Results tagged ‘ Akinora Iwamura ’

Rays Top 5 Goals for 2008 Revisited

 

 

The Tampa Bay Rays  went into 2008 wanting to gain respect and admiration in the major leagues from teams and fans. The main objective was to be competitve and to show that the Rays belonged in the rough and tumble AL East. 

 

No one could have imagined that the team would be raising the AL East and AL pennant flags in their home Opener against the New York Yankees in 2009. Most people had the realistic goal of a .500 season and a puch hard towards the playoffs. What transpired was the same majoc and karma that made the 1969 Mets and the Florida Marlins darlings of the baseball world.

 

We had a team that believed in itself to the point of pulling off amazing endings and outstanding feats of sweeping some of the best teams in baseball at home. The Rays proved that if you can believe, you can achieve. The following list is the Top 5 goals that I set for the team in March of 2008. Yesterday I blogged about numbers 6-10, today is the time to see what reality did to the Top 5:

 

 

The 5th goal I put on my list was the idea of starting lineup leading off with  3     “lefties.  In the beginning of the season, the Rays had a  up-and-down bout of     success and failure with their lefties’ by committee lineup arrangement. Akinora Iwamura, Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena had the talent and the ability to take over    the lineup, but the opposition right-handed pitchers’ were stacked against the trio.

 

 

Finally, Rays Manager, Joe Maddon inserted B J Upton into the 3-slot and the cycle was broken. Upton began to see  alot  more  pitches to hit in 2008. He did a  remarkable job both at the plate and on the base paths for the Rays. He did not       have a banner year because of a nagging shoulder injury sustained during an early series in Baltimore in May.

 

 

But Upton did pace the Rays when they needed help and finished 2nd in the stolen base race in the AL. Upton then moved up to the 2nd spot in the lineup to be the meat between the Aki and CC sandwich. It further helped him evolve in the lineup and he became comfortable and relaxed in the position.

 

 

The final success to the banishment of the 3 “leftie” regime came near the end of the season and the playoffs. With the team more balanced in the lineup, the Rays had the flexibility both on the field and on the bench to matchup more effective with any team.

 

 

Upton and Longoria both benefited from the 3 lefties in the lineup with more         right-handers going to the mound against the Rays. The leftie revolution might not have been a success, but the experiment also proved to the Rays that they had  great options up and down the lineup and the bench.

 

 

The fouth goal had to do with extensions for the anchors of the team. Unknown to the general public, during the last week of Spring Training, the Rays and the agent of Evan Longoria were working on a long term deal to contractually secure the budding star for years for the Rays. The deal was suddenly annouced the day   Longoria was called up to the Rays, but was in the works for some time while he was down in the minors at Durham.

 

 

It secured a hole in the infield for the Rays for at least 5 years and also gave both sides a feeling of confidence going into 2008. Scott Kazmir also got a extended  deal right before the season started and it also secured a valuable piece of the starting rotation for years. James Shield was also secured for an extended contract   and gave the Rays a bit of relief that their top 2 pitchers were under contract for several years.

 

 

Carlos Pena has a sealed deal for 2009,  in whole, only Jason Bartlett, the team’s 2008 MVP is the only person not under contract for 2009 who plays in the infield.  He is in his first year of arbitration and the team might be working on a multi-year  deal to keep him in a Ray’s uniform until they can decide about the shortstops they have in their minor league system. 

 

 

Behind the plate, Dioner Navarro is in his first year of arbitration , and he did alot to   be sure he will get a nice raise in 2009. With the improved year he had behind the plate, and at the plate, Navarro has done nothing to diminish the vast upward swing   on his stock with the team. I will go deeper into who is up for arbitration in another blog.

 

 

 

Goal number 3 seemed a bit out of line when I first wrote it in 2008, but it proved to    be a monster move for the team. To say that the team needed a healthy rotation   would be a monster in our division sounded a bit far fetched, but it was a true key to 2008 and its success.  Not counting the early glitches in Scott Kazmir and Matt Garza’s season, the Rays had a fantastic run of luck by having all 5 of their starters’ the entire year.

 

 

Not only is this rare, but it is almost unheard of that a team could go through most of the season with the same 5 day in and day out. There were aches and pains and displays of emotion throughout the year, but  a treu key to this year was the fact they stood on the mound daily and did not give up starts. The consistancy of these 5 guys lead to a flow and a confidence in each other to fulfill their goals everytime they hit the rubber.

 

 

All 5 starters’ went over 10 wins this year, and even the guy who everyone outside     the organization thinks is the weakest link, tied for the team lead with 14 wins. To have that kind of production out of a lineup where the oldest stater is 26 years of       age is outstanding. The future of this franchise is based in the fact that they could    have these same 5, or a variation of the 5 for the next 4 years on the mound for the Rays.

 

 

 

The second goal of the year is really something that all teams hope and wish for………Health, health, health. What is so amazing about 2008, is the fact that      injuries did happen and the team did not miss a step in the field or at the plate.     When Kazmir and Garza went down early both before the season, and in it’s first weeks, the Rays pitchers’ took up the slack and gave it 110 percent. Jason Hammel  and Jeff Neiman came on and threw their best in the absence of the team’s top pitchers.

 

 

In the infield, Willy Aybar came to the Rays with a sorted past, but you would never know it by the way he played in his limited roles all around the infield in 2008. He was one of those true finds that can help a ballclub reach the next level. It did not matter if Carlos Pena went down, or Evan Longoria, Aybar brought his “A” game   every night both at the plate and in the field.

 

 

In the outfield, when Carl Crawford was out nursing his groin and then his operation  on his hand, Eric Hinske and Justin Ruggiano came out and tried to fill the gap as if Crawford had not even left. They played to mix reviews, but did an admirable job and proved the depth of this team’s minor league system. When Fernando Perez came up to fill in for B J Upton after an injury, his athletic ability and his speed did not even make you miss Upton.

 

 

Perez became an instant favorite of Rays Manager Joe Maddon for his work ethic and his willingness to learn and help the team. But he area that sealed and  secured itself even when injury hit was the Bullpen. They saw multiples guys go down this year, from Gary Glover and Al Reyes, to their closer being shut down  several times during the year.

 

 

These guys just bucked up and took it all in stride and closed the wounds and     played their butts off. J P Howell became a fixture in the Bullpen, and became one of the best lefties in the game as a reliever in 2008. Grant Balfour also became a force in the Bullpen and his antics on the mound became legend in the AL. All year long people stepped up and were successful for the team out of  the Bullpen.

 

 

 

The number one goal of the team in 2008, was set in motion early by Maddon.    Mindset can be a effective tool to the confidence and emtion of a ballclub.      Maddon’s formula of 9=8 has been around the globe by now.

 

 

The theory of 9 men in a lineup playing 9 total innings would eqaute into one of the 8 playoff berths in the MLB.  A simple philosophy, but it goes even beyond that theory. It is also expanded by Maddon that if they got 9 more wins from the pitching staff, 9 more wins from the offense, and 9 more wins from the defense and Bullpen, they would be able to secure a playoff spot.

 

 

The combined 27 extra wins along with the 69 the team had in 2007 would add up to 96 wins. Wow, consider that for a moment, Seriously here, going inot their last game against Detroit on Sept 30th, the team had a record of 96-65. Did Maddon really think he would or even could imagine a increase like this in one season.

 

 

In 2008, there were moments where mondset played a huge part in the team’s     success. The All-Star break actually might have come at a perfect time for this team after getting shutdown by the Cleveland Indians and Boston Red Sox in straight road series. The break from playing actually might have played into a positive for the team becuse it gave them all a time frame to forget and forgive the bad results and take on the second half of the season with vigor and vitality.

 

So here we are with the final 5 goals of 2008  examined and I feel that this team is indeed ready and willing to try and make another run at the AL East in 2009. The worst thing the Rays have to adjust to is not being the underdog anymore. Mindset might be the first goal again next year as the Champions are always on the top and people love to knock off the big guys.

 

 

 

Rays Goals 6-10 for 2008 Exceed Expectations

 

          

 

In the beginning of the season I set 10 goals or written items that I hoped the Tampa Bay Rays would complete to become a more productive and successful team. At the time we all did not know the type of franchise success we would see in 2008.

Also stuffed into that list was a few personal obsevations ands wants for the team in 2008. I did a middle of the year evaluation of the list on July 18, 2008 and saw that the team was focused and moving forward in achieving outstanding success on the field.

I am again going to go over the high and lowpoints now after the season is over. I am no longer going to assign a letter grade to the options because this has been a totally “A” year in all aspects. There is no way I could see this coming, and the team took the region by storm in 2008. 

 

The blog today will focus on the items 6-10, and the logo unveiling last November in St. Petersburg, Florida at Straub Park.

 

 

 

As everyone might remember, 12 months ago we set out changing the basic style of the team with a logo change and a uniform retro-fitting. Gone was the old “TB” on the hat that had a ray centered beneath the “TB” symbol. In came a clean looking “TB” in a great marine blue color. Then you get to the uniforms that were streamlined into a more uniform design without the old “Rays” on the chest area of the uniform.

The uniforms went from a white and green basic jersey with blue pinstriping on the sleeves to a retro looking White and Blue model with a logo that popped with the odd shaped “R”, and the sunburst in the center of the logo blasting out for all to see. The team held a fantastic outdoor event to unveil the new look with most of the players coming in for the event.

The new design was met with some crtics wanting the old Rays look becuase it had a modern flair without being boring. Others were upset that the away jerseys would not have the “Tampa Bay” moniker blazen across the chest of the players anymore. It was replaced with the new logo “Rays” across the chest.

          

 

Other were debating why to let go of the entire past for the new look. One thing the Rays did leave “old” on their jerseys was the flying ray patch on the sleeve. The team decided to continue that tradition and  replaced the dark black and colorful ray with one that matched the teams new blue and white jerseys. All in all, the new look showed the team was trying to move beyond the loveable losers’ of the past and were hoping for a new attitude in Tampa Bay.

 

 

                

 

Starting with the bottom of the list at number 10, was the Akinora Iwamura must feel at home at second base.  To sya he did not do a superb job this year would be an insult. the guy went from a position where he has won Gold Gloves in Japan to a new position for the betterment of the team. Not only did he do it with grace and style, but he made himself a front runner for years at the position.

Iwamura was one of the people nominated for a Gold Glove this year at second in the AL. He only committed a handful errors all year long and ended up ranked 4th among AL second baseman in his first year ever at the position. He became a vital cog in the Rays double play combination working with Jason Bartlett like he has been playing to position all his life.

The hardwork and the determination of Iwamura to make his transition flawless was carried out to a “T”. Aki stood tall and in the pivot long to make sure the team got a chance to complete every double play in 2008. He was also instrumental in the field making countless great plays behind second and relaying the ball into home. Iwamura has found a new home at second base, and will be even better in 2009.

 

 

 

 Number 9 stated that catching had to hit a new high this year. Well, that will be an easy one. Dioner Navarro started the year off on fire and got hurt. When he returned, he stayed above the .300 mark well into the second half of the season before falling below that mark for the only time in 2008. Behind the plate he took more control and exercised his own playcalling alot this season.

But the action with Matt Garza in Texas in the ruffle on the mound and in the dugout finally put him on top. It showed that he had the heart and the determination to lead this team behind the dish and put his stamp on the team. With his new confidence at the plate translated perfectly to his time behind the mask.

For the season, His batting average for the year was only behind Minnesota’s Joe Mauer at the position in the AL. That is a huge change from the guy battling to stay above .191 during the first half of 2007. Navarro continued during the first half of 2008 getting better and better every game. He was rewarded with his first All-Star invite and was key to the tying and winning run for the AL in the game. He caught 8 innigs in that game and solidified his place among AL catchers with is performance.

 

         

 

Number 8  was about the 1-2-3 setup guys securing the game. Well, this one is a bit tricky. the Rays Bullpen showed a huge upswing in 2008, but the closer role was up in the air alot more than expected in the year. Troy Percival was signed to make a solid end to the Bullpen but went down numerous times during the season.

