Results tagged ‘ ALDS ’

It’s Fight or Flight time Rays

I really can’t fathom this sometimes the Dr. Jeckle and Mr. Hyde offensive personalities of this Tampa Bay Rays offense. It is almost as if this team gets pushed into a quasi-schizophrenic monotone existence almost bordering on the surrealistic imagery usually associated with a Salvador Dali painting. It is a confusing unfolding dramatic battle somewhere within this team’s own soul between their powerful nature and their anemic second cousin.

This Rays offense have plunged themselves into this same kind of topsy-turvy tailspin so many times this season, and at the most inappropriate times that it almost sends me screaming into the dark Florida night. There has to be a simple and logical reason for this faltering of the wood meeting white rawhide ball.  Their simply has to be a finite swirling solution for this repetitive Rays offense malaise.

Is their offensive woes so complex we, the Rays Republic have collectively questioned the real and unreal visions in front of us. Do we need to do a vocal stadium-wide therapy session, submit to a group discount electroshock, or possibly take a dose of our own self prescribed mental toughness medications. Why can’t the answer be as simple as just buckling down to the reality that the Rays sometimes just fall back into old habits, even with all their best intentions.

Since the Rays pushed 9 runs across Home Plate in Arlington, Texas this team somehow found their path back into that darkened region where average pitchers toss lightning bolts like Ranger co-owner Nolan Ryan. Swinging strikeouts, hitting the ball weakly and not taking advantages of mistakes by the Texas hurlers is the symptoms of this failing aliment. If these Rays want to again play another game, they have to resolve this issue before 2 pm today, or begin their packing for the off season.

Since the American League Divisional Series format began in 1995, 36 teams have fallen behind 2-1. Of those 36, 7 American League teams have come back to win the series in 5 games. Also working against the Rays is the realistic fact that even though 7 teams climbed the post season deficit and got into the winning groove, no American League squad has accomplished this since 2003 ALDS when Boston trailed the Oakland A’s, then came back to win Game 4 and Game 5 to secure their destiny towards their eventual World Series journey.

The step up by the Rays has to be now since they have now lost 4 consecutive post season contests in Tropicana Field, all against Texas in the ALDS. ( 3 in 2010, 1 so far in 2011). The Rays are a dismal 5-7 all-time under the dome in the post season. Maybe it is a good thing the Rays play under a off-white dome. That way they can not see the dark clouds assembling outside and fight until the last swing or pitch.

Texas is starting to become the Rays kryptonite in the post season. In their combined 8 meetings in ALDS play over the past two seasons, the Rays are 3-1 with 26 runs and 21 extra-base hits in 4 games at Arlington and in their 4 games at the Trop, they are 0-4 with 5 runs and 6 extra-base hits. The Rays have to call upon the Home Run Tiki Gods who have been at the forefront of their 19 Home Runs in their last 8 games. It is the highest HR output by this team since June 9-17. 2009 when they hammered an identical 19 in a middle of the season spurt.

Right now this Rays squad has to truly embrace their 2011 mantra of “Finding Another Way” to grab hold tight and force a possible Game 5 situation. The opportunities will not simply appear like magic for the Rays. Their Game 5 road will be littered with few defining challenges.

Game 4 has to be the final test to see just how resilient the Rays can be with their back firmly against the wall. Falling towards a 2-1 series deficit is not a joyous and vibrant situation, it tends to feed more on the impending darkness, surging towards the cliffs edge then the high-fives of celebration and acknowledgment of success.

Every pitch, every swing, every single motion in this game by the Rays will be examined, defined and held up for criticism if they fail. Success breeds a short memory for misdeeds A napping offense will get the Rays only a tee time on a Tampa Bay area golf course instead of a return visit to Arlington, Texas for a potential Game 5.

To put it mildly, it is “Put up (runs) or shut down ( for the season)” time for the Rays. No more second chances to get back into the rhythm, any stumble, falter and the dark cloud will ascend quickly above the Trop, possibly hastening an end  to the Rays 2011 season. Rays need to shake off the darkness today, this club has to thrust towards the sunshine, the light the essence that got this team to this stage. If not, the end will come swift and hard even if we do not want to admit it. I personally am not ready to begin the off season. Go get yourself some glory Rays.

“WE Want More Moore…Moore!”

During Game 1 of the American League Divisional Series I was sitting in a neighborhood saloon and it got pretty wild in there for a bit. Someone within this establishment somehow either pick this song 12 times in a row, or just decided via the emotional pull of a grand performance to showcase Billy Idol’s “Rebel Yell” over and over again. Seems so wild now considering 182 game ago Moore’s name was not even whispered at the Major League level.

When the Tampa Bay Rays pitchers and catcher’s first reported reported to the 2011 edition of Spring Training back on February, 16th I was on the field that day desperately seeking to see if Matt Moore had gotten a MLB camp Spring Training Invite. As much as I searched and trained my eyes, Friday’s Game 1 ALDS starter Matt Moore was not among the players meeting with Rays Manager Joe Maddon and principal owner Stuart Sternberg.

It wasn’t as if Moore didn’t know the directions or was even a stranger to the Port Charlotte complex where he toiled at the high Class-A level during the a 2010 season with the FSL South Division Champs, the Charlotte Stonecrabs. Moore actually started 26 games for the Stone Crabs last season compiling a deceptive 6-11 record with 208 K’s in 144 innings. For the second season in a row the stealth southpaw had racked up triple digit strikeouts, and further showed he had the pitch control well beyond his years.

Moore was not among the samplings of minor leaguer pitchers who got an invite to the MLB camp, but Moore did make his arrival later in the week with the rest of the Rays farm system arms. Already word had spread through the MLB scouting segments that the Rays had molded a second sparkling diamond out of their highly successful 2007 MLB Draft with Moore getting a lot more attention, especially from the assembled Rays avid female fans.

