispers in and outside of the Internet have hinted that it might be due to the large number of strikeouts by the Rays, and the number of walks given up by the pitching staff. I decided to do a little snooping around and see just what might be true or false with those statements.   First I decided to see how the Rays as a team are stacking up against the rest of the American League in those categories before trying to put any scientific or opinionated facts out there.

As of today, the Rays have a total of 151 strikeouts, which puts them third in the American League at this moment, but they are within striking range of again manning the top spot. That position right now is held with only 158 K’s by the Texas Rangers, who also was in the top 3 at the end of 2008. In comparison, the Rays pitching staff is ranked seventh in the AL in walks with 71 this season.  What that shows is that some of the people commenting that the Rays have been giving up too many walks is not completely accurate. But it is more to the fact that the Rays pitchers have been giving up too many walks in a condensed period of time.

Let me use today’s game as a good example. In the fourth inning, Rays starter Matt Garza gave up a lead-off walk to Orlando Cabrerra, then issued a second walk to Jason Giambi. Those kind of beginnings to an inning never seem to work out to the pitchers’ advantage. But after Matt Holliday hit a fly ball out to center field for the first out, it seemed he might have a chance to redeem himself. But he walked the next batter, Jack Cust to load the bases. That led to Nomar Garciaparra’s 3-run double to the left-center field wall on the first pitch he saw from Garza.  That instantly put the A’s up 4-0 on the Rays.

Situational pitching is an artform. Some pitchers seems to come by it naturally, while others struggle with it their entire careers. But what is killing the Rays right now is the fact that the squad is issuing some walks at the wrong moments in the game, and it is costing them dearly in the end. In their games this season, the Rays have issued 71 walks in 17 games, that is good enough for  over 4 walks a game. In two contests the team has issued over 6 walks a game and have gone 1-1 in those contests. The only win was during the Home Opener against the New York Yankees on April 13th.

But the Rays have not done themselves any favors in the offensive numbers either attached to strikeouts. in 6 of their losses, they have struck out over 9 times in a contest. the highest was actually during their Opening Day loss in Boston when they posted 14 strikeouts.  But that is not the only time they have suffered over 10 this season. They also posted 10 strikeouts in their second game agianst the Yankees at home on April 14th, 9 against the Chicago White Sox in a 12-2 loss to close out their last home stand, and 10 strikeouts the first game in Seattle to start this road trip.  In only one game have the Rays won when posting over 10 strikeouts. It was their lone win in Baltimore during their second series when they posted 10 K’s on the day.

Even during this series so far, the team has posted 12 strikeouts in two games. That figure might be lower than their average, which is sitting at 8.3 strikeouts per game right now. With that in mind, the Rays have topped the 8 strikeout mark in 10 of their 17 games, and have won only one of those games. The first thing to try tear apart here is the Hitting Coach. I do not think it is what Steve Henderson wants to see his club do on a nightly basis. I think he would not disagree that the burden here lies on the players for not taking intelligent swings at times. For a short period of time there, it almost seemed like Carl Crawford was just swinging into the air, not even expecting to hit anything.

       
        Ben Margot / AP

It is going to be a big test of Henderson’s patience and his expertise to again get this team to put their frustrations aside and begin to rebuild themselves from the ground up. But these guys are professional hitters’, it should not take long for them to discover and correct some of their flaws in the batters box. I mentioned Crawford above as a guy who seemed to be free-swinging a lot more than usual. This was true, but recently he has begun to see the ball better and is hitting it  as if it was a beach ball. But then you have guys like B J Upton, who have added pressure of being the lead-off man right now for the Rays and is mired in a bad slump.

His average has sunk to .171 this season, with no end in sight of the dismal beginning. His recent game in Oakland came down as an 0-4 with a single strikeout, but after the at bat, he took his bat and cracked it over his knee in visual frustration over the lack of power by himself and the team right now. In that game, Upton did get on base once via a walk in the sixth inning, but he was stranded at third base after a Rays rally was stopped cold by Oakland starter Dallas Braden.  Upton hit the ball three times in this game, but they were at people. 

The frustration level on this team is at an all time high, and it is only going to get worse until the Rays bats begin to strike some fear into opposing pitching staffs. Right now, there is not a staff in the American League that fears the Rays hitters besides maybe Carlos Pena, who is on a homer run tear right now. Over their last two series, the Rays are hitting .243 as a team with 22 total runs and 42 strikeouts. Over the past six games, that puts them 12th in the AL during that time. Only the Kansas City Royals and Oakland A’s are underneath them, and Oakland is beginning to get hot.

      
       Ben Margot / AP

Is Matt Garza Getting Frustrated?

I am not sure if it is only Matt Garza that is starting to shoe outward frustration right now for the Rays. the enitre team seems to be in a dander, and not their usual confident and energetic selves on the field and at the plate. But Garza is a player who holds his emotion up close to his kin, and in yesterday’s fourth inning he seemed to almost bubble over on the mound. Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey did come out to the mound and seemd to make the right words cool the fires within Garza. He ended up getting back under control after Garciaparra’s RBI double and again pitch like a champion. After giving up that double, Garza retired the five of the next six batters  before getting into trouble in the sixth inning.

But the day did not start like that for him. He got two 1-2-3 innings before giving up a lead-off homer to Travis Buck in the thrid inning. Even after Buck’s shot, he retired the next three in a row to hold Oakland to a single run. Then came that fourth inning when 3 runs were given up by Garza on one hit. He had basically walked the bases full before Garciaparra’s drive to left-center.  Garza is one of this teams pitchers that needs to again regain some of the magic of 2008.  His 5.2 innings of work today yielded 4 runs on 4 hits, with 6 strikeuots. But his 4 walks did make the most damge today as three of those walks came around to score for the A’s.