His back and knee did show the wear and tear of all his MLB years, and by the end of the season he was on the DL and did not even get posted to any of the Rays post season rosters. His health situation put the pressure on the young Rays and they responded brilliantly in most cases.

From J P Howell and Grant Balfour securing the 7th inning for the Rays nightly, to Dan Wheeler or even Jason Hammel being called on to put out the fires in late innings, the young squad held together and mixed and matched nightly to get the Rays the victory.

It was not your picture perfect way to run a Bullpen, but the Rays did make it happen and post one of the best turnaround years ever for a Bullpen. The young guys matured and got valuable experience, and the veterans stood tall and made the plays when they were needed in 2008.

 

                           

 

Number 7  was that the right-field guy has to be consisitant and kick butt.  You would have to define that a bit more to really decide if it was a successful year or a failure. I have it more at a banner year for finding the right guys finally, but it could have been a lot better organized.

Jonny Gomes and Eric Hinske got most of the early reps in right during the beginning of the year. With the trade for Gabe Gross, the Rays brought in a guy who had never been counted on like this to raise the bar for the team. Gross came in and put his defensive and offensive stamp on the position early.

Gross made countless great play in the field and became a electric guy at the plate. He hit a 436 foot homer on August 6th that just showed the improvements he had made with the Rays. Gross made a massive improvement to the position to the Rays before the trade dedeadline.

After the return of Rocco Baldelli, the right-field platooning took on a more effective mode. You had the defensive skills of both guys as  a plus in the field and had bats fron both sides of the plate to balle pitchers’. The Rays had a solid core in the last half of the season, and the addition of Baldelli proved amazing at the plate during the rest of the year and in the playoffs.

 

     

Number 6  was our prospects need to improve. This became a double-edged sword to the Rays in 2008. We saw guys like Elliot Johnson, Reid Brignac and Ben Zobrist come up and solidify the infield when needed, but the additon of these prospects did not make the difference for the Rays. Zobrist was the most consistant of the guys from the minors in coming in and making the job his in 2008.

Zobrist was being counted on to be the “go-to” guy in the Ray’s lineup in 2008. An early injury set him down and it took some time before he came back up and made his mark offensively this year for the team. He developed a offensive style that was not seen in his game before 2008.

Pitching saw Grant Balfour come back up and not back down an inch the rest of the season. Balfour came on and argued and grunted on the mound and held batter at bay most of the year. His willingness to not back away from heavy hitters made him a valued player in the Bullpen this year.  But the guy who made the entire minor league system tremble this season came up in September, and will not have to even think about the minors in 2009.

 

 

David Price was the Rays first selection in 2006. He had been annointed by many even before stepping on a MLB mound to be a phenom. Price did nothing to set that rumor to expectation down after his stint against the New York Yankees in New York. Price got better and better every time he hit the mound and became a inspiration to the team.

To out this into prospective, the Rays had enough confidence in this rookie in the ALCS to put him on the mound to finish off  Game 7 against the 2007 World Champion Boston Red Sox. Price performed brilliantly and helped paced the Rays during the playoffs.

The rest of the prospect system got a bit muddled in 2008. Desmond Jennings went down with an injury and saw limited time this season in the minors. Jake McGee went down with an arm injury and had to have Tommy John surgery. But even with these high ceiling guys going down, players like Fernando Perez came out of no where and made you know that the Rays prospect system is alive and well.

 

 

So here is the first of 2 end of the year goal realization blogs.  Goals 6-10 were finalized today and I will write about 1-5 tomorrow. All in all you have to admit that the Rays saw a increase in every aspect of the game in 2008. Every player on the team stepped up in the season and made it magical in their own ways. 

 2009 will be a year of expectations and the either success or failure to improve over 2008. It will be a harder road for the Rays in 2009. People will be gunning for the team and will not be broadsided anymore. That in itself might be the biggest challenge for the team next year. Living up to the expectations of the local fans and media after a darling season.

 

Game 5.5 Signals the End of the Rays Run

 

 

Phillies 4, Rays 3

 

I was told that J P Howell was taking the loss pretty hard last night after the Philadelphia Phillies ended the 46 hour lay-over of Game 5 of the World Series. I do not know why he is thinking it is the end of all things right now. You have to remember that this years’ team went above every expectation set by the coaches’ and management. they flew beyond any goal or lofty intention of every and any fan, and last, but not least, they made us proud to be Ray Fans.

I did not go out to the Trop last night at 3 a.m., I wanted to cheer and  applaud for the Rays for a job well done. But this is private time. I know as an ex-athlete that you need a little space right after a collossial event to get your feet back on the ground. It has been an emotional rollercoaster for the team the last 3 days. And no matter what the outcome, there was going to be some backlash mentally and emotionally.

Just remember guys, on Saturday at the City of St. Pete celebration, it will all seem to fade away. We have 107 days until we start it all over again, and I can not wait personally. Not for the goals and aspirations of 2009, but because the Rays deserve another shot at the title. If Rocco can come back off the canvas, why can’t we get another shot at the ring and the dream.

 

 

Congrats to the World Champions

Seriously, it was a great World Series from Game 1-5. The Phillies have been hungry for a title for 28 years in baseball. Heck, Pete Rose was playing third base back then for the Fightin’ Phillies. What was so special was to see 40-something Jamie Moyer go out to the pitching mound and take a pole and wedge that pitching rubber out of the clay and take it home.

It was an exciting series. And do I enjoy the end result………well, no, but I do enjoy the fact that it was settled on the field and not in a boardroom or in a conference call. We got to finish the game, and for that we have to thank Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig. He wanted to play these games to their conclusions. He did not want a shortened World Series, or a series that would be questioned. He might still be questioned, but I think it was done with the most respect for both teams and was done as fast and as safe as possible.

Game 5 had to be stopped, and the Rays scoring in the top of the 6th inning on Monday gave him ample cause to suspend it and play it under better circumstances. There were an announced crowd of 44,000 on hand Wed. night. That is about 1,000 less than Monday, but those people might have already been on Broad Street preping for a good time by 8:30 that night. We played out the final 2 1/2 innings and the city got to have a dry and cool celebration after all.

 

 

Bullpen Moments

The Rays Bullpen has been a mainstay of this team for so long this season it amazes me that they are taking this loss so personally. If not for the efforts of everyone down there, especially Grant Balfour and J P Howell, we might not have even hit the playoffs at all this season. If you are looking for true MVP’s of this playoff run, you have to consider the entire Bullpen as a whole. They have gone above and beyond themselves all year long, and do not have anything to be ashamed of at all.

Grant Balfour went to the mound in the bottom of the 6th and Phillies Manager Charlie Manuel sent up Geoff Jenkins to pinch-hit for Cole Hamels, who was still the pitcher of record for the Phillies. Jenkins had played with Balfour with the Milwaukee Brewers’ and probably knows his pitching style better than anyone else on the bench.

 

 

On a 2-2 count, Jenkins hit a long fly ball into the right-center gap that hit off the scoreboard just out of the reach of a sprawling Rocco Baldelli. The ball fell to the turf and B J Upton went and retrived the ball to keep Jenkins to a double.  With Jenkins in scoring position, Jimmy Rollins came up and put doen a sacrifice bunt to move Jenkins less than 90 feet from giving the Phillies the lead in the game.

 

           

 

Jayson Werth then came up and hit a shallow looper to the spot between second base and the outfield. Akinora Iwamura went out to try and pull in the ball, but after trying to catch it via a basket-catch, the ball trickled down from his glove to the turf and Jenkins scored to give the Phillies the lead 3-2. That was the end of the night for Balfour, who went 1.1 innings total in the game, but went 1/3 of an inning tonight, giving up 2-hits and a lone run.

 

 

J P Howell then came on to face Chase Utley and got him to strikeout on 3 pitches. Ryan Howard then came to bat and hit a fly ball to Evan Longoria at third for the final out of the 6th inning. In the 7th inning, Pat Burrell came up to start the 7th inning and was hit-less in this years’ World Series. He was currently 0-13, when he hit hanging curveball into the left-center section of the outfield and clipped the high wall to settle for a double.

Burrell was immediately replaced by pinch-runner Eric Bruntlett at second base. That ended the night for Howell as he went 2/3rds of an inning throwing 7 pitches and giving up 1-hit and 1-run for the Rays. Chad Bradford came on and quickly got Shane Victorino to ground out to Iwamura at second base.  This moved Bruntlett to third with 1-out in the inning. Pedro Feliz then hit a ball up the middle for a RBI single and the Phillies were up 4-3 at that time.

Bradford got Carlos Ruiz to hit into a 4-6 force out at second, with Ruiz on first on a fielder’s choice. Iwamura made an amazing play behind second base to get the force out on Feliz. Phillies reliever J C Romero the came up and hit a ball to Iwamura that he flipped to Bartlett at second base for another force out to end the inning.

David Price then came on in the 8th inning and got a quick fly out from Rollins and a strikeout of Werth. He then gave up a walk to Utley before getting Howard to strikeout to end the inning for the Phillies.

 

 

Rocco Baldelli’s Blast

In the 7th inning, with Ryan Madson on the mound for the Phillies, Dioner Navarro struck out to lead off the inning. Then rocco Baldelli came up and on the first pitch took Madson deep to leftfield on a line drive homer to tie the game at 4-all. The Blast was just the first homer of the World Series for Baldelli, but it put life back into the Rays’ hopes for a Game 6 at Tropicana Field on Thursday night.

 

        

 

Jason Bartlett’s Gamble

You have to be pleased with the effort of Jason Bartlett at shortstop for the Rays this season. He has brought a solid defense and a secure bat to the lineup that the Rays have never had at the position. In the top of the 7th inning tonight, Bartlett hit a single to leftfield to try to keep the rally going after Baldelli’s homer.

J P Howell came up and batted in the inning for the Rays. This was an unsusual play as Rays Manager Joe Maddon could have used a pich hitter to hit for Howell since he had David Price and Chad Bradford warmed up in the Bullpen. But Maddon let Howell take his whacks at the plate for the Rays. Howell put down a perfect sacrifice bunt to move Bartlett to second and into scoring position for the Rays.

Iwamura then came up and hit a  infield single to  shallow centerfield and Bartlett was rounding third when Utley faked the throw to first and threw to home to get the streaking Bartlett by less than a foot at the plate. Bartlett was tagged out as he was stretching his hand for the plate and it ended the 7th inning for the Rays. It was a gutsy play by the Rays shortstop, and one that almost made a huge difference in the contest.

You have to credit Utley for seeing Bartlett taking a wide turn at third and streaking for home. If Utley has held onto the ball a split second longer, Bartlett would have scored and tied tha game at 4-all for the Rays. So if you have to find a defining moment in this game……..this was the series clincher fo the Phillies…. at the plate.

The Rays did try amd mount another rally in the 8th inning after Carl crawford lead-off with a single to centerfield. B J Upton hit a ball to short that Rollins turned into a 6-4-3 double play to remove the Rays threat in the inning. Pena then hit a weak fly ball to left to end the inning for the Rays.

In the 9th, Evan Longoria lead off the inning by hitting a fly out to second base. Navarro then hit a shattered bat single to right that fell in front of a hard charging Werth. Maddon then sent in Fernando Perez as a pinch-runner for Navarro. With pinch-hitter Ben Zobrist at the plate for the Rays, Perez stole second base on the third pitch to Zobrist and put a runner in scoring position for the Rays.

 

 

Zobrist then hit a shot to right that was caught by Werth for the 2nd out of the inning. With 1-out left in the Rays season, Maddon sent up Eric Hinske to pinch-hit for Bartlett. Hinske went down on three pitches to give the Phillies their first championship since 1980 in the majors.

 

 

Welcome Home  Rays

The Rays were scheduled to be flying into St. Petersburg-Clearwater Airport at 3 am on Thursday. The team did not have a planned greeting at the airport and the team was to quickly get on their coaches’ for the trip to the Trop. Several people were at the airport waiting for the team, but they did not come through the baggage area and loaded straight from the plane on the tarmac.

