Results tagged ‘ Akinora Iwamura ’

Rays Come Alive for Road Finale

 

 
                      Rays 11,           Orioles 3
 
 

 

Rays Even Road Trip Out 3-3

 

If you asked Rays Manager Joe Maddon if a .500 split on their first road trip would be acceptable, you might be surprised at the answer. Considering the Rays actually played 8 games on this road trip including 2 games in Philadelphia to close out the Spring Training schedule, they got a usual 10 day  regular season road trip. you could hear it in the voice’s of the Rays Radio Network commentators the other night. Everyone wanted to go home. It is rough to start on the road, and the Rays have done that consistently since 2006.
 

Early in the month, it was reported that in 2007, the Rays requested to start at home this year. Since that time it has been learned that they in fact only petitioned this year to start 2010. The information I got off the Internet was incorrect. I am only bringing this up because I try and get the right stuff and the right information for you all the time.  It is not unusual for bad information to get out here, but sometimes it gets nipped in the bud before the blogosphere picks it up. For that, I am sorry. But I know I am not the only one who got this. A few respected newspapers also got this bad information, but I doubt you will see any retractions.


Sleepy Offense Wakes Up Big Time

 

To say the Rays offense took a deep nap during Saturday night’s game would be an extreme understatement. But for what they lacked in that game, they more than made up for in this Sunday’s series ending contest.  The Rays even started off first thing today as Akinora Iwamura lead-off the game with a single through the hole to right field. An interesting fact is that is the first hit ever given up by Orioles starter Adam Eaton to the Rays.  After a strike out by Carl Crawford, Evan Longoria kept up his hot hitting by lacing a shallow single to center field to give the Rays two base runners early.  Longoria then got his running shoes on and stole second base to put both himself and Iwamura in scoring position.

 
But the Rays floundered in their attempts to get both runners across the plate in the inning. The last out was made by Pat Burrell, who was 0-7 lifetime against Eaton. But the Rays did get Eaton to throw 27 pitches in the inning, which could lead to an early day for the Orioles starter.  But in the top of the second inning, the Rays again began to pressure early on Eaton when Ben Zobrist hit a “Texas Leaguer” into left field that dropped in left field before the foul line. Gabe Gross then got walked on 9 pitches. Gross fought off Eaton from a 3-1 count in his favor with 3 straight fouls before Eaton threw a ball high for ball four.

 
              
 

Jason Bartlett then hit a single to left field to load the bases for the Rays. But Iwamura, who was 4 for 13 with the bases loaded in 2008, could not convert and was struck out. Crawford then came up and laced a ball into the right field that Nick Markakis had to hustle to get to, but not before Crawford unloaded the bases with his 3-run triple. Longoria then hit a long ball to right that went over Markakis’s head and landed just shy of the right field wall for an RBI double. At that point, the Rays were up 4-0 on the Orioles.

But in the 4th inning, it got really interesting for the Rays. Gross lead off the inning with his second walk of the game, this time on 6 pitches. Bartlett could not move him over after popping a ball in foul territory taken by Aubrey Huff. But Iwamura then laced a ball between Huff and Brain Roberts to move Gross into scoring position at third base. With Crawford at the plate, Iwamura stole second and put both men into scoring position. Crawford then hit a one-hopper into center field that Adam Jones came up throwing towards home plate.

 

 

Gross was heading for home and Orioles catcher Chad Moeller got situated in front of the plate. Gross did not plow into Moeller, but instead decided to try and side-step him. But there was a problem in that plan. Moeller had the plate blocked and Gross ended up falling over Moeller’s ankle and missed the plate. Bot men went sprawling backwards with Gross flipping behind the left side of the plate. He then realized he had not cross the plate and scrambled to try and get back to the plate before Moeller could tag him out. He was not successful and he was tagged out at home on one of the oddest play I have seen in a long time.  The Rays did not score in that inning and stranded both Iwamura and Crawford on base.
 
 

In the fifth inning, the Rays again went for the jugular after Carlos Pena struck out to lead-off the inning. Burrell was walked by Orioles reliever Brain Bass, who came on for Eaton in the top of the inning. But the next batter, Dioner Navarro, laced a liner to the right field wall for a double. Zobrist then came up and crushed a shot over the out-of-town
score board in right field for a 3-run homer, his first of the year.  But that was not all for the Rays in that inning. Bartlett got on infield hit when he hit a slow roller to Robert Andino, who was playing short for the Orioles today.  Aki then hit a gapper into left-center field that scored Bartlett to give the Rays a 8-0 lead.

 
 

In the sixth inning, Burrell got his first extra base hit off Bass when he got a double into the right-center field gap. He was stranded on base, but it showed that maybe Burrell was beginning to climb out of his season opening slump. When he was Philadelphia, Burrell was infamous for streaks, both good and bad.  The Rays got a bit of a surprise in the seventh inning when Bartlett hit his first homer of the season to dead center field. Bartlett hit only one homer in the regular season in 2008, and 1 in the playoffs for the Rays. It was a welcome sight to see him rounding the bases.
 

But in the eight inning, the Rays finished their scoring in great fashion. After Crawford was called out on strikes to start the inning, Longoria hit his 5th homer of the season off Bass’s misplaced cutter to left field. Carlos Pena then hit his second homer of the year to right field to complete the scoring for the Rays and post an 11-0 lead on the Orioles in the top of the eighth inning.  Seeing both Pena and Burrell go a combined 3 for 9 might be a great indicator of both men beginning to come out of the darkness and begin to produce some more scoring chances for the Rays. Before today’s game, they were a combined 6 for 36 with a homer and 2 RBI’s, both by Pena.
 
 

Balfour’s Game Went Down Under
 

 

Grant Balfour’s 2009 time with the Rays has not been his favorite times. This spring he fought some control issues, and thought they might be gone now that the regular season has arrived. Little did he know before yesterday’s game that the problem was about to crest and produce one of his worst performances in some time. This spring Balfour  appeared in 9 games for a total of 8 innings and 12 hits and 6 runs. But, something else happened that was not your usual Balfour signature, he also had 7 walks to go along with his 9 strikeouts. His release point and mechanics seems to be off a hair or two.
 

And so when he made his second appearance of 2009, he expected to be in a better frame of mind, and also a renewed vigor on the mound. But what ended up happening is that he had a minor meltdown on his release points and ended up throwing 24 pitches, 10 for strikes in the outing.  He came on in the ninth inning to preserve a beautiful pitching performance by James Shields, but ended up worrying both Rays Manager Joe Maddon and Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey as to his value with the club right now with the Yankees and White Sox coming into Tropicana Field for the next 7 games.
 
 

Balfour was officially credited with 0.0 innings pitched yesterday, but he allowed 2 hits and 3 earned runs, plus gave up three walks to balloon his ERA to 20.25 in the young season.  He started off the bottom of the ninth with a 11 run lead, but he did not even last until the first recorded out of the inning. Markakis lead-off with a walk on  6 pitches. Then Huff managed to again beat the Rays shift for a single into left field. That was the second time this series Huff had popped a ball down the left side of the infield for a hit. He then gave up another walk to Ryan Freel on 6 pitches to load the bases for Baltimore.
 
 

Luke Scott then hit a ball to right field  for a RBI single that broke the shutout for the Rays. Balfour then walked Felix Pie on 4 straight pitches to force in a second run. At that point, the Orioles had Scott sitting on third base with no outs. Maddon decided to come on out and take Balfour out of the contest before it totally bombed his confidence. Rays Reliever J P Howell came on to get Moeller to hit into a 6-4-3 double play that scored Scott to make it 11-3 Rays. He then got Andino to take a called third strike to end the Orioles rally and send the Rays home with the victory. 
 
 

I am not sure what was wrong with Balfour last night, but it looked a bit similar to the pitching reversal of Rob Bell a few years ago for the Rays. Hopefully it is something mechanical that can be fixed in side work and he will again be back to old self. Sometimes just an inch can change a pitcher’s velocity and accuracy to the plate. Hopefully he was just losing his release point for some reason and it will just be a matter of throwing a bit to get back into a groove. If not, it opens a huge hole in the Rays Bullpen because of Balfour’s aggressive nature on the mound.

 
           
 

Shields wears Rare Road Win
 

James Shields made a  few changes to his routine on Sunday to try and figure out the reasoning for his odd road woes. If you noticed on the mound, Shields wore short sleeves under his uniform for the first time on the road this year. Sometimes superstitions and rituals can be the life breath of a ball player. Some like to eat the same thing on game days, or drive the same way to the ballpark. Other have uniform rituals like wearing an old t-shirt under their uniform, or wearing three pairs of socks.
 
 

Whatever it was that Shields did yesterday, I hope he wrote it all down so he can do it again after the Rays next road trip in about a week to the west coast. He started the game by retiring the first 8 men he faced in the game yesterday.  Shields did not even have a ball leave the infield until Andino single through the first and second base hole for the first hit of the game. He got out of that inning without a problem, until Jones doubled into the left-center field gap to lead-off the fourth inning. Then Shields shut down the next three batters in a row to strand Jones at third base.
 
 

A simple 1-2-3 inning in the fifth gave him more comfort as the Rays were then up 8-0.  And it wasn’t until Jones again came up in the sixth inning that he gave up his fina
l hit of the outing. After Huff struck out to start the bottom of the seventh inning, Shields gave up his only walk of the day to Freel on 5 pitches. But after two quick unassisted plays by Pena, the Rays got out of the inning.  Dan Wheeler than came on in the bottom of the eighth inning and Shields was done for the day. You could see him over there trying to convince Maddon to let him finish out the game.

 

 
But the Rays Bullpen needed to get some innings, and Wheeler, Balfour and Howell ended up completing the outing for Shields.  For the day, Shields went 7 innings of 3-hit shutout pitching, and ran his record to 1-1 on the year. He threw 88 pitches, 53 of them for strikes on the day. He did give up 1 walk to go with his three strikeouts.  Hopefully Shields did remember every move he made in his pre-game rituals and warm-ups to again try and duplicate it when the Rays again take to the road from April 21-29, 2009.  At that time the Rays will be making a west coast trip that will end with 3 games in Minnesota.

 

 

Sunday’s Scattered Thoughts 
 

Carl Crawford coming into Sunday’s game has hit .352 in his last 30 games with 13 extra base hits and 26 runs. He also has added on 18 RBI’s during that time. But right now the hottest duo on the Rays might be the two guys who will flip flop in the eighth and ninth slot in the lineup for a while for the Rays. Iwamura and Bartlett each went 3 for 5 yesterday, but Bartlett is  hitting .391 currently and is winning the batting average stats of the duo. Only person hitting better than these two is of course, Longoria who is at a lofty .481 right now and is leading the majors in homers, and is tied with Miguel Caberra for the hits lead with 13 for the year.

 
With B J Upton primed to rejoin the Rays on Monday at Tropicana Field for the home Opener, the Rays sent Matt Joyce down to the minors after the game. He will join the Triple-A Durham Bulls and be their primary right fielder for the season. Hopefully while he is down in the minors, Joyce can get some quality at bats against left-handed pitchers and give the Rays more confidence to give him the right field job for good upon his return up to the Rays.
 

The Orioles and James Shields have some interesting history together. It was the Orioles who first got a glimpse of Shields on the mound on May 31 2006 and gave up 5 runs on 9 hits in his Rays debut. The Rays have now won 8 straight wins when Shields has faced the Orioles.
 

I am going to be on “Good Morning Tampa Bay” with the rest of the Maddon’s Maniacs on  Monday to promote the Opening Day chatter and cheers for the Rays. Be sure to check it out since I know I actually have a speaking part in the telecast about the purpose of the “Maniacs”.  As usual, we will be loud and proud and cheering for the Rays today.  Also anyone coming to the ballpark early can check out our video we did with the Raysvision people a few weeks ago on the “Ground Rules” for Tropicana Field.
 