           
            
Ben Margot  / AP

Aki is the Man

Since he left the lead-of
f spot this season for the Rays, Akinora Iwamura has been kind of quietly having a great season. Including today’s game, Aki is hitting .302 for the year, and has been one of the three consistent hitters on the team so far in 2009. His numbers might not jump out at you, but he has been doing great thing under the surface for the team. His 7 doubles are only one of the AL lead, and he is 5 for 5 in stolen bases this year.  He is 4 for 12 in his last 3 games with 2 doubles.

But since moving down to the bottom of the lineup for the Rays, Aki has not forgotten to be offensively motivated this season. Some players might view it as a bad omen to be figured into the bottom slots in the lineup, but Rays Manager Joe Maddon looks at it more like a “second” lead-off man, or a speedy option in the middle of a lineup. Iwamura has seemed to adopted well to the new spot, and is showing it with his bat. He was the first Rays to get on base today when he hit a single into right field in the third inning. In the fifth
inning, Aki again made his presence known when he stroked a RBI single to center field to begin the Rays coring on the day.

Aki might have cooled down a bit during the game, but his ninth inning at bat will be a controversial play for the rest of the season. With A’s closer Brad Ziegler on the mound, Aki hit a hard ball down the first baseline to Giambi.  the ball hit off of Giambi’s glove and he finally picked it up and tried to race Aki to the bag for the out.  First Base Umpire Mark Wegner called Iwamura out, but replays showed he had made the base in a stride before Giambi made it to the bag. After that play, the Rays went down in order the rest of the inning and lost their first game in Oakland this season.


Ben Margot / AP

Saturday Scrambles

****  The Rays on Saturday tried to win their second game in a row for only the second time in 2009. The only other time they have won two in a row was in their first series of the season against the Boston Red Sox. Up to today, that is also the only series the Rays have won this season.  Speaking of streaks, during their start to 2009, the Rays have now had two 3-game losing streaks and two 2-game losing streaks on the year.

**** With their current record of 7-10, the Rays have also  been at this mark 6 times in the franchise history, with the same record at this point in the season for the last  the past  4 out of 5 seasons. the lone exception since 2004, is the 2006 season, when they were 8-6 at this juncture in the season. Also of importance is the fact that at this point, the team has been in fifth place in the AL East each year, and have been from 3.5 to 5.5 games back of the division leader. The 2009 squad  however has the least amount of runs and errors after 17 games. The team does have their highest amount of stolen bases ( 24 ) in the franchise history at this point.

**** Carlos Pena’s two home runs last night have vaulted him into the major league lead this season.  The only other Rays player to lead the majors in home runs was Jose Canseco, who lead the majors as late as June 26,1999 with 28 homers.  Pena did lead the majors briefly early last season, when he had 6 homers on April 15th.  The 8 are currently tied for third-best in club history for April, and is onl three shy of the team record. Pena now has 14 homers over the past two Aprils, which is one shy of the tops in the majors held by Phillies second baseman Chase Utley.


****
The Rays currently lead the majors with 21 infield hits.
          They also have 24 stolen bases at this time, which leads the majors and are the most since the 1998 New York Yankees swiped 30 early in the year.
          They are currently fifth in the majors with 23 homers, which is their best output ever after 17 games.  

 

Rays Hungry in Win in Oakland

 

              Rays 8,     Athletics 2


Ben Margot / AP

Dr. Devilrays and Mr. Ray

The beginning to the 2009 season began another chapter last night as the  Tampa Bay Rays evened their road record in 2009 to 5-5 with a wild shootout in O-town. Now in the past, a game like this would not be possible with the dominance the last few years of the Oakland A’s pitching staffs. But this is not the same pitching staff your older brother was salivating over in his Fantasy Draft. It has come on a few seasons of wheeling and dealing as the A’s are going through a self-imposed rebuilding of their staff. But in this game, even the Barry Zito’s or even the Dan Haren’s might have been hard pressed to keep this Rays team under their thumbs.

In their usual Dr. D-Ray and Mr Ray fashion the Rays took control of the game from the onset and did not let up the entire contest. This is the type of game we hoped and prayed for during their 2-5 home stand last week. They did have a few minor base running mishaps, but the overall ability of the offense to take control of a struggling pitcher was a thing to be seen with your eyes. The team did what you are suppose to do when a pitcher is having control and command issues. they sat waiting on their prized pitch and drove it endlessly into the California skies to post their seventh victory of the year. 

The fact that Mother Nature was also working in the Rays favor to begin the game was not lost on just the players. Rays Television Commentator Todd Kalas was quick to alert the fans at home to the 31-40 mph winds that were swirling in and around the stadium at game time. This just added to the Rays offense as they  went on in the contest. But considering they were facing  Oakland rookie Trevor Cahill today, the 21-year old, who was drafted by the A’s in the 2006 Player Draft, got his first look at Tampa Bay in his career. In his fourth start of the year, Cahill might have wished he had missed it after the Rays took an early 1-0 lead after B J Upton scored on a Carl Crawford RBI-double to start the game.

To put the Rays offense emergence into perspective, they put their lead-off man on base in five of the nine innings tonight, and in three of those innings, the lead-off man scored for the Rays. Gabe Gross and Carlos Pena lead-off two of those innings with solo home runs to pace the Rays offense tonight.  In all, the Rays hit 4 doubles and 3 homers against the A’s, and only Upton and Pat Burrell did not have hits in the Rays 13-hit explosion. This is the type of Rays confidence that was so familiar with them in 2008. The Rays were hitting the long balls, but also concentrating on extending rallies tonight.