Moore might not have sparkled on the Rays diamond in the Spring of 2011, but the hurler who some say has the most infectious smile on the Rays started quickly showing fans and critics alike why his light was beginning to shine bright. Moore made an immediate impact during his 2011 minor league season at the Rays Double-A affiliate, the Montgomery Biscuits.

Moore started 18 games for the Biscuits racking up 131 strikeouts against 28 walks. Sandwiched neatly in between those stats was an no-hitter in which Moore only needed 106 pitches and produced 11 k’s on June 16th. Possibly because of this event and his early dominance at Double-A, MLB selected him for the MLB Futures All Star game as a member of the U S Squad. .

It was a nice homecoming present for the Rays prospect that now called the desert state his off season home to come toss From the moment his first 95+ pitch crossed the plate in Arizona, whispers began to be heard all over the country about this Rays prospect’s velocity and uncanny control.

Some MLB Scouts have already been so bold as to compare him to the possible 2011 Cy Young Award winner Detroit Tigers First Rounder Justin Verlander. Other scouts have glowingly compared him to his future Rays rotation mate, Price. No matter what past or present pitcher Moore might remind you of, he is staking his own claim to fame now. .

It is still amazing to me that Moore only started in 18 games for Montgomery in 2011 and still came with 11 K’s of being the 2011 strikeout king of the Southern League. The Rays picked David Price with the first overall selection in the 2007 MLB First Year Draft. They waited 244 players before selecting the player who today has the world mesmerized. That’s right, Moore was selected with the Rays 8th Round selection, or the 245th player picked in that 2007 draft.

This native of a small mostly tourist and military Panhandle hamlet of Fort Walton Beach, Florida is swiftly becoming another pearl in the Rays fertile oyster bed of budding prospects. His performance in the US Futures All Star game did not awaken the scouts and opposition to his talents, it only let the door be open for the rest of baseball fans to see our jaws drop a bit with his velocity and control.

Moore was promoted to the Rays Triple-A affiliate, the storied Durham Bulls in mid-July and started in only 9 contests before the end of the International League season. But in that small span he earned 79 strikeouts against 18 walks to boast a 4-0 record plus a small woodpile of broken bats left in his wake. Over the course of the 2011 season Moore compiled another triple digit mark in strikeouts (210) a 12-3 record and a microcosmic 1.92 ERA.

On a crisp morning right before he was to head out to his off season home in Arizona, Moore got the call he has been waiting for since he first signed with the Rays. He quickly had to make arrangements for airplane tickets, scramble together a suitable wardrobe and get himself to Baltimore to meet up with the Rays on their last road trip of the season.

Moore who has been a starter for his entire career made his MLB debut as a Rays reliever, and got a rude “welcome to the Show” awakening in the Rays Weds night finale in Baltimore. Moore lasted 1.1 innings, and did retire the first 4 O’s hitter before usual Rays killer Vlad Guerrero lined a single and O’s catcher Matt Wieters welcomed Moore to the big leagues by depositing a pitch into the Camden Yards seats. Not an impressive start to Moore’s Bullpen days, but a real eye opener to the extreme care and control needed by the young southpaw when facing MLB caliber hitters.

The lesson learned under fire during that Baltimore outing showed through brilliantly as Moore got a chance to make his first MLB start against the heralded Yankees and quickly mounted his strikeout totals to double digits against the eventual AL East Champions. Moore, like his 2007 MLB Draft mate Price got his starter baptism under fire against the pinstripes.

Even more amazing about his Yankee outing, Moore was the only rookie pitcher since July 19, 1964 (Cleveland Luis Tiant) to fan at least 11 Yankees and hold the pinstripes scoreless in his first MLB start. But that was just red velvet to the icing that was soon to adorn Moore’s celebratory 2011 cake.

Moore was selected as the Rays Pitcher of the Year for 2011, and then only days later was told my Rays Manager Joe Maddon he would be the ALDS Game 1 starter. The 22-year old southpaw instantly became the first pitcher in MLB history to start his team’s first post season game after only 1 official MLB start in his career. Moore also became the only the second youngest pitcher (22yrs,104 days) to take the hill in the post season since Oakland A’s sent Vida Blue ( 22yrs, 67 days) back in 1971.

Suddenly there was instant debate on if Maddon should throw a rookie into this cauldron of pressure and importance. All Moore did was shake off the worries and media inflicted turmoil and throw an impressive 2-hit ,6 strikeout shutout on 98 pitches, 62 for strikes. Moore even made another historical first for himself becoming the youngest starter to ever win his team’s first game of the post season.

Adding onto his miraculous accolades of Game 1 of the ALDS, Moore became the first rookie pitcher since Yankees hurler Jim Beattie to win his team’s first post season contest. Moore joined the like of Yankee Beattie (ALCS), Dodger Joe Black (1952 WS), Yankee Spec Shea (1947 WS) and Pirates P Babe Adams (1919 WS) as the fifth rookie in MLB history to complete such a feat.

Moore also became the first rookie in MLB history to pitch at least 7 innings and allow no runs and 2 or less hits in a post season game, and the second youngest all time to Yankees starter Waite Hoyt who did it during the 1921 World Series. When Maddon came out to finally get his talented rookie, I was one of many around that Mahogany bar raising his glass saluting the Rays rookies phenomenal feat, while mimicking and replacing  multiple words of Idol’s,…… “With a Rebel Yell, WE Want More Moore!…… Moore!”.  

Rays May Need a Half Dozen to Help Shields

Sure yesterday’s one-sided victory in Game 1 of the American League Divisional Series was tremendous, but I am one of those cautious Rays Republic members. Maybe it is the pure fact we have seen so many of these games where the Tampa Bay Rays awaken from a offensive slumber and post amazing numbers on the board, then as if someone spiked their Gatorade with sleeping pills, they fall silent again.

