Results tagged ‘ American League Divisional Series ’

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!”.  

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.

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.

I Have a Fever, and There is No Cure!

 


 

I was sitting at the outside bar at Ferg’s, a regular Rays watering hole just beyond the shadow of Tropicana Field right before heading into the 72 degree confines for Game 1 of the American League Divisional Series and an old college friend of mine, who is an ex- Army corpsman and a current St. Pete Fire Department EMT told me I looked like liquid garbage sitting on that wooden stool. Always nice to hear such sweet nothings like that from a cute brunette in a uniform, but instantly I became alarmed by her observation.

But deep down, I knew she was right. I was suffering from something that has been constantly growing deep inside myself for the last few days. It has begun to start overtaking a huge chunk of my life with regards to the normal every day activities. My friend turned a empathetic ear towards me and sat there quietly listening for a few minutes ramble on about the weird changes that had been happening recently to my body and mind.

Of my enduring wild bouts of sudden insurmountable insomnia that had me watching replays of Rays games on MLB.TV until 5 am, or about the increasing night sweats after a few bad Rays losses. Or even about the thoughts circling within my brain bringing me to a stage of insanity that routinely rings in my head after a recent close ballgame that could have gone either way. I told her how my reaction time to foul balls was uncommonly sloth-like instead of being like the usual human Venus flytrap.

She instantly began to humor me a bit and just sat there and nodded her head from time to time as I went on about the lack of concentration on thoughts that did not revolve around baseball, and the difficulty I was having prioritizing even simple events like laundry or eating lunch at the same time. That I turned my cellphone to silent to keep my little world secure from friends in Texas, Minnesota or New York from ruining my little Utopia right now.

 

I complained to her that for some odd reason, only three things seemed to matter to me right now. That I am impressed that my body is still doing routine tasks, but that they seemed more centered around what time the Tropicana Field gates will fly open at the Trop. She just sat there listening like a $200/hour personal shrink with a spoiled rich kid with social network anxiety problems on a overstuffed leather couch.

I even went as deep into it all as to tell her about my new found preoccupation with minimal issues like my special free parking place at the bike rack at the stadium, or my routine of biking to and from the stadium a certain way, and not deviating from that path a single step, even if there was a taxi or car in the way. I had gone into a unforeseen mode of superstition and daily routines I had not experienced for two years. I was down right going bonkers before her very eyes.

I rambled on about the way I was battling a huge bout of game time indecisions on the simple decisions like if I was going to have the Cuban sandwich, or got “hog-wild” and stack the loaded nachos with a bevy of jalapenos and hot sauce. My basic decision-making process was now being bogged down by a sense of internal mental fatigue that made me not even want to consider anything out of the ordinary, or remotely new right now in my day-to-day routines or game day patterns.

That in the bitter end, even after a huge win lately, I was battling a huge mountain of fatigue and restlessness that had never entered my life before. I felt like something was trying to invade and take over my body. That a foreign object or beings was infiltrating my soul and pushing the usual Renegade to the curb.

Through all of this she just sat there listening and mentally jotting down the symptoms and the causes to give me a quick spot-on diagnosis that people who work as E M T’s have to do almost instantly so many times daily on their job. You could almost see the smoke and wheels turning in her mind as she was eliminating mental illnesses and adding psychological responses and placebo cause and effects that could be the ultimate source of this epidemic that has bogged down my mental and physical being. Then she began to clear her throat and made a announcement of what I needed to do right now:

“You have to understand that this aliment has been around for a very long time. The cause of your problem is not solely physical in nature, but can be processed through your body at an astounding rate that will boggle your usual senses and day-to-day routine abilities. That your internal clock right now is being sped up to an alarming rate by a visual and environmental stimulation brought on by your own emotional pull towards the subject matter at hand.”

She then laughed and smacked me in the noggin a few times. She still had not fully revealed what was her final diagnosis. She just kept teasing me with it, knowing that I might not be able to handle the truth, or maybe was waiting for my nerves and the mind games that were already playing in my head to swirl a bit longer and turn me into a mental bowl of mush. She was sitting there trying to see if my orbiting energized electrodes could pick out the aliment all by itself before revealing the cosmic truth at last. She was truly amazed that I could not figure this simple aliment out all by myself without outside help.

“Darling, you really still can not figure this illness out by yourself?
You, my dear friend are suffering from a odd-cultural ailment that has plagued man every since the ancient cavemen first picked up two sticks and began fighting with the assembled tribe watching them. You are suffering an urbanite-based version of battle fatigue that effects people who follow a particular sports team and sometimes lives and breathes on their seasonal outcomes. You are beginning to show extreme signs of a acute case of Post-Partum Playoff Disorder”


And the news immediately shocked me. Here I was a strong-willed guy who had never fallen into that unforeseen trap of competitive silliness for years while ademently following my local team. But for some reason during this point in every season I fell face-first into the unobvious abyss and uncoiled for some reason. She saw my face suddenly go blood-less and turn a odd shade of off-white for a moment until I had that look of a man suddenly saved by the grace of god, or maybe by a errant throw by the shortstop to first. I had finally got it. I finally understood what was going on, and it all made total sense to me now.