 

All Photos are from Gail Burton / A P

 
 

Niemann Showed his Good and Bad sides Tonight

 

 
                            Orioles 6,         Rays 0

 
 
              
 

Can I Worry A Wee Bit
 
 

I am not worried about the season, or the aggressive nature, or even the pitching of the Rays right now. But I do have concerns on their attempts to score runs. I mean before tonight, the Rays cored all 8 of their runs off of homers. That is right, no hit-and-runs, no situational hitting of any type, it was just plain slap the ball and hope it hits the holes. now I know that the Rays did manage to get 8 total hits in this game, but  they only got three chances tonight where they either had two hits or a walk and a hit to try and score some meaningful runs without the long ball.

 
 
I am sorry to tell you that Evan Longoria came down to earth a bit tonight and only went 2 for 4, to post a .455 average so far this season. the closest Rays player to him is last seasons team MVP Jason Bartlett with a .333 average.  In the third inning, the Rays did get Gabe Gross to slam a liner past Brian Roberts for the Rays first hit of the night.  Bartlett then did his part by drilling a ball into the gap that one-bounced over the wall for a ground rule double. that put two men into scoring position for the Rays with one out.
 
 

It looked like the Rays might have a chance to get a few runs back on the Orioles, but Akinora Iwamura hit a soft dribbler to Orioles starter Jeremy Guthrie. But Gabe Gross guessed wrong on the play and made a break for home plate. Guthrie saw this and spun around and threw to Melvin Mora at third base. With Gross in a run-down, they played the dance for a few seconds before Gross tried to out-smart Baltimore catcher Gregg Zaun. But it was Zaun who got the last laugh. He also did a head fake on Gross to make it seem he was going field-side with his block, then popped his glove to the foul side of the plate and tagged out Gross before he reached the plate.

 
 
That basically made the Rays rally run out of gas, and they went harmlessly down after Carl Crawford popped out to shortstop Cesar Izturis to end the inning. The Rays again tried to mount a rally in the top of the fourth inning when Evan Longoria started off with a single to center. Carlos Pena then tried to keep the rally going by hitting a single down the left field line away from the Oriole shift.  But Guthrie got into a groove and put his pitches in on the Rays hitters and got the first two to pop out before ringing up Dioner Navarro with the strike out to end the inning.

 

 

Longoria then tried again to mount something for the Rays when he hit a double off the out-of-town scoreboard in right field. Longoria has tried to do so much for the Rays this road trip, even getting his 10th hit tonight. But again, the Rays could not figure out Guthrie and stranded Longoria on third base. But one good thing happened in this inning, the Rays moved their first runner of the game over a base when Pena hit a soft liner down to first that Aubrey Huff had to toss to Guthrie to complete the put out.  The in the seventh, Navarro tried to do his part as he hit a looper to right field for a single. Gross then  walked to put two men on base for the Rays again in this game. But the Rays could not convert and stranded both men.
 

Then  in the eighth inning, with the Jamie Walker in for the Orioles Bullpen, Carl Crawford  hit a single to right field to lead-off the inning. It was only the second time tonight the lead-off man got on base for the Rays. The other was Longoria in the fourth inning. But Crawford was quickly erased from the base paths as Longoria hit into a 6-4-3 double play. their last chance in the top of the ninth actually looked like their best opportunity of the night. Matt Joyce walked and then Navarro hit a ball that bounced into the stands for a ground rule double. So with two men in scoring position, both Gross and Bartlett struck out to end the game and the Rays chance to break up the shutout.

 
For the night, the Rays went 0-11 with Runners in Scoring Position. Is this just the effects of a long first road trip for the Rays, or is this offense just feeling a bit anemic right now. Seriously, the team is batting .254 so far this season as a squad, but that might be helped a lot by the hitting of Longoria and Bartlett right now.  Pat Burrell is mired in a bit of a slump, only connecting on 2 of his first 16, or a .125 average. the only other Rays near .300 are Crawford ( .286 ) and Iwamura ( .294).  It is great to know that the four hitter listed above have comprised basically the 1-2-3 hitters for the team. Great to know they are getting their licks, but when is the rest of the team going to catch their winds and contribute nightly…….Hopefully before we head home tomorrow night for a 7-game home stand.

 

 

Tale of Two Pitchers
 

Jeff Niemann might had a bit of nerves welling up in him when Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey and Navarro met with him to go over the strategy for the first inning and the game tonight. Niemann probably had the situation totally under control and knew what he wanted to do on the mound. But little did he know that even with the best preparation for a game, if your stuff is not there early, it is going to be a long, long night on the mound.  Brian Roberts lead-off the game for the Orioles by watching the first strike go by him before connecting on a screamer into right-center field that skipped once and went over the wall for a Ground Rule Double.

 

But Niemann might have just thought he had just hit a good pitch and went about his usual pitching style. But little did he know he was about to implode on the mound by throwing B P balls to the Orioles in the first inning. Adam Jones came up and was hit by a pitch to but two men on quickly in the contest. Nick Markakis then hit a long drive over the head of Matt Joyce that also skipped once and scampered over the wall for an RBI Ground Rule Double. But the inning was far from over at this point. Huff then came up and walked on 5 pitches to again load the bases full of birds.
 

Rays Manager Joe Maddon went to the mound, with the entire infield also in on the group conversation, but he was the only one chatting in the circle. You know that must have been quite an intense conversation, with Maddon pointing out they needed this game to pull out the series against the up-start Orioles. Maddon can be a great communicator and is well respected for his mind and situational guesswork. But tonight, for at least two more pitches, his magic did not work at all. For on the second pitch to Mora, he drilled the ball into the left-center field stands for a Grand Slam and all Joyce could do is look up at the ball.

 
                 
 

Niemann gave up a single to right to former Rays/Astro Ty Wiggington  two pitches later, then I think the light bulb went off in Niemann’s head. He then  seemed to turn into a different pitcher and got three quick put outs to get out of the inning, but the Orioles were spotted a 5-0 lead.  From the bottom of the second inning until he left in the sixth inning, he shut down the Baltimore hitters. In those innings, he only allowed two hits, a single to Markakis and a single against the Rays shift by Huff in the fifth inning.

 
Neimann threw a total of  25 pitches in that first inning. But in the next 4.1 innings he threw on 69 total pitches. He showed the promise again that the Rays had in him when they traded Jason Hammel and handed the fifth slot to him last weekend. I wonder if Maddon verbally questioned his manhood, or just brought up Hammel’s name as a motivator?  Either way, Niemann was a completely different pitcher after Mora’s homer. He did get charged with another run after walking Zaun before he exited, and Rays reliever Brain Shouse could not shut down the Orioles But at that point, he was looking like a completely different pitcher. If you subtract his first inning stats of 4 hits and 5 runs, with a single walk and a hit batsmen, his final stats would be a pretty good night on the mound. Without to implosive inning, he would have only given up 2 hits and a single run, with 3 walks and 3 strikeouts. A completely Dr. Jeckle and Mr. Hyde kind of night.

 
               
 

Brian Shouse’s Website 
 

I had heard before Brian Shouse signed with the Rays that he had a wild cult following since he broke into the major leagues. Little did I know just what kind of following it truly was until I went out and checked out his website. I mean you have to go to www.brianshousefanclub.com and see it for yourself. The photos totally cracked me up, but if you really want to see some magical moments, click on the links near the right bottom of the page and see what else his followers have in store for fellow Shouse sect.
 

I mean the guy has his own Brian Shouse fan Myspace page and also they have included links to articles and stories based on their head guy throughout his MLB career. I am beginning to become a bit of a follower, but not like these people. I love the fact that he was basically signed as a leftie specials like Trever Miller had been in 2008 for the Rays. But he threw 2/3rd of an inning tonight on 12 pitches. His sidearm delivery can make you question his ability, but the guy has the stuff. I am curious to see if a Rays fan will redesign or even start their own Brian Shouse online shrine this season. If I ever get down about his abilities,  I can always go to his website and again click on the Shousegandi photo and all will again be right in the world. Well, at least in Brian Shouse’s world.

 

 
 

Hairless Birds on the Field

 

No I am not implying that the Orioles have lost their hair or their feathers tonight, but I am noticing a certain different look to them this season. I mean Huff has always seemed to have a bit of a goatee and beard going his entire career, but tonight he did not have a stitch of hair on his chin or face. I also noticed the usually  mousy moustached  Jamie Walker also was missing his signature hair follicles under his nose.
 
 

Could Orioles Manager Dave Trembley have instituted a clean shaven look, or was this maybe a bonding agreement by the entire team to get some confidence and karma going their way. Either way, it seems to be working for the Orioles who are currently half a game back of the Toronto Blue Jays for the American League East lead. I know it is too early to make remarks about the AL East leader board, but the Orioles have been famous for making fast runs at the top in April in years past. Could this hairless look be a great indicator th
at they are all about business this year?

 

David Price Short-changed in Durham Debut
 

For the last month or so people have been harping and complaining about the Rays sending their budding star David Price back down to Durham for a bit to start the season. I am thinking after tonight performance, they will be a bit more understanding of what the Rays might have saw this spring, and maybe they do know what they are doing with the young pitcher. Price did not get to make his debut on Friday night as originally planned since the game was rained-out, but the Bulls let the leftie take the mound today and he showed why he was there.
 
 

Price ended up only going 3.2 innings and was taken out after reaching his pre-determined pitch count for the outing.  In his short time on the mound, Price gave up 4 hits and 2 runs, but did get 4 strikeouts today. He did not have a chance for the win, but the Bulls did pull out a 8-5 victory over the Norfolk Tides today.  Rays Olmedo and Justin Ruggiano both homered for the Bulls. A early surprise is the low average of Jon Weber ( .125 ). Weber was tied with Pat Burrell as the Rays RBI leader this spring with  15 RBIs.
 
 

Some people seem to forget just how fast and easy he came through  the Rays system last year. He mad the leap from the Class-A Florida State League all the way up to the major leagues last season.  He did post impressive numbers, but did not get the repetition and game experience he needed before taking over the reins in the fifth slot for the Rays. It is always better to be careful and nurture a young pitcher than to try and force feed him at the major league level. In the minors he can tinker with his pitches without destroying his confidence in himself and his pitching.  The Rays made the right choice.

 
 
Photo Credits:          1)  Gail Burton / AP
                                  2)  Gail Burton / AP
                                  3)  Gail Burton / AP
                                  4)  Gail Burton / AP
                                  5) www.brianshousefanclub.com
                                  6) Gail Burton / AP

Tampa Bay take First Series from Red Sox

 
 
                            Rays 4,  Red Sox 3

 

 
 
Strutting like a Proud Turkey
 

Okay, I am going to shout loud and proud tonight for the Tampa Bay Rays. I do not care if you like it or not, because we have sent the message that we are for real again in 2009, and we want to win the American League East again. This was the kind of game that the Rays used to lose all the time up in Boston. It was the type of contest where the Rays let the Red Sox get back into the game, then let something happen that took the game out of the Ray’s hands. But that was almost the case this afternoon in Boston, but the Rays instead bent, but did not break to win the first series between the two powerhouses in the AL East.

 


The game was not in the bag until Gabe Kapler, who came on and pinch-hit for Gabe Gross in the top of the ninth inning, took a long fly ball in the triangular area of center field for the final out of the game. Boston did not sit down and die in this game, but played like a lion waiting for their chance to snatch the win away from the Rays. In the bottom of the ninth inning, the Boston Captain, Jason Varitek tried to get the rally going strong by hitting a solo shot into the Rays Bullpen in right field. The shot was almost brought back into the field-of-play for an out, but Ben Zobrist, who had just come on to play right field, could not pull the ball back from beyond the fence.