In their first inning, they strung together three straight base runners to put early pressure on Cahill. Then in their  5-run third inning, they got two early base runners before Pena hit a 3-run shot over 388 feet for his first homer of the night.  After Burrell hit a fly ball to Mark Ellis for an easy out at second base, they again strung together  5 straight base runners before Crawford hit a sharp fly to Matt holliday in left field for the final out. But by that time they had exposed the young right-hander and paced to a 7-0 lead.  In the fifth, the Rays again tired to mount an extended rally, with Akinora Iwamura getting a lead-off single into the gap in right-center field, then Jason Bartlett hitting a ball to Eric Chavez at third base that he beat for an infield single.  But Upton hit into a 6-4-3 double play to prematurely take the Rally down.

From that inning on, the Rays only extended one inning to multipule base runners. In the eighth inning, both Burrell and Gabe Gross got walked by A’s reliever Maichael Wuertz, but were stranded on base after a Dioner Navarro fly out to center field ended the inning. At that point it was 8-0, with the Rays in control of the contest. For the night, the Rays got 13 hits, 8 of them off the Oakland starter and also  gathered  8 total walks on the night.  The Rays did leave 7 runners in scoring position, which is still the Achillie’s heel of this team. If not for the A’s starter getting into early trouble tonight, the Rays only sustained two rallies all night long after Cahill left the game, and both of those were off of reliever Dan Giese, who Oakland got on waivers after the New york Yankees released him.


Ben Margot/ AP

El Presidente Issues a Statement

Carlos Pena has been the vocal leader of this Rays team now for several years. He is one of the first people to speak up for the Players Only meeting the other day in Seattle, that lead to a Rays victory, and tonight he let his lumber do the talking. It is great to see a Raya slugger let his bat do the talking in this contest. But Pena has always been someone who will “walk the walk, and talk the talk.” It is one of the reason the Rays took a chance on him several years ago and signed him to a Minor League contract. He did nothing more than surprise and rise this team by hitting the daylights out of the ball and make his love for this young team know.

The Rays made their committment to him by signing him to a multi-year contract, and since that day, he done more and more to take and portray a leadership role on and off the turf for the Rays. Tonight he took two pitches and made his statement in this game.  In the third inning, he took a letter high ball and deposited it deep into center field to send the Rays in front 5-0 at the time.  Then  in the the sixth inning off Giese, he took a 3-1 pitch and drilled it into the first row into right field, about 333 feet from home to provide the last run of the game for the Rays. His two homers tonight puts him into the American League HR catbird seat with one more than Carlos Quentin of the Chicago White Sox.

His 4 RBI’s tonight also puts him at 21 for the year, which also puts him currently  2 RBI’s ahead of Nick Markakis of the Orioles for the American League lead. Pena went 2 for 5 in the game, and moved his average up to .254 tonight. For the Rays to be successful in 2009, they need their big hitter to remain consistent and producing.  In their 1
0 loses this season, Pena is a combined 7 for 36, or a .194 average with 13 strikeouts. He has a total of 21 strikeouts so far in 2009, which is good enough for second in the American League. But the Rays seem to feed off his energy, and his success has been key to the team rebounding and rebuilding their oen confidence this season. El Presidente is a leader, and the young Rays seem to play better and with more consitent nature when their leader is setting the example on the field and at the plate.

 

Ben Margot / AP

Kazmir Adjusts Mid-game for Great Start

Rays starter Scott Kazmir did not start the game in great fashion he again seemed to be a bit off the mark, but adjusted correctly and posted one of the most impressive night of the year for him. He did not use his fastball to set-up hitters, but used a greatly improving slider and change-up to keep them guessing at the plate. When the game first started, you would not have thought he was going to go 6 innings and thrown only 96 pitches in the game.  But coming into this game, he has always been extremely good against the A’s. He was a combined 6-2 against them with a 2.70 ERa in 11 starts.

During tonight’s first two innings, you did not see the dominating Kazmir stuff, but it was showing itself throughout those innings and gaining momentum. Kazmir did not start out the night in impressive fashion as he walked lead-off man Ryan Sweeney with four pitches. He neded up throwing 22 pitches just in that first inning. In the second inning, he surrendered  a quick single to Jack cust to lead-off the inning and then walked Kurt Suzuki before taking control of the inning and sending the next 3 hitters down in order to strand both men on base. In that inning he threw 26 pitches. It looked like another early night for Kazmir.

Then in the third inning he again gave up a lead-off walk to Sweeney, his second of the night. At this point, Kazmir has given the lead-off hitter a chance in all three innings. But then he ended up getting Orlando Caberra to hit into a double play to erase Sweeney after a difficult 10-pitch at bat. At this point it seemed that Kazmir regained his command and ended up striking out Nomar Garciaparra to end the inning after 21 pitches. Up to this point, Kazmir had thrown 72 pitches in the contest and was heading for another early night.

But between the innings he discovered his small mechanical error and then took the mound in the fourth inning and went right after the A’s hitters. He only threw 7 pitches in that inning, getting Matt Holliday, Cust and Suzuki in order for his first 1-2-3 inning.  In the fifth inning, he again took control and sent the A’s down 1-2-3 for the second inning, but this time threw only 15 pitches. He was beginnig to take full control of the game. In his last inning, the sixth, he again got the A’s down in order 1-2-3 to put an exclamation point on his night. In that inning, he had retired 11 straight hitters and did his last inning on 6 total pitches. For the night he had given up only two hits, and had held the A’s hitless from the second inning on tonight.