 

Still there was a missing overall theme to the barstool prognosis. There was a missing piece of the final aliment puzzle that made me feel mildly empty inside at that moment. What was the final cure, or was there even a known cure? Could this be treated with kindness, or did I have to go through a rapid decompression of emotions and thoughts to again function like a normal human being? Or did I just have a fever for some extreme Cowbell? She sat there with a sly smile and a simple look on her face that told me I had already seen the answer.


“Think about it this way. Last season the tide and the final result of a possible playoff push and result was decided early on in last month of the 2009 season. The stress and the emotional attachment could be stretched out over the course of the season with no sudden pushes and floods of emotional attachment until the final conclusion and resolution in October. The symptoms could be masked with ease. What you need to do now is get up out of your seat, turn around three times and do three cheers for pizza, then do a rowdy rendition of the “Chicken Dance” for me.”


I sat there for a moment before rising from my seat and slowly remembering the moves of that classic dance and began to perform for a few moments. And you want to know something, it suddenly felt better.


“For the last few months you have been sitting a bit more idle in your seat, not celebrating like the rest of the Rays Republic. You have internalize the stress for some reason. You have taken your outer fandom and turned it within yourself forgetting your love for celebrating aloud and with vigor by showing your pride with this team. But last, but not least, you have to again not hinge every emotion and thought on the outcome of these next 48 hours. Life goes on without the Rays sweetie, and so should you!”


And with that prolific oratory, we both began to have one of those deep belly-busting laughs that you can only have with great friends. She saw that the color was again rising within me, coming back into my tanned skin and that my face was slowly ebbing towards its usual peach-color. Maybe I just needed to hear it from someone else. Maybe I needed a reassurance that others were going through this same mode of illness. Maybe I did just need more cowbell in a sense. I then asked what we should call this odd aliment that had taken over my life and my entire thought process for so long.

I wanted to attach some kind of astronomical name or even a cause and effect process for this illness that had caused so much sleep-less nights and sloth-like days. I needed to somehow throw a symbolic verbiage up in my mind to get a solid label on it all, and then finally move forward. The words out of her mouth seemed to come out in slow motion and my eyes and ear hung on every syllable and vowel until it finally wrestled in my eardrums.


“It’s very simple what you got………..You got Playoff Fever and you will not be the first to show these symptoms…or the last It is an illness of the Fall Classic. Everyone gets some form of it, you just look it to an extreme level. So let’s get off this barstool, the Trop’s gates are about to open!”

Miracle Twins Tame the Tigers


Brian Peterson/ Minn Star Tribune

I have to show some love to the new American League Central Champs, the Minnesota Twins, who last night gave all of us another great extended 9163 game) season. And even though they did the same in 2008, this time they came out on winning end of the contest. Twins Manager Ron Gardenhire and his crew did everything possible to take that final step into the 2009 playoffs by defeating the Detroit Tigers in a game that proved that being tenacious and clawing for the jugular can pay off big time in a game. The Tigers and the Twins went back and forth in this contest until Twins centerfielder Carlos Gomez led off the bottom of the 12th inning with a single.

And you know what they say about lead-off runners in a late inning baseball game, they always seem to come back and bite you in the end. Well, last night it took a little bit until Alexi Castilla hit an RBI single to finally send the Tigers back to their lair for a long Winters nap. I have to admit, that was the first time I have ever seen ex-Ray Delmon Young show such pure emotional joy since he found out he was traded out of Tampa Bay. Seriously tho, it is fantastic that the Metrodome will get to host at least a few more baseball games before it finally bows out as the Twins baseball home.

With 187 days until the Opening Day at the new Target Park, the New York Yankees might just be the last opposing team to ever come in and try to put a few balls deep into the baggies in rightfield. But the Yankees might want to be wary of these Twinkies. Sure, like their confectionary cousins, for most of the season they seems rough on the outside and soft in the middle, but they regrouped and pulled off a major coup by even getting to a point to force a one-game free-for-all with the Tigers.

The good news is that the Twins will have at least three more games to their 2009 season. The bad news is they first have to start their journey in the cozy confines of Yankee Stadium on the road starting tomorrow night with Yankee 19-game winner CC Sabathia on the hill. But considering the steep and rugged mountain they scaled in the last 14 days, this next obstacle might seem like an anthill to the Twins.