It was that close. Seriously, it was a few inches that separated the Red Sox getting back into the game, or the Rays taking it without a fight. Instead, Varitek awakened the Boston crowd with hid lead-off homer off Rays closer Troy Percival on a bad pitch down and in. Boston did not sit back after that blast. After two quick outs, David Ortiz walked to give the faithful some hope. That in itself was a major thing since Ortiz came into this game 1-12 ( 0.83 average) against Percival lifetime. So with a man on base, and the winning run at the plate with two outs, the hard hit ball by Kevin Youkilis  seemed to take forever to reach Kapler’s glove and end the rally.

 

If this is going to be the type of games that we are going to see in this series this year. I think I am going to get some Pepto and aspirin for the home crowd. This is what baseball is all about. It had the excitement of a late rally, and the back-and -forth pitching by one of Boston’s best pitchers. This is the type of game that will be the talk of the water cooler in Tampa Bay and Boston tomorrow for different reasons. In Tampa Bay, they will be talking about the powerful display put on by the Rays in this game. But in Boston, they will be talking about Kapler’s play and the pitching of Daisuke Matsuzaka. Dice-K was all over the plate early, allowing a lead-off homer, and also throwing 100 pitches in 5.1 innings.
 

It was a great game to watch for either teams fans. That is going to pay dividends for both teams during their next home stands featuring these two teams. We know that Boston will be sold out, but it will drive up the demand for tickets and also make the  people selling tickets a nice return. Even in Tampa Bay, where most Boston fans can take a plane ride and even buy tickets cheaper than getting into Fenway Park most nights, the ticket sellers will have a field day. But that is what playoff baseball felt like this past October, and hopefully when the Red Sox come to town the rest of the year, we can experience it over and over again.

 
 
            
 

Riggo to the Rescue

 
It was great to see Shawn Riggans get a start today against the Red Sox in the matinee. Anyone who knows me will not doubt know I am going to be happy to see him getting some time behind the plate. But I might not be the only one. During today’s FSN telecast, Rays analyst Kevin Kennedy, who is a former catcher, and a major league catching instructor, also talked glowingly about Riggans today. He made a point to show the way he would go down and block the ball correctly. That he was fundamentally sound, and also seemed to call a great game behind the dish.

 
Kennedy also noticed the great  confidence that Garza seemed to have in the back-up catcher, and that Garza had a winning record last year ( 5-2) when Riggans caught him. Not lost was the fact that Riggans was the catcher that caught Garza during his one-hitter against the Florida Marlins last season. The only blemish on that day was a home run to Hanley Ramirez.  During the game, with the center field camera focusing in on Riggans, you could see him give encouragement and calm Garza down after strikes were not called on a few close balls off the corners.

 
But that is why I like this kid. He had taken to this job after the Rays have thrown people at him to pressure him for the back-up spot in previous years. But this spring, the Rays did not bring in any one with a huge amount of experience because of their confidence in Riggans. That is the ultimate compliment to a back-up catcher. And Riggans did not disappoint the Rays today. He might have only gone 1-4 today, but his solo home run shot to right center field that went over the Red Sox Bullpen put them up 4-0 in the fourth inning.  Riggans, who has had his share of injuries the past few seasons is poised and confident this year. And with him and Dioner Navarro taking care of this pitching staff, the Rays know that they have the right guys behind the plate this season.

 
 

 
 
Rays do some funky shifting in the Infield
 

During last season, the Rays employed a few unusual plays during game designed to intimidate hitters by moving players to spot that show a huge spray pattern in a hitting chart. We saw the shift used against David Ortiz and other left-handed batters last year that looked like something out of an old fashioned managerial scrapbook. But Rays Manager Joe Maddon is a student of the game, and computer generated charts showing hitting patterns and also tendencies can be a useful weapon to beat opponents. Some times they work like a charm, other times they still sneak a hit through a hole somewhere in the defense.

 

Most people know the left-handed shift where first baseman Carlos Pena will play off the bag ( unless there is a runner on first) and Akinora Iwamura will play about 10 feet off the clay into shallow right field. Then you have shortstop Jason Bartlett either right behind the second base bag, or more towards the inside of the bag. All this time third baseman Evan Longoria is the man on an island in this formation. He usually lines up in the shortstop position, but sometime has to hug the bag because of some batter faking bunt attempts down the third base line. But then th
ere is the new formation we saw today.

 
 

It is a bit different, because before today it was foreign to see them also do a shift for right-handed batters. It was not used all game long, but they did employ it numerous times today, and it had mixed results.  Mostly the Rays used it against Dustin Pedroia and Jason Bay today to make them hit over the defense. Unlike the left-handed version, in this new variation you saw Pena more between first and second and not guarding the right field line. Iwamura basically played right behind second base, and the right side of the infield stayed at their positions.
 
 

Using this new formation today, the Rays seemed to be adjusting on the fly, but got Mike Lowell to hit a sharp liner to Iwamura behind second in the sixth inning that would have been a single to center if the shift was not used. Pedroia and Bay went 1-8 on the day, with Bay getting a single over Joyce’s head in center field into the triangle near the 420 sign in center field. It will be interesting to see this formation used again and again this year by the Rays. But like they always say, if it is not broke, don’t fix it. But in this case, if it shuts them down, keep doing it.

 

 

Evan Almighty to the Monster

 

I know it is crazy to think that Evan Longoria is going to keep hitting homers at this pace. I mean he has a few unusual streaks going on here. First off, this is the second game in a row where he has hit a double in his first at bat of the game. and both times they have been down the third base line into the corner.  Put that together with the fact he is hitting .429 so far this season, and you have a guy who is not showing any sophomore slump at this time. And that is great for the Rays. While Pat Burrell finally got his first hit of the season today, Longoria has been consistent at the plate so far for the Rays.

 
 

But it might be his other streak that people want to talk about in Tampa Bay. Not the fact that he has made awesome defensive plays so far this year. Stealing a few hits off the lines so far in the Boston series and turning them into easy outs. He did get beat fully on the lead-off bunt single down the third base line by Jacoby Ellsbury today, but he rebounded by taking a ball headed for extra bases by Pedroia in the ninth inning for the second out. No people want to talk about his second  home run in as many days into the Green Monster. Today’s slam went into the third row of the Monster seats, and he almost had another in an earlier inning, but the ball curved foul into the Upper Deck seats to the left of the Monster. Longoria is making people believe he is the real thing. Another good indicator that he is seeing ball well is the fact that he missed hitting for the cycle today by not getting a triple.  If Longoria was not seeing the ball the size of beach balls right now, the Rays might have been in a bit of trouble in this series.

 
 Today’s Rays Ramblings
 

I am curious on this new Rays promotion I was hearing on the radio last night.  It was announced that if the Rays score during the fourth inning of a game, a local eyeglass company Innovision will give 10 kids eyeglasses and examinations. How cool is that! Seriously, in this time when a lot of parents can not afford the medical insurance for kids, eye insurance and benefits might not be the first thing on their minds. So it is an great idea for this kind of promotion to take some of the worry and financial burden off some Tampa Bay families.

 
 

I also found it quite amusing last night during the game to catch a glimpse of the Red Sox scoreboard that kept track of pitches for the respective pitchers from both teams. It was kind of funny to see that when Scott Kazmir left the mound on Tuesday night, that he had thrown 445 pitches according to the board.  I am not genius, but to thrown that many pitches might take at least 3 1/2 games for a normal pitcher. I know it seems like when Kazmir pitches, he is throwing a huge number, but last night he seems to be finding that control that missed him a few times in 2008.

 
 

Not lost is the fact that the Rays plated all four of their runs via the long ball today.  They started in the top of the second inning when Matt Joyce got his first hit of the season by sending a ball over the head of J D Drew and into the right field stands. Dice-K had left a 2-seam fastball high and towards the middle of the plate, and Joyce made him play for the missed location.  Then in the third inning, after Iwamura walked to lead-off the inning and stole second base, Longoria connected on his shot into the Green Monster for a 3-0 lead.  Then in the fourth inning, Shawn Riggans got his first hit of the year by blasting a ball into the Red Sox Bullpen to complete the Rays scoring for the day.

 
        
 

Is Garza the New Red Sox Killer?

 

I know that might sound a bit premature to use that kind of terminology concerning Matt Garza, but considering he has now won his last three starts against the Red Sox it might be becoming more hip. In 2008, the Red Sox hit .250 against him both at home and at Fenway Park. In those games he only gave up 13 runs. And that is only during the regular season. It doesn’t even include the 2008 American League Championship Series when he started two games and held the Red Sox to  a .170 average, with 8 hits and 1 run in those games.

 
That would show that he is beginning to take an active role in being a key figure in stopping the Re
d Sox for his team. It is not to say that he was without any problems today. He did get called for going to his mouth in the bottom of the first inning and it gave Pedroia a free “ball” in his at bat. But it did not come back to haunt him as Pedroia hit a fly ball to Joyce in center field for an easy out. But today he did get his third victory in a row against the Red Sox, while only allowing them to hit  .154 today.  In his 7.0 innings today, he gave up 4 hits and a solo run in the sixth inning. In that inning he gave up a lead-off double to the left-center field gap, then two batters later gave up the long double to Bay that scored Youkilis.

 

All in all, Garza is beginning to show the signs of what the Minnesota Twins envisioned from him when they drafted him from Fresno State. He is gaining more and more control  of his pitches and is beginning to let the game flow and not get too upset on the mound. When he was called for the infraction in the first inning, the old Garza would have argued with Home Plate Umpire  Jeff Nelson and might have been thrown from the game. But today he just had a frustrated look and let it slide off his back and struck out Ortiz next. The maturation process might not be complete on Garza, but he is showing a huge improvement on the guy we saw on the mound early in 2008.

Photo Credits: All today’s photos are from the Associated Press and taken by Michael Dwyer.

Rays Blast Past Red Sox

 

 

                           Rays 7,      Red Sox 2

 

 

 
Knology Cable is a piece of _____

 
I just got off the telephone with my current cable provider, who has decided to not carry the Sunshine Networks broadcasts of the Tampa Bay Rays games this season. They said they decided that since Sunshine Network does most of the Florida Marlins games, they would not appeal to South Florida fans. First off, I do not live in South Florida, and I have been watching Tampa Bay Lightning games on the network for about 10 years. I did not get into the particulars about the cancellation of the broadcasts because this woman did not deserve my anger. But I did find it funny that Fox Sports Net, which owns Sunshine Network, is to broadcast 150 Tampa Bay Rays games this season.
 

 
So what is the real deal?  Are they going to try and extort a few extra dollars per month and put Sun Sports on a Sports package so we can watch our games. I know I am about to throw their DVR out in the road and do not give a damn about their equipment right now. So the change will effect at least 75 games this season. And guess which game was the first to be blacked out?  If you said last nights 7-2 Rays win in Fenway, you win a  stuffed animal. Not that I am screaming about having to go to the sports bars and actually watch sports, but the beer is colder and the wings cheaper in my house. So I am going to have to find suitable bar stool for the next 74 games in a lounge that caries MLB.TV.


 
I know I might be able to watch the game son MLB.TV, but at night my room mates kids use the computer between 6-8 to finish homework or do their research papers. I am a second class citizen in my home because of this cable fiasco. But this might be the last straw. Both Bright House and Verzion Fios is looking pretty attractive right now. I already called them and they confirmed that all 150 Rays games will be presented on their networks. but that is not the kicker people. Knology also has backed out of even considering adding the MLB Network to their system. Okay, I was calm until they told me that, then I am now doing the math to get them out of this house, and some respectable cable into my television.
 

