Results tagged ‘ Chad Orvella ’

Rays Now 0-11 on May 14th Games

 

 
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This date, May 14th, has always held a small special place within me. It has been a day of honest reflection and undefined possibilities. It has been the Alpha and Omega of my entire life, not only as a person, but as an athlete. In High School, this date usually corresponded with either the Florida State Class 5-A Track and Field championships, or the State Decathalon event held every year at the University of Florida. But since that time has long passed in my life, it has come to signify other things. But with regards to my Rays baseball, this date can be murder on me and the entire Rays team.

For the last 11 out of 13 years, the Tampa Bay Rays franchise has been unable to win a single game on this May 14th date on the calendar. In 8 of the past 11 years, they have gone down in defeat and it has brought my joy and happiness on that day to a sudden standstill. The only blemishes on that dubious record is the fact of two “Off Days” thrown on the schedule in 2001 and 2007 to break up the streak a bit. But in reality, this is one date that the Rays have a huge wall in front of them, and I am beginning to blame myself.

Since 1999, I have circled this date on my calendar hoping to see the roof turned orange after a Rays victory. But again this year we came close, but it was no celebratory cigar again to be lit on this date. It has been my epicenter of baseball for the last 10 years. Since 1999, I have either traveled to Tropicana Field or another city or sat idle on this day in response to where the Tampa Bay Rays were playing baseball.
 
That is right people, I use this date as my personal symbol of my commitment to my level of fandom to the Rays. It is my own form of special celebration to the team that descended on my home town to make me have more remarkable summer nights than just cruising the beaches with the windows open, or sitting in a sports bar watching the NHL playoffs.

So here I go doing a 11-year recap of those games and their results. Even if it brings up bad memories or provide a bit of funk, this is a date I truly wished would change in their 13th season (My lucky number). Most people will probably not give a big deal about all of this, but on this day…….It is what I say that goes….Got it. 



Timmer82@Flickr.com

1999:   Tampa Bay D-Rays vs Anaheim Angels. (AWAY)

That is right, the Anaheim Angels. The Halos had not gotten politically correct yet to include the “LA” region back onto their name. But in this contest the D-Rays starter Bobby Witt did not get any signs of offensive support and the then D-Rays fell to the Halos 8-3.  A total of 5 hits were dished out by the D-Rays during this contest. The bottom of the Rays order did most of the damage with catcher John Flaherty hitting a homer in the game. But the Rays did  show some defensive signs of life, converting three double plays in the game.

2000:    Tampa Bay versus Toronto Blue Jays (AWAY)

This was my first trip outside of the country since my Army National Guard Tour almost 10 years earlier, and it was my venture to this awesome Canadian town. I  got a wild distaste for customs on this trip, but that is a story for another time. In this game, the D-Rays sent starter Esteban Yan to the hill. Yes, the same Yan who would become the Rays closer later in his career and provide massive puddles of sweat on the pitching rubber. But the game belonged to Blue Jays starter David Wells, who just seemed to have the D-Rays at bay all night in this contest. 

Wells threw a 7-hit 2-run game against the D-Rays, but the Rays Bullpen let the game get away from them in the end. In the bottom of the ninth inning, D-Rays reliever Albie Lopez gave up 2 runs to hand the Jays a 3-2 win.  After the game, I got my first taste of feeling a bit out of place when a French speaking woman was trying to have a conversation with me in a neighboring pub, but I could only understand every fifth word. I only took French 1 in college. Guess that day ended up as a total disaster for me, both on and off the turf.


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2001:                                 Off Day

I decided on this day to just go on out and hit a local James Beard recommended eater that boasts its steaks and fine conversation during an intimate dinner. It was the first time I had ever ventured into this South side of Tampa, and I made my Visa credit card pay dearly for it. I had heard the praise of the food and atmosphere around Bern’s Steakhouse for years, but this was my first entrance into the wine and steak primo emporium. If you have not heard of this fine dining experience, then you have missed out on some of the best foodie tales to ever tell at a cocktail party.

The interior is done in a classic French chateau style complete with the red velvet wall coverings and an over abundance of photos of people no one seems to know on the wall. But the real attraction is the telephone book wine list that has the World’s largest and most opulent collection of wines. An added bonus to all of this is an extended aging process on all of their beef offerings, which translates into a bit of ambrosia on your plate. I am going to stop here before I drool and ruin another computer keyboard.

2002:  Tampa Bay Rays vs New York Yankees ( AWAY)

This was my first baseball venture into the Ballpark in the Bronx. And I did wear my Rays gear into Yankee Stadium and had a minimal stint of problems. I had secured a seat right above the Rays dugout using a Yankee insider friend I knew while playing football for a great ticket. This game was over rea
l early as Rays starter Travis Harper did not last 3.2 innings before Rays reliever Steve Kent came on in long relief. It was my third game on this date, and I was beginning to think I was the cause for the losing on this date.

But in reality, the team was up against Yankees starter Roger Clemens, and he threw a 3-hit, 1-run outing on that night.  Rays Leftfielder Steve Cox did have a good night, getting two of the hits in the game. My old buddy Greg Vaughn did get a hit as the DH  also during that night. But in the end, the Rays fell by a 10-3 score because of a pair of Jason Giambi and Jorge Posada home runs.

2003 :     Tampa Bay vs. Toronto Blue Jays (AWAY)  

Here I am again venturing across the open borders on my trip to Canada, but this time I decided to bring a French phrase book (just in case). I decided to stay at Rogers Centre hotel this time, but it did not help in securing a win for the Rays. In this contest, my old Rays friend and current Jays starter Cory Lidle was throwing against the Rays. The Rays sent young starter Dewon Brazleton to the mound, who reminds me of Jeff Niemann sometimes, and he  quickly got roasted with 7-hits and 5-runs in the outing. This was also during the time when the Rays had John Rocker on their roster, and after the game I chatted with him a bit in the hotel lounge.

But the Rays were beginning in this 2003 to show signs of the emergence of one of their key players in the Rays future. This was Rays rookie Carl Crawford’s first full year in the MLB, and he had mixed results in this May 14th game. He did go 1 for 5 in the game, but Aubrey Huff was the star of this game, but even his bat was not enough as the Rays lost the contest 7-6. the Rays did try and mount a offensive counterattack by scoring 4 runs in the top of the eighth, but Jaye reliever Cliff Politte (Ironic a “Cliff” did me in) secured his fourth save of the season by shutting down the Rays offense.