 

 

The Rays then trekked from the airport to the back enterance at the Trop. There they were greeted by a few dozen fans who stood out in the cold to cheer for the hometown Rays. Several members of the team did come out and salute the crowd before heading into the Trop to pack and have some private time with team mates and family.

 

 

I will be getting the information on the City of St. Petersburg celebration sometime today or tomorrow. Stay tuned to your favorite Rays blog and I will be sure to pass on all the info I get as soon as I recieve it. Again, remember that this team exceeded all expectations of it during the season and should be roundly applauded for their hustle and determination to even get into the playoffs this season.

The Saturday event will be to celebrate not only the team;s efforts, but the increased support and bonding of the Tampa Bay area this season behind the Rays “Magical Summer Tour 2008″. The region has grown from just a spotty support group for the team, to an increasing fan base throughout the country and the world. The Rays are no longer the loveable losers of yesteryear. We now have tasted the fruits of winning, and it is sweet to our mouths, and we yearn for more……….

 

             Pitchers’ and Catchers’ Report in 107 DAYS.

 

 

Rain Extends Rays Stay in Philly

 

 

 

I have to give it to Bud Selig and his committe last night. After the top of the 6th inning the infield and the surrounding foul area were beginning to look like a quagmire of dry-all and clay. I commend the fact that the took in consideration the players and the fans in the decision to suspend the game in the bottom of the 6th inning last night. As Philly shortstop Jimmy Rollins could have told you, looking up into that rainsoaked sky was like letrting daggers hits your forehead and eyes. Something could have happen to a player, and that would have been the worst thing for baseball.

So we have to wait another day to see Philly either throw it’s hats or celebrate. The extra day might be a blessing to teams. I am seeing a set of long relievers from both teams come out and start the bottom of the 6th inning as a start. My guess is that David Price will take the mound for the Rays and just go out there and get the business done tonight.

Worst thing is that FOX will not be able to premire “Fringe” tonight. Bummer, I like that show and was looking forward to a night of paranoraml instead of baseball. But I will take more baseball, do not get me wrong. When this World Series ends, I will not see any until Feb 2009, so let’s play 16 more if we can.  Still the best thing about Selig’s decidion was that it showed some moxie considering what city he was in at the time.

Phillie fans might not be into this decison as much as Selig, but in the end, it was the right move for everyone in that stadium that night. So bundle up tonight and start the hot cocoa machine early, we still have baseball to play in Philly.

 

 

Kazmir, Lightly Squeezed, Not Stirred

To say that Rays starter Scott Kazmir was being squeezed at the plate by Home Plate Umpire Jeff Kellogg would be an understatement. Several times the FOX Broadcast showed the ball breaking the box for strikes in the inning and nothing was called by Kellogg. I understand that Kazmir will be facing some backlash to his argument earlier in the year to Darryl Cousins, but not during the biggest game of the year by his club.

It is a disgrace if that is the intention of Kellogg. Of course, he is the only one who knows the truth here. But you have to admit, at least he is calling the one over the heart of the plate.

 

 

Kazmir got into trouble early tonight by walking Jayson Werth and hitting Chase Utley with a pitch. This gave the Phillies 2 men on base with only 1-out in the inning. After striking out Ryan Howard, Kazmir then walked Pat Burrell on 5 pitches to load the bases for the Phillies.

Shane Victorino then hit a soft liner into leftfield that scored both Werth and Utley to put up an early 2-0 lead for the Phillies.  After issuing a single to Pedro Feliz, Kazmir calmed down and got Carlos Ruiz to fly out to Carl Crawford for the 3rd out of the inning.

The 2nd inning went smoother for Kazmir as his only blemish was a single to Werth to left before getting Utley to pop the ball up to Evan Longoria for the 3rd out. Kazmir got the Phillies to go down in order in the 3rd, with 2 strikeouts.

             

 

Kazmir then had a bumpy 4th inning after striking out Feliz to start the inning. Ruiz got a single to left, and Cole Hamels hit inot a fielder’s choice that forced out Ruiz at second base. Kazmir then walked both Rollins and Werth before getting Utley to hit a grounder to Akinora Iwamura who quickly threw to Carlos Pena at first to end the inning without incident.

 

                   

 

Kazmir came out in the 5th inning and got into early trouble as he walked both Howard and Burrell to start the inning with 2 men on base and no outs. He  was the  replaced by Grant Balfour who quickly got 3 fly out to get out of the inning.  Balfour was the pitcher of record when the game was put under a rain  delay on the field by Umpire Crew Chief Tim Welke at 10:31 p.m. last night. 

Balfour can resume his position on the mound in the bottom of the 6th inning if Rays Manager Joe Maddon wants him to finish out the contest. I think he will take the mound and be replaced immediately by Maddon for another pitcher at that time

 

 

Another Umpire Miss?

In the World Series this year there have been a number of plays that have passed not only my eyes, but the Fox boradcasters’ as a bit of funny plays. They showed a short montage of the susepcted plays and some evn had close-ups to suggest the calls might have been blown by the umpires.

During last night’s contest, there was a play involving Rocco Baldelli in the 5th inning. After getting on base on an error by Rollins, Baldelli was running to second base in front of Utley when he lunged out and mysteriously tagged Baldelli on the bottom of the shoe for a tag-out, throw to first double play. The replays showed that Baldelli’s stride did not change, he showed no chane in direction or motion on his way to second base. It was inconclusive by  the video angle if he did indeed touch the shoe of Baldelli, but a good indication might have been Rocco breathing heavy on second base looking back towards first in amazement at the call.

 

 

Pena’s and Longoria’s Coming Out Party

Finally there is joy in Mudville, because the mighty two did not strike out. How wild was last night’s game after the change in the lineup by Maddon putting Pena and Longoria back one slot and moving Crawford to the 2-hole for the Rays. Earlier in the season, Crawford was hitting out of that hole alot, but since his injury, he has been behind Longoria.

It was a gutsy move by Maddon, but it sparked a great response out of his sluggers as they both ended their hitting holes and contributed alot to the Rays comeback. In his first at bat, Pena put down a ill-timed bunt towards first base and did a head-first slide, but was still out by a matter of inches. It showed that he was trying to do anything to get the ball rolling for himself and the Rays last night.

 

                    

 

Longoria came up and hit a long fly ball to victorino for an easy fly out. Then in the 4th inning,Pena again came up and hit a monster shot off the rightfield wall that had Werth plastered against the wall facing. Pena did not immediately sprint to first and had to settle for a double on the play. If he had sprinted to first, he would have easily gotten to third without sliding on the hit.

 

 

Longoria then came up and hit the seond poitch he saw from Hamels into centerfield to score Pena and erase their scoring drought as a duo. Longoria did get doubled up on Navarro’s grounder to Rollins, but the Rays were only down one at the time 2-1 to the Phillies. 

In the 6th inning, the duo again got to make a contribution to the Ray’s cause. After B J Upton singled and stole second base, Pena hit a nice crisp ball through the hole at short and third for a single to score Upton. With the score now tied at 2-all, Pena and Longoria were a combined 3-6 on the night with 2 RBI’s. Pena and Longoria might have a combined average of .125 and .053 respectfully, but they were contributing again, and that could be trouble for the Phillies.

 

               

 

Rain, Rain Go Away

If you have never played a sport with a consistant rain coming down you will never know the pain and the concentration needed to just catch a ball in it. The rains pelts on your skin and eyes and forces you to re-adjust all the time to the elements.  During last night’s game both teams had a incredible time just seeing the ball off the bat during the downpour.

The Phillies Rollins even had an error charged to him on a fly infield ball hit by Baledelli that he could not see in time to get firmly into his glove. the ball ended up dropping to the wet clay with Baldelli on first after the error. In the 5th inning, Pena made two fly ball plays in the infield that saw him sway and move with the ball before they finally popped into his glove for outs. Peering up into the rain was difficult for infielders and outfielders alike last night.

 

My Prediction:

Here is my personal prediction for tonight’s game. I think that Maddon starts David Price and let’s him finish off the game if there is not trouble. This will free up the Bullpen for a possible Game 6 at the Trop on Wed with a fully rested Bullpen ready for anything. I think the game will come down to the 8th inning, and then the game will turn for the Rays. Ryan Madson will probably be on the mound for the Phillies and a few runs will score to force a Game 6 in St. Petersburg.

 

We shall see.

 

Phillies Bombard Rays 10-2

Phillies 10, Rays 2

 

 

I thought I might not hear that familiar wail or whine in this series. I was hoping it would be the wind and not some fan shoving doubt into people’s minds, but sure enough I heard the words I have been expecting from bandwagoners’ for about 3 months now. “we are done, stick a fork in us.”

I would love to stick a fork in the bandwagon fans and people about to jimup off the boat becuase things are not going your way. I would really like to be alone in a room with some of them and s cold them like a little chid for being so fake, and so unreal for younger fans to see. This is the time in a series, and in your lives that you stand tall for what you believe and hope, prays, meditate, whatever gives you good karma to send the boys’ some luck.

Some of the guys have been suffering during the season, others have been playing and hustling like it was still Spring Training. But tonight is the night. As the expression goes, “It’s all or nothing.” The White Sox have ebbn in this spot this year, the Red Sox still believe the series is playing in their heads and they are winning, but Tampa Bay fans now have to believe.

Even if the worst happens tonight, we have to be focused and know that the boys’ did their best and that there will be more chances in the future to secure the prize. This season opend alot of doors for the Rays and we will see them in the poststseason again in less than 330 days. The winning spirit is new in this part of the baseball world, but the true fans will be the one still wearing Rays gear tomorrow. And the true fans will be the ones counting down the days until pitchers’ and catchers’ reposrt in the Spring.

But best of all, true fans will be wondering how the boys are doing.

 

               

 

Four Blind Plays

You have to admit, the umpires have been pretty colorful in this years Wotld Series. They have been animated behind the plate and have made some unusual, and down right incredible calls. But, the ones that stick out on our minds are not the calls over the corners of the plate, or even seeing through a play and calling out a baserunner, they are the wild and zany plays that were missed by replays and by fans all over baseball.

 

 

Every game has had its own one play that has defined the game. Take Game 1, when Cole Hamels apparently went towards home, but threw to first base. His foot was not facing the plate, but his momentum was shifted forward, not to the side……….Balk or great play? Or how about the play in Game 2, where the phantom bat did not break the plane for Rocco Baldelli and we strooled to first…………checked swing, or did he break his wrist on the play?

And then you get to the really fun ones up here in Philly. You know, rain on Sat. night blurred the vision a bit just 6 feet from the bag. In Game 3, it must have been the mist that made the umpires miss the pplay where Jamie Moyer was sprawled on the wet turf and uses his glove like another appendage to twirl the ball to a bare-handed Ryan Howard to ctach speedy Carl Crawford a nano second before he hit the bag. I will admit that one got me. I was expecting the hammer to come down for an out, then the umpire just threw the safe signal and the Phillies bench went bananas.

 

 

Then there was the play in the 1st inning of last night’s game. Jimmy Rollins camped at thrid base and a ball gets hit into the infield and taken by the pitcher, Andy Sonnanstine. Everyone in the ballpark thinks the ball is going to 2nd, but he twirls around and catches Rollins mid stride between 3rd and home. The chase is on and Sonnanstine gets him to within about 6 feet of the bag and throws the ball to Evan Longoria.

 

 

Longoria pops Rollins on the booty and leaves a red clay mark on the poor guys butt. We then hear the words that will reverb in our heads for a week……..”safe”.  Are you kidding me, did you not watch the ball, or were you watching the hand go towards the bag and not the ball and the possession and progression of it to the posterior of Mr. Rollins. It has been a small upgrade nightly into the insane and the blind that has led people to wondering about the state of the umpire world.  Last night’s blight was an oversight and an embarassment to umpires everywhere..but maybe there was a raindrop still in his eye from Sat night.