 
I am past upset at this point, until I browse over both Bright House and Verzion’s websites and see not only that the games will be on their system, but way down there in the bottom of the listing is three holy words: “The MLB Network”.  I know MLB is not one word, but you can see my excitement that they are carrying the programming, and now I can enjoy it with the rest of you. I have been feeling like the guy typing on an old IBM 386 computer with AOL 3.0 since January. Now, in less than 2 days ( they are quick) I will have HD quality MLB Network, and the last 148 Rays games at my disposal. Plus if I am a good boy, I am getting $ 150 back…….someday.



 

Rays Doing it “The Rays Way”

 
When Rays Manager Joe Maddon took the Rays coaching position a few years ago he stated he wanted to change the way of thinking in the Rays clubhouse. With his years in baseball, Maddon had seen that attitude and confidence can sometime overcome the biggest obstacles. He instilled a new way of even playing on the field. And his 2009 team is so primed into that frame of mind that the unusual plays are beginning to look simple and planned out. Maddon loves to run, he is also a huge fan of “opportunity hitting.”  Basically, he is a huge fan of the way most National League teams win in the major leagues.
 

 
The acts of bunting, pressuring the opponents defense, and also  taking advantage of what they give you are key components to the Maddon machine. Let’s take a look at a few pays in last night’s game to illustrate that fact.  In the third inning, Carl Crawford hit a ball down the first base line that might have been a sure fire double play a few years ago. But running  towards second base at that time was Jason Bartlett, who got a good jump on the ball and forced Kevin Youkilis to throw above him as he was sliding into second base. The ball ended up rolling into center field and both Crawford and Bartlett were safe on base with no outs.
 
 

 
That ended up being a key moment in the game for two reasons. It gave the Rays a bases loaded situation with young slugger Evan Longoria coming up, plus it opened the Red Sox eyes to the fact the Rays are going to play aggressive baseball this year.  That style of run-and-gun actually fits the young team. they have very speedy guys who can contribute amazingly on base, and even some of the veterans have been known to throw their body into steals and even bunting so far this year. The second big thing about this play was the fact they got into Youkilis’s head. He committed a rare error on the play, and it stayed with him the entire game. 


 
 

But the best example of this new style inaction came in the Rays big fifth inning. With Gabe Kapler on third base after Akinora Iwamura completed a perfect hit-and-run to put both men on the corners with no outs. Jason Bartlett, who was hitting in the lead-off spot tonight, then put down a perfect suicide squeeze bunt to score Kapler. Bartlett put the ball down towa
rds the first base side of the plate, and Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester picked the ball up and hesitated for a moment before tossing it to Jason Varitek, who was upright in front of the plate. The play was doomed from the start for Boston. It was a perfect bunt on a situational hitting style that is very popular in that “other’ League.

 

 
But that is the way Maddon wants his Rays to play in 2009. Aggressive play will be tolerated and encouraged. Take last night’s double steal by Bartlett and Gabe Gross, that is the style of play that puts huge pressure on the opponent’s defense to then make plays. It is also the style the team played in 2008, but this year they seem more at ease and more determined to make the system work for them this year. The Rays have the potential on their roster to again lead the major leagues in steals. But I know there has to be a statistic out there somewhere to show the effectiveness of using this style of play both in 2008 and this year. Somewhere there is a fact and figure that will tell you that the Rays also lead the MLB in those situational plays. And if there is not, they might as well invent it…….this type of play is not going away in the Rays games.

 


 

Kazmir is Grounded

 
Scott Kazmir ( 1-0 ) seems to be having fun on the mound again. And that is not a good sign for the rest of the American League.  But he did have a few unusual thing happen to him last night. First thing is that he actually got through more than 5 innings of work by actually throwing his unusal 111 pitches in 6.0 innings.  But that is where the similarities ended for a usual Kazmir night. Last night also had a weird twist of its own, he posted  4 strikeouts on the night. Two of those strikeouts cam early in the first inning. He got Kevin Youkilis on a nice change-up for his first strikeout of the night, then took out former Rays Rocco Baldelli for the second strikeout to end the Red Sox rally with two men stranded on base.
 

 
He peppered two more strikeouts throughout the appearance, while also not having a ground ball out recorded until the fifth inning. And that out was a nice grounder to Evan Longoria at third base that he easily converted for the third out of the inning. you heard me right here, he did not record a defensive putout on the ground until the Red Sox’s 15th out of the game. This is a new wrinkle in the Kazmir arsenal, but it might not happen every night. His fastball and cheange-up are still his primary pitches, but his slider is coming along great and will add to him becoming a more complete pitcher.  No longer does Kazmir have to throw total heat to get outs. His strikeout totals might suffer, but his win totals might balance that out for him.
 

Wild Facts That Made Me Go Hummmmmmmmm

 
Before last night’s 2-run homer to true center field in Fenway Park, Carlos Pena has connected on 77 homers in the last two full Rays seasons. It might have been his first hit of the season, but it is also his statement that he has found his swing again, which is trouble for everyone else in the AL. 
 

 
Also on the Home Run front was Evan Longoria poking a ball over the Green Monster and reminding the Boston faithful that he is also ready to go this year for the Rays. Longoria, who went 2-5 last night is feeling more comfortable in his three slot in the lineup. Longoria could have increased his RBI total last night, but instead hit into a double play in the third inning. Iwamura scored on the play to give the Rays a 1-0 lead.
 

 
The Rays will have to become early Road Warriors this season as they will play 22 of their first 35 games on the road.  Also a little known fact is that the Rays have now started the season on the road consistently since 2005. the Rays have petitioned MLB to start their season at home in 2010.  In the past the team has requested the road first and gotten it without a hitch. But in 2008 they originally asked to start 2009 at home and the request was not granted to them.
 

 
It is sometime hard to believe that Rays starting pitcher Scott Kazmir, who already owns several Rays lifetime pitching records is only 25 years old. He is still the youngest member of the Rays starting rotation, even though he now has 47 major league wins.  It is still amazing that we consider him the old veteran on the rotation, and he is the youngest one of them all.  When David Price come up this season, depending on the date, he will be the youngest on the rotation, but will be either 23-24 years old depending on the date ( August 26th birthday).
 

 
Dunkin’ Donuts

 
The Rays have again partnered with the Boston-based  pastry power for 2009. “When the Rays win, You Win” promotion will again be held in 2009, but there will be a catch. Unlike 2008, when you could go into any Dunkin’ Donuts and tell the cashier, “The Rays Win” to get a free sugary donut. This season the franchise has added that you must purchase a beverage to get your free doughnut. The added beverage addition probably will not stop most Rays faithful from getting a free sugary snack in the morning. Maybe it was those 280,000 plus free doughnuts in 2008 that paced this change in the policy.  Yummmmmmm.
 
 
 
Photo Credits:  All Photos were taken by the Associated Press by photographer Elsie Amendola
 
 

Hot Pitcher + Cold Weather = Rays Loss

 

 

 

Hot! Hot! Hot!

 
The worst thing you can do as a team is come up against a hot pitcher in the beginning of  a series. It was the kind of performance the Rays might have feared, even with a game time temperature of 46 degrees. Well yesterday, the Tampa Bay Rays came upon a pitcher that was as hot as the surface of the Sun. I mean, do not take into consideration that he only struck out Carlos Pena, who tried to bunt a ball down the third baseline in the top of the second inning,  three time himself in the contest.  I mean, the guy was just so hot that he got 5 one-two-three innings, including the first two innings before running into a buzzsaw inning where he threw 23 pitches and only one run. I mean he threw only 93 pitches in seven innings, but shut down the Rays offense totally.  It seemed like only yesterday these two teams met on October 19th, down in St. Petersburg to decide who would face the Phillies in the World Series.
 
 

In this start, he only gave up 2 hits, and struck out 10 batters. And some of his pitching just fooled and perplexed the Rays hitters. Consider in the second inning, He struck out Pena to begin the inning on 3 pitches, then he got Pat Burrell to fly out to Jason Bay in left field on the first pitch he saw from Beckett. Then, Beckett got Matt Joyce, who was making his Opening Day debut, to take the first pitch and hit a wobbly fly to Dustin Pedroia for the third out. He had Joyce so ahead of the swing that his bat ended up in the stands behind the Rays dugout.  It was a beautiful massacre at the plate for the Rays as they combined all day for only 3 hits.  In his seven innings, Beckett only surrendered one solo run to the Rays.
 
 

And the top three men in the batting order were the only one to hit off Beckett and the Red Sox Bullpen.  Akinora Iwamura got the first hit in the second inning when he slapped a single to left field to move up Gabe Gross and Jason Bartlett. But the Rays had to wait until the sixth inning, when Carl Crawford hit a double into the left-center field gap for their next hit. But that would be all that Beckett would give the Rays. But that is what many people feel is the true Boston strong point this year is their starting pitching. Beckett proved that with this outstanding outing. Considering that the Rays hit only .209 against him in 2008,but they did hit a robust .342 against him in the 2008 post season. But even with that playoff blurp on his record,  it seems that Beckett has been coming up big for the Red Sox against the Rays for several seasons. And him posting a opponents batting average of .091 to begin 2009, might spell a long year for hitting in the American League.
 



 
Opening Day
 


It was a fitting Opening Day. It had all the splendor and frills you hope to see on the first real day of baseball for either team. I was especially taken back by the Boston Red Sox players coming through the crowds,down to the field during their introductions. That was a very classy move, and looked even better than the one done by Philadelphia a few days earlier. This one actually looked more “fan friendly”, and the ladder was not taken away before Red Sox Manager Terry Francona reached the turf. I still do not know why Phillies Manager Charlie Manuel did not smack someone in the head over that blunder on Sunday night. 
 

 
But Fenway Park looked great decked out in all the colors and ribbons fit for a king. And the crowd was very supportive of former Red Sox Gabe Kapler during his introduction. I believe that it was the first time he has been back in the old yard since he left. Between him and Rocco Baldelli, it seemed to be a tie in the vocal cheers and jeers. But how fitting that the Rays seem to be playing their playoff roles in 2008 in reverse the last three games. First two in Philly, now three in Boston. That is a pretty ironic setting considering that the MLB schedule was made up last summer, and the league had no idea the Rays would rise to the top.

 


 
 
I mean we got to hear the Boston Pops perform the National Anthem in a small assembly of members. I was taken aback by the fact that the Boston Pops had released a baseball-themed CD the day before. I never knew they did that kind of music, but they are in Boston. I might have to wander on over to ITunes later and check it out.  Opening Days are special to everyone. the Rays had three of their five Opening Day “rookies” make players their debuts on the opening Day rosters yesterday. Among them was Evan Longoria, who came up after 11 games in 2008, and then rolled on to win the AL Rookie of the Year Award. 
 
 

But then you have guys like new Rays Matt Joyce and Joe Nelson, who were making their first Opening Day rosters, and appearances. Joyce, who was acquired in the Edwin Jackson trade this off season fought to get to this point by changing the minds of the Rays coaching staff and front office to get a shot at playing center field for the Rays while B J Upton rehabs back in Florida. This was the first time Joyce had ever been to Fenway Park, and he certainly did not know the nuances of playing the outfield here. So he went to the Rays resident expert on Fenway Park, Gabe Kapler and got some valuable knowledge and insight to the corners and odd angles out in center field.
 
 
Joyce did not make the greatest debut at the plate, going 0-4, with two strikeouts. But he did make a basket catch running towards the wall in the fourth inning off the bat of David Ortiz. He also made a second catch with his back towards the infield in the seventh inning off a blast by Jason Bay for the third out of the inning. But Joe Nelson might not be the guy you would pick to not ever being on a Opening Day roster. The 34-year old reliever has been around for a while. He has played  with the Florida Marlins, Atlanta Braves, Kansas City Royals, and a short stint in 2004, with the Boston Red Sox. At no point in his previous appearances has he been on the roster this early in the season. Two other Rays players were making their first Opening Day rosters. Both pitchers Grant Balfour and Jeff Niemann were with the Rays Triple-A affiliate, the Durham Bulls to begin the season in 2008. Both were in attendance at Fenway Park yesterday, but neither got a chance to appear in the game.
 