Not in my mind is the true fact this Rays club has outscored their adversaries 17-0 over the last 14 innings. I want to believe the Rays have finally found an answer to the mundane offensive woes of the regular season, and that their bats will not again go silent. It is my biggest concern heading into ALDS Game 2. Considering the Rays gave Rays starter James Shields only 104 runs in his 33 starts (3.15 per start) and produced a 21-12 record.

Tonight has to be different for the Rays have a legitimate chance at gaining a 2-0 advantage with the ALDS heading back to Tropicana Field for Game 3 on Monday at 5:07 pm. Also you have to take into consideration the simple fact that this start by Shields tonight will be the third time he has faced this same Rangers offense in the last 30 days.

Shields has done his job over the past two previous starts throwing 8 shutout innings on August 31st for a 4-1 victory, then producing 5-1 win while throwing his 11th complete game back on September 5th in Tropicana Field. Shields can be the “Ranger killer” this team desperately needs tonight. Shields has compiled a career regular season mark of 5-2 with a 3.05 ERA against the Rangers, but is 2-2 with a 3.72 ERA in his 4 career starts in the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

So as you can see by those career stats, the Rays have to spot Shields at least 6 runs to effectively be in position to take both of the road games in Texas. Maybe I am a little leery and want 6 runs because of f Shields 2010 ALDS performance at the Trop against Texas when he only threw 68 pitches, but surrendered 4 runs over 4.1 innings in that 6-0 Rangers victory.

On any given day posting that kind of offensive number has been a bit tricky for the Rays. Since the All Star break, the Rays have scored 6 or more runs on 22 occasions including 8 times during September. It is not as if I do not believe the Rays have finally found their groove, or that their offensive flusters are behind them, but getting off to a quick lead, giving Shields a comfort level to not have to be perfect could be the keystone to the Rays putting the Rangers into a quick hole in this ALDS.

Combine Shields improvements on the hill in the latter parts of 2011 going 7-3 with a 2.43 ERA over his last 11 starts. Definitely Shields has the stuff right now to keep the Rays close in this key match-up, but any implosion, any crack in his arsenal and those 6 runs could be the catalyst between a 2 game cushion or back to square one with a 1-1 series record. Best thing that could happen to Shields is that Home Plate Umpire Kerwin Danley like his pitch location and gives him some of those change-ups on the corners.

The offensive firestorm on Friday night is not typical of the Rays who have only scored 9+ runs in 6 contests since the All Star break, but 3 of those came in the month of September. Leaving nothing to chance, if the Rays do produce 6 runs in this key contest, Tampa Bay will fly home for the day off at home with a 2-0 ALDS series lead, with David Price and Jeremy Hellickson set to take the mound under the dome.

This game might be a great indicator of how this Rays versus Rangers series might play out. It could seem a bit premature to consider Game 2 to be a key moment in this 5-game series, but taking 2 at an opponents ballpark heading back into Tropicana Field where the Rays went 11-3 with 3 extra inning victories in the month of September would be a pretty tough mountain to climb for the Rangers.

But it all starts tonight. I wonder which Rays machine will show up? The one that seems to score at will racking up runs like a video game, or the club that seems a slight bit off missing by inches of getting that key hit. As always, pitching will set the tone, but if the Rays get off to a quick start, it will do wonders in silencing that rowdy Texas crowd….That could end up being music to Shields ears.

Third Time Will be the Charm


Now that the surreal moments of Wednesday night have had enough time to fester within my mind, it still somehow resonates emotionally through me at the most inappropriate moment like Christmas,New Years and my birthday all rolled into a finely wrapped hotdog wrapper. I honestly do not want to let it slide into my subconscious, but want it to surround and comfort me as we begin our quest at 5:07 today for another chance at the golden chalace.

I want to still savory and hold tight this third bite into the MLB post season with the same intenity and fevor as I cherished in 2008 when we set sail on our maiden voyage into the turbulant land of post season baseball. But this time the waters are charted with landmarks, perils have been exposed and the journey is up to more than just fate and a sprinkle of luck. This time we came to play hard ball.

Even though the sweet sticky remains of the champagne celebration have been washed from my clothes and body, it’s scent still lingers in a place where all memorable sensory experiences go to rejoice and to be remembered. The first time I tasted that celebratory nectar it was anticipated, the second was a prize gifted out of this team’s knack for resilience, but the third, well the third time definitely is the glittering jewel.

For this thrid venture into the Major League Baeball post season solidifies the fact the Rays are not a fluke, that this team was not granted anything. This third stroll into the playoff garden was not manufactured by the “Baseball Gods”, but by young martals who have strived all season long to live their long-haired sensei’s mantra of “Finding Another Way”.

This Rays squad advanced into the post season not on their laurels or their past efforts, but on their own sweat, blood and tears. Whispers immediately emerged just past midnight Thursday that “the Yankees gave up” after the David (Baltimore) laid upon the corpse of Goliath (Boston). I am not sure of New York RP Scott Proctor’s mindset at the moment, but failure was probably not an option.

I actually find it kind of poetic justice that former Rays, now Red Sox LF Carl Crawford who in my ESPN dairy basically set up the Rays internal fires to conquer the Boton behemoths played such a critical role in their advancement. Crawford did not know his miss of a liner by Oriole Robert Andino would set such a firestorm in motion.

Proctor, who was on the mound when the news spread around the Trop like wild fire did not know of Crawford’s missed opportunity. When he threw that ill faded pitch inside to Evan Longoria he had no idea that Longo would pull in his wrists, re-elevate the bat and get just enough to curl the pitch within a space just under Section 137 of Tropicana Field.

Ironically, the same spot Longoria’s Home Run curved over was the same section of fencing taken down by the Rays stadium staff to help Crawford possibly steal a few Home Runs back in 2007. For once, it seemed the Rays universe had used its karma of “ what goes around, comes around”. With the ball clearing jut to the right of the 317 signage, I swear the Trop’s roof rose 5 inches.