 

             

 

Top of the Lineup

There has been talk this entire series of guys trying to force things to happen for the Rays. That the firsy 4 guys feel it is their duty to carry this team. Some of the top 4 have done a great job getting into position to score or even pop the occasional needed blooper or double to get some action going in the game. Others have just had a slump from which there will be no exit this poststeason.

Carlos Pena was getting into a great groove when the ALCS ended. He seemed to be fianally seeing the ball and finding his storke at the right time for the Rays. It looked as if the series would be his playgorund. But instead it has become his own personal hell into the slight adjustments and overswining of the post injury Pena who’s timing and stride were lacking. He might find his way, but will it be in time to save his young team’s dream of hoisting the Commissioner’s trophy this year.

Evan Longoria is another story. I do not think there has been another rookie who has had so much pressure on him in the poststeason to lead his team into the promised land. I know he has won 2 championships at Double-A, but this is far more pressure and far more talented pitchers’ than he ever saw at Montgomery.

 

                    

 

For the World Series, Longoria has a dunkin Doughnut, a gooseegg, and “o” for offensive. Evan Longoria is the second rookie to go hitless in his first 16 at-bats of a World Series. The only other rookie to begin a World Series with an 0-for-16 streak was Flea Clifton of the Tigers in 1935. (Clifton was 0-for-16 for the entire series.)

I have been watching his at bats the past few games and the kid is pushing his strikezone outward. Players et their own personal strikezones as to what pitches they feel they can smash or take to the oppositie field. Right now, Longoria is searching for that one flare, blooper or even a ground ball with eyes to make his mind free up and play more relaxed. He had better find his spot soon, or not only is he going to have all Winter to profect it, he might be on the bench for Game 5 to relfect and waork in the under the stands cages for a few inning tomorrow.

 

 

C C Has Found the Power Button

When you are known for your speed sometimes you get a gift out over the plate and you just have to jump on it. That has got to be the mindset of Carl Crawford right now. The baseball are becoming bigger and bigger every game, and yet he is hitting the cover off the ball and stealing bases. Last night he might have only gone 1-3, but that one hit sparked a few smiles in the dugout.

In the 4th inning, with 2-outs in the inning, Crawford took an 1-2 count hanging high fastabll into the rightfield stands to put the Rays on the board. The run pulled the Rays to within 1 eun, 2-1 at the time. It was Crawford’s second homer of this series since he hit that game 1 blast off Cole Hamels in Tropicana Field/

 

 

Akinora Iwamura’s Wild Ride

When you only committed a handful of erros all eyar at your new position, and have solidified the position for your team, you never expect a night like this can happen on such a huge scale. Aki has been one of the most consistant infields’ this season for the Rays. You could count on him day and night to make the plays and get the outs without hesitation.

But what happened to him on Sunday night is not suppose to happen to Iwamura. Chase Utley was at the plate to lead off the 3rd inning for the Phillies. Aki was back in his role in the shift used all series long against Utley for the at bat. Utley hit a nasty ball that took  a bad hop on the clay and came up and hit Iwamura’s glove on the heel and rolled into rightfield. Aki was charged with an error, only his 1st of the World Series.

Then in the top of the 4th inning, Jimmy Rollins hit a hard ball up the middle and shaded a bit to right that caught Iwamura flat-footed and popped in and out of his glove wihtout a throw to first. Another error for Iwamura.

 

 

And it did not matter that he made an impressive and outstanding play on a hard liner hit right to him by Carlos Ruiz in the 7th inning. That Iwamura turned and fired to Carlos Pena at first and Pena had to go crosshand style and get the ball to double =up Pedro Feliz at first and end the inning for the Phillies. It was na amazing play, but it was also an inch away from another disaster of heading to the Phillies dugout and another error get charged to Iwamura.

 

 

The Mind of Joe Maddon

You have to admire a guy who can quote and attribute so many lines and sayings in his daily life. Rays Manager Joe Maddon is an intelligent manager to say the least. But what he did Sunday night can not go unnoticed either. He sent up three pinch-hitters on the night, and 2 came away with hits, one of them an exciting moment for Maddon and Hinske.

Eric Hinske was told as few days ago by Cliff Floyd to be ready to play. He was not sure why he was told this, but being the pro he is……he worked hard to get his timing down in the batting cage. On Sunday, the Rays made a move on their 25-man World Series roster taking off Floyd, who had a bad shoulder, and putting on the hard-hitting Hinske.

Hinske saw no action while on the ALCS roster, and he did nor expect anything different for the World Series roster. But in the 5th inning he came on to hit for Sonnanstine and hit a monster deep into centerfield. The ball was hit so far it hit the ivy-covered centerfield wall beyond the playing field. This wall was about 20 feet further than the wall where Shane Victorino stood looking up at the blast. Iy started a upward slow rally for the Rays.

 

                         

 

Then in the 7th inning, Willy Aybar came up to pinch-hit for Edwin Jackson and hit a nice single into rightfield. He was stranded on base for the inning, but it made Maddon 2 for 2 tonight with his pinch-hitters. Maddon pressed his luck in the 9th inning when he sent up Rocco Baldelli to pinch-hit for  Trever Miller, and Rocco struck out to end the game for the Rays.

 

             

 

Andy Was Not Dandy Tonight

Coming on and pitching with alot of pressure can work both ways in a baseball game. Sometimes it worls to your advantage and it pumps you up to the point of giving you some extra speed on your pitches and makes you believe more can happen on the mound.

Then sometimes you have what happened to Andy Sonnanstine on the mound tonight. You can have your stuff tonight and just get rocked by a team that is well scouted and prepared for you that night. you are not pitching any better, or any worse than normal, they just have your number that night.

 

 

Both of the above could be found in Sunday nights game, but the end result is that the Phillies exploited Sonnanstines weaknesses to their advantages. They set him up on a few pitches and the result was the umpire giving Andy a new ball while they made their ways around the bases for homers. Pair that with a reduced strike zone and you have the firm recipe for disaster on your hands.

Sonnanstine started out by giving up the first bases loaded walk of his career in the 1st inning to score Rollins, who should have been sitting on the bench becuase of an earlier blown call by the umpire at thris base, Tim Welke. So he gave the Phillies an early 1-0 lead, and the Rays never got close again. He went pretty smoothly from there until he watched as Utley was on base because of an unsual error by Iwamura behind the first base bag.

Then Ryan Howard got a single to right to put 2 Phillies on with no outs in the inning. Feliz the hit a RBI single to left that scored Utley cleanly and the Phillies had a 2-0 early lead on the Rays. The 4th inning started with Rollins again getting a single to rightfield to lead off the inning. Sonnanstine then walked Jayson Werth, but got a quick out on Utley.

 

                

 

 Howard then stood in the box and smashed a 3-run shot to right to put the game out of the Rays hands at that point.Sonnanstine got through the inning with no more damamge, but his night was ended with the Rays down 5-1 at that point. Sonnanstine went 4 innings and gave up 5-runs on 6 hits and only 1 home run to Howard.

 

Tampa Bay Rays’ Bullpen Blues

For the most part of 2008, the Tampa Bay Rays Bullpen has been the linch-pin to a majority of their wins. they have ebnt and not broken and have been a consisitant cog in the Rays victory machine. In the Wrold Series, this part of the Rays magic has been tarnished a bit by hitters getting the bestter of the unit.

In tonight’s game, Edwin Jackson came on the in t 5th inning to releieve starter Sonnanstine and threw 2 inning of ball for the Rays. During his time on the mound, Jackson gave up a homer to newly found blaster Phillie starter Joe Blanton to leftfield.  For Blanton, it was his first major league homer and came on his last at bat of the season. Blanton actually bookmarked his season getting a single in his first at bat, and now a homer in his last 2008 at bat for the Phillies.

 

 

Dan Wheeler came on to pitch in the 7th inning and did not fare any better for the Rays. Wheeler was the recipient of the amazing play by Aki at first in doubling up Feliz to get Wheler out of a jam in the inning. In the 8th inning, Rollins hit a double off the rightfield wall to put a man early in the inning in scoring position for the Phillies.

Werth then hit a 3-2 count hanging breaking ball out if the ballpark for a 2-run homer to futher put the Phillies ahaed, 8-2. Trever Miller came in to relieve Wheeler and walked Utley before giving up a colossial shot to left by Howard for a 2-run shot of his own to put the score at 10-2 Phillies

 

 

 

 

 

Phillies Pounce on Rays’ Mistakes

 

 

Phillies 5, Rays 4

 

 

I remember a couple of years ago I went up to Cleveland for a series against the Indians and the weather turned ugly during the night. A rain system decided to drop over the Great Lakes and dump a bit of rain on the city during the night and at 1 pm that Sat. afternoon it was still coming down pretty good.

I came to the stadium decked out in my Rays outerwear that I got from Jesus Colome when he was still with the club and was running through the stands like a chicken with my head cut off. I always loved playing in the rain in college, and I was one of the crazies who braved the rain during that Tampa Bay Rowdies/ Ft Lauderdale Strikers game back in the early 80’s that left Tampa Stadium a waterfall.

 

 

So you know I was anxous when I saw the same type of system come up from the south and blanket the Philly area for most of the day. I was some tight rain that came down in buckets for a long time, but it was followed by the chilly wind that kid of went straight down to your bones. I am too old now to run like a chicken, but I did look like a turkey gobbling to the Bullpen guys as they came out to get some throwing in before the game.

 

 

Rain is the great equalizer. It can take a fast team and make them slow, or it can make a homer-happy team become the best small ball hitters in the league. I was watching the crew throw down a ton of wet-dry all over the onfield and on the warning tracks beofre the game. I was curious if the added granules would make the ball do funny things when it bounced on an infielder.

 

 

 I know it was not like the kitty litter type dry compound I used to put out at accident scenes, but wondered if it was slick on top of the clay infield.  I guess all was well, becuase no one seemed to have abad hop, or an ill advised ball start to go right and turn left on them. Guess I have a lot to learn about a stadium without a roof.

 

 

Top of the Order

The Rays came into the World Series knowing that they needed more production out of the top of our batting order. In the first few games of the series the top of the order had some impact, but most of it was on ground ball RBI’s and not clutch hits or drives to the deep parts of the ballpark for sacrifice flys.

In tonight game, the top 4 batters went a combined 2-15, with 7 strikeouts. To make matter worse, Evan Longoria, who is mired in a terrible batting slump had a sure thing home run brought back into the park by Mother Nature tonight. you could see the expression on Phillies’ starter Jamie Moyer’s face that he also thought the ball was into the stands and the Rays would have been ahead at the point in the game.

 

 

Instead, the ball was heading out and did a swift drop about 3 feet from the wall into Pat Burrell’s glove for the last out of the 6th inning. To make matters even worse, the Phillie crowd was on Longoria early chanting “Eva” to him on every play and at bat. For the entire night, only 5 balls from the top of the lineup even left the infield. 2of those were singles by B J Upton. Akinora Iwamura hit to long drives to right, but Jayson Werth was under the ball with ease.

 

B J Upton is a Speed Machine

After the last couple of series for the Rays, no one has questioned the drive and determination of Upton. Funny how a few months agowe even wondered if he wanted to play baseball, and now we would be a totally different, and maybe not even in this World Series without him.

Upton hit a nice liner into left just over the head of Jimmy Rollins in the 6th inning. Upton then took off on the first pitch to Evan Longoria with 2-outs and stole his first base of the night. Upton was in position to score, but Longoria hit his towering ball to left that was caught at the track by Burrell to end the inning.

 

 

Then again in the 8th inning, Upton lead-off the inning with a infield single to short that Rollins could not make a play on in time to get the speedy Upton. With no outs in the inning, it was only a matter of time before Upton tried to steal another base tonight.  On the 2nd pitch to Longoria, Upton again stole second for his second swipe of the night.

He then waited  2 more pitches then tried to steal third base, and got in safe, but he kicked the ball towards the Rays dugout and came in to score on the throwing error by Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz.  that knotted the score at 4-4. The play helped Upton steal an amazing 3 base tonight to tie a World Series record.