 

Rays Moments of Light 

 
There were not a huge amount of great moments for the Rays in their season opener against the Red Sox. But there were a few hints that the team is not going to sit back and relax either in 2009. The rays again began their quest to be the best running team in the league by stealing three bases on the day off of Boston pitching.  Gross got it started after walking in the third inning by stealing second off of Varitek and Beckett.  Then in the eighth inning, Bartlett, who was hit by a pitch, and Iwamura, got got walked by Hidecki Okajima, converted a double steal on the Red Sox to both get into scoring position.  It is a positive sign to see the Rays running early in the counts, and trying to take pressure off the Rays hitters.
 

 
The Rays did have limited scoring chances in the game, but they also stranded 5 runners, including 3 who were in scoring position with two outs. But they did come through in the clutch in the third inning when Crawford came up with the bases loaded and hit a sacrifice fly to Jacoby Ellsbury in center field for the first Rays run of the year. Gross came in to score that first run of the game for the Rays.  The Rays did try and make another scoring opportunity in the sixth inning when Iwamura walked to start off the inning and Crawford hit his ball into the left-center field gap. But the Rays went  down 1-2-3 after those plays to strand both men on base.
 
 
The Rays did convert against the weakest point of the Boston pitching staff, their Bullpen in the eighth inning. With Okajima on the mound, the Rays lead off the inning with Bartlett getting hit with a curveball. Then Aki walked to put two men on base for the Rays. After Crawford struck out, Red Sox Manager Terry Francona brought in reliever Justin Masterson to face Longoria. He ended up hitting a 2-run RBI single through the gap in center field to bring the Rays within 2 runs at 5-3. Masterson then shutdown Pena and Burrell to get out of the inning with no more runs.  That was the Rays last great chance at scoring in the game as Jonathan Papelbon came on in the ninth inning and got Joyce to pop out to Pedroia before striking out both Dioner Navarro and Gross to end the game.

 


 
 
Broken Shields

 
Shields looked better than the score in the game yesterday. His command was just a bit off at times, but he also made some incredible pitches for outs during the game.  He did start the game off great by getting Ellsbury to strike out looking with a great pitch on the corner of the late. But he also got into trouble early in the game giving up a solo shot to Pedroia off the Sports Authority sign above the Green Monster for an early 1-0 Boston lead.   Ortiz, got a single off the first pitch he saw today, and J D Drew hit a beautiful shot off the Monster for a double. Shields walked Bay before getting himself together and got Mike Lowell to pop out in front of the plate to Navarro to end the inning with the bases loaded.
 

 
Shields then seemd to be gaining control by putting the Red Sox down 1-2-3 in the second inning. But in the third, he gave up a lead-off walk to Pedroia. Keven Youkilis then got his first hit ever off Shields to left field. Shields then seemed to have a bit of concentration problems as he went to his mouth on the mound, and Home Plate Umpire Tim Tschida issued a “ball” to Drew.  He then hit a  sharp ball down the first base line that Pena had to dive to save extra bases and runs. Drew did get an RBI on the play. Bay then hit another ball right through the same hole down the first base line to drive in another Red Sox run.  Lowell then hit a ball high off the Monster for an RBI double. Then Jed Lowrie hit a short looper between Bartlett and Crawford that neither could get to in time. Varitek then hit a hard ball to Gross in right to stop the bleeding at 4-1 Boston at that time.
 
 
After a 1-2-3 inning in the fourth, Shields got a great bit of defensive help after giving up a lead-off double to Youkilis in the fifth inning. Drew then walked and gave the Red Sox two early base runners. Bay then hit a sinking liner towards Crawford, that he tried to grab, but it went off his glove. But Crawford’s quick thinking had him fire the ball to third base, and Longoria applied the tag to get Youkilis out at third base. Lowell then hit a grounder to Longoria that he simply stepped on the bag for the force play on Drew, then fired the ball to first to complete a 5-3 putout and end the inning. Shields last hit given up was a solo shot by Varitek around the right field foul pole. 
 
 
Something to take into consideration here is the fact that as the weather does get a bit colder, a pitcher can lose his feel for his breaking pitches. I am not trying to make excuses for Shields today, but his fastball and slider did seem to pop on the corners at times, and his change-up did have a bit of a lack of bite at times in the outing. I would be curious to hear from Shields if the weather did have a bit of a factor in his control problems with his breaking balls at time during the game. 

 


 
 
Wild Sights 
 

Every stadium in baseball has those revolving signs behind home plate that seem to turn every innings or two to show sponsors and events coming up. I had to chuckle a few times during the game yesterday as the Red Sox has an ad for Wise potato chip products up there for most of the first three innings. What is wild about this is the fact that is is a logo of a owl’s eye. When batters are in the box, the eye seems to glare out at you on the mound just beyond the back-side of a left-handed batter. I am not saying it might be a bit confusing, or even a distraction on the mound, but it did give me a few chuckles during the game.
 
 

 
We should see Rocco Baldelli make his Red Sox debut today to face left-hander Scott Kazmir. How wild will it be for Baldelli to actually take an at bat in the field that he fantasized about as a kid playing for the Red Sox. We all know he has played here before with the Rays, but this will be his first time in the batter’s box wearing the Red Sox colors in Fenway Park. Also, a wild fact. Rocco Baldelli’s picture is actually on screen during the movie “Fever Pitch”. He became friends with a few of the people on the movie’s production crew, and there is suppose to be an audible mention of him coming up to bat in the movie, and his photo on the screen above center field.
 
 
 
Photo Credits:      1) AP ( Charles Krupa )
                            2) AP ( Elise Ameadola )
                            3) AP ( Elise Ameadola )
                            4) AP ( Charles Krupa )
                            5) AP ( Lisa Poole )
 

2009 World Baseball Classic……Current and Former Rays Players

 

 


With the World Baseball Classic also about to have members of their teams report to their respective training sites within the next 2 weeks, I was wondering what current and past Rays might be included in the countries rosters. Now the list I am about to throw out here will be based on the provisional 45-man roster that was due a few weeks ago. People will come and go from this roster, and also might not make it onto the 25-man roster that will fill each teams squad when they begin their games.
 


The Rays have a total of 8 members who were originally selected for the WBC’s squad 45-man rosters. Now we all know that certain members of the team, like current Rays first baseman Carlos Pena ( Dominican Republic ) will not be attending the training camp due to a recent surgery to fix some  lower abdominal tearing suffered during 2008.  Pena underwent minor surgery in Philadelphia ( of all places ) on January 8th and will be ready for Spring Training. Also skipping the Classic will be Rays starting pitcher Matt Garza. He was originally selected by the Mexican squad, but Garza had off season surgery in November 2008 to repair an old foot fracture on his right foot. According to Fox Sports on MSN, the team did not grant him a medical clearance to play in the classic.  According to WBC rules,  MLB players who undergo off season surgery are normally ineligible unless their clubs specifically give them clearance to take part in the event. At this moment, the Rays medical staff or the team have not granted this clearance to Garza.
 


Recently, Venezuela lost one of their two provisional catchers on January 20th when Rays current catcher Dioner Navarro decided he was not going to participate in the Classic.  That will leave the squad a little thin at the position with Cleveland Indian catcher Victor Martinez the only one currently on the roster.  Navarro did catch all 16 games in the 2008 Playoffs and the extra rest might do him good. Also considering he is going to his first arbitration hearing on February 9th, it might just be a nice good faith gesture to the Rays on his 2009 commitment to the team.
 


With those three players coming to the new Spring Training site in Port Charlotte, Florida for sure for the Rays, it will still leave 5 members participating for the team in the Classic. Another player who has garnished a lot of attention recently is Australian Grant Balfour. The Rays hard talking and hard throwing right-hander recently agreed to a one-year contract to stay out of arbitration with the team. It has not been announced if the contract would enable him to play in the Classic, or report to the Rays training facility instead.

 
 


 


If Balfour is able to pitch for the team, he will probably be their designated closer, and will certainly be worth the price of admission to just hear him chat it up with the ball on the mound. Balfour came into the public eye around the country more during the American League Divisional Series when Chicago White Sox shortstop Orlando Caberera took exception to Balfour’s shouting on the mound to be towards him and not the ball. Since that time he has widely photographed on the mound, and sound bytes have been recorded of his  mound conversations between pitches.
 


Even though the Australian team might have one of the most colorful players in the Classic in Balfour, his team has been pitted in the group with Cuba and Mexico in the first round. The games, being played in Mexico City could be a tough test for the young squad. If the Aussies were to fall out after the first round, the Rays could have Balfour in camp around March 14th.


 
 
 

 


The United States team will have their share of youth courtesy of the Rays when they selected pitchers Scott Kazmir and J P Howell for the team. Also making the 45-man roster is 2008 Rookie-of-the-Year third baseman Evan Longoria. Many people think that Longoria might not make the 25-man squad with the likes of New York Met David Wright and the Atlanta Braves Chipper Jones. But Longoria also might make it as a bench player based on his outstanding rookie season and his timely hitting for the Rays during their playoff run.
 


With both Wright and Jones selected on the team, the Rays might also see Longoria by February 23rd when the positional players are mandated to report to their complex. The situation between Scott Kazmir and J P Howell might have a different scenario entirely. On the US’s initial 45-man provisional roster, Kazmir is 1 of 3 starting left-handed pitchers on the squad. He will be joined by southpaws Roy Oswalt of the Houston Astros and Jake Peavy of the San Diego Padres.  I can see  all three pitchers making the squad without a problem.


 

 



When pitcher Jon Lackey of the Los Angels Angels announced he was not going to participate in the Classic, Kazmir might have been given a chance of  making the 25-man roster on February 24th, and with the current pitching rules it might just  be a more intense spring training outing for the leftie. the current WBC rules call for starting pitchers to only throw 70 pitches in the first round, 85 in the round two, and up to 100 in the semi-finals and finals. The pitch count was raised this year by the WBC steering committee for the 2008 games.
 


This might actually be good considering that might be the pitch count the Rays might also have for their pitchers in their first few starts of the spring. Kazmir might even get an early shot to start with Team Canada having a mostly left-handed lineup in the Opener in Toronto on March 7th, or he could see action in Team USA’s thrid game, which might be a winner-moves-on rematch with Canada in the double elimination round. But whatever does happen for either of the Rays pitchers’, you can be sure that the Rays will have scouts at every game that Kazmir and Howell might pitch in to watch their progress or spot and impending injury.
 



Rays reliever J P Howell made a name for himself in 2008 by giving up his dream as a starter and concentrating on his reliever skills. What it got him in 2008 was a banner year for the southpaw with a chance to play for his country. Among the relievers for the U S team, Howell is one of 5 current southpaws on the provisional roster. Howell has a nasty curve that is only a few clicks slower than his fastball. This has been is deception to hitters in 2008, but will the same magic come early for him during the classic. 
 



With the US roster having heavyweights like Matt Thorton of the White Sox, B J Ryan of the Blue Jays, George Sherill of the Baltimore Orioles and closer Brian Fuentes of the Angels, the team might be stacked high with left handers prior to the Feb 24th cut down date for their 25-man roster. But the addition of Howell with his off-speed pitches might be the answer for the hard throwing starters and relievers in the US pitching staff.  The WBC currently doesn’t stipulate any hard rules concerning the relievers, but a rule that was instituted this year might come into play down the road. If any pitcher throws 30 or more pitches in the semi-final, he will not be eligible for the finals. Hopefully that rule will not play out for any of the Rays pitcher, or the U S during the Classic.