 To say pandemonium broke out would be an understatement. What actually happened was an entire region exhaling at the same time, from a moment of sheer deafening silence to even Yankees and Rays fans embracing the moment. World came together, frustrations melted, hope,destiny,fate and their new friend karma all embraced during the scene.

Finally those around baseball knew emphatically that this Rays squad was built to last, not to fade away like some others. The very fabric this team was built on was woven by the mantras and the teachings of Rays Manager Joe Maddon and his trusty quips and quos.

From 9=8 to 9>8 to “The Rays Ways” to the 2011 mantra “Find Another Way” this team has matured, grown wiser beyond their years and embraced youth along with veterans. What we truly witnessed Wedneday night was shocking to some within the baseball world, but in reality, they knew the potential was there.

 A new chapter starts today at 5:07 EST. Even though it is a return engagement against a known ALDS foe, this time the Rays are coming. In their corner is the aspect of playing the last 2 weeks as if they were already in a “must win” scenario. Scratching, clawing, finding that “other way” to win. This series will be defined on who blinks first. Who wants it more. Who still has that drive within them when the dark cloud emerge.

We already know the Rays have that fire, that intensity, that drive within them to be the last men standing. I know so many have already thrown the spotlight towards the Texas Rangers, and that is perfectly fine with me. Since their 1-8 start the Rays have made people take second glances, made even the best teams squander wins and leave the field wondering what happened.

My prediciton, Rays in 5 games. Time to wrangle some Rangers.

If You Don’t Believe Now, Better Check Your Pulse



Words would just ruin the moment. Here is a photo essay of complied photos from the great AP photographers Mike Carlson / Chris O’Meara and Getty Images Photog  J. Meric  on the field and deep within the bowels of Tropicana Field  tonight. 




 

Last, but not least, the Home Run trot that began the celebration!



Watching as the Ryan Express Whistles Past Me

 
 
You have to wonder if sometime during the off season in the Winter of 2009 if Texas Ranger Team President Nolan Ryan did not take a secret mission trip to the Middle East, near the site of the old empire of Persia and possibly found a very generous Genie in a lantern during a desert trek. To some within the baseball hierarchy that is the only way this Texas team could have changed their destiny so drastically in the last 365 days. You have to immediately consider an outside influence, or maybe even a few “wishes would have been granted for such a grand unexpected Rangers rise to prominence .

How else could the Rangers have had this purely magical season transpire in 2010 without three huge changes in the team karma, and we are not talking about Rangers pitching Ace Cliff Lee either. There has to be some other form of metaphysical reasoning that the final stamp of approval for change of ownership in the fire sale for the Rangers would have ever levitated towards the Ryan group of investors.

The big bets were placed firmly on the big money mob headed by NBA millionaire Mark Cuban, not Ryan’s posse` If you were a big wheel within the circles of Major League Baseball, or even a judicial member in charge of this millionaire’s garage sale, you had to see the fat and bulging wallet in Cuban’s back pocket and summarize immediately the endless possibilities of another Cuban led success story in sports.

Ryan and his group seemed on the outside like just another smart Texas born “Good Ol’ Boys” network compared to the flashing and high profile Cuban conglomerate that wanted to push the image of this team skyward in a New York minute. There had to be some sort of wishing, praying and possibly rubbing of an old lantern to facilitate such a change of rationale towards the soft spoken Ryan finally getting the final approval to taking over the Rangers.

 

The second item rubbed out by the new Ryan group might have further cemented this Rangers franchise into the MLB bright spotlight for a long, long time right after Ryan announced from the podium of a economic epiphany by the local Fox Sports Network affiliate (FSN Texas) to a thunderous Rangers broadcast package that could be valued as high as $ 3 billion dollar over the length of the deal. It would essentially push a huge wheel barrel load of cash of possibly over $ 80 million a year into the coffers of the Texas club to use as they see fit, or generally guarantee themselves a secure payroll foundation just a touch under the cusp of the “Big Boys”.


That figure would give them a bit more fiscal stability to possibly resigning Starter Cliff Lee, or even the thought of possibly entertaining a secure long-term deal with a player like Josh Hamilton. Heck, that kind of extra chicken scratch could make someone like Rangers catcher Bengie Molina put off his recent retirement chatter and suddenly decide to play one more season, adding some extra large pieces of cheddar to his retirement nest egg. The revenue could do wonders to solidify a roster that could contend for years based solely on the extra coinage.

Ryan’s third wish by the genie in the bottle might have been the best one of all. It would have centered around Ryan’s new troops getting a chance to showcase their style of pitching and hitting to the baseball World. Because you know Ryan wished for this talented Texas squad to go against the “mighty ones” in the postseason.

Ryan as a pitcher was never afraid of pitching a bit close in on the eyeballs or even dusting you with a 100 mph fastball in the ear hole. With that same reasoning spewing out of his heart for his Rangers wranglers’, you knew that Ryan did not want to skirt taking on a huge challenge in the postseason, and got this wish with flying colors.


 

Ryan’s squad was considered the fourth best option in the American League by most people around baseball even days before the Major League Baseball season ended. For some unforeseen reason, his Texas team was never seen to stand a chance in the postseason or somehow earned the respect due to a team that won the American League Western title. The same Rangers team who initially celebrated before the two major players (New York Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays) his team faced in the ALDS and the ALCS.


His Texas team firmly sandwiched 5-1 victories between three additional games against the Rays and came away with a Game 5 victory that further established them as the team to watch closely this postseason. Even as their National League Western Division second cousin, the San Francisco Giants were taking their own bit of revenge on some of MLB’s elite, this Rangers squad began to show signs of being a Ryan inspired team that could never be counted out until the 27th out.

Even during their current match-up against the high and mighty New York Yankees, there have been moments over the first 5 games of this series, that showed this young Texas squad was as ornery and feisty as the vintage Ryan to take it to the Bronx set and dish out their own forms of Western justice. But Ryan’s third granted wish did not ends here, it is still evolving and transforming.