 

Last Chance for the Rays

In the bottom of the 9th inning, the score was still tied 4-all, with the Phillies getting the last at bats in the game.  J P Howell remained in the game and got a 2-1 count on Eric Bruntlett before he hit him with a pitch. Howell was then relieved by Grant Balfour in the game.

Balfour then had a 1-1 count on him before he unleashed a Wild Pitch that went to the backstop and came right back to Dioner Navarro. He then tried to get Bruntlett, who was heading to second on the steakl, but the ball sailed to the right of Jason Bartlett and bounced into centerfield for an error on Navarro.

Balfour then intentionally walked Shane Victorino. Gregg Dobbs then came up as a pinch hitter and was also Intentionally walked to load the bases. At this time, Rays Manager Joe Maddon came out and instituted his 5-man infield formation with Ben Zobrist manning up the middle of the infield. Upton and Carl Crawford were playing shallow right-center and left respectfully.

 

 

Ruiz then came up and took the count to  2-2 before putting a slow moving grounder down the third baseline that Longoria fielded. He then tried to toss it over Bruntlett, who was racing for home, but the ball sailed beyond Navarro’s reach and the Phillies won on that play.

Bruntlett did the right thing by running inside of the baseline towards the plate to take away any possible throw from the infield. the ball would have to have been a perfect lob just over his shoulder to get him at the plate.

 

                

 

Carl Crawford also had Some Magic Tonight

Crawford came into the game wanting to be more of an offensive threat for the Rays. He ended up going 2-4 on the night, with 2 runs scored. In the top of the 2nd inning, Crawford lead off with a blooper single into left that was tailing away from Burrell the enitre time it was in the air. the ball fell a foot from him and Crawford slid into second with a double on the play.

 

 

Crawford then made his presence know on the bases by stealing third on the 2nd pitch to Gabe Gross. For the playoffs, Crawford is a perfect 7 for 7 stealing bases. 3 pitches later, Gross hit a sacrifice fly to deep right center to score Crawford and tie the game up 1-all. In the 7th inning, Crawford lead off the inning with a bunt to the right side of the infield that could not be handled by Moyer in time.

Navarro then came up and hit a double to put both men in scoring position with no outs in the inning. Gross then hit a ball deep behind first base that Howard had to stab and Crwford walked in to score for the Rays. 

 

               

 

 Jason Bartlett then hit a grounder to short that Rollins had to throw to first and Navarro scored to make it  a 1-run game, 4-3 Phillies. Crawford and Navarro tonight had 4 of the Rays 6 hits on the night. They also scored 3 of the Rays 4 runs in the game.

 

Navarro’s Throws

Tonight was one of those good news, bad news kind of nights for Navarro. He had a hot bat at the plate, but had a few situations behind the dish that cost the Rays some runs, and put some dangerous people in scoring position. In the 1st inning, there was a Wild Pitch by Garza that darted away from Navarro after hitting the thumb section of his catcher’s mitt. It moved 2 runners into scoring position for the Phillies. the good news is only 1 run scored in the inning, and the Rays were only down 1-0 at the time.

 

 

In the 3rd inning, Navarro made a perfect throw onto the glove of Iwamura that he easily tagged out Rollins trying to steal seond base. It came down in the perfect spot to tag his lead hand before it hit the bag. And in the 8th inning, Navarro called for a pick-off play at second on Werth and got him leaning hard towards third base. J P Howell put a strike into Bartlett who got Werth by a foot.

In the 9th inning, Navarro had no chance on the outside pitch by Grant Balfour that went to the backstop. The ball looked like it was about to hit Shane Victorino, but broke heard at the last moment and went beyond Navarro. On the winning play in the 9th inning, Navarro could do nothing but stand on the plate as the ball as the ball sailed a good 5 feet above him for the winning run.

 

 

Matt Garza’s Wild Night

With the rain delay you have to think that Matt Garza might have over-psyched himself for this game. With the 90 minute plus delay in the start of the game, you have to think he was just sitting there with his Ipod on just chilling and maybe getting into his own head a bit.

He did not come out strong as he gave up a single to Rollins on the 2nd pitch of the game to centerfield. He then walked Werth on 5 pitches, and then threw the Wild Pitch 2 pitches later that moved them both into scoring position.  He got out of that inning only giving up a single run to Victorino. In the 2nd inning,he got 2 quick outs before giving up a fastball inside to Ruiz who slammed it into the stands in leftfield for a solo shot and put the Phillies up 2-1.

 

                  

 

In the 3rd inning, he gave up singles to Rollins and Werth to lead-off the inning before settling down and getting 2 quick outs.  In the 4th, it looked like he was under control as he struck out the side on 19 pitches. In 6th inning he ran into his worst problems of the night as he gave up a solo shot to lead-off the inning to Chase Utley.

 

             

 

Ryan Howard then came up homer-less in the series, and he sent the 2-2- pitch into the rightfield stands for another solo shot and put the Phillies up 4-1 at the time. It was the 14th time in World Series history that a team went back-to-back with homers in a game. For the night, Garza went 6 innings and threw 102 pitches in the game. He had 7 strikeuots, but also gave up 3 solo homers in the contest.

Garza did show some moments of brilliant pitching as he was using both sides of the plate well against the Phillies.  I truly think the extra time either warming up in the Bullpen or sitting in the lockerrom before warming up might have played a bit with his mind. He did not seem to have that normal sharpness we have come to know from Garza early in the ballgame. But he did fight through it and posted a decent game under the circumstances.

 

 

This was one of those games that the Rays sually won during the season. They worked hard all game long to tie up the contest, then sually they go ahead and the Bullpen shuts down the opposition. But tonight the gameplan did not work that way and the Rays found themselves in an unusual position. In the 9th inning, Maddon used a psychological weapon in his 5-man infield, but the plan did not go off without a hitch.

The perfect play would not have been down the third baseline with the runner barrelling down on Navarro without a throwing lane. All Navarro had to do was step on the bag for the force out, but Longoria could not get it to him effectively.

But it is still early in thie World Series and either team can still mount a offensive and take over the series. With a 2-1 series advantage right now, the Phillies do have the upper hand, but the Rays have always been a team to look down the odds and play baseball. I am looking forward to tonight’s contest featuring Joe Blanton and Andy Sonnanstine. Both pitchers like to get the ball fast and rock and fire, so it might be a really fast game.

Considering that tonight’s contests did not get over until way after 1:30 a.m., I think both teams are looking forward to a night game and not an afternoon contest. It will also give the field a few extra hours to drain and dry out in the sun before they re-line it and we play another great World Series contest.

 

 

 

 

 

Rays Even the Series Against Phillies

 

 

 

From Batting Practice on last night the Tampa Bay Rays looked loose and in control compared to the stiff and “deer in the headlights” stares from Weds. night. As the Rays get some playoff vibes they will no longer have those gitters and butterflies. It was just a case of International stage fright last night. They came out on fire and ready to rock the house on Thursday night.

From the offset, the Rays were joking around and just more “rays-like” last night. Gone was the pressure to put a 2-spot up on the Phillies and make them play like a champion up in their park this weekend. Also gone was the aspect that the Rays did not belong here, that luck and a great pitching staff got them here, not offensive talent.

Funny that Fox put a mic on Jonny Gomes last night. Of all the people to mic up on the bench, Jonny can give you the best sound bytes, but you have to keep a censor near you too. The conversation between him and Andy Sonnanstine was fantastic. I do not know what  it is about the bandwagon comments by the Philly fans, but alot of us have been here for a long time, and we are not going anywhere.

I get so upset when the Philly media calls the are a “bandwagon community.” There is that cottage element in every town. Some poeple just do not want to believe until it is thrust into their faces 24/7, then they jump on a bandwagon with gusto. But to say that ALL Rays fans are bandwagoneers is just plain stupid and lacks a certain amount of braincells.

 Prove I have not been a long time fan if you are so inclined, and I will pull out the tickets tubs and stadium giveaways to prove you are full of it all. Prove I am only going to the game becuase we are in the Playoffs and I will show you pictures from Rays finctions and events you do not even know about. Prove I was not here in 1998, and I will hit you in the head with my purple seat cushion given out at the first game ever for the Rays.

 

 

Los Lonely Boys

Now that was a National Anthem. It was clean, concise and had a great amount of harmony without needing a timeout to just catch up with the octave changes. I really enjoyed their performance alot. Just goes to show you that a band that has a more country-based roots can wing it with the best of them.

But, I do have to take exception to an article I saw in a local fishwrap. MLB must be crazy to not give the Rays the top choices in the anthem singers. I saw that the Phillies will have Taylor Swift singing on Sat. night. Guess we are not worthy yet of a breakthrough country artist in the dirty south. Guess we would not understand her country twang and  great vocals.

Guess it is back to the pumpkin patch for all of us. And the Sunday anthem singer might just be the best of all of them. I loove hearing Patti LaBelle sing period. That is my music era, and I relish it. I am really anxoius to hear that woman belt out a tune on her pipes. It might be the best one I have heard since that Whitney Houston performance at the Tampa Super Bowl a million years ago.

 

 

Evan Longoria

Fist off Evan, congrats on the nod by The Sporting News  for top  AL rookie this year in the MLB. There is no one else in the American League right now that can touch you defensively or offensively. It is a great honor and one you truly deserve this year.

With that out of the way, let’s get doen to business here. What is going on with you at the plate dude. In the ALDS and ALCS you started out slow and by now got your groove on, but so far you are in a tire rut of  a major hole. In the World Series, you are currently hitting goose eggs for 8, with 4 strikeouts.

Granted if anyone on this team deserves some slack, it is you. But I do not consider you  a rookie. You do not act or play like one, and to not throw that label on you is a treu hnor in itself. But, dude this team needs that clean-up guy to poke a few balls into the holes and provide some protection for Pena and Crawford in the batting order.

 

 

So far the only people scared of you is the couple in the front row of Section 110, who have seen a ball flash before their eyes in the past couple of series from either your glove or Jason Bartletts’. The ball down the line last night was not within your reach, and that error charged to you was for force of the ball, not your effort. We all know you are the second coming of Brook Robinson at third, but why do you have to be hitting like Vinny Castilla right now on the biggest stage of your life.

 

    

 

Upton and Pena Wake up from Slumber

Last night the 2-3-4 hitters for the Rays went 2-11, but the two were hits by B J Upton. That does not tell all of the story here. The trio also scored 3 RBI’s in the game, even though there was no hits by Pena and Longoria.  The Rays scored 2 runs on ground outs in the 1st inning. During the regular season, the Rays only drove in about 53.2 percent of the men from third base with less than 2-outs, which was the 6th worst percentage in the majors.

But last night, the Rays put the Phillies down early as Akinora Iwamura walked to lead off the game, and Upton hit a beauty into rightfirld that was mishandled by Jason Werth. With the ball bouncing on the ground towards Werth, he took his eye off the ball long enough to make a bad adjustment and the ball hit the outside of the glove and bounced away from him. That left men on the corner with no outs for the Rays.

Pena then hit a strong grounder to Jimmy Rollins at short and he had to make the play at first base. With that smash, Iwamura easily scored from third and Upton moved over to thrid base on the play. Evan Longoria then hit another screamer to Rollins, who had to duplicate his throw again to first and Upton came in to score to put the Rays up 2-0.

 

 

Rays Keep Pressure on Phillies

The Rays came out again in the 2nd inning and kept pressure on the Phillies on the bases. Dioner Navarro hit the first of his two hits to right in the inning and Rocco Baldelli walked on a controversial call.

With the count, 3-2, Rocco  was apparently rung up by Home Plate Umpire Kerwin Danley, but in an appeal to first, First Base Umpire Feildin Culbreth signaled that Baldelli checked his swing and a ball was called on the play. Replays showed that the Rays might have gotten a gift from that call as Baldelli’s wrist did break, and the play should have been a strikeout.