 
 

 


That leaves one more Rays player to talk about, and he is playing for the reigning WBC champions. Akinora Iwamura played in 6 games in the 2006 Classic and batted .389 for the Japanese team.  Iwamura has not officially not committed to the squad, but he did suffer a hamstring injury during the 2006 Classic and might consider pulling his name from the roster. He is the one Rays player currently on the fence about playing in the Classic. The players are also reporting earlier to the Pool “A” training sites because they play the first games of the Classic starting on March 5th. 
 


But several ex-Rays players will be competing for spots among the WBC participants. Playing for Team Australia,with Balfour will be left-hand pitcher Damion Moss, who went 0-1, with a 13.5 ERA in the 2006 Classic.  Team Italy will have two former Rays in journeyman catcher Sal Fasano and  infielder Robert Fick, who are both trying to make their first WBC rosters.  Team Canada will have former Rays catcher Pete La Forest, who hit .300 during the 2006 Classic in 3 games for the squad.  Team Dominican Republic could have former Rays outfielder Jose Guillen  when they finalize their roster on February 24th.
 


Team Korea will have former Rays starting pitcher Jae Seo on their squad. Seo started 3 games in 2006 and pitched to a 2-0 record and a 0.64 ERA in 14 innings for the Korean team.  Team Mexico will feature current Florida Marlin and ex-Rays Jorge Cantu in their infield. Cantu played in 6 games in 2006, and hit .333, with 2 home runs and 8 RBI’s for Team Mexico. The Puerto Rican squad will feature two former Rays who might not make the finals squads in catcher Raul Casanova, who played for the New York Mets last season, and ex-Rays and Cincinnati Reds catcher Javier Valentin, who played first base for 3 games in the 2006 classic hitting .500 in those games.


 
 


 


Rounding out th
e squads will be former Rays pitcher Victor Zambrano, and Rays Expansion pick Bobby Abreu for the Venezuelan squad. Zambrano and Abreu both participated in 2006. Zambrano played mostly in relief for the squad throwing 2.2 innings and posting a 3.38 ERA, with 3 strikeouts. Abreu, a Rays for only a short time before being traded to the Philadelphia Philles for Kevin Stocker, played in 6 games and hit only .150 in the Classic. So as you can see the Rays have a decent history of ex-player playing in the WBC for their respective countries.

 


The WBC begins with Pool “A” getting started on March 5th in Tokyo, Japan with Japan versus China in the first contest. The Classic will conclude on March 23, 2009 in Dodger Stadium. With good luck and no injuries suffered during the Classic by the Rays players participating, the team might have all their players in camp by March 24th, with 10 games left in their Spring Training schedule. The Rays will get a glance at the 2009 Puerto Rican squad when they square off at  Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, Florida on March 5th at 7:05 p.m.
 


Up in the Tampa Bay area, the locals can take in games featuring the World Champion Philadelphia Phillies against Team Canada on March 4th at 12:05 p.m., and Team USA on March 5th at 1:05 p.m, with both games being played at Bright House Field in Clearwater, Florida.  Also in Pinellas County, the  Toronto Blue Jays will get first crack at the Tam Canada squad on March 3rd at 1:05 p.m., with a Team USA contest set for March 4th at 1:05 p.m., both games at Dunedin Stadium in Dunedin, Florida. And New York Yankees faithfuls can come out and watch their boys take on Team USA first on March 3rd at 1:15 p.m., and Team Canada on March 5th at 1:15 p.m. in Tampa, Florida at George Steinbrenner Field.



 

Will the WBC Dilute the A L East Rosters during the Spring ?

 

 
 

One of the biggest questions that I am either emailed or asked in public is what will the Rays be like in 2009? It seems to be on the minds of any baseball fan, not only those wearing the classic “TB” on their caps. I have had New York Yankee and Boston fans ask me the same things, ” Is the offense better?”, or ” Will our pitching stay healthy in 2009?”  These questions are right up there with the ” Is there life on other planets?” questions right now in my mind.

 

I actually think it is too early to even consider any type of prediction or even attempt to find those answers until they begin to hit and throw the ball in a few weeks. People forget that a bulk of some teams,  including the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and the Rays will not be presenting 100 percent of their their true lineups this Spring because of the World Baseball Classic. The classic this year will take a  measurable amount of players from all 30  MLB teams rosters, but there are three teams that train in Florida where the bulk of the eyes of the American League will be from Feb. to late March 2009.



 


 

 

That is because the three teams that have a shot at either retaking or defending the American League title will not be up to full potential strength until after teams have begun to be eliminated from the classic.  We all know that their are certain teams that might not make it out of the first round, but people thought that about Korea in 2006, and they almost shocked the world by beating Japan. So with the “borrowing” of some of their starting players for a short period of time during the spring, the Rays and others in baseball, might use the time wisely and bring up some of their prized prospects to give them some needed seasoning and work against the major league players still in attendance.
 

 

This is not to mean that the  two leagues, the Cactus and the Grapefruit will be water down at all, but it will suffer from some identity crisis  in the beginning of the spring games. And would it really be so bad if an unknown pitcher took advantage of his situation and totally made a name for himself in the absence of his team’s dominating pitchers. But isn’t that what Spring Training is really all about, to give the rookies and the minor leaguer’s a chance to change the  minds of those people in charge about sending them down and make them sweat the fact that they might have to keeping them around until the last moment.  
 

 

That is the great thing about baseball. A guy like the Rays prospect Rhyne Hughes can come in and fill in some games for Carlos Pena while he is with the Dominican Republic squad and maybe turn some heads. We all know that Hughes had an outstanding Arizona League season, and might be able to turn his off season playing time into a shot at an upper level of the franchises minor league system. But it can also go the opposite way for a team. It could further show the defects in their system by showing their depth is actually pretty shallow in comparison to their anticipation of their minor league system. But like I always say, that is why we play 162 games before we even think of championships.



 


 

 

But the true tradition established the last few years with the Red Sox, Rays and Yankees will not be on display until late in the spring when all the teams have their usual guys back in house and hopefully physically able to compete the rest of the spring. For example, the Boston Red Sox have a total of 15 players that will compete in the classic. Almost their entire starting infield and designated hitter will play in the WBC, and then you include players like Daisuke Masuzaka and Hideki Okajima who will be competing for the 2006 champion Japanese squad. Boston will also only be missing one outfielder for the classic, Jason Bay who is playing for Team Canada.
 

 

Then you have the Yankees, who will send 13 total players throughout the classic’s rosters, and also will be 3/4 of their starting infield during the classic. Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez are already committed to playing for their countries, but besides Melky Cabrera and two relief pitchers, the Yankees have a larger contingent of minor leaguer’s going than most teams. They will have 7 players in their minor league system going to the classic, including Zhenwang Zhang, who will be playing for Team China.



 


 

 

The you have the current American League champion Tampa Bay Rays who will be sending 8 starters to the classic. You have 3/4 of their infield also participating, with Akinora Iwamura playing for Japan, and starter Matt Garza throwing for Mexico in the classic. Grant Balfour will be throwing for the Australian team, and Dioner Navarro will catch for the Venezuelan team. Out of the Rays roster, they will be missing two starters as Scott Kazmir has also committed to playing for the US team along with Evan Longoria and J P Howell. 
 

 

But what about those questions posed to me earlier in the post, what do I think at this moment. Well, we all know what happened in 2008.  Will this team be able to effectively defend their American League crown knowing that the big boys in the A L East not only reloaded, but outspent and out hustled everyone else in baseball to again try and take the top spot away from the Rays. Will the huge money spent on pitching and hitting in New York be enough to overtake the confident team in the south. And if you are a Yankee fan, the pitching right now looks superior to everyone, but not one pitch has even been thrown yet.



 


 

 

It might be too early to claim victory with an entire season of games still left to play in the season. I admit that the Yankees will not be the shell of a team that we saw in 2008, but at what cost will they be more powerful. A lot of things have to gel for this squad to really propel itself past the top two current ” Beasts in the East.” that is not to say that even in Boston they are done making changes or acquiring the rights pieces to fight for their title. Believe me when I say that the Red Sox pretty much have a stacked arsenal of pitching arms that even make the Yankees jealous.
 

Some people predict a close A L East, with the second team not even making the playoffs because of the parity of the division might make then winner only post about 92 wins in 2009. I can see that scenario happening without a problem.  This division is not all Yankees, Red Sox and Rays though. Toronto and Baltimore also will have a huge say in who will represent this division in 2009. Toronto will still have a great pitching staff that will defy and derail a few winning streaks , and the Orioles will be young and hungry, and that is a bad team to have to play 17 times a year.

 

Predictions can go out the window for this division in 2009. No one will be able to predict the amount of wins, or the team that will rise to the top.  This might be the best fight for a right to play in October that baseball has seen in the long, long time. Will the money enhanced team be the final winner?, or will it be the team with a heart as big as the dome they play in nightly?. Or could it be the squad that just added pieces and did not rehash or even redesign itself in the off season to fit it’s division?.

 

 


 

 

After the next 50 days, we will begin the prelude to 2009’s MLB season. With all of the AL East contenders playing in Florida, it will be a fun month of March watching the battles and the adjustments by every squad. But until the teams get their guys back from the classic, we will not be able to fully comprehend or even evaluate the team with any true clarity. But the great thing is that this spring we will be able to see a lot of the future stars for these teams compete and maybe even show us what is in store for the next 6 years coming out of their minor league systems.
 

 

This years spring training might not be about the stars getting ready to play the season. It might belong to the guys who are struggling at the minor league level to show that they belong and maybe make a few roster decisions harder come April. But then again, you have to love watching  the young pups playing hard, working for positions, and fighting for their collective lives on the diamond. Spring is going to be fun this year. Hopefully the hottest action is not in the air, but on the turf this year. We will be better fans for it.

 

 


MLB Network Shows 2008 World Series Game 2 Classic

 

 


Okay, I promise to really abandon and resign to the fact that 2009 is right around the corner here, and 2008 is just a past memory. But here we go on a crisp, cool night in January sitting there watching the second game of the World Series on the newly launched  MLB Network. I almost for got how huge the crowd was in the stands, and could still smell my loaded nachos and the sugary goodness of my cinnamon almonds.

 


It seemed like so long ago now that this game even was played. But then again, if you are a Rays fan, you have waited for this moment for 11 years. The aspect that this team could get to the playoffs was a distant memory until maybe July after the second half of the season started with a Rays victory via a Ben Zobrist home run. Not until the last out in a game on September 24th, did the team realize a long time dream by both those in the stands and in the dugout.

 


There were a handful of Rays employees who have been here the entire time. People from Bill Wiener and Mike Yodis, who have been driving forces in the procurement department of the team.  Executive Assistant Diane Villanova, who was once Vince Namoli’s executive secretary and has seen the entire evolution of this franchise. Then you have someone like Barry Jones or Kristy Capone, who sat in the sales department cubicles and might have wondered at time how long it would take to finally get here.

 

 


The re-broadcast of that game brought about a lot of emotion. A lot of sweat equity that so many have given for the Rays cause. But it did not match the joy and the total abandonment of logic as we celebrated the teams first win in a World Series contest. To say it was a typical Rays win would be pretty accurate. It showed the heart and the character of this team to the nation. Before that first win, people knew we had won over 97 games during the season, but had not seen the formula used to win a majority of those games.

 


Tonight the nation got to see how “Raysball” was played, and also saw the emotional and physical toll it had on fans and players. Baseball is truly a fickle game. A short blast that fall in between two out fielders can make or break a game. A single throw into the plate can make or break a game. And a single pitch, left over the plate can be rocketed to the outfield walls and beyond.

 


Watching this game can also make you yearn for more……….More Wins, more times like these again in 2009. To even imagine another run into the World Series right now would be  a little premature and crazy. But the pieces are in place to make a run  at it all. Several pieces will be replaced in 2009 from the 2008 crew, but these will be upgrades and not just fill in the blanks players as in the years past. The new winning tradition is now set in stone, and the clay and mortar are still wet on the basis of the 2009 roster.