Ben Margot / AP


Gross Doesn’t Waste Opportunity

Gabe Gross did not get an opportunity in the last few games to contribute anything to the Rays. He had not been in the field since the Rays 4-2 loss to open the series in Seattle at on Tuesday night. and in that contest, he only came on to pinch-hit for Gabe Kapler in the ninth inning and popped out in that appearance. His .130 average was cause for concern among the Rays faithful. People had been calling for Ben Zobrist to get more time since the left-handed Gross was struggling at the plate. But tonight he got a start against the A’s right-hander and did not waste his chances. He not only made a mark at the plate, but made sure the Rays did not forget what he brings to the table as a defensive expert.


In the bottom of the first inning when Holliday hit a hard ball to right field and Sweeney tagged up at third base to try the arm of Gross, he quickly got his feet set before the ball reached him and threw a missile to Dioner Navarro in front of the plate for an easy tag-out and to end the A’s rally and inning. But he did not let the momentum end there. He then was the lad-off hitter in the top of the second inning and blasted a 0-2 pitch into deep center field for his first home run of the year.  Gross rode the energy to again in the third innig when he hit a double to the left-center field wall to start another Rays rally after Pena’s three-run shot. 

He ended up crossing the plate in that inning to then put the Rays up 6-0 at the time. He again got on base in the fourth inning on a  5-pitch walk to put two men on base for the Rays. He did not get an opportunity to put anymore runs up for the Rays in that inning, but his offensive struggles seemed to be behind him. After a hard hit ball to center field for an out in the sixth inning, he again got on base in the eighth inning after a 5-pitch walk by A’s reliever Michael Wuertz.  That was his last time on base for the game, but his 2-3 performance had made his average take a positive turn to end up at .192 for the night.

Some people have commented it seems like I do not like Gross. It is not that at all here. It is the fact I know the team is struggling right now, and when you are in a hole, you go with your best horses. At that time Zobrist was the hot bat, and also deserves some playing time considering his early season successes at the plate and in the field. Both guys have a single outfield assist this year, but Gabe Kapler is leading the Rays with two so far in 2009. I like the way Gross played in 2008. Maybe I got spoiled by his banner year and he is showing his more stable hitting average. No matter what, I think the Rays should ride the hot bats this year in right field. If that means Zobrist and Gross get the bulk of the turns, then so be it.

        

www.tradewinds
resort.com

 

Rays Watch Parties with Rich Herrera

Coming up in the next few days will be two Rays watch parties, with Rays Radio pre game and post game announcer Rich Herrera hosting the events in two great local locations. Both of these locales are not foreign to Rays fans as they have already hosted past events and will again be awash in the Rays blue and white and loud with the cheers and excitement of the Rays Revolution members.

The first will be held on Sunday, April 26th at the Tradewinds Resort on beautiful St. Petersburg Beach, Florida.  The resort is a key spot on the Gulf of Mexico and fans are invited to come out early and enjoy the beach and the resort before the Rays afternoon contest against the Oakland A’s. Your usual Rays host,Rich Herrera will be broadcasting the pre- and post game shows live and on location starting at 3:30 p.m., with the first pitch at 4:05 p.m.

Before and during the game, be sure to stop by and register for your chance to win an autographed baseball, tickets to a future Rays game, TradeWinds merchandise, and much more! The Rays  energetic Street Team will also be in attendance, passing out prizes and giveaways. So come on by the TradeWinds Island Resorts, soak up the sun, enjoy the beach, and watch your Rays on Sunday, April 26! The resort is located at: 5600 Gulf Boulevard, and you can get  more directions on their website www.tradewindsresort.com.

 


The second Rays Watch Party will be held in a location that Upper Pinellas County fans know well for their outstanding food and open dining areas. The Rays will again be holding another event at the Clearwater location of Smokey Bones located at 2693 Gulf-toBay Blvd in Clearwater, located in the north section of the Clearwater Mall complex. So if you are a extreme Rays fan like the “Maddon’s Maniacs”, or just a casual Rays fan who loves great BBQ ribs, we invite you to come watch the Rays play the Twins in Minnesota on Monday, April 27, from 6:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. at Smokey Bones Bar & Fire Grill in Clearwater!

Come out and watch the game with fellow Rays fans and enjoy  great drink specials.  Rays Radio pre game and post game guru Rich Herrera will  again be live as the Rays play in the Metrodome. We hope to see you there, and GO RAYS!

Saturday Scattered Thoughts

**** Former Rays reliever Jason Hammel, who was traded just prior to the beginning of the 2009 season has been moved into the Colorado Rockies rotation. So far in 2009, Hammel has appeared in 3 games for a total of 6.2 innings with an 2.70 ERA and 5 strikeouts on the season.

The Rockies obtained Hammel thinking he could be effective as a starter or a reliever. Starts haven’t been available, so he’s made three relief appearances. All Colorado knows is that if he pitches the way he has in his last two outings, there is a place for him — possibly a prominent one.

**** Rays Commentator Brian Anderson has been a trip so far in the broadcast booth for this west coast road trip. Anderson who also doubles as the Rays Assistant Pitching coach has been a breath of fresh air in the booth in relation to the  finer pitching aspects of the game.  He has shown awesome insight and also techniques that a pitcher might use that have been missing since former Rays commentator Joe Magrane left for the MLB Network in the off season. 

Also a great aditon is the use of his own key phrase he like “cookie” to demonstrate a pitch that is just eaten up by the hitter. I was afraid the Rays commentary might be a bit dry and stale for the first season with Kevin Kennedy. But both Kennedy and Anderson have injected a different viewpoint into the every day workings of this team. Kennedy shows a perspective from the catching side of the game, while anderson is focusing on his expertise……..pitching. The Rays hit a blast with the occasional pairing of Anderson with award winning Dwayne Staats in the booth. I can hardly wait for Todd Kalas to get his turn in the booth and see what magic can happen.