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2004:     Tampa Bay Rays vs. Cleveland Indians (AWAY)

This was my first venture to “The Jake”, and it was the first time I have ever been mesmerized by an “away” stadium. They were celebrating the 10th anniversary of “The Jake”, and it did not even look a few years old at that point. This was the night that my flight got delayed in Atlanta and I was still sitting on the tarmac at 5 pm EST, but  got on a alternate flight and the plane began its descent towards Cleveland-Hopkins Airport at about 20 minutes before game time. The plane banked just perfect so I could get a great shot of the stadium beaming with excitement.

I did not get into the stadium until the fourth inning, and it was “Ladies Night” at the ballpark. I have to say it was the best present I ever got seeing this stadium and going down to the Warehouse District and dancing until near dawn. I even got to catch a home run ball by Indians Casey Blake in the 10th inning of the game. Unfortunately, it was the game winner and I still have that ball in a special place in my collection. We lost that contest 8-7, and it was another friend, Rays reliever Lance Carter who gave up the home run to Blake that night.

2005:   Tampa Bay Rays vs, Kansas City Royals (AWAY)

This was my first post-football visit to Kansas City. I did my usual old habit of hitting a few BBQ joints before the game, but the contest was the real treat of the night. I had always loved to see that night starter, Hideo Nomo pitch in his younger years in LA. Now the Rays had this aging Japanese superstar on their team, and I was anxious to see him pitch tonight. But the Rays offense ended up coming up a bit short during the 6-5 loss. Rays hitters Chris Singleton and Nick Green did their best to try and finally pull out a May 14th win for me, but it was not in the cards again tonight.

2006:   Toronto Blue Jays vs. Tampa Bay Rays (HOME)

Yes, that is right. This is the only time I have seen the Rays play at home so far in their existence. But the home cooking was not enough this night as the Blue Jays took final control of the game in the top of the ninth to send the Rays faithful home miserable after a 8-3 beating. In the contest, the Rays gave up 3 additional runs in the top of the ninth to put the game out of reach for the Rays.

Jays starter Josh Towers took the mound and was not overpowering, but the Jays defense kept them in the game and the Jays produced just enough offense to pull  the game out in the end. The Rays sent starter Casey Fossum to the mound and he had some success against the Jays, but could not keep the big inning from getting to him in the fifth. Rays reliever Chad Orvella gave up 3 doubles and a triple to Alex Rios that was the deathblow of the contest.

2007:                                 Off Day

Since we were going to begin a 3-game series at the Walt Disney starting this morning, I decided to head on out to O-town and do some wandering of the region. I have to admit I am a bad Floridian. I have never been to Sea World, and have only been to Walt Disney World (before this series) twice in my life. I have not even been there since 1984, but was looking forward to hitting both downtown Orlando and the Disney adult complex after the game that night.

Instead, after the contest I headed over to the Hard Rock Cafe at Universal Studios and had a celebration dinner and then just hit the multitudes of clubs in the Orlando area. I did order an outstanding steak and lobster dish at the Hard Rock that gave me boundless amounts of energy for the night. I just wanted to have a great night before the Rays started their series the next day. I heard a rumor that Pop star Justin Timberlake was in the VIP area after doing some Nick show that afternoon. That is as close to getting “Sexy Back” as I have gotten in my life.


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2008:  Tampa Bay Rays vs New York Yankees (AWAY)   

Back to old New York, New York. This would be my last trip into the old Yankee Stadium&nb
sp;haunts, and I tried to make the best of it. I did the usual Papaya King hot dog salute, and went down to Ground Zero, but I decided to sit in the Rightfield bleachers for this game. I do have to tell you I did get some wrath from the Bleacher Creatures at first, but by the end they were telling me a few places to have a post-game brew and maybe meet a Mets girl.

I think what went down better in their minds is the fact we lost a squeaker 2-1 to the Bronx Boys tonight.  Yankee starter Mike Mussina kept his dominance over the Rays intact and tight in this contest only giving up one run in the top of the sixth inning. This was also my first sighting of Joba Chamberlain, who did come into the game, but was gone just as quickly after walking 3 batters. James Shields also gave up all of the Yankee runs, but still pitched a great outing.

It was my last time to stroll amongst this hallowed baseball shrine, and I did take a stroll through Memorial Garden before the game. I even stayed a half hour after the game and was whisked out by security guards as I did not want to leave. But I did, still wearing my Rays gear and getting a few Bronx cheers, but nothing too bad to get me put into Fort Apache. But tonight was different from the other May 14th dates to me. I was at the last Rays game I would attend in this old iconic ballpark. I ended up sitting outside the front of the stadium for another half hour before finally heading to JFK to sleep before my 10 am flight back to Tampa International Airport.

2009:   Tampa Bay Rays vs Cleveland Indians (HOME)

On this night I had the feeling we might finally break the streak of not winning. Something in the air just felt different to me, and that gave me a immediate omen of a possible win. The Rays sent starter James Shields to the mound, but the Tribe quickly scalped him for 5 runs in the middle innings. It was a hole that the team would not come back from, even with 6-run effort to pull closer, the score was still 9-6 at the bottom of the sixth inning.

Just as quickly as we all began to sense a chance at victory in the stands after blanking the Tribe’s hitters in the top of the seventh inning, Rays reliever Grant Balfour gave up two runs and the Rays had to settle for a 11-7 loss. Even the ninth inning run by Ben Zorbrist on a Dioner Navarro double play, it brought the Rays only one more out and a chance to seal a final victory on May 14th. But B J Upton struck out to toss all those percentages down the drain. 

I hope I did not bore you too much with a special recollection on the date of May 14th through the Rays baseball times. I am lucky enough to have a home game again this season, and hopefully the team can break my curse of not getting a single victory on this date with me in attendance. You might notice that I had not included the date of May 14th 1998 on this blog. Well, that year I was here in St. Petersburg by my old dog’s side before he was to put to sleep. He had been my close ally for 15 years and had recently suffered a stroke and could not hold his balance well.