There is still another plateau to ascend to yet. Another stage for Ryan and his band of urban cowboys to step onto and accept its challenges. It is a pristine spot where Ryan himself only ventured once during his Major League career. Back in1969 when Ryan was a young pup reliever with the New York Mets was the only other time he has ventured this close to the Fall Classic. Even his bulging resume` of an MLB leading 5,714 punch-outs or his 7 No-Hitters, Ryan could not seem to get him back to this final stage. Another trip at this juncture in his new role running his favorite franchise would just be magical.

The sudden escalation of this Texas franchise in such a short period of time might not even have a single Persian influence after all. It might not come from wishing on a brass lantern or even praying to a higher power for the chance to again dance and celebrate on the green grass of the Ballpark at Arlington with his team. It might just be heralded by so many as just another chapter written in the never ending saga that is Ryan’s baseball World. But his fingerprints and nuances are all over this Texas team. Ryan is the behind-the-scenes sculptor that has molded and kneaded this piece of formed pottery into a cherished Texas heirloom.

I do not know about you, but I am definitely excited to see what transpires as the Rangers and Yankees change their focus from the bright lights and big city environment of New York back to the slower and more cherished home-style cooking of this Texas 25 as they two-step towards America’s heart. Where the mannerisms of claw and antlers will make up the backdrop, and increasing sounds of the homestead crowd should push them towards checking off another item on Ryan’s “Wish List”.

 

Ryan might have dusted off and spit polished his old competitive moniker of “The Ryan Express” and again became the lead conductor on this epic journey towards baseball’s promised land. Ryan has done almost everything imaginable as a player, including his 1999 induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Maybe it is that time in baseball history for Ryan and his charges to also write their names upon the roll of baseball’s greatest surprises and shed that title of “underdogs” forever.


I am pulling inside for Hamilton, Lee and Ryan to get that special gift of moments in the baseball World’s spotlight. To thrust themselves firmly into the minds of all baseball fans around the World, and to possibly bring home a new Tiffany masterpiece for their stone fireplace mantle sitting just under that monstrous 15-point bucks huge antlers. Some say that baseball is entering into a closer version of parity than every before, but I do not see it that way. I think it is just time for some home cooking…Texas style.

Gunslingin’ at the O K Trop Corral

 

They say that old Western gunfighters used to use their eyes to bring their opponents down in a street side disagreement. That a twitch of the eye or even a glimmer or glance could trigger an explosive event where one lies dead and the other victorious. Why is it tonight I think we just might be preparing for the fight at the O K Tropicana with plenty of fireworks and unexpected results before either teams give an inch tonight.


I do not think there are enough superlatives my pocket size Webster’s dictionary to illustrate the true essence of what tonight’s game means to these two teams itching with their finger firmly on the trigger knowing that tonight’s eventual winner gets another crack at those city slicker New York Yankees.

Both the Tampa Bay Rays and the visiting Texas Rangers have shown that they both have a huge propensities to post impressive victorious campaigns in the other’s hostile environments, with both combatants hushing the home crowds. That is all about to possibly end tonight, for it is now a solo “Win or be Gone” situation where a gunfighter’s mentality may just be the final key to being crowned the victor and getting a champagne or Bud Light shower, with and the loser seeing their playoff dreams dead in the water..

Presently both the Rays the Rangers know what is at stake with a lose, and can see with their own steely eyes how to come out victorious tonight and get another shot at those smug Yankees. Not lost within all the predetermined drama and swirling circumstances is the small aspect that no matter who the victor is tonight…. A new chapter of baseball history will be written with the game’s final out.

Who knows what misadventures on the field or post-game jubilations awaits either team as they get set to play in front of 40,000+ highly energized fans under the Teflon roof of Tropicana Field tonight. Not lost on their minds, and those of their fans is the fact have a slight edge as the Rays are 45-18 (.714) lifetime playing in front of crowds 30,000 and above, but that pure and plain fact will not rattle the confidence of these ornery Rangers.

Still undecided is which page of the current ALDS history will be re-written tonight. No matter the final outcome, you can bet the fans both inside Tropicana Field and watching in Texas and around the country will get their money’s worth tonight. If the hometown Rays take it to the Texans tonight, they will be the first team since the 2001 Yankees to come back from a 0-2 start at home and finish off in the victor’s circle in an ALDS.

If the Rangers were to upend the high flying hometown Rays, this Texas team would be celebrating their franchises first postseason title …..ever. Not even the founding Washington Senators even won a single game in the post season, much less win a series. An added plus is the pure glorious fact that the ultimate winner will get to host the Yankees at their home stadium for the first two games of the American League Championship Series (ALCS) set to begin this Friday night.

 

Not lost in all the frilly glitter and plaid glamour tonight is the fact that if the Rays were to be defeated at home tonight, these two teams would have combined their collective road victories to become the first ALDS pair to even win all five of their road contests. But then we get the added bonus of superior pitching match-up between some of the best throwing left-hander in baseball in a ALDS finale.


How incredible is it that the Rays David Price and Rangers Cliff Lee get to square-off again tonight with some much on the line and put their own personal stamp on their team’s chance for victory. Lee posted a clear advantage in Game 1 of the ALDS, but there have been heavy whispers that Rays Manager Joe Maddon has made a few adjustments to his line-up card for tonight and will have the Rays coming out at Lee with both barrels blazing.

Neither of these pitchers’ or their teammates’ have shown an ounce of stepping down, or aside for the other during this 5-game Battle Royale. Ultimately, it may come down to whichever team shows the first sign of weakening. Both have solid defenders in the field, but a slight miscalculation could provide the needed crack in either team’s armor right now.