 

 

Bartlett then came up and hit a smash down to Pedro Feliz at thris that he could not get a handle on, and Bartlett reached on an infield single. This loaded the bases for the Rays with the top of the order coming up for the Rays. Aki quickly popped up to Rollins before Upton hit a ball to right. With Werth having trouble before on a grounder to right, Third Base Coach Tom Foley sent Navarro to the plate.

 

 

After he scored Foley also sent Baldelli to the plate and Rocco came in comepletely sideways into Phillies’ catcher, Carlos Ruiz, but could not dislodge the ball. It was a funny play to actually watch, becuase Baldelli did evrything he could to make Ruis drop the ball, but a overhead camera shot showed if he stuck his hand out beofre hitting Ruiz, he was safe at the corner of the plate.  But that is hindsight.

 

 

In the 4th inning, Cliff Floyd led off with a single to center for the Rays. Navarro then came up and hit a ball up the middle to put 2 men on base for the Rays. Baldelli then came up and hit a ball off the end of the bat to Feliz, who threw to seocnd base to get Navarro. Utley tried to get Baldelli at first, but could not get his throw off in time to snag the speedy outfielder.

 

 

So with guys at the corners and 1-out, Bartlett came up and attempted  a suicide squezze on the first pitch, but bunted it foul. Floyd was breaking for home on the play and might have taken the ball into his body if not for the foul. Bartlett then attempted to bunt on the next pitch and put down a perfect safety squeeze bunt in front of  Phillie starter, Brett Myers. Myers only play was to first and Floyd easily scored to put the Rays up 4-0.

 

Phillie Errors

Phillie made two key errors in the game, but only one cost them any runs. The error in the first inning by Werth in right is the only play in the game to cost the Phillies. On that play, his slow movement to the ball coupled with  not watching the ball into his glove cost the team a early run.

 

 

In the 5th inning, Pena walked and was leading off first while Longoria was at the plate. On the 2nd pitch to Longoria, Ruiz fired a throw down to first hoping to catch Pena leaning, but instead the ball hit Howards in the glove and bounced over Pena into rightfield. Pena advanced to second on the play, but was stranded on base by 2 quick outs by the Rays.

 

            

 

James “Big Game” Shields

Considering this was a huge game for the Rays, what other pitcher did you want to hit the rubber than James Shields. He went out there and had problems in every innig, but remained cool and trusted his defense and came out with a win on the night. Shields went 5.2 innings and gave up 7-hits, but shut out the Phillies during his start.

But his night was not without drama. In the 2nd inning he gave up a double to Ryan Howard that 1-hopped to the wall in centerfield to lead off the inning. He then walked Pat Burrell  and threw a Wild Pitch to put both men in scoring position before settling down and getting 3 quick outs to strand the 2 Phillie runners on base.

 

 

In the 3rd, he again gave up a double to Ruiz down the leftfield line that bounced around in the corner on Crawford before setting down the next 3 Phillie batters in order. In the 4th, he gave up another lead-off single to Howard and gave Shane Victorino a infield single to second on a ball that hit the turf seam and bounced up on Iwamura. He again got it under control and set the next 2 Phillies down to strand both men on base.

 

 

In the 5th inning he got some help from Baldelli in getting out of the inning. With 1-out in the inning, Utley sent a shallow fly to right that Baldelli tracked down and caught in time. Werth had wandered too far off first base and was doubled up on a throw by Baldelli to Pena to end the inning.

In the 6th, Shields got two quick outs then issued a single to Victorino to right.  Greg Dobbs then came up and hit a 1-hopper to center that Upton could not catch in time and the Phillies had 2 men on with 2 outs. That was it for Shields and Rays Manager Joe Maddon went to the Bullpen.

 

 

The Price is Right in the Bullpen

Dan Wheeler then came in for the Rays and got Feliz to ground to Longoria, who threw to Iwamura for the force out and end the 6th inning.  Wheeler came back out in the 7th inning and gave up a walk to Ruiz to lad-off the inning.  He then got Rollins and Werth to strikeout to post two quick outs in the inning.

 

 

Maddon then came on and brought on David Price, the rookie to face Utley and Howard. Price gave up a walk to Utley befoe strking out Howard on 5 pitches to end the 7th inning. In the 8th, Price came back out and got 2 quick outs before Eric Bruntlett came on to pich hit for Burrell.

Bruntlett homered to left on the first pitch from Price to break the shutout for the Rays.  Price rebounded by getting Feliz to hit a grounder to short to end the inning with the Rays up 4-1. In the 9th inning, Ruiz lead off with a double down the left field line. Price then got Rollins to pop out to shallow center to Bartlett.

 

 

 

Longoria then had a ball ride up his glove and bounce away from him for his 1st error of the World Series. Ruiz scored on the play by Werth and pulled the Phillies to within 2 runs, 4-2. Utley then struck out and Howard hit a ball to Iwamura backing up behind first to end the game for the Rays. 

 

      

 

Remember Pitchers’, Chicks Dig the Long Ball

The Rays pitchers got their first real chance to step into the cages today during Batting Practice. With the games heading to the National League park, the Rays’ pitchers will have to bat in their games. Matt Garza and Andy Sonnanstine were seen taking their licks in the cages today.

 

 

Scott Kazmir also got into the action by hitting a few long and deep for the Rays during BP. All three batters/pitchers have a good stroke, and it will all get at least 2 at bats per outing up in Philly. The Rays pitchers’ have not had to bat since the Florida Marlins series in July of 2008. In the Interleague series this year, Andy Sonnanstine was the big pitcher’s stud hitting .400, or 2-5, with 2 walks in the series.  Matt Garza and Scott Kazmir went hitless going 0-4 and 0-2 respectfully.

 

 

 

Game 1 LIves Up to It’s Hype

 

Phillies 3, Rays 2

 

 

It was a night filled with energy, endless lines just to get food, and a huge bundle of memories and sights. Everywhere you looked you thought you saw a baseball player or a celebrity. 9 times out of 10 it was just a figment of your imagination. Then there I was getting a oversized Dr. Pepper and who do I see, an old frind who played with the Oakland A’s in the 80’s.

He had recently moved back to the Tampa Bay area after spending his post-MLB years working for a California baseball camp for years. He even had a slight move into the music video world back when it was a single camera and a dream of every singer to be om MTV. But, that was when they used to play only videos 24-7.

He was in a video by Richard Marx in his A’s uniform with Dennis Eckersley on the mound. To this day I still remember the song and the video like I just bought it on Itunes. Funny how a simple thing like a baseball game can transform you back into a simpler time when we used to dream about baseball here in Tampa Bay while sipping cool drinks under the sun at Al Lang watching the St. Petersburg Cardinals.

 

 

Bad 90’s Boy Band Flashback

In the 1990’s it seemd that the Backstreet Boys owned the Pop charts in the U.S.( I was not a fan.) They had a nation of women wanting to curl up to Howie or Nick, or AJ ( I was not a fan.) And then they split up to do the solo thing like every other band that sees the light at the end of the cash register line  ( I was not a fan). Then they got back together and made more mature music about things like, well music (I am becoming less tone deaf to them). Then they do the National Anthem at the First  World Series game for the Tampa Bay Rays ( I am listening).

What is upsetting about their performance is not the fact it was an ac capella redition of a timeless classic, but the way it was done. I like harmonies and great vocal ranges, but it was a bit too 90’s Boy Band for me ( But it did have a kind of rhythm). They would have not heard a single boo or chuckle if they came out there and did a harmonious redition with out the free range pitches and vocal runs that made it more of a joke than a serious moment ( I did dig it for a moment). Le’t hope that Los Lonely heard their redition last night and will do a classic sing your butt off National Anthem. It will bring down the house and sedn the Trop into the next level.

 

 

StealabaseStealataco.com

With a 5 second lunge from first to second, Jason Bartlett became the lastest Rays to become the center of a trivia question. By going the 60 feet to second and sliding in before the throw of Phillies catcher, Carlos Ruiz, he became the favorite Rays for millions of fans in the U.S.

All because of a simple crunchy spicy beef taco. That’s right, Jason Bartlett became the focal point of Taco Bell’s latest ad gimmick, Stealabasestealataco, where everyone in America can run to the border on Tuesday, October 28th, from 2-6 p.m. and eat a simple concoction from old Mexico for FREE.

 

 

Aki Gets the Party Started Right

Akinora Iwamura started off this year’s World Series for the Rays with announcing his order in the lineup on National TV. That is right, Aki spoke english to the masses on Fox last night. For a while now Aki has been speaking english to fans and team mates, but until last night, he did not come out to America that he could speak our native tongue. The vocal was crisp, clean and all-Aki, complete with that smile at the end.

The he goes out in the bottom of the first and makes history on the 6th pitch of the night. that is when Aki put a ball down the first baseline that got both Cole Hamels and Ryan Howard to do a dancing with the Phillies rendition on first base. It was the Rays’ first hit in the World Series, and it also showed there was some rust in the Philies defense.

Aki got taken out by a double play by B J Upton 3 pithces later, but the historical hit was in the book for Aki. Then in the 3rd inning, Aki again came up and ripped a single to right for his second hit of the night. Again Upton took all the thunder away by hitting a smash down to third that turned into a 5-4-3 double play to end the inning.

Then in the 5th Aki came up with a chance to also make some more Rays history. After a Bartlett walk with 2-outs in the inning, Aki was at the plate when Bartlett became America’s sweetheart by stealing second base on a 3-1 count. Aki had a front row seat to Taco Time in Tampa Bay.  3 pitches later Aki stroked a double into the gap in left-center and scored Bartlett for  second run of the night for the Rays.  But beyond that, it also put Aki at 3 for 3 on the night and flirting with history.

Aki came up to bat in the 8th inning wondering if the magic was still there for him to maybe do the unthinkable and go 4 for 4 tonight. He worked the count to 3-2 against Phillie reliever Ryan Madson then got a nice ball to drive to right, but he hit a little under the ball and Jason Werth made an easy play to end the streak for Aki.

 

 

Mental Errors

There were a few plays that turned the tide for the Rays last night. The pick-off at second base of Chase Utley might have gone the Rays way if the throw was a few inches lower to the bag. The Rays did have him dead-to-rights at second, but a Kazmir throw sailing a bit high made the tag more difficult and time consuming.

 

 

Another play by Kazmir that had a few heads shaking was the light toss to Pena on a play hit back to Kazmir in the 5th inning. The play unfolded as Burrell was pitched inside and only got a bit of the bat on the ball hit back done the line at first. Kazmir came off the mound and picked up the ball and tossed a light-hearted effort to Pena over Burrell’s left shoulder.

 

 

Because Burrell was racing right down the line it took out the angle for Kazmir to fire a bullet for an easy out. Pena could not handle the throw and bobbled the ball before finally letting it hit the dirt. It was scored as a error on Pena, his first in a long time.

 

That was not the only play that showed the Rays nervousness and lack of initial concentration. Upton had a ball he sprinted in for hop beyond his glove and Ben Zobrist backing Upton up on the play made a nice grab to keep the runner from scoring. It was a aggressive play by Upton, that I will not find fault in, but at the wrong time in the ballgame.

 

 

The infield also had a few balls come up hard on them and forced bad looking plays at second and shortstop. But both Aki and Bartlett swallowed the ball instead of making a late, and maybe costly mistake on the field for the Rays. All in all, it was a night that showed the anxious nature of the team.

 

           

 

B J Being B J

No, I am not comparing him to Manny here. Upton just had one of those nights you just have to sit back reflect on for 10 seconds then flush it down the drain and get off your butt and start all over again. Upton became the first player in major league baseball history to ground into double plays on his first two at bats in the World Series. Not a record for the scrapbook, but it did look bad at the moment.

In reflection, Upton just had a few bad pitches up tight inside that he fought off to get contact on and hit to people instead of the holes or over people. It is the place where he will see pitches for the rest of the series.

They will be crowding him up by his armpits or tossing it outside, low hoping for a low driving ball for more double plays. Upton just has to adjust a bit and he will be back into the hitting fold and wrecking havoc on everyone in the Phillies jersey. Upton also had a play down the first baseline right to Howard that ended the Rays rally in the 5th inning. The ball squirmed its way to Howard who made an easy run to first to end the inning for the Rays.