So I was not in Kansas City where the team fell 10-3 that night. As you can see, this can either be a day of rejoicing or pain depending on how you look at it. I see it as a beautiful day for baseball. I feel a bit older every day on this date (hint, hint), but what has not aged is the enthusiasm and joy I feel inside my soul on this date in relation to baseball. 

I truly have baseball in my heart of hearts, and I hope that shows most of the time. As I have gotten steadily older (about to enter another decade) I have been given the gift of remembrance of this date in time. And these past Rays games where I have either traveled or seen my favorite team take on the rest of the MLB from the comfort of my seat in Section 138 have all been classic birthday moments in my life.

What We are Fighting For…Remembering Sept. 20,2008

 

 

Introduction:

 

Because the Rays have seemed to lose a bit of the fight in them the last few days, I decided to revisit my favorite moment from 2008 and try and get some of the “Playoff Fever” rhythm back again in the Rays House. I do not have all the answers, believe me, I want to have the answers to get this team back into that fighting and hungry mode again. There is a different vibe on this team this year, and it doesn’t have the same feel to it. So I am revisiting this moment that is etched deep within me in hope that the team, the fans, and the community can again remember what 2008 really meant to all of us.

 

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Everyone remembers the magic of your first time. The first time you had a bubbly ice cold soda, or your first adult beverage. Or maybe it was the first time you finally go the courage and finally decided to try that scary ride at the fair that has terrified you to death your entire life. The fascination and excitement of trying something, or achieving something for the first time can be a rush that can not be beat. There is a burst of  energy that you can never have again. And last, but not least, a sense of accomplishment for finally hitting the finish line with gusto and pride. You always remember your ” first” anything, but this one will stay with me until the day I meet St. Peter at the pearly gates and he asks what I am most proud of in my life. My answer will be pretty simple, my answer will be unexpected to most people. My honest answer is my All-Time favorite” first” was when my home town team finally got to go to “the Show.”

 

 

 

It is for that reason that I feel I have to revisit my “Top Moment for 2008″ one more time.  As I said before, we always remember our first time entering the ballpark, checking out the sounds, smells and the atmosphere of this game that excites us from the television screen or in-person . You still think about the first Batting  Practice or your first foul ball catch. And how special was getting your first autograph, and didn’t that player become a favorite of yours instantly. And who could ever forget the taste of that first stadium hot dog. I know all of these are still fresh in my mind, and it has been over 40 years since my first game at Al Lang Field watching the St. Petersburg Cardinals. And the bag of peanuts in front of me still taste better at the ballpark.

 

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So it is with great pleasure that I re-introduce to the MLB community my number one memory of 2008. The realization of the 2008 playoff finally came to light on September 20, 2008 with 36,048 other  “9 = 8″ believers in the stands who had spent most of the game jumping up and down like maniacs. It was a time for celebration and rejoicing. It was a time to  remember all the things we loved about the 2008 Rays. Not only did the team play a hard fought 7-2 victory over the Minnesota Twins, but the team secured its first EVER playoff berth. And that moment seems have been buried lately because this group of players want to make their own memories, which is fine, but sometimes you have to embrace the past to secure your future.

 

 

 

Considering the 2008 Rays squad pushed the envelope from the first Spring Training game and fought long and hard to finally get this team over that “wins hump” that has kept prior teams from achieving this goal. This was a team before 2008 who had NEVER won more than 71 games a year, and for  the first time in this franchises history, they fought and sweated daily to keep themselves in the top spot in the American League East. September 20,2008 was a blessed moment of celebration for the fans both inside Tropicana Field or at home, plus it was a perfect moment for the players to salute a great season, and a unique event for both sides to celebrate together. This moment was so personal to me. I got to celebrate with a few baseball buddies both with hugs and fist bumps to swigs of champagne and cheers of excitement as the entire team wandered and cheered around the stadium.

 

 

I made sure to remind a select few of them that the journey has just began and they made sure I knew that it was us, the fans that drove this bus to the playoffs as much as the players. And I got to drink from the champagne bottles and taste that sweet nectar that went down like cool rainwater and tasted like spun honey. It was one of the biggest moments for me as a fan of the Tampa Bay Rays…………….and hopefully you got to enjoy it too that day…………….

 

 

 

 


It might have looked like a mob scene out of your favorite sports movie, but believe me, the energy in that place on that September afternoon was so severe that it sometimes seemed to choke you from the intensity in the air. From the energy and the explosion of emotion in the stadium atmosphere, this game seemed to have been in the cards even before the Rays stepped  on the turf. There was a wild feeling in the air that day. Most of that might have been nervous energy knowing they were within a whisker of franchise first and an event that would explode throughout the Tampa Bay community. 

 


Seriously folks, after that celebration in the stands and on the field, I felt so drained emotionally and mentally just a wreck. I was literally crawling out on my hands and knees, but I had a huge Cheshire Cat grin when I finally exited the Trop around 9 P.M. after celebrating in the stands, near the clubhouse with a few friends, and in the Budweiser Brew house having a few brews with the old crew from the last 11 years. This was a night where everyone in Tampa Bay would have a peaceful nights sleep more induced by exhaustion than by excitement. But that was fine, because that night we all dreamed the moment again and again and finally awoke knowing OUR team finally had a date to play in the postseason.

 

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This was an entire weekend that will sit up there with the best memories I have involving sports in my life. I have been to a few wild celebrations, like the Baltimore Ravens victory party in Ybor City after they won the Super Bowl in Tampa, or even a late night cocktail party at Reign after the Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup with a few ex-Rays players.  I was so spent that next morning from sheer excitement and celebration that I did not even feel I was walking on the turf when I arrived at the Trop for the annual  Season Ticket holder Picture Day with the players. Well, the ones who are awake at 10 am. and did not have that emotional and physical body and mind hangover from all the celebrations.

 

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TWO more times these guys  got to pay as much attention to their team partying as they do out with us, the fans.  From interview to interview that night, the Rays players to a “T”, talked about the Tampa Bay Rays fans. And to show their respect to those fans, they included all of us in their celebrations. There were wild scenes of players like Akinora Iwamura and Carl Crawford getting up on the dugout and spraying the masses with champagne and beer. Throwing 9=8 playoff hats and T-shirts to outstretched hands, and basking in a moment that will live in this franchises history books  and our collective memories forever.