This ALDS has been a classic old fashion baseball barnburner with no preconceived notions on the horizon as to who should be favored tonight. Who would have imagined less than a week ago that those “Claws and Antler” loving strangers from the Lone Star state could have moseyed into the Trop and put a hurting on the home town Rays by outscoring the homesteaders’ by a 11-1 margin in those contests, plus send more than a few shivers up the spines of the Rays Republic.

But with the Major League Baseball best road record in 2010, the Rays again showed why you can never count out this spontaneous team until recording the 27th out. The feisty Rays might have wandered into Arlington, Texas with a huge disadvantage in the series this past weekend. Then provided the Rangers with a personal double dose of the Rays old fashion Southern in-hospitality by strolling into the red-clad Rangers homestead and pushing the Rangers around for two solid games within their own green pasture.

But with everything squared-up and even now, it is again about time to see if we have a Rangers redemption or Rays celebration tonight. Before the clock ever strikes midnight, there will be an other Rays versus Rangers historic performance written in stone under the dome of Tropicana Field. Now we just have to wait and see which team’s fate and destiny gets written tonight into the MLB record books.

How much poetic justice would be served if a former Ranger and current Rays reliever Joaquin Benoit could provide the initial punch needed after being booed by the partisan Texas crowd in Arlington this past weekend. Or how insanely ironic would it be if a current Ranger and former Rays farmhand Josh Hamilton were to deliver the first deathblow to the Rays playoff chances after being applauded by Rays fans in Game 1 and 2.

Neither team has to be coached or prepped on the severity of the moment, and the fact that their 2010 season is at stake tonight. Both team’s have itchy fingers and are ready and eager to go at it tonight.


Some say that the actions of a pitcher and a hitter at the plate mimic those of a pair of gunfighters’ ready for battle. Each trying to provoke and gain an advantage before finally administering the final shot that would decide one’s death or elimination. All night long these battle will be undertaken by both team’s until the ultimately there will only be a team of 25 still standing and celebrating the victory.

It reminds me definitely of a deadly gunfight where two may enter the field of battle, but only one is left standing in the end.

If You Remove Them, They will Come!

 

With the Tampa Bay Rays pulling off a miracle of their own today in Arlington, Texas, you would hope that Major League Baseball hierarchy, which takes over the prospective team’s stadium (Tropicana Field) for the postseason would possibly even entertain the far fetched thought of uncovering the 5,762 seats currently hidden under a veil of blue plastic in Tropicana Field’s Upper Deck.


For the entire 2010 season, MLB has stood silent and let more than a few National and local media sources batter and bewilder the Rays front office with the team’s visual weekday 2010 attendance woes. With attendance down in every ballpark within the MLB kingdom, they let the media pound the Tampa Bay community as MLB’s (New York) office took a back seat totally within the dark shadows.

Boasting sell-out crowd in both Game 1 and Game 2 , both in the afternoon of the first round of the American League Divisional Series against the Texas Rangers, you would think maybe it was time for MLB and the Rays front office to possibly re-discuss and jointly decide to uncover the dusty obstructed view Upper Deck seats and get a few more excited and extra revenue inducing Rays Republicans in those lofty seats.

MLB’s executive offices (in New York City) had been more than firm with the Rays front office even as far back as 2008 on their on-going commitment to not even let the local Rays consider removing those blue tarps until the team possibly advances to the 2010 World Series. Even if www.raysbaseball.com would conveniently sell out their remaining Game 5 tickets before 10 am on Monday when tickets are available to the general public, MLB will stand concrete in their previous decisions to leave the blue tarps upon the Upper 300′s section’s seats.

Gone is the common sense mentality that even with a fast sell out of online tickets, opening this previously tarp-covered region would go deaf upon MLB’s ears even with a nice monetary incentive of deciding removing the tarps and providing extra vocal and unexpected revenues towards the postseason money pot.

 

The only other time the MLB has given the Rays Front Office permission to sell those seats was in September 2008 when MLB decided to unwrap the high level seats for Game 6 and Game 7 of the American League Championship Series with the Rays playing their usual sell-out opponent, the Boston Red Sox. That small decision increased the Tropicana Field capacity from 36,048 to an audio-popping 42,048 fanatics. But if the Rays can logically sell out those extra 5,762 seats before issuing Standing Room Only (SRO) seating in the lower bowl, isn’t it a “win-win” opportunity for the Rays and MLB in the long run?


But maybe that is the problem with my logic. It makes sense, and usually that kind of rhetoric doesn’t apply well with the aspects of unforeseen money and a possible variable of ticket revenues that would have to be eventually pushed into the playoff pot and divided accordingly with the MLB, the teams and with the players. With the aspect of expendable money at a premium in this Tampa Bay region, if a Rays fans, or any baseball fan want to throw their money at you , wouldn’t you be foolish to push them away towards game day refuge at a local Sports bars or sitting at home watching on television and loosing that instant revenue?

MLB could give the Tampa Bay region the ammunition right now to fight back the well disguised ruse of our overall attendance situation and show that this Tampa Bay region is a great baseball community by providing additional seats by removing the tarps that some view as a hindrance to this community getting total respect from the Baseball World.

By MLB giving the Rays Front Office even the remote possibility or permission to tuck those tarps away for this deciding ALDS game could be viewed as their admittance that this region can sell seats and give the wrong impression to the rest of the Baseball World.

That right there might be a solid reasoning why MLB can not in full faith offer that option.

If MLB does grant this request, it would be like the MLB hierarchy is not condemning the low seasonal attendance, and instead maybe rewarding the bandwagon fans who might be here just for the ALDS game, then revert back to their usual viewing habits. What could be viewed as a great “win-win” situation for the organizations involved might in fact trigger a external discussion on why this facility is not suitable for baseball.


 

There is no way that MLB will open the forbidden “Pandora’s Box” of the Rays impending stadium situation by giving something to reward the few Rays Republic faithful who still seek to attend a ALDS game. It is sad, but true. Baseball is a huge industry that will not intentionally put itself in a bad light towards the Rays future situation.


