Results tagged ‘ American League Divisional Series ’
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.
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!”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!