 

 

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The picture above means so much more to me now that all three have moved onto other opportunities away from this Rays team. All three of them had a unique personality that helped this squad in different ways to achieve this goal in 2008. It was also was the first time all three of these old teammates got to celebrate something like this in a Rays uniform. You know they will always remember their first time. You remember where you were, Who you were standing with, and what you were doing at that exact moment. When the guys came running down towards the Bull Pen Cafe area , I was standing on the railing waiting for them. I can not remember how many of those guys came by there and how many times I slapped their hands and gave them a fist bump.

 

 

 

But the memories that are really were the energy that produced Hugs from J P Howell, Jonny Gomes, Chad Orvella and Scott Kazmir.  I have chatted almost daily with  a lot of these guys on their way to the Bullpen, or back in the right field area, and they are some of the best guys you will ever want to meet. But that night on and off the field I got to know and see other sides to these guys that only their teammates get to see daily. And that is a moment that was not lost in my mind.  Even today as I remember that September afternoon, the images are still crystal clear and the emotions still swirl within me. It was a time I again want to feel in 2009. It will be another awesome moment for this second generation of Rays. This years squad do not have the “jokers” and some of the big personalities that the 2008 squad had, but they are still the reigning AL Champs.



 ww.tbo.com


Some of these guys have been transformed by the moment. And success can do that to a player. It gives them a vital self realization that they are winners. Take J P Howell for instance. He used to be one of the quiet guys on this team. When he was a starter, he was a bit moody and never seemed to want to talk with anyone near the field level.  But now  he has been transformed since he has found his calling in the bullpen He now one of the friendliest people I have ever encountered on the Rays. Dan Wheeler is not known to smile a lot, but he does when we chat back and forth during the games. There is a unique bond there between the Bullpen and the fans here that I have never seen before in my life. But then again, they are living the dream in 2008.

 

 

 

From the first champagne bottle out of the clubhouse that day, to the two champagne bottles Bullpen Coach Bobby Ramos had ordered for himself and the close fans down there near the Bullpen, it was a magical night. The parade around the Trop outer perimeter was a show of the love and respect these guys have for the fan base. I have been lucky enough to know a few of these guys off the turf in private. And I have to tell you this in total confidence, not one time this year did any of these guys take this responsibility to the fans or to the community as a  job or work.


 

              www.tbo.com          

 

 

On that September afternoon these guys actually enjoyed interacting with the fans. From the time they walked out at the Spring Training complex in mid-Feb. to now has been a long and rewarding journey. There have been injuries to key members of this pitching staff early in the year, but the team bent like a rubber band and did not break. This season players have come and gone from the roster, but the core of this team has been strong, mentally tough and been an inspiration to the fans. Not many groups have a tie to the fans that these guys have. The Rays community can honestly say the have the team’s back at any moment.

 

 

The funny thing about that celebration is that about 50 percent of it was outside the locker room on the same field where these guys have toiled and struggled and left themselves bleeding and wounded some nights. To say this battle towards a playoff spot did not end with a fairy tale ending is totally inaccurate. I really need to hit the sack for a few hours before I fall down, but the adrenaline is still pumping hard in me right now and I have tossed and turned for about 5 hours since I got home.

 

 

 

 I am a emotional wreck right now, but I would do it again in a New York moment. If you have never been to one of these defining moments, you know how the Rays Republic is now feeling. If you have not, I truly wish it upon yourself and your team sometime in the future. It is a roller coaster ride fitted with some great ups and downs that is not even over yet.

 

                                

 

 

I just want to repurchase my “E” ticket so I can climb aboard the coaster again and roll through another three of these celebrations with the Rays and this truly spectacular group of guys.  I actually now know what other team’s fans have talked about when the y remark about the feelings and the intensity of the moment. I can see why New York Yankee and Boston Red Sox fans yearn and seek thin moment in their lives yearly. But I have to almost admit, I do not want to share it with them anytime soon.

 

 

So As I finally slink out of the stadium, and check out that bright orange roof, I am reminded of all the glory and the sweat and tears that have blanketed this great dome in the past 10 years. But tonight they all seem like a distant memory as we have a new found tradition of winning and are celebrating the success of our boys’ tonight. I can’t wait to get back into my seat tomorrow and see how much of the energy is still trapped in this building…………….9 am is coming fast to me tonight.




 

Mercy, Mercy, Percy!

 
 


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If you have been watching Tampa Bay Rays baseball for any length of time, you will know that we have always had one big hole in our roster, and we have tried valiantly to find the right pieces to fit that puzzle. But it is not like we have not seen some success in the closer role, but the majority of the time we have been sunk by lofty or inadequate expectations of players either too young and inexperienced, or guys on their way out the door. We have had successful closers in our young history,like Roberto Hernandez, Danys Baez and Lance Carter. It is considered the hardest situational pitching position in baseball to master and keep under control. You either have the muscle and mind to handle the stress and pressures, or you fold quickly when pitching flaws come to the surface.

So with the announcement today that the Rays and Troy Percival are going to take a “vacation” from each other for awhile, you could hear the air sigh inside Tropicana Field. For the mighty Percy has finally struck out in his chances with the Rays. I mean I was not totally on board with the  ex-Angels connection signing in the first place, but I was willing to give the guy a chance based on his past accolades, and what he could bring to this team in the way of leadership and teaching to the up and coming ballplayers. But, you have to admit that he has been here on borrowed time for some time, and if not for the genuine respect both Rays Manager Joe Maddon had for him, and Percival’s “never say die” attitude, it did make for a volatile  and some time effective relationship while it lasted.

Troy Percival has been a giant in the closer’s role for so long in the MLB, that maybe a bit of it moved past him and he did not adapt. But you have to give the guy some credit for the past. He is eighth in All-Times saves with 358. That is only 9 away from the next guy, Jeff Reardon. He was the fourth highest closer actively throwing in the MLB, but I truly think his days are over.  Even though he was 6 for 6 in save this season for the Rays, a few past decisions are going to haunt him for a long time.  He has shown signs of being a great closer still, like before his May 13th appearance, he had not allowed a run in 10 straight appearances dating back to April 17th.