 

 

Then there was the play that everyone in the stadium buzzing Upton’s name for long after the play. Shane Victorino is a huge baserunning threat on the Phillies lineup. So when he singled in the 2nd inning off Kazmir, you knew the night was about to get very exciting. 2 walks in the inning put Victorino on third base with 1 out in the inning.

You knew that a fly ball anywhere in the stadium could score the speedster from third.  Jimmy Rollins then came up and took the 2nd pitch from Kazmir into mid centerfield. Upton took the ball in and locked and fired within a nano second to home. Victorino had tagged up and was chugging down the line at Navarro. The ball came in as a strike to Navvaro even before Victorino began to slide.

 

 

Because the ball got there early, Navarro was able to position himself up the line a bit and took Victorino totally out of the play and tagged him out for the 3rd out in the inning, and end the Phillies rally.  Lost in the moment weas the throw by Upton that pegged him at the plate. It was aperfect example of what Upton will be able to do for the Rays in this series. you could hear Matt Garza yellng “You do not want to test the cannon” on the bench after the play. But that was just B J being B J.

 

 

Fans Can Get into the Game

I am a firm believer in fans having a say in the game on the sidelines. Now I am not talking about yelling and clanging our cowbells, but if the ball comes beyond that green devider on the field, the players enter the “fan zone.”

In this area, it is our duty as the home fans to make it as difficult and as hard for a visiting team;s player to get that ball as possible. If you stand there and not let them get a good glove on the ball, or even grab it yourslef before the player gets it, the umpire will just chuckle. But if you interfere by touching him or slapping it out of his glove, then you will get poped by the Fan Interference rule.

I have done this a few times down the rightfield line in my 11 years following the Rays. Have been in the face of a few players as they have attempted to catch, and eventaken 1 away from another team’s right fielder. I took a sure thing foul ball away from the New York Yankees Raul Mondesi about 5 years back, and I used to talk to him every game at the Trop after that play. He respected that I knew the rules enough to make sure I was in my zone before darting my glove up and taking the ball before it hit his glove. It was nothing personal, and the batter struck out on the next pitch, but it gave my team a chance, and that is the Fan’s way to impact a game.

 

     

 

Kazmir Take the Loss

Scott Kazmir did not deserve to take this loss tonight. I was a hard fought game that turned into the pitchers’ duel we all knew it would be. It had great moments by both pitchers, and some Kazmir moments we have all come to expect during his starts. Kazmir went 6 innings of 3-hit 3-run ball. His command was all over the place at times, then his slider took control of the game a few times too.

Kazmir got the game started with a bang by issuing an early walk to Jayson Werth then Chase Utley hit a hanging pitch for a 2-run shot to right that gave the Phillies an early 2-0 lead. Kazmir again got into trouble early in the 2nd inning by giving up a leadoff single to Victorino and then  issuing 2 more walks, before Upton gunned down Victorino at the plate to end the inning.

In the 3rd, Kazmir gave up a double to Werth, who was leading off the inning down the rightfield line. He rebounded in the inning and got two quick strikeouts from Howard and Burrell to end the inning. In the 4th, Victorino again got a blooper single to center to lead-off the 4th inning.  Pedro Feliz then hit a ball right by Kazmir for a single to put two mwn on in the inning.

 

 

Carlos Ruiz then came up and got a grounder to short that scored Victorino and gave the Phillies a 3-0 lead in the game. He had an uneventful 5th inning, then gave up another lopping single to Pedro Feliz to open the 6th inning before 2 straight fly ball ended the inning for the Phillies. Kazmir ended up with 4 walks and 4 srtikeouts on the night for the Rays.

 

 

Carl Crawford Makes Ray’s History

In the bottom of the 1st inning the Rays players’ each introduced themselves on Fox before they began the game. When the camera got to the fifth ray, Carl Crawford, he announced he was”hitting leftfield”. It was a classic moment in the Rays’ first foreray into the International spotlight. Crawford immediately looked off camera and asked if there was going to be another take. When he was told it was all live, he got back into true CC character and smiled that dimpled smile and did his line correctly for the camera.

When Crawford came up in the 4th inning, the Rays already how 2-outs in the inning. He got Cole Hamels to serve him up a nice curveball and deposited that first pitch into the rightfield stands for the Rays first run in the World Series. With that swing, Crawford became to trivia answer for, scoring the first run, the first homer, and first RBI in a World Series game for the Rays.

 

 

Missed Opportunities

The Rays missed some golden moments in the game against the Phillies that might have tied or won the game for them tonight.  The Rays missed a huge opportunity in the 3rd inning when Zobrist hit a single to left. He moved to second on Bartlett’s walk and then advanced to third on a shallow single by Aki into rightfield.

The Rays could have tested Werth’s arm in right, but decided that 1  out in the inning, they would get another chance to score. 3 pitches later, Upton hit into his second double play of the night.

Upton, Pena and Longoria went 0-12 tonight , with 5 strikeouts. None of those three batters even hit a ball out of the infield all night long. If the Rays are to get even in this series tonight, the 2-3-4 hitters of the rays have to step up and prove that the Rays deserve to be in this World Series.

Before tonight’s game, this 3-man unit of the Rays have produced  37 hits, 16 homers and 34 RBI’s in the 2008 postseason for the Rays.  For the team to tie the series up against the Phillies, this group needs to reconnect with the ball and begin to produce for the Rays.

 

 

Red Sox Force a Game 7 Showdown

 

 

I got a text about 2 minutes before the first pitch that TBS had some sort of malfunction in Atlanta and most of the country got to watch an old Dick Clark America’s Funniest Videos for a while. I guess some one either for got to plug in one plug, or Atlanta decided that the “Heidi Game” needed a 2008 twist.

I was told that the channel got it corrected about the middle of the 1st inning and all was well in TV-land. I even heard that they were kind enough to recap the inning and show B J Upton’s catwalk homer to the home audience. Well, TBS (Totaled Botched Signal) I guess we can forgive you if you can lay off the pro-Boston comments for at least one more day. I am sorry we are ruining the networks plans of a Boston vs. LA series, but another team also is at fault………..blame Philly, they throw snowballs at Santa Claus.

 

Red Sox 4, Rays 2

 

 

 

Umpire Goes Down

It was a night for the weird and unusal at the Trop. I was told by a friend in the St. Petersburg Police Department that only about 7 people had to be escorted out of the building tonight. That is a major improvement over the 32 or more that had a bad night about a week ago for Games 1 and 2. But that was not even the wildest thing to happen in the game.

In the top of the 4th inning, Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek finally hit something tonight. He actually got his first hit off the home plate umpire, Derryl Cousins. It saeems that when Varitek fouled off  his 0-2 pitch, it hit the mask of Cousins and traveled down towards the shoulder and chest area.

At the top of the 5th inning, Cousins conferred with Umpire Crew Chief  Tim McCelland ans they decided that he had to be removed from the game and transported to a local hospital. McCelland came out in his gear and officiated the rest of the game as the home plate umpire.

The rest of the umpires then did the Harlem Shuffle and they left the leftfield outfield area vacant becuase they did not have an additional umpire on hand to take Cousins’ position. Word finally came back that Cousins had suffered a bruised Clavicle and would possibily return for Sunday’s contest.

 

 

B J Upton’s En Fuego

To say that B J Upton is hot is an understatement in the ALCS. His 1st inning shot off the “C” ring at the Trop. would have cleared the Green Monster tonight again. It was a grand high shot that would have maybe reached the Beach if the ring was not there. That give Upton now 7 homers in this playoff season, which tied him with Former Angel Troy Glaus, who hit 7 in 2003. It might only be 4 homers in the ALCS, but Upton is putting on a show at the plate during this series.

 

 

James Big Game Shields

The Rays were questioned when they decided to swap their starters for Games 5 and 6. I really do not see the hassle since tonight’s starter was a combined 9-2 at home this year and it would also have put him back in line to pitch the first game if we clinched tonight. Shields has been one of those guys this year who wants the pressure cooker situations and has come out smelling like a rose on most nights.

Tonight, tho, he did get into trouble early, when Red Sox lead-off man Coco Crisp laid down a bunt towards Evan Longoria, but it was moving so slow there was no play. Shields did make amends as he picked Crisp off  of first after the thrid pitch to Dustin Pedroia.

 

 

Shields then got into trouble early in the 2nd when lead-off batter, Kevin Youkilis hit a 1-2 count hanging fastball overe the left-centerfield wall to tie the score at 1-all. He then gave up 2 hits to the nest three batters before getting control of the inning and getting the last 2 bstters to fly out to strand 2 Boston baserunners.

In the 3rd inning, he walked Pedoia, who advance to third on David Ortiz’s double down the rightfield line. Youkilis then hit a ball to Jason Bartlett and Pedroia waltzed in to put Boston up 2-1.  In the 3rd inning, Shields threw 31 pitches and issued 3 walks to the Red Sox.

Shields was cruising along until in the 5th inning, J D Drew hit a liner just over the glove of Gabe Gross in rightfield for a double. Drew ended up getting stranded on base.  In the 6th, Shield gave Jason Varitek his first hit in the ALCS, and his first homer that went into the first row of Section 146 in the Trop. That did not end the scoring in the inning.

Crisp then came up and hit a single off Shields that deflected to Akinora Iwamura, but he could not get a throw off in time.  Shields exited the game after Crisp’s hit and went 5.2 innings and gave up 9-hits and 4 runs on the night.

 

                   

 

Rays Bullpen Troubles

Rays reliever J P Howell then came on to try and get the last out of the 6th inning for the Rays. This brought up Pedroia again, who hit a ball to Bartlett, but the throw went high and wide of Pena and the Red Sox had runners at the corners with 2-outs.

David Ortiz then hit an RBI-single to center to score Crisp and put the Red sox up for good 4-2.  Howell threw 1 inning tonight and got 1 strikeout and gave up a single hit for the night. His ERA is sitting at 3.60 for the Rays. He also hit Jason Bay in the 7th inning to put a Red Sox runner on with 1-out.

Grant Balfour then came on in the 7th inning and walked the first batter, Jed Lowries before settling down and getting Varitek to fly out to Gross for the last out of the inning.

 

 

Chad Bradford then came on in the 8th inning and Pedroia hit a ball back up the middle that hit Bradfors in his leg and he completed a high but good throw for the first out of the inning. The Rays then Intentionally walked Ortiz. The plan worked out great for the Rays as Youkilis hit into a perfect 5-4-3 around-the-horn double play to end the inning.

Bradford then came out for a quick fly out by Drew to left, and a grounder to Bartlett for an easy 2nd out before leaving the game. Trever Miller then came in and got Mark Kotsday to hit a pop up to Longoria to end the top of the 9th inning.

 

                

 

Jason Bartlett

The mighty shortstop is not known for his power, but tonight hit a slowly curving ball that evaded the leftfield foulpole for his first postseason homer of his career. It was also the 2nd homer this year for Bartlett. They Rays did not have alot of offensive power tonight as both their runs came off homers by Bartlett and Upton.

 

 

Unusual Offensive Night

The Rays had a few plays that made you just sit and wonder tonight.  With the Red Sox up 2-1 Bartlett got hit on the elbow by a pitch and the Rays could not capitalize on the play. The Rays usually could and would have gotten somehting out of that play in recent games.

In the 4th inning, Carl Crawford reached out for an outsdie pitch and sent a dying quail into left for a single. He then stole second base and with Cliff Floyd at the plate, the Rays looked like they were about to do something in this game. But Floyd hit a hard ball down the rightfield line that was stopped by Kotsay, who barely got the throw to Beckett in time to get Floyd.

 

 

Then in the 5th inning, Dioner Navarro hit a nice single to center to start off the inning. Then he tried to steal second base, and was gunned down by Varitek.  After Zobrist hit a long fly to center for the 2nd out, Bartlett hit his homer to left. If Navarro had not tried to steal the base, it would have been a 2-run shot for Bartlett. Longoria walked in the 6th inning, but a Crawford double play ball ended the inning for the Rays.