The minor fact that less than 14 days ago they were not even being mentioned or ever considered for the 2009 postseason, and now they have secured another American League Central title and a chance to compete as another great Cinderella story in 2009. I did not give the Twins enough credit to come out and take the game to the Tigers. I did not expect them to lay down or even give up, but I thought that American League Rookie of the Year candidate, Rick Porcello, who was starting on the mound for the Tigers might have the keys to the playoff bus in this match up.

The way Tiger slugger Miguel Cabrera started off in this game by crushing an 0-2 pitch by Twins starter Scott Baker, it definitely looked like a long, long night for the Twins. But being the pesky and persistent team they are, the Twins saw Matt Tolbert scamper home on a throwing error by Porcello to give the Twins their first run of the night.  From there Baker held the Detroit team at bay until the Twins finally began to counter and put another run on the board on a Jason Kubel homer to right-centerfield.


Brian Peterson /Minn Star Tribune

Now the Twins had snuck back into this contest 3-2, and the Twins Bullpen was about to began their long night. With both teams into their respective Bullpens now, the game was about to grind down a bit as the two teams used strategies and match-ups. Gardenhire actually used three different Twins relievers in a span of 13 pitches to get out of the seventh inning with no damage.

In the bottom of the seventh inning, Twins shortstop Orlando Cabrerra hit a 2-run shot to leftfield off Tiger reliever Zack Miner that scored Nick Punto and moved the Twins in front for the first time in the game. The Tigers  countrered the Twins by also using three relievers in the inning to finally shut down the Twins, who now had a 4-3 lead going into the eighth inning. But that lead did not last long as Magglio Ordonez took the second pitch he saw from reliever Matt Guerrier and deposited it into the leftfield seats to tie the game again.

In the next two innings, both teams used their reliable closers to try and put a clamp on this game and set up a potential one-run victory for either team. Twins closer Joe Nathan came in first and faced ten hitters before giving way to reliever Jesse Cain in the top of the tenth inning. The Tiger went to their closer, Fernando Rodney in the ninth inning, and it was now a battle to see which team blinked first.  And it was the Twins who blinked first when Crain hit  Detroit pinch hitter Aubrey Huff with a pitch, and he was quickly replaced by pinch runner Don Kelly.

Crain seemed to have gained back some momentum when he struck out Ryan Rayburn for the second out of the inning. But Brandon Inge took his third pitch and hit an RBI-double to deep left to put the Tigers up by one run. But the Twins counter in their half of the inning when after Michael Cuddyer tripled to deep leftfield to lead-off the bottom of the tenth inning.


Morry Gash / AP

Now with the tying run just 60 feet from home, the Twins  Delmon Young hit a grounder to short for an easy out, then Brendan Harris walked on 5-pitches to put men on the corners for the Twins with one out. Then that Tolbert, who scored earlier for Minnesota on a pitching error came through with an RBI-single to center to knot the score at 5-all. Gardenhire then used three different reliever to get his club out of the eleventh inning without incident. But the calculated manuveurs did not help his club as they went down 1-2-3 in the bottom of the eleventh inning.

Twins reliever Bobby Keppel came back out to the hill for the 12th inning, and got in a bit of a jam when he walked Cabrera, then gave up a single to Kelly to centerfield. With two men in scoring position,and with first base open, Gardenhire then intentionally walked Rayburn and load the bases up for Inge. The plan worked perfectly as Inge hit into a fielder’s choice and Cabrera was tagged out at home, which put two outs on the board. Gerald Laird then struck out swinging to end theTigers chance.

In the bottom of the 12th, Rodney again took the hill for the Tigers and gave up the lead-off single to Gomez. In all, the inning saw a total of 12-total pitches before Castilla stepped on Home Plate and the parties erupted all over Minnesota. You can bet there will be some tired souls on that plane, but the fatigue will not bother them as they will be riding an emotional high going into Game 1 of the ALDS.

And that can be either a cruel or energy pumping animal to tame right no
w for the Twins. The Yankees have been off since their season ending win in St. Petersburg on Sunday, while the Twins have been grinding it out and are still in the competitve mindset having  just concluded an incredible game. It will be exciting to see which end of the spectrum comes out in play of the Twins players’ tommorrow night. Adrenaline can be a great equalizer if it is used to their advantage.


Morry Gash / AP

From the emotional high of an extra inning victory still pumping through their veins, they run the risk of coming out too hyper, and then they could mishandle important at bats and get behind early. And if they come out stone cold, they could be in for a long night in the Bronx before finally getting a chance to sleep. I am actually looking forward to this first game because I am dying to see which Twins team shows up, and if they are motivated and still energized from the previous night….Sabathia might be the one in for a long, long night. But whatever happens in the next few weeks, the story and the determination of this Twins team can not be denied right now.  Count on it!

     

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