In 2008-2009, the Rays were 40-1 when he entered the game for a save opportunity ( He was 34-38 in those save opportunities).  Percy has held opposing batters to a .188 batting average against him, which is the lowest average of any MLB pitcher with over 400 appearances. Oh, and before he started to show a slow decline in 2008, he had 28 saves for the Rays, his highest total since he left the Angels in 2004. But his decline started to take place before he got here, but the Rays also saw him take to the DL three times in 2008 and miss a total of 42 games. But you have to admire his the fight within him before you can condemn him here. He was truly one of the most  fiery guys to ever grace our roster. But that also might have led to his disfavor with fans. But in the end the mighty Percy struck out.


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You might ask how he struck out with the fans and maybe even his own team. I know of a few guys in the Bullpen who used to cringe when he warmed up, but kept up the team unity face for morale. Rich Herrera, who does post game and pre game for the Rays Radio Network once said, ” You can’t applaud the guy one day, then boo him the next day. Either you like what he is doing, or you don’t . Take a side.” Okay Rich, I will here. I think that he struck out with the fans based on three incidents, but there were more that could have merited the same outlook. 

First off, his injury near the end of 2008 was for back stiffness and a possible knee injury. That being said, he was a ghost around the clubhouse at the time the team needed him most. I know it might be personally painful for you to sit there on a bench and watch the game like a fan instead of play, but to show support for your team mates at that playoff juncture of the year was a huge flaw in his character to me. Jonny Gomes and Chad Orvella were not on the team’s rosters for the playoffs, but they were there for them with emotional and vocal signals that “they had the team’s back”. Percy was not on the bench, and not even in the clubhouse for the first game of the 2008 World Series.  To me, that was STRIKE ONE. 

A couple of weeks ago there was an incident in a Sunday afternoon game where Evan Longoria went for a ball in the third base stands in section 121. This section pokes out a bit beyond the Visitor’s Dugout and always sees it fair share of foul balls and hard hit smashes during games. The ball is hit high into the air and the ball is heading for that section of the stadium, we all know that the fan did not see or hear Longoria coming until the last moment, or he might have given way for the fleet footed third baseman. Instead he misplays the ball and both he and Longoria miss the ball. Longo throws some choice words for the guy and also so steely glances the rest of the game.

Well, Percy comes in for the save in that contest and immediately after the third out begin to throw a few comments of his own towards the guy. This was about 15 minutes after the incident, but Percy was jawing the wagging a finger towards the guy. The language was not acceptable for a “Family Day” at the ballpark first off, but the badgering of the fan was not only insulting, but should have warranted a suspension or a public apology from Percival to the guy. It was another out-of-control moment probably brought on by emotion, but to me, It was purely STRIKE TWO.

Then we have a nice tight game going on in May in Oriole Park in Camden Yards against the Baltimore Orioles on May 13th. Percival came in with the score in favor of the Rays 8-2 and proceeded to do something I found so insulting to the baseball gods I wanted to just jack him up and beat him down for it in a blog, but felt it was better to leave him alone at the time. He was going to bite the hand that fed him soon enough in the contest. In 1/3rd of an inning, Percival had given up 4-runs on 4-hits, including two home run pitches that looked more like some one throwing Batting Practice. The first thought in my mind was that he wanted to get the score close so it was going to be a save opportunity for him. Giving another team an opportunity to come back for your own personal gain is against the grain of the unwritten rules Percy. The score was 8-6 when in the bottom of that ninth inning  Rays Manager Joe Maddon came out to chat with Percy.

                   RRCollections

We all know that Maddon had already made his decision to take Percy out, maybe for disrespecting the game, but more for his awful pitching performance. This was the last game of the most recent road trip, and the Rays wanted this game badly. But what we ended up with was Percy behaving badly. He began to vocally challenge and argue with the skipper to the point you could see spittle trailing from his mouth. He fought long and hard to stay in the game, but some of the words lipped from his mouth were not entirely in the rules of respect for your Manager. I admire the fire and spunk, but I also detest the disrespect and his blatant disregard for the team Manager.  For me, this was STRIKE THREE.

So when the Rays came home, I was clam and cool in the stands, but I did not address Troy anymore as he walked past me to the bathrooms and Bullpen lounge area. I would not even look at the man. I was pissed and I did not want to see an ounce of this guy on the mound for the team again unless he showed a bit more respect for his longest supporters, Joe Maddon.  He did enter the game on May 15th in the 7th inning, one of his earliest appearances of his Rays career. As he slunk off the Bullpen Mound and the stadium Jumbotron announced his music I turned my back to the field. That was my show of not honoring the fact this guy was still out there on the mound. I was firmly going to show my distaste for his treatment of this team, and his Manager.

Percival did not have the opportunity in these next two night to get either the win or the save as Dan Wheeler and Joe Nelson took the mounds in the ninth inning for the Rays. That Sunday, Percival did hit the mound in the ninth and got two strikeouts en route to his sixth save of the year ( At the time, that placed him 9th in the AL in saves).  The performance was one of his best in the season, but I again stood towards the back wall as he entered the ballgame. Then the last straw might have been during a save opportunity that almost got away, but this time Maddon was not going to let the closer take this one away from his young team.

Percival entered the game in the top of the ninth, and while I was looking at the back wall I was admiring the new huge sign by the Florida Sports Network and Sunsports that looked like a game day roster. I had looked back there dozens of times this season and did not really see how great it was before today. Well, Percival lived up to his usual expectations and gave up two quick hits and runs before Maddon made a move to bring in Nelson again for the the game. At that time, the score was tied, and Percival this time did not totally try and even voice any fight or vinegar at Maddon, but strolled off the mound to the dugout.


Chris O’Meara / AP

That was the last time we saw him. Strolling off the mound after giving up two runs to tie a contest the Rays would eventually win. You want to say something poetic here, that will be admired for years as sage advice or even a recollection, but I was glad it was his last outing for the team. I truly do not care if he ever comes back. He has options available to him. He can either rehab as long as the team deems he should and not fight it, or he can walk away from the game for the last time.  My feelings are he still has some fire in his beer belly for the game, but it might not fit well here anymore. If he does ever some back into a Rays uniform, he will probably have to take a reduced role with the team. More of a set-up role than a closer.

It is actually kind of odd, but curiously wild that Percival was all rah-rah about Jason Isringhausen signing with the team this spring, and he might be the guy who gets eventually slotted into the closer role. I wish Percy the best as he takes his time and contemplates and make decisions about his future on the mound. Maybe he is again ready for that role of managing like he did in 2007 in the Angels minor league system. Time will tell. But I think the time of the scruffy, pear-shaped closer going to the mound for the Rays is over.