**** I can imagine the grumbling and the grunts from the Rays as they entered the Visitor’s Clubhouse yesterday to no food choices in the clubhouse before the game. I could see Rays Clubhouse Manager Chris Westmoreland on the phone scrambling to get something, even a bag of pretzels into the clubhouse at that moment.  But even more entertaining in my mind would be the sight of the Rays getting back on the busses and maybe going ala minor league style to a local restaurant and having Westy and maybe Traveling Secretary Jeff Ziegler tossing bags of food up through the windows to the hungry Rays.

Maybe that was the motivation of the team in last night’s contest. They were hungry in more ways than one prior to the game. But you know that they did finally get some neded calories in their stomaches, but that would have been a sight of them trolling into maybe In-and-Out Burger with 35 chicken sandwiches and healthy wrap meals, with a small prize in the sack for their kids. Ahhhhhhhh, that would have made them cherish their old minor league roots.

  
 

Defense Bends, but the Rays break in Loss

 

 

Mariners 4, Rays 2

 

Ted S Warren / AP

 

Joe’s 500th Moment

 

It did not feel like a celebration, but come on, does it really feel like we have seen Rays Manager Joe Maddon out there 500 times in a Rays uniform? It feels like it was just yesterday that we were introduced to this guy who looked more like your Logic or Statistics class professor than a baseball manager. But little did we know that the “statistics” label would still seem fresh today. It is so refreshing to see him still have the same type of managerial style that he displayed on the first day. When the Rays first manager, Larry Rothschild hit his third year, you could not even recognize his style, much less his smile.

 

But here we have the bold glasses of Maddon still gracing the dugout steps with grace and confidence in his team and their chances. How refreshing is it to know that the guy who took the Rays reins in 2006 made his debut on April 3rd in Baltimore. It took him two more days to celebrate his first win, a 2-0 victory thrown by Mark Hendrickson. But who would have guessed this guy would still be here when he first was introduced. We have seen it before in Tampa Bay, first Larry Rothschild the mastermind behind the Florida Marlins pitching staff during their first World Series victory was hired to build the franchise in the image of the Marlins.  This team has chewed up and spit out managers like a guy eating conch fritters at Frenchy’s on Clearwater Beach, Florida.

 

But why is it that Maddon has lasted so long? Could it be that he actually has a master plan, and has been able to implement it without stress and the front office blocking his thoughts and ideas. That is the great thing about his hiring and the team getting a new ownership at the same time. Both came in as blank pages to the Rays fans. Both had huge upside and confidence in them was sky high. I think even with the recent downward offensive woes, the energy and the chemistry on this team is high this season. You can see in the game that certain breaks have not gone our way that fell into our laps in 2008.

 

But I believe Maddon has the ability to steer the team’s thoughts towards recognizing these game changing moments and will turn them into positive events soon. But who would have guessed it when he got his 125th victory on  September 23rd against the Boston Red Sox at home. Here he was 25 percent of the way to his 500th game and he had been pushed by defeat and success.  He missed hitting the .500 mark in 2006 in his first season by one win. But even with the 61 victories, you could feel the tide changing in Tropicana Field. You knew this guy understood what was needed to hit the next level.

 

So here we are today at Safeco Field in Seattle with the Rays playing a late game start against the Mariners. Funny how last year these teams were headed in different directions, but now they have reverse mirror-image records, with the Rays fighting to get out of the American League East basement with a 5-9 record and the Mariners on top of the American League West division with a 9-5 mark. But there was Maddon like  a proud general leaning on the rail and watching his team go to battle against the Mariners. He has currently posted 229 wins in those 500 contests. That is amazing considering this is a franchise that did not win before he stepped into the head job. 

 

Who would remember that in his first year he finished 36 games back of the AL East winner, and in two years he would be the one on top looking down at everyone else. I was checking out some old Maddon quotes, and this one from the Tampa Tribune caught my eyes,” “The fourth manager in ( Devil ) Rays history is a book you can’t put down. A concert you rock to, a story that begins in a mining town and ends in a baseball dugout, sometimes cruising with the girlfriend to an L.A. beach, Springsteen blasting from the convertible, for a glass of red wine at sunset. Something for everyone.”  Wow, that was written the day he was hired by the Rays on November 14, 2005. People forget, we could have lost him to the Boston Red Sox in 2004, but they decided to hire Terry Francona for their managers position.  We need to celebrate Maddon. Not for what he has done for this franchise, but for what is going to do this year and in the future. I look forward to again celebrate his 1000th game on the 28th game of the 2012 season.

 

               

                Ted S Warren / AP 

 
Same Bat Channel, Same Bat Station

 

Watching the first inning of last night;s game I got excited that maybe this road trip might be the right thing to get our bats again stroking the ball and producing a few more runs than the opponent. Little did I know that the walk and those two hits in the first inning would be the highlight of the Rays night. There was excitement knowing that lead-off man Jason Bartlett was 5-8 lifetime against Seattle starter Jarrod Washburn. And when he lead off the game with a walk, you knew something was about to happen. After Carl Crawford hit a flutter ball to short for a quick out, the Rays began to flex a little muscle.

 

 Evan Longoria kept his bat going by stroking a nice RBI-double into the left field corner that Endy Chavez had trouble with as it bounced oddly off the wall.  Pat Burrell, who had been hitting at a .357 clip in his last 4 starts, hit a ball up the middle to score Longoria and put the Rays up early 2-0.  But after that, the Rays again fell into their recent funk of going down 1-2-3 both in the second and third innings. Burrell did again try and get something started in the fourth inning when he hit another ball up the middle for a single, but after a Ben Zobrist hard blast that landed just at the bottom of the left field wall, both men ended up stranded on base for the Rays. 