 

 


In the next few weeks there will be optimism and renewed vigor about the 2009 season, but this small look into the past was just what I needed last night. I needed to remember the feelings and the emotions that gripped me on that night.  I as a fan, needed to remember where I was, what I was doing, and who I first slapped high fives to after the win.

 


It is a emotional and physical high I would hope on all the fans of baseball at least once in your life.  To say that night changed my life would be an understatement. I have attended 3 World Series games before this season, and got into the mood with the crowd, but did not have a center to grab a hold of and attack the event with gusto. This series had all my past feelings and tears in ti’s framework from the first pitch.

 


So it was pretty emotional to sit there and see again the high  sacrifice bunt by Jason Bartlett that scored Cliff Floyd from third base and Rays starter James ” Big Game” Shields reminded people that he strives under pressure shutting out the Phillies for 5 2/3rds innings, scattering 7 hits on the night. That was a lot of excitement for a Thursday night in St. Petersburg.

 

 


But from the beginning of this contest, you could tell it was all Rays tonight. Akinora Iwamura got on with a lead off walk, and moved to third on B J Upton’s drive to right field that was misplayed by Jason Werth to put both guys into scoring position with no outs in the game.  Then two straight ground outs by Carlos Pena and Evan Longoria put the Rays up first 2-0.

 


The Rays again got to business fast in the second inning as Upton drove in Dioner Navarro and Baldelli was thrown out in the most photographed picture of the World Series at that point. His slide into Phillies’ catcher Carlos Ruiz would be plastered all over the Internet and the newspapers and finally made it to the cover of Sports Illustrated . It was one of those World Series moments etched in stone that will be remembered for decades. It might have been an out, but it showed the determination and the spirit of this franchise.

 

 


Then came the moment of truth with Floyd and third when Bartlett put down that safety squeeze and the Rays went up 4-0. Baldelli also helped out in the field on that night going a long way for a Chase Utley drive that looked more destined for the hole than into Baldelli’s glove. The action produced a double play as Baldelli was able to fire the ball to first base and he doubled up Jayson Werth on one of the best defensive plays of the entire World Series.

 


But what was remarkable about the night was the cool and calm demeanor of Rays rookie David Price when he came in to pitch in this contest. He came out there with 2 outs in the 7th inning and he walked Utley before going after Ryan Howard and striking him out to end the inning. In the 8th,  Price got started quickly getting two quick outs before leaving up a slider and watching Eric Bruntlett stroll around the bases for a solo shot and take away the shutout from the Rays.


 

 


But even after all of that, Price looked determined and strong on the mound and got Pedro Feliz to ground out to only surrender 1 run to the Phillies. In the 9th inning,  Carlos Ruiz got a quick double and scored on an error to put the Phillies within 2 runs of the lead.  That brought up Utley and Howard for a second time in his brief relief appearance for Price. He got Utley to strikeout, and induced a ground out from Howard.

 


It was a night of lost chances for both teams, but after the last out in the game, you could see the excitement and the emotion in Price’s face as he was leaving the mound. This put the series back at 1  win each and put the pressure on the Phillies gong back home for the next 3 games. We all know how it turned out by now, but at that moment you had to believe if you were a Rays fan.


 

 


The energy and the excitement in the stadium could not be bottled up and released again in Citizen Bank Ballpark, but you wish it could. It was a night when you saw the Rays mature right in front of you. No longer did you see a team that could blow a 5 run lead, or even strike out three times in the bottom of the 9th to preserve another team’s win. You saw a squad that was on a mission and a fan base that believed in them more than any other time in their short existence. It was a great time to be a Ray.

 

 

A Hodge Podge of Number 2 Ray’s Moments in 2008

 

Coverrays

 


I was sitting at the computer this morning trying to pick out a second possible winning moment in 2008 for the Rays when it dawned on me that there are too many to even count. So I have decided to instead list all the important events, as per my opinion, that have made 2008 so great for Rays fans. I mean I truly sat there after deciding on number 3 yesterday, and decided that one was the easiest pick of the bunch.

 

If you get to go to the big show, it has to be a top 3 moment in your team’s flight that season.  There are a huge bunch of moments that helped define 2008 for the Rays. Be it a event in 2007 at shaped the look and feel of the franchise again, or the elimination of a curse in another stadium that served as a mental block to the team. 2008 was the Year of the Ray, and it is one I am glad I got a front row seat for all year long.

 

 


I decided to run this in chronological order from the first event in 2007, up until the final out in Game 5.5 of the 2008 World Series.


So let’s begin with the first order of business way back in November 2007, when the Rays held a rally in Straub Park near the waterfront in St. Petersburg, Florida. The event was the unveiling of the teams new logo and colors. The Uniforms were fashioned to represent the old style of baseball with a new Rays logo on both the home and away jerseys. The “R” on the uniform front posed a new sweeping motion for the bottom of the letter, plus the sunburst between the lettering also brought about a new look and feel to the organization.

 

 

The ray of light was a new focal point of the team, which abandoned the former Ray on the cap and also on the team’s official logo. But the Rays did get to stay for 2008 on the sleeve of the jersey, but might be retired in 2009. The event was to showcase the new look and feel of the team. And with it came a new spirit of winning and posting new attitudes for the team. And one of baseball’s biggest supporters came out and celebrated with us. Kevin Costner and his band, Modern West came out and entertained the masses after the unveiling and rocked the house all the way up to the fireworks display.

 


Then came the last Spring Training reporting for the pitchers’ and catchers’ to the Ray Namoli Complex in Northwest St Petersburg. The team came out onto the field and Rays Manager Joe Maddon had a small speech in which he wanted to stress fundamentals and team work and chemistry in 2008. That was the day he unveiled his famous “9 =8 ” formula for the world to decipher for the rest of the season.

 

 


Then came the first event that molded and formed this band of players into friends and bonded them for the rest of the year. In the day prior to this event, the Rays Elliott Johnson had made a hard charge into Yankees’ minor league catcher, Francisco Cervelli a few days earlier. The event did not sit well with the Yankees’ staff and during the March 12th rematch at Progress Energy Field, Yankees enforcer Shelly Duncan decided to take matters into his own hands.



Duncan was hustling on a hit into the outfield when he turned and made a move towards second base. It was apparent to almost everyone but Duncan that he would not be able to make it to the base in time to beat the throw. During his slide, Duncan brought his cleats up towards Akinora Iwamura and struck him mid-thigh with his metal cleats.  Duncan came up immediately and contested the action before right fielder Jonny Gomes came into the action and leveled Duncan to the ground. It was an event that brought the team together for the first time in 2008.

 

 


Then two weeks later, the Rays said farewell to their present Spring Training home when the team played it’s last game at Progress Energy Field ( Al Lang Field, Waterfront Park). The game was met with sadness and joy because of the memories of teams playing on these grounds since the 1940’s in this present stadium. The event also was a visual point for the team to showcase the new proposed stadium that might some day rise on the same grounds.

 

Eric Hinske hits a one-out double during the Rays' two-run second inning. He tripled in the fourth and homered in the sixth.

 


Or could moments like Eric Hinske missing a cycle by a single. It is amazing to me that he went 3-4 on the night and got his triple and homer early in the contest at the Walt Disney complex, but could not get that elusive single.  Hinske ended up being one of the true bright spots for the Rays in the Free Agent market. He signed for a low number, but produced high energy and some pretty impressive offensive displays during the 2008 season.

 


Then we have the first sweep of the Boston Red Sox at home this season. That would only be the icing on the cake as the Rays would send the Red Sox faithful home as losers in 8 of the 9 games at the Trop this year. The  first series at the Trop. would end with a hard fought 3-0 shutout by James Shields.

 

Then comes the moment where Rays Manager Joe Maddon thinks the Rays season began to turn into its championship run. It was during a road trip up to Toronto when the Rays battled back from a possible loss. Edwin Jackson left the 8th inning with a Ray lead before Troy Percival gave up 4 straight singles to let the Jays tie the game at 3-all. The teams battled back and forth before Dioner Navarro, who went 3-6 on the day hit a screamer into the stands for a Grand Slam homer and sealed the victory for the Rays.

 

 


On May 13th the Rays got to celebrate for the first time in club history as the team officially took over first place in the American League East. It was the latest point in any Rays season that the team had enjoyed the top spot.  The game produced one of the first moments in the Rays 2008 history for celebrations when  pinch runner Jonny Gomes came on for Cliff Floyd after he singled in the bottom of the 11th inning. Gomes stole second, then sprinted  home to seal the victory for the Rays 2-1.

 

 


Then came the L A Angels first visit to Tropicana Field, and the Rays shut them down to also sweep that series. Then came in the mighty Chicago Cubs for a three game Inter-League series that was deemed by many to be a possible World Series matchup. During this series, the Rays finally began to get some national exposure for maybe being a true team that could win it all in 2008.


But not until after the June 19th game, in which Carl Crawford hit a grand slam to propel the Rays. The team had officially beat the best team in baseball all three games did the national media begin to get on the Rays bandwagon. Cub’s Manager Lou Pinella commended the Rays on their young squad, and you could see a small twinkle in his eye that he approved of the young team getting the best of his team that series.


 

 


On June 27th, Rays starter Matt Garza was on the mound in a game against the Florida Marlins and gave up a blast to Hanley Ramirez in the 7th inning to produce the only hit and run in the contest. Garza went on to shut down the Marlins’ offense the rest of the game.

 


According to the Elias Baseball Bureau, It was the first complete-game no-hitter or one-hitter with a double-digit strikeout total in the majors this season. There was only one such pitching performance in each of the last three seasons: by Chris Carpenter in 2005, John Lackey in 2006 and Justin Verlander in 2007.

 


On July 19th, the Rays won their first game back after the All Star break to break the team’s longest losing streak of the season. With the Blue Jays in town for a weekend series, the Rays went on to break up a perfectly good pitchers’ duel on a Ben Zobrist homer on the first pitch he saw tonight. Toronto starter A J Burnett was on tonight, but the Rays caught a huge break on a hanging breaking pitch to Zobrist for the victory.

 

Rocco Baldelli gets the shaving cream pie treatment after driving in the winning run in the ninth.  (AP)

 


While the Rays were at home on August 30th they got to celebrate a first in Rays history. With the 14-3 win over the Baltimore Orioles, the Rays posted their 82nd win of the season. Marking the first time in franchise history they were guaranteed a winning season.  It also marked the night of Scott Kazmir’s 10th victory of the year.

 

The mystic of Fenway Park was beginning to get the better of the Rays in 2008 before Scott Kazmir took the mound on September 10th in a series the team needed to keep their lead on the Boston Red Sox.  It also began one of the most storied moments in Rays history. During the contest the Rays batters went a combined 1-15 with men in scoring position and almost gave the game to the Red Sox several times. As the team fought back and forth before the Rays sent up a pinch hitter in the bottom of the 9th inning.  

 

 

Dan Johnson had been summed from the Durham Bulls earlier in the day and would have started in left field if he had gotten to the ball park a little earlier in the night. But because of flight problems and transportation to Fenway Park, he arrived just moments before the game. In the 9th inning, Rays Manager Joe Maddon inserted Johnson into the game to pinch hit against Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon. Johnson worked the count to 3-2 before he hit a monster shot that cleared the right center field wall to give the Rays a 5-4 lead in the game. Jason Hammel ended up coming out in the bottom of the 9th and secured the win for the Rays. It was Hammel’s first save of his career.