He fought the sands of time as long as he could, but maybe he is finally starting to realize the door is shutting behind him. I have glad for what he has done for this club in the last two seasons, but I will not miss him. And Rays, do not forget to lock the door, or he will find a way back into this clubhouse. But for me personally, he has not only struck a chord in me with his actions, he might have finally struck out with other fans too.

Red Sox Dissect Rays Pitching for Win

 
     

 

Okay,
here we are with the second half of the home and home series today in Fort
Myers. The Rays kind of put the Red Sox fans in the back of their seats
yesterday, but today’s contest is a whole different ball game. Not only will the
Red Sox be in their home stadium, but they will have the multitudes of Red Sox
fans who love to cheer on their team. I do have to make a note that yesterday’s
game had a total of 7,148 fans in and around the stadium, which is a new record
for this young stadium location. I do have to say that at some point in the
berms and the outfield it was total standing room
only. 

 

 
I do
have a huge suggestion to the Rays and the Sandcrabs for future games in this
stadium. It seems that we need a secondary speaker system throughout the
outfield section of the stadium. Maybe a series of those upside down speakers
that look like  free standing light poles could be put in areas around the kids
area and near the boardwalk and Tiki Hut. You can hear the game, but you get a
delayed  sight to sound response because of no audio out in that area of the
ball park. I play my game day audio from my laptop to hear it no matter where I
am in the stadium, but some games are not on the radio.  Just a thought. Now
let’s get back to our Sunday recap of the Rays versus the Red Sox
game.

 

 
The Rays
sent Wade Davis, one of their top prospects from Triple-A to the mound today.
Davis has been tweaking a few of his pitches and has had a few outstanding
performances this spring. But he is penciled into be sent to the minor league
camp sometime in the near future to begin his season in Triple-A again for the
Durham Bulls. Davis will make his major league debut sometime in 2009 with the
club, but I do not see him winning the fifth rotation spot this spring. With
that said, another guy who might have pitched his way out of contention for the
fifth spot is Mitch Talbot. But if you really consider the top three pitchers
for the Rays at their Triple-A level in 2009 of David Price, Davis and Talbot.
There are club throughout baseball who would love to have that kind of
consistent staff starters in their
ranks.


                       
 
 
The
game got off to start with the Boston Red Sox sending Justin Masterson to the
mound. The wild thing about Masterson is that he can be in the same boat as Jeff
Niemann and Jason Hammel this year. He can be both a starter or a reliever for
the team and might make some heads turn with a great outing today. With Brad
Penny not throwing yet in Spring Training, he could get a start or two early in
the year, then settle into the Bullpen for 2009.  Fernando Perez lead off for
the Rays today and quickly hit a grounder to Julio Lugo, who was
playing shortstop today for Boston. Adam Kennedy then struck out. Evan Longoria
then hit another grounder to Nick Green  who threw out Longoria to end the
inning 1-2-3 for Boston.

 

 
Wade
Davis came out for the Rays and gave up a sharply hit single down the third base
line that eluded Longoria. Rocco Baldelli then came up and hit a ball to
Longoria that he quickly threw to Kennedy at second base to force out Lugo.
Jason Varitek then came up and struck out.  J D Drew then walked to put me at
first and second base. Lars Anderson then hit a RBI single through the hole at
short into left field and the throw to the plate was cut off and Baldelli scored
to put Boston in front 1-0. Zack Deages then struck out to end the Boston rally
stranding two runners on base.

 

 
Masterson again came out for the top of the second inning and got
Carlos Pena to strike out to lead off the inning. Dioner Navarro then hit a long
fly ball to left field that Zack Daeges caught for the second out. Gabe Gross
then hit a single to right center field for the first Rays hot of the day.Morgan
Ensberg then came up and struck out to end the Rays chances in the
inning.

 

 
Davis
also again took the mound for the Rays  and got Jonathan Van Every to hit a ball
down the first base line and covered first for a flip from Pena for the first
out. Green then took the first pitch from Davis and drilled it past the left
field fence and onto the adjacent field’s dugout for a solo home run. Ivan Ochoa
then put a nice bunt down the third base line to get an infield single. Lugo
then came up and hit a screaming RBI double to left center field to easily score
Ochoa. Baldelli then struck out. Varitek came up and hit a single to left field
that split the outfielders, but Lugo tired to score from second base and was
thrown out at the plate by Ray Sadler in left field to end the inning. Boston
was ahead at that point 3-0 over the
Rays.

 


 
Masterson came out for his third inning and quickly got Sadler to
hit a grounder to Lugo, who got him in time at first base. Elliot Johnson then
hit a  fly ball to Drew in right field for the second out of the inning. Perez
then came up and hit  a ball to the left of Masterson that he quickly picked up
and fired to first barely getting Perez in time. At that point, Masterson had
gone 3 innings and had given up only 1 hit, with 3 strike outs against the
Rays.

 

 
Davis
came to the mound in the top of the third again for the Rays and got Drew to hit
a quick fly ball to Gross in right field for the first out.  Anderson then
walked to give Boston their first runner of the inning. Daeges then hit a
2-run home run to right-center field. Van Every hit a foul pop-out to Longoria
and quickly the Red Sox had two outs in the inning. Green then came up and hit a
double to left field and after that Rays Manager Joe Maddon came out to make a
pitching change. The Rays brought in Calvin Medlock, who quickly gave up a RBI
single to Ochoa to right field.  Lugo then came up and hit a double to left
field that scored Ochoa. For the day, Lugo went 3-3 against Rays pitching.
Baldelli then came up and hit a foul pop-up to first base to end the inning with
the Red Sox up 7-0.

 

                  

In the fourth inning, the Red Sox sent closer Jonathan Papelbon to
the mound to face the Rays. He got Kennedy to strike out to lead off the inning.
Longoria then took his first pitch to right-center field for a single. Pena then
struck out to give the Rays one last out in the inning. Navarro hit a single to
left field, but Longoria stopped at second on the play.  Gross then came up and
struck out to end the inning. Even though Papelbon gave up two hits in the
inning, all three outs were
strikeouts.