But why is it that the possibility of removing a few blue tarps in the Trop’s Upper Deck being treated like a political red herring instead of an opportunity to entice and gather more Tampa Bay community fans to the Major League Baseball community. MLB has said in the past that Tropicana Field present ( with tarps) capacity provides an intimate setting for baseball. That might be true, but wouldn’t 5,762 extra fans yelling ,screaming and spending their money make MLB and the Rays smile from ear-to-ear.

If you need someone to help clean, unwrap or even dust those seats before Tuesday, give me a call. I will do whatever I can to get an extra 5,762 extra members of the Rays Republic into those seats and make the Trop shake with enough noise and thunderous movement to set off a seismometer somewhere in the Southeast.
 

Half an Inch can be a Huge Difference

 

 

They say that hitting a baseball is one of the hardest thing to do in sports, but I beg to differ. I think the hardest thing to do ever in sports is to thread a breaking pitch within that segmented half inch space with respect to velocity and depth. Think about I here for a second, if a thrown ball by a professional pitcher is even a half an inch high or inside, it can be the catalyst for a 3-run homer, or go the complete opposite and be a routine foul ball out caught by an infielder or catcher.


That is why I think a pitched ball, perfectly thrown to a designated spot with a certain purpose in mind can be one of the most energizing and most stressful actions in sports. Simply put, if you hit the mark with your desired velocity and break, it is a pitch even the MLB’s current legendary slugger Ichiro Suzuki might see his knees buckle as it crosses the keystone of Home Plate.

Over the last two games, the Tampa Bay Rays have seen more than enough of this pitching perfection. Some want to throw the Rays hitters’ under the bus for their lack of confidence or even bravado to swing at a pitch outside of the zone and try and make something happen in these first two games of the American League Divisional Series. But the truth is that both of the Texas Rangers starter ( both lefties) had that formula going spot on for them in those first two contests, and the Rays were left just gasping at the plate.

Time for blunt honesty here. This 2010 Rays team has had seen a great plane of movement between their moments of grand glory and their plummets of utter defeat this season. The 2010 season looks more like a EKG chart than a solidified and unified correlation of consistent patterns or results. The Rays have scored 7-runs in their half of an inning, or gone 27 outs without a single hit.

In both hitting aspects, the solid and visual truth is that their opposing pitchers either were fighting for their velocity and control, or threading the needle with perfection. It could have been lucky guessing or even the intelligence of accumulated statistics and probabilities that aided the Rays, but now they are left naked and vulnerable by their latest fiascos.

Hitting and pitching is a simple process that has been over analyzed over dramatized and in effect taken a huge part of the human element and flushed it completely out of the equation.

But within that de-humanizing effect, the game has gone beyond the simple battle of pitcher and hitter now and transcended to a bigger more elaborate battle. Team now employ Video Coordinators and extra personnel to just label, adjust and formulate pitching charts, tendencies and even a probability chart to show what pitch a certain pitcher might use in the given situation, or with base runners in scoring position. No longer is it all as simple as throwing the ball or hitting it with a bat.

The simple art of pitching has now been transformed into quadrants and formulas that employ pitching to contact or trying get a groundball for defensive play to get out of an inning where in the past, a pitcher would just be un-democratic and just try to strike you out. As our lives have gotten complicated, so has the game we all know and love. Mechanics are videotaped and scrutinized for the smallest advantage or the optimum time for a runner to try and take an extra base.


 

Facial expressions and body language are studied closely hoping to provide keys or tip-offs within the usual body ticks and odd movements to see if you can get a remote advantage, or provide a key indicator of a certain pitch leaving a pitcher’s hand. Science has invaded the game, and it is only going to get worst.


When ALDS Game 1 starter Cliff Lee got 10 strikeouts and shut down the Rays in his 7 innings of work, the press and the accolades went to Lee, not the thousands of man hours evaluating tapes, motions and possible keys. The physical human target got the praise and the applause, but beneath it all science and the ever growing eye of video might have also played a unique role in the end result.

When C J Wilson took the mound on Thursday afternoon and sliced and diced the Rays with fine precision, unseen measures had to have given him a edge, an instant clue as to what the ever patient Rays might do to gain and advantage or put am money wrench in his rhythm. Pitching as evolved in present day from going to the hill every five days to countless hours of studying and dissecting hitters and their tendencies.

Lee has to have studied game tape of his opposition and formulated a plan of attack within his mind and on paper. Both Wilson and Lee used breaking ball hugging the outside corner to entice and get the Rays salivating, but if either had thrown that pitch an inch up or inside, a different outcome could have quickly materialized and Texas would be behind the big black 8-ball right now. Simply put, the Rangers guessed right, and the Rays went back to instinct and not technology to try and rattle the Texas two-some.

The Rangers played their pitching guessing game to perfection over the last two games. They got the usually patient Rays to chase pitches and get out of synch with their commonplace routines at the plate. Breaking pitches with an extra half inch depth or pitches hugging the black of the Home Plate keystone were the keys to this first two games of this ALDS series. Rays Manager Joe Maddon always stresses that “Pitching sets the tone of the game”.

Such has been very true the first two games of this series, and if the Rays even expect to get back into this fight with any vigor and realistic chances of rattling the Rangers pitching foundations, they will have to maybe re-evaluate their present hitting procedures and maybe go “on-the-fly” a bit more and make a few rogue swings. I thought it was humorous the other day when the Rays Evan Longoria called Game 2 a “Must Win” situation for his Rays comrades.

Reality of that quote is that in whether it is a 5-game or 7-game series, getting an early jump on your competition takes the pressure off your pitching staff and puts it firmly in the opposition and adjust, reconfigure and retaliate to get back into the series. Sure the Rays did not go about their usual hitting sprees or even remotely display the talent and abilities we have grown to love out of this Rays machine.