 

In the 7th inning, the Rays went down 1-2-3 on 12 pitches. In the bottom of the 8th inning, Bartlett was again hit by a pitch and was stranded on base by a quick strikeout and 2 pop ups to second base. In the 9th inning, the Rays went down 1-2-3-, with Willy Aybar hitting a strong liner down the third baseline that Youkilis grabbed to end the game.

 

                  

 

Gabe Gross in Rightfield

I mentioned the play in the 5th inning before, but above is the picture of that liner hit by Drew. Gross started to go back on the ball, and either it changed flight, or he lost it for a second in the lights as the ball went about  6 inches to his right before falling to the turf.

In the bottom of the inning, Gross was pinch-hit by Ben Zobrist, who remained in the game in rightfield for the Rays. For the ALCS, Gross has gone 0-10 and had a few mis-guided play in right. Some poele say he had a chance for the ball on Thursday night, but we will never know as the ball skirted over the wall for the game winning single.

Weird thing there, since Drew did not go past first base, he was credited with a single only and not a ground rule double on the game ending play. Some say that Gross had a straight shot at the ball if he left his feet and dove at the ball. But that is hind-sight at this point.

 

 

 

In the 9th inning of tonight’s game, the Rays bench did not have that electric look it has had all season long. It seemed a bit subdued and emotion-less for the first time in a long time. If the Rays are to win tomorrow’s Game 7 showdown with the Red Sox, they need to regain that fire tonight.

There is no time to sulk or pity anything tonight. They have to get that motivation back and recharge themselves to take the Red Sox on by the throat and throttle them tomorrow night. It is a due or die situation, with the winner getting to play again on Weds. against the Phiadelphia Phillies. With a Rays loss, not only is their season over, but they will give the Home Field Advantage gaunlet to the Red Sox.

They have to come out like gangbuster and take this series back, or head to the golf course. I personally want to see a little more baseball this year guys, so let’s go out and kick some bean-town booty tomorrow night. This town has been crazy the last month or so, more than it has in a long, long time. And you guys are the reason for it. Treat yourself, treat the fans, and treat the nation to a little more Rays-ball this Fall.

 

See you at the Champagne bin.

Rays Stumble Against Red Sox 8-7

 

 

             

 

Have the media not guessed by now that Rays Manager, Joe Maddon is the Nutty Professor. Yes, he does do something that are not by the book for major league baseball managers’. He jokes with his players’, does not chew them out in public, and has some very unusual tactics for playing this great game.  He has given an Intentional Base on Balls to one of the game new power hitter( Josh Hamilton). He has a persoanl winecellar in his office for post game tasting. And he is the guy who convinced his “lefites” to go “righties” against Tim Wakefield in three games this year, and they won all three of them.

Logic is not just math to Maddon. He truly believes that the game should be played at an advantage, not to an unwritten rule book. If he wants his team to wear garter belts on their uniforms, don’t you think he has earned the respect that the team would do it without question? Then why are people questioning his move of putting his 4 plus years of major league service ace on the mound in place of James Shields.

There is method to the maddness people. One has a horrid record in the confines of Fenway Park, the other has handcuffed the Red Sox on numerous occasions over his career. I think it was a great move, and one that worked out to show he has a bit of mad genius to him. you either see genius or insanity in his moves. But if his moves are insane, you can committ me right now becuase he has us one game away from  a date with the Holy Grail.    Amen Joe, Amen.

 

Red Sox 8, Rays 7

 

 

 

 

Scott Kazmir

People seem to forget that Scott Kazmir has been in the majors now over 4 seasons. They  seem to forget that for years he has been the driving force behind the pitching for the Tampa Bay Rays. He is the guy who has been responsible for making it attractive to pitch in Tampa Bay again.

People talk about the big three pitchers and he is not listed first, but should be. He was the young prince who has started that revolution, yet the public gives him the backseat.  Kazmir has done anything and everything for this franchise, why not give him a chance to drive us to the big party against the Philadelphia Phillies.

 

 

 

 

Kazmir only came out last night and pitched a superb game in which he threw 6 innings of 3-hit, shutout baseball. Let me repeat that again, 2-hit, shutout baseball. And people have questioned his big game mentality. I think he answered them with a huge response in this game. He held this Red Sox team to almost noghting in 6 innings, and they were in a severe chokehold when he left the game.

He also got 7 strikeouts on the night, but then you expect him throwing thunder from the guy who won the 2007 strikeout crown. He was the old Kazmir, darting the fastball and sneaking in the slider to make you look foolish at the plate. I was marveling at the way he was again playing the game with Boston, making them think and try and outwit him at the plate.

 

 

 

 

He is one of this teams young studs, all under 26 years of age. And guess what, you will see him for another 5 years pushing the ball past batters every year and getting better.  And people were questioning why he was getting the start. Look at the boxscore, the answer is clear in black and white.

 

 

 

 

Bullpen Meltdown

When was the last time the Ray’s could say they had a Bullpen sitiation on their hands, last season?  This is not to say that the Rays have to refurbish or remodel the way the Bullpen is used in the series, this was an isolated implosion of unsual proportions. The Rays have been proud and secure in their relievers’ all season long, and tonight they had not reason to doubt them.

Coming into the 7th inning, the Rays had no idea of the meltdown that was to occur in this contest. Grant Balfour entered the game with a modest ERA, he left the game after 2/3rds of an innig last night with a postseason mark of 22.50 ERA. In the 7th inning, Balfour came on and gave up a huge double to Jed Lowrie on the 2nd pitch of the inning. This was one of the first time tonight Boston had a man in scoring position.

Balfour then got two quick fly balls outs to B J Upton before giving up a single to Coco Crisp and putting men on the corners for the Red Sox. Dustin Pedroia then cam up with men in scoring position for only the 2nd time this series. He made the Rays pay by slapping the ball to right and scoring Lowrie to give Boston it’s first run of the game. David Ortiz then  came up and hit the 2nd pitch he saw deep into the rightfield stands for a 3-run homer, and pull Boston to within 3 runs, 7-4.

Balfour was replaced by Dan Wheeler, and he got Youkilis to fly out to Gabe Gross in right to end the inning. In the 8th, with Wheeler still on the mound, Jasob Bay walked to lead off the inning.  J D Drew the came up and drilled a 0-1 pitch to right for a 2-run homer to pull Boston within 1 of the Rays. 

 

 

             

 

 

Wheeler then got Lowrie and pinch-hitter Sean Casey for wuick outs before Mark Kotsay hit a ball that changed direction in the air and was within an few inches of Upton pulling it in for the 3rd out. The ball hit the outside of his glove and just popped to the left of his outstretched mitt. This put Kotsay on second with 2-outs, and Coco Crisp at the plate. He hit a liner to right that skipped around on Gross and his throw into the infield looked like a 6 year olds.

 The ball was taken by Carlos Pena who saw that Crisp was trying to advance on the play and got him at second when Akinora Iwamura tagged him out for the 3rd out.  But Kotsay had scored before the 3rd out, and the score was now tied 7-7.

 

        

 

In the 9th inning, J P Howell came on to pitch for the Rays with the score still tied at 7. The Red Sox quickly gave up two outs and the game seemed to be in control, then Kenvin Youkilis came to the plate. Youkilis hit a screamer to Evan Longoria at third that Longoria knocked down, but his throw was a weird one-hopper to Pena that he could not scoop before the ball careened into the stands for an error and Youkilis standing on second with 2-outs.

Jason Bay then came up and was Intentionally walked by the Rays and set up a Howell versus J D Drew matchup.  Howell quickly got behind, and with a 3-1 count, Drew hit a one-hopper over the rightfield wall for a ground rule double and the winning run scored for the Red Sox. Howell took the loss for the Rays.

 

 

 

 

Game 5 Tidbits

The Rays have now hit a homer in 4 straight games, which set a new ALCS record.

The Rays 1-4 hitters accounted for 7 out of the Rays’ 8 hits, and  scored  6 of the 7 runs scored tonight.

Evan Longoria is the fourth player in major-league history to hit home runs in each of four or more consecutive games in one postseason. Carlos Beltran holds the record with a five-game streak for the Astros in 2004. Jeffrey Leonard had a four-game streak for the Giants in 1987  and Juan Gonzalez had a four-game streak for the Rangers in 1996 vs. the Yankees.

Carlos Pena and Evan Longoria hit consecutive home runs in the first inning in Game 4 of the ALCS and they did it again in the third inning of Game 5. Pena and Longoria are the first pair of teammates in major-league history to hit back-to-back home runs twice in one postseason series.

The Red Sox’ starting pitchers allowed 11 home runs in 16 2/3 innings in Games 2 through 5 of the ALCS. During the regular season, Boston’s starters had the fifth-lowest home run rate in the American League, averaging one home run allowed every 9.4 innings.
Boston Red Sox.

It’s small consolation for the Rays, but with their three homers in Game 5 they set a major-league postseason record for the most home runs by a team over a four-game span (13, Games 2-5), breaking the old mark of 12 set by the Astros in 2004.

 

 

 

 

Rays 1-4 Batters’

The Rays first 4 batters’ went a combined 7 out of the Ray’s 8 hits in the game, and also scored 6 of the 7 runs in the contest. It was the best offensive outbreak by the front of the lineup in the last two games. Akinora Iwamura lead off the lineup going 1-3, with 2 runs scored and 2 walks in the game.

 

 

 

 

He lead off the game with  single to right to end the speculation of another no-hit bid by Red Sox starter, Daisuke Matzusaka. Iwamura came around to score on Upton’s homer three pitches later.  He later walked in the 5th inning and moved to seond on Carlos Pena’s bunt down the third baseline.

He then stole third on Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek. He then walked again in the 7th inning and committed a double steal with Jason Bartlett to get into scoring position before Upton’s 2-RBI double off the Green Monster. Iwamura stole 2 of the Rays total 4 stolen bases’ in the game. 

 

 

       

 

B J Upton had another career night as he went 3 for 4 with 4 RBI’s and 2 runs scored for the Rays. He began his night by hitting a slow breaking ball from Matzusaka into the first row of the stands above the Green Monster in the first inning to put the Rays up 2-0 early in the game. He then singled in the 3rd inning to center before Pena’s 2-run blast put the Rays up 4-0.

 

 

 

 

Upton then came up in the 7th inning and put a blast high off the upper facing of the Green monster for a 2-RBI double to put the last runs on the board for the Rays. Upton did get on base with a walk in the top of the 9th inning, but was erased on Carlos Pena’s double play ball to Pedroia.

 

 

 

 

Carlos Pena had another great night as he homer for the thrid time in three games to give the Rays a chance to win tonight. Carlos started the night off by hitting a 2-run shot in the 3rd inning. He then put a great bunt down the third baseline in the 5th inning. The Red Sox were in a shift and Pena put the ball down to the left of the pitcher and beyond the reach of Youkilis, who was manning the shortstop position in the shift.

He was Intentinally walked in the 7th inning, but was erased from the basepaths on Longoria’s double play ball. Carlos ended the game by hitting into only hid 3rd double play of the night to end the 9th inning for the Rays.

 

 

 

 

And batting clean-up for the Rays was Evan Longoria. He went 1-4 on the night, but it was his back-to-back homer after Pena that sparked the Red Sox faithful into their seats early in this game.  Matzusaka left up a slider to Longoria, and he put it into the seat in the Green Monster to stake the Rays to a 5-0 lead.

 

 

 

Home Sweet Home

With the Rays in the driver’s seat for the rest of the series, all the pressure is on the Red Sox to snap the Rays winning ways at the Trop. The Red Sox have only won twice at the stadium this season, and the Rays are a combined 24-3 with crowds over 30,000 at the games.

With Game 6 and 7 already sold out, it will be at maximum capacity as the Rays unfolded the tarps and opened an additional 5,700 seats for Rays fans. The Rays will  have the advantge only having to win one game to advance to the World Series against the Philadelphia Phillies.

 

 

 

 

 

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