 

 
Dewon
Day came out for the Rays in the bottom of the fourth inning. He quickly got
Varitek to ground out. He then fooled Drew with a nice breaking ball for a
strikeout.  Anderson then came on and hit a hard smash to Chris Richard, who was
now on first for the Rays. Day was backing up Richards on the play and Richards
tossed the ball to Day, who dropped the ball. Day was given an error on the play.
Daeges struck out to end the Red Sox
Rally.

 

The
heralded prospect Daniel Bard then took the mound for the Red Sox. In a recent
game, Bard had thrown over 100 mph on the stadium’s jugs gun.  He got Ensberg to
strikeout for the first out of the inning. Sadler then followed with a
strikeout. Bard completed the trio as he got Johnson to also strike out to send
the Rays down 1-2-3 in the inning. At that point in the game, the Rays had
struck out swinging in six straight at bats, with only Gross being a called
third strike.

 

Day came
out again for the Rays and walked Van Every to lead off the inning. Green then
hit a fly out to Sadler that he easily caught for the first out. Ochoa was
fooled on a breaking pitch outside for a strikeout. Lugo then walked to give
Boston two men on base in the inning. George Kottaras then pinch hit and was hit
by the pitch to load the bases with two outs. With Varitek at the plate, Day
threw a wild pitch and Van Every tried to score from third base on the play.
Navarro quickly got the ball to Day, who tagged out Van Every before he reached
the plate for the third out of the
inning.

 

                      
 

Japanese
pitcher Junichi Tazawa then came on to pitch for Boston. Tazawa was the young
pitcher that did not go into the Japanese Baseball League before signing with
Boston this off season.  He might not make the 25-man roster of the big club
this year, but this was the first time the Rays would see him pitch outside of
Japan.  Tazawa’s first pitch to Perez was rifled into center field for a lead
off single. Kennedy then hit a double into left center field that scored Perez
from first base.  Longoria then struck out for the first out of the inning.
Richard also struck out, and Varitek threw a strike to third base to nail
Kennedy who was trying to advance on the play for the final out of the
inning.

 

 
Winston
Abreu then took the mound for the Rays. He got Varitek to quickly fly out to
right field for the first out. Josh Reddick, who came in to replace Drew in
right field then hit a fly ball to Johnson at shortstop. Anderson then hit a fly
to Longoria to complete the first 1-2-3 inning for the Rays today.  But Boston
still lead 7-1 in the game.
Tazawa came back out for the eighth inning and quickly got Reid
Brignac, who came in to play shortstop to strike out. He then got Ben Zorbrist,
who came in to play second base to fly out to center field, The Ensberg struck
out to give Boston a 1-2-3 inning against the
Rays.

 
 

 

 

Abreu
again took the mound for Tampa Bay and he went straight to work striking out
Daeges to lead off the inning.  At that point, Abreu had gone 4-up, 4- down for
the Rays Maddon again came out and swapped Abreu for Chad Orvella with one out
in the inning. Orvella, who is fighting for a roster spot after coming back from
a shoulder injury gave up a towering solo shot to right field to the next
batter, Van Every. This is the second homer in two days against the Rays for Van
Every.  Gil Velazquez  then hit ball to Chris Nowak at third base. Nowak got off
a bad throw that seemed to two-hop before Richard dug it out at first for an out.
Ochoa ended the inning by striking
out.

 

 
The Rays
sent Rule-5 player Derek Rodriguez to the mound for the 8th inning.  Rodriguez,
who the Rays picked up off the Rule 5 draft from the Red Sox, quickly got
Argenis Diaz to fly out to right to start off the inning.  Kottaras also hit a
long fly ball to right that Justin Ruggiano caught for the second out. Pinch
hitter Carlos Maldonado then hit a slicer to Brignac at shortstop that he
quickly threw to first to get Boston 1-2-3 in the
inning . In the bottom of the eighth inning, the Red Sox sent Michael Bowden to the mound. Rugginao lead off the inning with a single to center field. He then stole second base to put himself in scoring position for the Rays. Johnson then walked. The Rays then attempted a double-steal with Johnson and Ruggiano taking second and third base respectively. John Jaso the  struck out for the first out of the inning. Jon Weber then hit a sacrifice fly to left field to score Ruggiano. Weber has no produced 7 RBI’s in the last two games for the Rays. Chris Nowak then hit a pop-out to first base to end the rally for the Rays.

 

 
Hunter
Jones took the mound to try and preserve the Red Sox victory. Jones is a
prospect in the Red Sox system who once broke his arm in three spots and had to
have multiple plates in his arm to heal the bones correctly. He gave up a
lead-off single to Richard to right center field. Brignac then struck out on a
nice called third strike. Zorbrist hit a ball to center that was easily caught
by Van Every. that left the Rays with one out to play with against the Red Sox.
Tim Beckham came up as a pinch hitter and hit a sharp ball to Diaz, but he
quickly threw the ball to end the game for the Rays. the final score was 8-2
Boston. It also marked the first win in three tries against the Rays this
spring.

 

 
For the
Rays, the game seemed to bring out some impatience in the Rays batters. For the
day they struck out 15 times, including 4 times to Tazawa in the game. For the Rays to
be productive against any team, mush less the Red Sox, they must be patient at
the plate. Tomorrow the Rays will again travel to Fort Myers where they will
take on the Minnesota Twins in a 1:05 contest. Leftie Scott Kazmir will be
making his spring debut on the mound for the
Rays.

 
 
Photo credits for today’s blog
go to www.boston.com,
and
www.tbo.com

 

Yankees again use Duncan to Beat the Rays

 

 
Of course after yesterday Spring Opener where the Tampa Bay Rays only managed to get 4 hits in the entire game, I was looking for the Rays offense to maybe finally kick back into gear.  Little did I know before the game that Rays Manager Joe Maddon had decided to leave a few guys at home working out at the Rays complex down in Port Charlotte, Florida. Among those left at home was Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena. I do not know the reasoning for the two guys to be left off the travel squad, but with a big game today against the Boston Red Sox, I am expecting it was done to have them fresh and ready for Friday’s game.
 