 

 


With the team away for their last series, it was actually the next day when most Rays fans learned that we had secured the American League East title the previous night in Detroit. With the Rays in Motown for the last series, many players came back to the clubhouse to celebrate into the wee hours of the morning. It was a wild fact, but players and staff went to area hotels sports bars to do a bit of  scoreboard watching as the New York Yankees needed to lose for the Rays to be awarded their first title in team history.

 

 


After the hard fought season, the Rays staged a airport greeting for the team at St. Petersburg/Clearwater airport on September 29th. The event was attended by almost 5,000 people who flocked into the baggage area and loading zones to greet and cheer the team as they got off their chartered flight from Detroit. People filled the airport and also the outer traffic lanes of the airport to see their new champions come in from their road trip.


 

 


On October 6th, the Rays were in Chicago facing the White Sox when they secured their first series win in the American League Divisional series. The Rays won the series 3-1, and established that they were the team to beat to get to the World Series in the American League. In that series, the Rays battled back time and time again against the tough White Sox pitching staff before finally breaking through and getting right breaks.

 

 

When the Rays faced the Philadelphia Phillies on October 23rd, they sent James “Big Game” Shields to the mound. The game  showed the waking up of B J Upton and Carlos Pena at the plate as both help produce much needed offense for the Rays. In a play featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, Rocco Baldelli came across the plate for an apparent Rays run, but Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz held onto the ball.

 

 


The game came down to great situational hitting by the Rays. B J Upton scored Akinora Iwamura from third to plate the first run for the Rays.  In the 4th inning, the Rays took a hold of the game after Cliff Floyd hit a single and Dioner Navarro hit a nice liner up the middle to put two men on base for the Rays. Baldelli then hit a nice shot down the third baseline, but it was gloved by Feliz and the Rays had men on the corners. Jason Bartlett then came up and executed a safety squeeze perfectly  in front of Phillies starter Brett Myers to put the Rays up 4-0. It would be the Rays first victory in the Fall classic.


 

 


Last, but not least is the Game 5.5 as I call it of the 2008 World Series. No matter what happened in this game, the historical significance was more pressing at the moment. The contest was a hard fought contest and each team traded runs and hits before the Phillies finally walked away with their second World Series Championship.

 


The game was a true test of everything that got the Rays here in 2008. The Bullpen, which was the team’s focal point in 2008 had finally given up a run at the most critical moment in the contest. And the Rays offense could not close the gap when needed during their last at bats. with Eric Hinske striking out for the last out of the game.

 

 


All of these events made a different focal point for the Rays in 2008. I hope a few of your fond memories have graced the blog. If I forgot a moment that you found remarkable in 2008, please feel free to comment on the blog and I will check into it and might even make it my number 1 choice tomorrow.  Again thank you to all the readers of Rays Renegade for their insights, comments ans readership in 2008.

 

Hopefully in 2009, I will have more outstanding Rays moments to record for you.

ALCS Celebration…………My Third Choice of Rays Memories in 2008

   



I was sitting here today trying to figure out which one of the over 320 blogs that I have done in 2008 might even be in the top 3 when it finally occurred to me that it is rather simple. I guess i am going to use the next three days to select  a few of the blogs that meant the world to me in 2008.  From the moment I saw the guys come out of the Spring Training complex field house for the last time, to the meeting of the buses’ at Tropicana Field after the last game in Philadelphia, it has been a wild and truly unforgettable ride for the Rays in 2008.



For me to even try and fathom 3 moments that could be included in a listing is beyond my comprehension for a bit here. But I have decided that the third one has to be the wild and crazy celebration right after the Tampa Bay Rays clinched their first ever American League East title. It was one of two picture blog entries I popped online that night, but it was the one I also felt a part of while the rest of the team celebrate a few feet away from me. It was a night of believing in yourself and your team. Of realizing that miracles and faith can have a huge push towards achieving and obtaining your goals.


It was also a night for the long time fans of the Rays to point to as the reason we sat in those stands for the past 11 seasons and took the abuse and the catcalls from Boston and Yankees fans. It showed why we cheered and clanged those pesky cowbells to show the team we were behind them late in the game, or even when those other team’s chants began to ring through the stands. It was a night where the past and the future meshed so well. Gone was the loser moniker that the Rays had fought so hard to overcome. In front of them was a frontier of new beginnings and unlimited potential to strive for the best and the highest goals obtainable in the sport.


It was a night of redemption. A moment of clarity in a sea of doubt for a lot of people in the Tampa Bay area. It showed that even a small market team like the Rays could upend the status quo of the league and strive to be great for that one moment. So I hope you enjoy this first look back into what I think was a huge point in the Tampa Bay Rays 2008 historical run and clinch of  current dreams and future aspirations.

A fan-tastic day

                                      

I swear this is the last Photo
blog of the American League Championship Series I am doing this year. I
had too much fun last night and still can not find my car keys. But
anyhow, here are the last few photos that I have gotten since I got
home from a vastly unprepared road trip to Tampa with some people who
felt like it was 1999.

 


I am glad there is not a Game 8,
because I know a few people who will not be awake until almost 6 p.m.
tonight. This is something that will change this town forever. Some
people have called my hometown a “Sleepy little hamlet”, “God’s waiting
room”, and my new personal favorite, “Where Bums and Benches meet in
perfect harmony”.

 


But to be a part of a World Series
against a fellow Spring Training site-mate is spectacular and  will
make the area more energized than usual. So enjoy my little photo fest
and I will see you all on Wed. night when the champagne stains should
be out of my new ALCS Champs cap, and my brain is ready for another
exciting series against the Philadelphia Phillies.

 

 


Akinora Iwamura and “Big” Cliff
Floyd. Cliff has been here before, but you can tell it never gets old
for the veterans either. I saw people like Dan Wheeler and Floyd, and
even Trever Miller acting like kids in the candy store
tonight……………and I like it. It was the leadership of such players like Floyd and Carlos Pena that the Rays clubhouse began to gel early in the season and reached its boiling point tonight on the turf at Tropicana Field.

 

 


I am starting to believe that Rays
Rookie David Price is starting to like all the celebrating in the
clubhouse this postseason. He deserves the save tonight, and he will
surely be on the World Series roster when it comes out in a few days.
Price became the first rookie pitcher in MLB history to get a win and a save in his first post season action. Amazing how far this guy has risen in one season. He began the season down in low Class-A ball, and rose through the system to get to the major league level at the September mark in the season.

 

 


I can tell by the broad shoulders
that this is Rays Bullpen catcher Scott Cursi getting the crowd into
the celebration tonight at the Trop. Scott is a huge reason these guys
are psyched and ready to go every night coming out of the Bullpen.  He
is the Enforcer. Cursi surely got either a share or a monetary bonus from the Rays for his work this season, and he rightly deserves it and more from the team.

 

 


James “Big Game” Shields is also
known as the true master of champagne bursts and celebrations. Shields
is one of the big 4 starters that will try and bring home the Rays
first World Series title. Sheilds will end the season ranked as one of the top 20 pitchers in baseball. He made great strides in 2008, and further cemented his cahnge up as one of the best in the league
.

 

 


Scott Kazmir is becoming an old
professional at this celebration stuff. He is now known as one of
the true cork popping experts in the Rays clubhouse. Kazmir is also one the
premier lefties in the game today. Kazmir might have had a down season of you lokk at his statistics, but he was there when the team needed him and was always up for the challenge for the team. Even at his young age, Kazmir showed why he is the most experienced on this staff, and the “go-to” guy in the future for the team.

 

 


Edwin Jackson is cooling down the
“Old Man” on the Rays, Carl Crawford. He was here during the lean years
in Tampa Bay, and to see a winning team and a playoff berth was a dream
to Carl before this season. Now the Rays can go beyond any of their
wildest dreams and contend for a World Series title starting on Wed.
night.
Edwin Jackson has been maligned and beaten up in the press this year as not being the great pitcher for the Rays. But in the end result, he tied for the team lead in victories, and inproved throughout the entire season. He still hit rough patches, but he fought through them and became a extremely aggressive pitcher in 2008.

 

 


One last photo of Rookie David
Price getting a cold shower to go with his first professional save
tonight in the game against the Boston Red Sox. Price has a huge future in front of him in baseball. The guy was one of the final picks in the “Next competition for ESPN in 2008. No matter what the magazine decides, you can truly see that he is one of the bright spots for baseball, and not just the Rays in 2009. We saw just a small bit of the talent and the ability of this young pitcher late in the season ans during the playoffs.  In 2009, he will get a change to claim a spot on the Rays rotation as a starter, and from there…..the sky is truly the limit for him.

 


Okay, that is the end of all three
blogs, I swear.  But I truly hoped you enjoyed going into the picture
world of the Rays celebrating their first American League Championship
tonight.  Be sure to tune into FOX starting this Wed night at 8 p.m.
when the Rays take on the National League Champs, the Philadelphia
Phillies in the best-of-seven series for the World Championship.

 


Also, if either team steals a base
during a World Series game, Taco Bell will be rewarding every American
a spicy beef crunchy taco for FREE the next day. Considering that the
Rays stole 10 bases in the ALCS, we all might be eating tacos for a few
days.  Go to www.stealabasestealataco.com for more information.

 

 

How cool is that, a rookie like
David Price comes in and set down one of the best lineups in the
American League and now he gets to hold the AL Championship Trophy.

 

Sp_296220_shad_rays_7c

 


Aki again among the Rays faithful
who stayed beyond 1 a.m. to help celebrate another Tampa Bay Rays
victory and their first run at the World Series. Something I found truly remarkable about this guy in 2008, is his interaction with the fans and his love for both this area and our style of baseball. I do not even remember what time I got home that night because I did not sleep a wink as I got into traveling mode after Game 2 of the World Series.


 

                  Sp_296217_cass_rays_17c

 


I had to add one more photo of
that world class dog pile that David Price and Dioner Navarro are on
the bottom of here. I know it hurts, but it also feels so good guys. 
Congrats again to a great team, and a great set of human beings. You
are our heroes and our inspirations guys. By the time that the Rays had won the ALCS, they had celebrating on the field down to an artform. So many times this year the team had late innings rallies and walk-off victories that just added up to the final prize of winning the American League Pennant tonight.



 

Shop Now!



I have not even left the ballpark
yet and they are almost out of the Rays American League merchandise
sent in the first wave by MLB. How crazy is that.  I am so glad the
fans are excited about the World Series. I hope at least 25 percent of
them come back to the ballpark in 2009 and fill the stadium.  Oh, news
flash here people………..We play the Phillies in Philly next season
as part of the Inter-League schedule.  How cool is that!!!!!  


Road
Trip.


 

 


The entire team getting some personal personal time with
the AL Championship trophy. Do they pass it around and can keep it for
one day like the Stanley Cup? I hope at some point either in the off season or during 2009, the Rays Season Ticket holders and Maddon’s Maniacs can pose for photos with our first real trophy in franchise history.  It was all a total effort of the Rays Republic and the team and staff to secure our place in history tonight.


 

                   

 



This Photo is going to be firmly
planted in my mind for a long, long time. This is the final out of the
game…………a force out of Jason Bay by Akinora Iwamura to seal the
deal for the Rays. If there was one photo to show the joy and the celebration of winning the pennant, it has got to be this picture right here.


 

 


Carlos Pena getting ready to do
that dance he loves to do at celebration.  Maybe Carlos can teach the
entire Tampa Bay area that dance some time.

 

 


Tell me that is not one proud
owner. He promised us a winner and he delivered ahead of
schedule…………he could run for President right now and get
elected on the Rays ticket.

 

            

 


Carlos and Ben Zobrist a few
minutes after the final out of the game. This team is more like a
family than the Pittsburgh Pirates teams in the
1970’s……………..We Are One Team!!!!!   Tell me the marketing
department is not proud of that slogan now!

 

 


This is what the Trop. looked like
2 minutes after the last out. Rays players running everywhere looking
for a teammates to hug and slap some fist bumps on them.

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