 

Now it is time for the Rays to establish, recognize and attack the Rangers pitching staff starting tomorrow when the Rangers send right-hander Colby Lewis to the hill in Arlington, Texas. They will have to deeply analyze the young rightie hoping to find a clue and subtle giveaway to his pitches, or face a possibility on a early exit in the 2010 post season.


Right now I can see Rays Video Coordinator Chris “Chico” Fernandez deep within a Dallas/Fort Worth hotel room along with Rays Hitting Coach Derek Shelton looking for the answers to some huge Rays hitting question marks. But in the end it will come down to a few precious half inches of depth or velocity. If the Rangers execute their game plan again with precision and efficiency, the Texas triangle could de doing the two-step by 9 pm.

But if the Rays devote themselves and figure out that half inch, that slight deviation at the plate, then they could gain their own valuable inch towards getting back into this ALDS. Funny how a half an inch could either send the Rays home in defeat or give them another chance to change their destiny. The distance between to fingers held together could decide this ALDS either way.

First Acknowledgment by Rays of the Playoffs


 

Leave it to the Tampa Bay Rays to make me look like a fibber. For some reason I was given the end-around, double clutch fake woohoo babied about the Rays Post season ticket packages. This is not the first time the Rays have tried to swerve my judgment or even taken me down the path least followed, but this time I thought the source was secure. So it was a total surprise today that I got a treasured packet within my mailbox today from 100 Tropicana Drive. And when I opened it, I swear a heard a chorus of rowdy angels singing off in the distance.


For today was the day I was to hold within my sweating fingers the first acknowledgment by the Rays that we might wander into the Playoff territory again in 2010. So it was no wonder that I quickly tore that white envelope’s end off and gathered in the dark blue folder with Rays icons Jeff Niemann. Matt Garza David Price and James Shields on its cover. I find ot kind of ironic that the four pitchers posed on this folder’s cover might just be the Rays starting four in the postseason.

But what was more remarkable was the inserted invoice for the Postseason in my little seat in Section 138 was going to cost me $950 little George Washington’s with a $ 25 Service Fee…..Really a service fee that high? In the end, getting a seat not even 7 feet from the playing surface for less than $ 1,000 is extremely rare, and one of my cherished possessions in life. And I like how being a Rays Season Ticket holder has gotten me almost a 20 percent discount for the ALDS and ALCS game, but no such luck getting a discount for the MLB-controlled World Series tickets.

But still, it is pretty cool that the possible 10 games (plus 2 possible tie-breaker games) the Rays could play in the 2010 post season will once again be mine and all mine for its entirety. And again we have been given the double fingers crossed promise by the Rays of additional seats in the 300 sections of the stadium with the number of seats granted equaling our normal Season Ticket seats. For me, that would be one additional seat for $ 590. But as in 2008, the deadline for my little George Washington’s to wander into the Rays money safe is by the deadline of Wednesday, September 8th, which is less than 19 calendar days from today.

Why couldn’t the Rays have had a longer period to get our funds deposited into their bank like say by Friday, September 24th when the Rays begin their final home stand with the Seattle Mariners in town. It would still give the team time to place their fingers on their keyboards and print and mail the post season ticket strips to their fan base, plus they could open the general public seating tickets on that Monday, 27th, still during the Rays final three game of their home schedule against the Baltimore Orioles.

But the Rays were more than adamant in their postseason packet that if you fail to register or send your full payment in by Wednesday, September 8th, you might be lost in the Rays general public ticket system trying to buy a seat for a playoff series. This is their quote straight out of the packet:

In order to purchase your postseason ticket packet, full payment must be received no later than Wednesday, September 8th,2010. After that time, the location of your invoice will no longer be available and the opportunity to purchase postseason ticket packages can no longer be guaranteed. Commemorative postseason ticket stock will not be available for accounts paid after the deadline.

But on a happier note, I do have the dates of the postseason games in the American League and will post them below so we all can request the day off, or re-schedule that dentist appointment or whatever. Starting times will be announced at a future date.

 

The American League Divisional Series :


Game #1 will be held on Wednesday, October 6
Game #2 will be held on Thursday, October 7th.
The teams will have Friday, October 8th as a travel day to the opposing team’s city.

Game # 3 will be held on Saturday, October 9th

Game #4 (If needed) will be played on Sunday, October 10th.
If a fifth game is needed to finish the ALDS, The involved teams will have Monday, October 11th as a travel day.

Game #5 will be held on Wednesday, October 12th,2010 to finish the series.

The American League Championship Series:

Game # 1 will start on Friday, October 15th
Game #2 will be played on Saturday, October 16th.
The teams will have Sunday, October 17th as a travel day between cities.

Game #3 will be played on Monday, October 18th
Game #4 will be played on Tuesday, October 19th

Game #5 (if needed) will be played on Wednesday, October, 20th

If one team has not garnered a series advantage by this point, the teams will have Thursday, October 21st as a travel day.

Game #6 will be played on Friday, October 22nd

Game #7 (If needed) will be played on Saturday, October 23, 2010 to determine the American League participant in the World Series

The 2010 World Series:

Game #1 will be held on Wednesday, October 27th

Game #2 will be held on Thursday, October 28th

The teams will have Friday, October 29th to fly to the American League city

Game #3 will be held on Saturday, October 30th

Game #4 will be held on Sunday, October 31st

Game #5 (If needed) will be played on Monday, November 1st
If the World Series is not decided by the October 31st date, the teams will again have Tuesday, November 2nd as a travel day back to the National League city.

Game #6 will be held on Wednesday, November 3rd

Game # 7 (If needed) will be held on Thursday, November 4th to determine the 2010 World Series Champion.

Hope all this information is helpful to Rays fans who will want to also be included in the 2010 Rays playoff fun. Hope to see all of you at the ballpark, and look forward to cheering for our Rays this postseason.

 

 
 

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