 

It is not frustrating that Zobrist hit that laser beam to left, but it did get there too fast, or the Rays might have had a chance to get Burrell home. It was one of those moments where a great hit hindered the end result. And that has been one of the foundation points to the Rays not getting some of their needed runs this year. Either we are popping the ball with mustard, or we are not stringing them along to make a sustainable rally to win. Scattered hits and walks will not win games, but they are showing that the ability is there and the formula can work. That is what is so unnerving about the slow start to the 2009 season. The team is doing the right things and getting hits, but not in a consistent manner by stringing them together and posting rallies of any duration.

 

Feast or fathom is the word for their offense so far in 2009. And Maddon is confident that the team will shake this and be fine this year. It is early, and we know this is a better team in 2009 than the AL Pennant-winning club of 2008, but getting into the AL East cellar early might not play well in the long run. From that fourth inning on, the Rays had 4 base runners the rest of the night.  Longoria walked in the fifth inning, Gabe Kapler hit a awesome double, his fourth of the year in the seventh inning, and Carlos Pena finally got on base with a walk after three straight strikeouts. And in a last ditch effort to get a victory, Dioner Navarro lead-off the ninth inning with a single to center field, but was left stranded after two quick fly outs and Bartlett being called out on strikes to end the game.

 

Ted S. Warren / AP

The Best Offense is a Good Defense

 

You know that quote had to come from a military leader, because a baseball manager would love the essence of that quote, but hate the result. But the Rays again showed some tremendous defensive effort, which included some nifty and classic Longoria moments. At least three times in the game, the Mariners were testing the Rays third baseman. This included two times just by Ichiro, but he completed the outs all three times gunning down even the speedy Ichiro.

 

But one bunt did go a bit  wrong in the first inning. Ken Griffey Jr., who has been known for knee problems put a ball down in front of the mound and was speeding to first as Rays starter Andy Sonnanstine picked the ball up and threw off line a bit to give the Mariner’s their second base runner of the game. Sonnanstine did get an error on the throw, but the play did not end up coming back to haunt him tonight.  But in the third inning, Akinora Iwamura made one of the best plays of the night when he took a ball hit by Adrian Beltre up the middle and went deep into the hole just on the outfield grass and gloved the ball and threw blindly to first to just get Beltre and retired the Mariners 1-2-3 for the first time tonight.

 

But the play of the night came from the outfield. Gabe Kapler got the start tonight in place of B J Upton, who is still rehabbing a slight quad pull. Kapler did not begin his fourth inning in a great way, but he did end it in classic style. After Mike Sweeney started off the inning on base after Sonny got him with a breaking pitch in the back hand, Jose Lopez hit a single to left to give the Mariners two quick base runners. But Seattle catcher Rob Johnson had a surprise for Kapler as he hit a long fly ball over Kapler’s head and to the wall for a RBI-triple. 

 

But a testament to the Rays defense was shown  when Johnson did not try and score off of Franklin Guttierrez’s fly ball to right field. Seattle Third Base Coach Bruce Hines held up Johnson not wanting to test Zobrist’s arm. Zobrist did end up throwing the ball into the plate with a strong straight throw that  surely would have pegged Johnson. Yuniesky Bentancourt then hit another drive over Kapler’s head that one-hopped to the wall and gave the Mariners a 4-2 lead in the game. After Ichiro tried to again test Longoria for the second time tonight, Endy Chavez hit a long and curving ball to left-center field. On the play, Kapler had a great read on the ball and got to it just as it was about to dip away from him. Leaving his feet he caught the ball in stride going horizontal for the final out of the inning. The play ended up being the number 1 Web Gems last night on ESPN’s Baseball Tonight.

 

           

            Ted S. Warren / AP

 

Tuesday Tidbits

 

I found it kind of interesting that the Mariner’s adjusted their rotation to get Rays-killer Jerrod Washburn on the mound last night. For his career, he was 11-3 against the Rays, with a 2.60 ERA coming into the game. It was a bold move by the Seattle coaching staff, but it did work out for them as they got their 9th win of the year. Washburn was in control of the game from the second inning on, and posted 9 strikeouts on the night.  He mixed his fastball and his breaking pitches well last night.  The victory put him at 3-0 on the season. The loss was only the second in the last 8 games against Seattle at Safeco Field.

 

Todd Kalas is the Man

 
I have always had a lot of respect for Todd Kalas and his broadcasting abilities. Last night was the first time we have seen the strapping-young lad since his father passed away last week. Todd came on before the game and thanked the many fans, players and broadcasters who have expressed their feeling to him in the previous week. He spoke of the great memories of working with his dad in the past, made sure everyone know how sincere he firmly felt their notes and messages to him and his family. But, the last comment by him really got to me. In his last words he expressed, ” Dad, pop the top on a cold one, it is time for the game!”  Classic moment from a classy guy.

 

Happy  Early B’day Safeco Field

 

We already know how I feel about this monument to baseball in the Pacific Northwest, but I forgot that it was entering it tenth year this season. I might have to go out for a series this year because I remember being at Jacob’s Field during their tenth year also and it was quite a environment. It doesn’t seem like July  15,1999 when they  played the first game in this stadium.  From its ground-breaking in March 1994, to the first pitch by former Mariner Jamie Moyer at 7:15 pm ( called strike), this stadium has been a centerpiece of the Seattle skyline.

 

From the time in September 1996, when they decided on this location just south of the old Kingdome, this stadium had been on the forefront to be a regional landmark. The first plans for the stadium did not include the retractable roof. But after a study showed that over 50 percent of the ballpark visitors came from beyond local King county, the commission formed to watch over and also manage the project asked local architect’s NBBJ about the roof options.  More than 30,000 fans came out on March 8, 1997 as fan favorite Ken Griffey Jr. shoveled out the first dirt on the stadium project.  Then on July 15, 1999 over 47,000 fans greeted the new digs during the Inaugural game against the San Diego Padres.

 

Bites and Nibbles

 

Carlos Pena ended his 12-game hitting steak just two shy of his personal best 14 games by going 0-3, with three strikeouts.  Pena is currently tied for second in the AL in strikeouts with  the Indians Grady Sizemore with 17 for the season. Dioner Navarro and Akinora Iwamura are tied for 13th with 13 strikeouts each so far in 2009.

 

Evan Longoria slipped to 11th in hits in the American League. He has 19 so far this year. He is however still tied for the second spot with 6 other AL batters in doubles with 6 this year. Longoria is also in a 5-way tie with 5 homers this season, and is in a 4-way tie with 13 RBI’s so far this year for the Rays. He is also second in Slugging Percentage hitting for a .816 average, only .090 below the Ranger’s Ian Kinsler who leads the AL. So far in 2009, a sophomore slump has not been bothering the young third baseman.

 

Jason Bartlett is currently rocking to fifth spot in overall AL batting average with a .391 this season. He is also currently 20th in the AL in runs with 20 for the Rays. He is also tied with Boston’s Jacoby Ellsbury for fourth place in stolen bases in the AL with 5 so far in 2009. Carl Crawford also is tied for second in triples with twenty-seven other hitters in the AL right now.

 

David Price had his best performance of 2009 in his latest game for the Durham Bulls. Last night Price threw 71 pitches and gave up 2 hits and two earned runs in the 7-3 Bulls win. Two of those runs were given up on a homer by the Gwinnett Brave’s Reid Gorecki in the third inning. After Gorecki’s homer, Price did not give up another hit in his five innings.  It was his first victory in 2009. The Rays still have the future star on a 75-pitch count at Triple-A to conserve his arm.

 

 

 

Rays Raise the Banner and the Roof

 

 
                       Rays 15,             Yankees 5

 

 
 

 
 
Pena  Ripped 6 RBI’s Tonight
 
 
Carlos Pena has been one of the most consistent players on the Rays for his power hitting efficiency the last several seasons. But so far this year his two blasts have only given Rays fans a glimmer of hope the old El Presidente was still in power. But after his 2-RBI double to deep right-center field, and his Grand Slam in the second inning, I think with his 6 RBI’s we can anoint the Presidente again in charge of the Rays Revolution. Pena for the night went 3 for 6, and only struck out one time.  He also was able to glide across the plate twice in the game .

 
The Rays power is pretty centered in this lineup in the 3-4-5 spots in the lineup. But Pena  has been coming around slowly, and he just might be peaking his swing and his power at the right time for the Rays. When he does lean back into a pitch, it can be a beautiful thing to watch glide over the outfield wall and see him trot the bases. For the Rays to even have a chance at a playoff spot in 2009, he will have to again be the consistent power in the Rays lineup. You can also include Evan Longoria and Pat Burrell in this conversation, but Pena has told the media and the fans before he wants this team on his back, and is willing to carry the load.

 

 

 

Jason Bartlett-Powerhitter
 

 

I thought I would never, ever even consider using that  phrase to describe Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett in my life. But you know what, the guy is delivering at the right time. He is battling Longoria for the top batting average, and also pacing himself for a banner year on the home run front. Bartlett saved his lone home run in 2008 until he faced his old team, the Minnesota Twins in September 2008. He did greet the playoffs with one dinger, but that was on a pitch that just was begging to be hit out of the park by him that night. 
 

 

But here we are in 2009, and the guy has already improved on that 100 percent by slamming his second homer of the season, and it also was not a shot that would be considered weak by any means of the word. He is making the Tampa Bay Media members look like Mensa candidates by selecting him as the team MVP in 2008. And in 2009 so far, it is the Longo and Bartlett show. After last night’s game he was hitting .444 for the young season.  He ended up last night going 3 for 4, with a lone RBI, but also scored two runs.  This is what is expected out of the leaders on a team, to provide the energy and the presence of greatness. Bartlett might not be the first name you consider when you think power, but the way he is playing right now, he is surely electric in the batter’s box and on the bases.

 

 

 
                  
 

Welcome Back B J 
 

 

Isn’t it grand to know that for the first time in the Rays short history, they have been anticipating and yearning for tonight ever since Spring Training began. It has been one of the most talked about and wrote about situation concerning the Rays this year. And now, here we are sitting here just waiting for it to happen. No, I am not talking about the banner ceremony, or even the introduction of the Rays players during this Home Opener. I am talking about our speedy outfield weapon, B J Upton. Ever since his off-season shoulder surgery to repair a problem that popped up in a late season Baltimore game on the road, the fans and media have been yearning for this day.
 
 
 

For some reason, the pulse and blood flow of this squad in the outfield has moved a bit away from left field and is now centered squarely on Upton and his second campaign in his learning process about one of the hardest positions in baseball. I heard a quote one time that the best center fielders are not made, they are born that way. Well, Upton might not have done a huge amount of time in the minors , or even outside of the infield in his life, but now his life’s blood is warming up the center field  blue star on the turf.  The guy is one of the games new exciting players to watch both in the field and on the bases. His potential could be a 40-40 man, but could the sky really be his limit?
 

 

Every newspaper and website was excited to report that he would be back today, just in time for a trip into Tropicana Field by the Yankees. but what is so amazing, is the fact that Upton might not even be 100 percent, and he is still better than our current options in center. And he did nothing to discredit that in his first time back on the field with the Rays. His first inning bunt down the third baseline was textbook, and started the Rays rally against Chien-Ming Wang.  He lead off the inning with that bunt, but he might as well just hit it into the corner and stood on third base because the minute he was on first, he had Wang’s attention, and it truly effected the right-hander.

 

 

 

 

He kept Upton in his sights before releasing the ball, but the preoccupation with him cost Wang as Upton first stole second, then completed a double steal with Carl Crawford in the same inning to put both of them in scoring position for Pena. For the night, Upton only went 1-3, with that bunt, but his three walks did most of the damage as he ended up scoring 2 times tonight.  For a bit, everyone questioned the idea of Upton in the lead-off role because it might hurt his power production and RBI capacity. Well, if you really do feel that way, then you did not pay any attention to last night’s game.
 
 

With Akinora Iwamura and Jason Bartlett going to be swapping the 8 and 9 slots during the year, if either of them are on base when Upton comes to the plate, he has the potential to score one or both of them in one swing. Think about this for a moment. the Rays now have power and speed at the 1 and 2 spots, and can use either of them in multiple situations besides just stealing bases. then you have the possibility of Iwamura and Bartlett to also be speed demons on the base paths and set up RBI situations for Upton and Crawford. That to me is a well-balanced offense with another slot of power coming in the middle of the lineup. 

 
 
           
 
 

Nick Swisher was the Yankee “Ace” last night
 

 

I am not going to sit here and blow smoke about the state of the Yankee pitching last night. It was a bottomless pit for a few innings. I am not going to throw Wang under the bus too much, but what is up with the gifted right-hander. He did not even seem to have the mental ability to throw strikes last night. Is he still hurt and afraid of saying something for fear of the retaliation of the New York media circus? The guy was a rock for the team in the past, but now just looked confused and down right awful. I mean the poor guy did not even last more than 1 inning tonight. He gave up  as many hits ( 6 ) and runs ( 8 ) in that one inning that used to take over 8 innings of his past pitching skills. His ERA at the beginning of the game was a robust 17.18, but that was very kind considering he left in the first inning of tonight’s contest with an inflated 28.93 ERA.


 
 

I thought I was seeing a pitcher totally implode into himself tonight, and unlike a recent Rays game, this pitcher did not salvage anything good after the initial inning. But the guy behind him were not any better for this game. It was not until the bottom of the eighth inning when Nick Swisher took off his first baseman’s mitt and got his outfield glove that the Yankees seemed to have a pitcher who could mow people down. Now I am not sure of Swisher’s credentials as a reliever, but he did impress me a bit last night. Not for the fact he made the Rays Gabe Kapler look foolish by striking out, but by his control. 
 

 

He was an upgrade on a bad night. Yankee Manager Joe Giardi might have done an extremely difficult thing to some people, but it was a pretty good situational idea to me. He knew this was going to be a long series, and he needed all his relievers intact for possible long innings, or even short stints. By him placing Swisher out there, it might have sent the signal of surrender to some people, but it actually saved his Bullpen arms for another day.  Sometimes managers have to leave a struggling pitcher out there because he can not sacrifice his Bullpen arms to save the guy. This was just that same kind of night. 
 

 

With no true long-reliever on this staff, he had to anoint inning by inning the way be wanted this to play out. He knew after the third inning that he was not going to score 11 runs on a hot pitcher like Scott Kazmir tonight. So he cut his losses a bit and used an alternative to burning another Bullpen arm. For his credit, Swisher threw  22 pitches, with 12 of them for strikes. His basic sidearm delivery did seem to catch the Rays hitters off guard. Think about it, when was the last time someone scouted Swisher on the mound?  High School maybe.  He did give up a hit and a walk, but considering that the Yankees pitched a total of 239 pitches in that game, his 22 might have been the best of the night. 
 
 

 

 

 

 A-Rod and Tex take in the Game

 

I was asking this to fans about the second inning of the game last night. What do you get when you place A-Rod and Mark Teixeira on the bench at the same time?  You get the entire payroll of the 2008 American League Champions payroll. That is right, the Yankees sat down the almost to the dollar amount of the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays entire season payroll. $ 46 million dollars sat on the bench last night and took in the debacle. I know A-Rod was not happy seeing  Cody Ransom blunder at the plate ( 1-4 ) and in the field. His misplays and mishaps might have cost at least three of the Rays runs just by himself. His error in not calling an infield fly ball cost his team a sure out, but also gave a error to Robinson Cano that he caused by almost backing into him before he misplayed the ball with his glove.
 
 

 

Swisher did great for Teixeira, going 1-3 with a huge home run and also playing the relief pitcher role with grace.  I think when the Yankees traded for Swisher this off season, it was for his bat and his defense, not his reliever skills. But sometimes you have to take one on the chin to get up and fight again. Even though it might have been the biggest defeat of 2009 for the Yankees this year, I am a bit concerned about tomorrow night game. Usually when a score get to this type of blow-out, the team bus on the way back to the hotel can be a lonely place where everyone questions their ability and their roles.

 

 
             
 

 

It can make or break a team, and with the talent and the experience that the Bronx Bombers have, it might just be the opening of a can of whoop *** tomorrow.  But then again, sometimes an emotional night and a huge explosion on offense can also be met with a false sense of security by the other team. Since it is the first meeting of the season for both teams, I would be afraid of that rubber band effect. You know what I mean here, you stretch and stretch that rubber band until it is tight and ready to go, but then when you think you have a fraction more of power and ability, it snaps and gets you right dead center of your own head. If I was the Rays, tomorrow I would wear a batting helmet all day long.
 
 

 

Photo Credits:  1) RRCollections
                          2) Steve Nesius / AP
                          3) Steve Nesius / AP
                          4) Steve Nesius / AP
                          5) Steve Nesius / AP
                          6) Steve Nesius / AP
 

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