So when the Rays did come north to play the New York Yankees today at George Steinbrenner Field, I was not sure what kind of infield might be taking the turf for this first test of the year against our division rival. The crowd had it usual over indulgence of  Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez jerseys, but the smattering of the Rays blue and white jerseys could be seen in the stands. This is a huge departure on some spring training game where the New York faithful will sell out the contest before they even go on sale to the general public.  So it was a great sight to see some of the away teams jerseys and hear the odd cowbell or two.

 

Before the game I saw a very interesting treat as ex-Yankee center fielder Bernie Williams came out to throw the ceremonial first pitch of the game. I can tell you he still looks like he could play in the outfield for the Yankees, and I bet he can still hit the cover off the ball. His pitch was a nice crisp little fastball to just past the right side of the plate. The man can still play, and I still wonder why he is not in a Yankee jersey this spring? By the way the first inning strted out for the pinstripes, he might as well pitched the first inning for them today.
 
The Rays decided to give a few of their recently signed veterans a chance to display their skills today. Rays minor league player Chris Richards got the start at first base instead of Willy Aybar today. But Aybar did play, taking the Designated Hitter spot today. Adam Kennedy a recent signee got a chance to take the field at second base and  hit in the lead off spot for the Rays today. Also making his Rays debut was Morgan Ensberg at third base for Evan Longoria. Ensberg  hit a single in the 6th inning today off Dasmasco Marte. Both players might not be on the Opening Day roster, but Maddon decided that for them to find a team , they need to show their stuff. Since the game was being broadcast on MLB.TV, it was a great way for other teams to be able to scout the two veterans without sending people to the park.
 

The Rays could have taken full advantage of some wild Yankee starting pitching in the first inning, but they could not capitalize and ended up letting Yankee starter Phil Hughes actually look pretty good in  his outing without  capitalizing on scoring chances during his wild moments in the first inning today. Hughes, who is trying to come back after a injury-filled 2008, did not help his cause to make the team as a starter or as a long reliever in the Bullpen. Hughes did not self implode, but he did hit 2 out of the first 3 Rays batters he faced today before finally calming down a bit and ended up throwing 2 perfect frames for the Yankees. Hughes threw around 33 pitches today, and after his first three batters actually looked more calm and collected on the mound.

 


 

The Rays countered today with another great starting pitching performance from Rays prospect Wade Davis. He actually man-handled the Yankees in the first inning sending them down 1-2-3, with the third out on a 94 mph fastball to new Yankee Mark Teixeira.  Davis then came out in the bottom of the second and again came out with fire to get Alex Rodriguez to a 1-2 count before getting him to strike out to start the inning.  Davis did not back down after that and then took Robinson Cano out with another 94 mph fastball to end up striking out 3 of the first 5 batters he faced today.

 

Then in the top of the third inning, Yankee left-hand reliever Phil Coke came in and threw two innings of ball and also blanked the Rays, but did give up the first hit of the afternoon to Ben Zobrist, who hit a single in the fourth inning. For his efforts, Coke ended up with the victory for the Yankees.
 

The Rays sent out reliever Chad Orvella to start the inning. Orvella missed most of 2008 with a shoulder injury and was trying to make an impression on the Rays coaching staff to try and cement a Bullpen position for 2009. His first pitch of the spring came back to bite him as Jorge Posada deposited the ball beyond the right field picnic deck for an early 1-0 Yankee lead. For his efforts, Orvella ended up taking the loss today after throwing only one inning. To his credit, he then buckled down after the homer and got the next three batters, which included Johnny Damon who was his only strikeout of the game. 
 

For the bottom of the fourth inning, the Rays sent out Winston Abreu, who is trying to make the major league roster. Abreu did not fair well as he gave up three hits and a run during his two innings of work today. The Yankees counter in the fifth inning with reliever Brian Bruney who pitched  a shutout fifth inning for the team. In the bottom of the fifth inning, the Yankees tacked on a run when consecutive doubles were given up by Abreu to Xavier Nady and Posada.  With the Rays now down by two, they needed to find some offense in the top of the sixth inning.   Last years Yankee Bullpen lefty specialist Damasco Marte then came in and gave up another hit for a single to Morgan Ensberg, who was playing third today for Evan Longoria.  the Rays could not capitalize on this again today and the Yankees again dodged a bullet.
 

 

The Rays sent  reliever Julio DePaula to the mound in the bottom of the sixth and the young Rays pitcher shut down the Yankees in his only inning of the game. Then in the bottom of the sixth inning, the Yankees non-roster invitee J.B. Cox, ended up having the worst outing for the Yankees today. He ended up throwing only 1 inning today, but gave up 3 hits and the lone Rays run in the seventh inning. Cox gave up a single to Elliot Johnson, who then scored on a Jon Weber hit that eluded the glove of shortstop Eduardo Nunez to put the Rays with in one run at 2-1. Rays non-roster invitee Ray Sadler then got another single and the Rays looked to be starting a small rally.  But they fell short and settled for the 2-1 lead with two innings left to play in the game.

 


 

But when Rays minor League prospect Calvin Medlock took the mound, he ended up giving up three hits in his one inning of work, and also gave the Rays a slimmer chance at victory. Medlock gave up a three-run shot to Shelly Duncan to put the game out of reach 5-1 in the bottom of the seventh inning.  Duncan knocked in Angel Berroa and Doug Bernier, who had both singled in the inning.  The Rays then tried to mount a rally again in the top of the eighth inning, but Mark Melancon shut them down with one strikeout in the inning. the Rays sent minor league reliever Dale Thayer to the mound in the bottom of the eighth inning, and he also shut down the Yankees offense, which now had mostly minor league and non-roster invitees in the game. The Rays again tried to mount an attack, but were put down quickly by reliever Johnathan Albalardejo to end the game.
 

 

So the Rays ended up leaving Tampa with an 0-2 start to the 2009 Grapefruit League season.  What was so remarkable in this game is that only one walk was issued by either team in the contest. That lone walk was given up by Phil Hughes in the second inning to Chris Richards.  Even with the 0-2 start, the Rays have a few positives to take away from this loss. They can see that Wade Davis has been working on his third pitch, a change-up, and used it with great success today against one of the American League best off-speed hitting teams. Also of note is the fact that the Rays only struck out  5 times today, with not a single hitter whiffing twice for the team.

 

 

Rays catcher Shawn Riggans got the start again for the Rays and looked to have good command of the pitchers and called a good game behind the plate. This might be his year to fully show he can be a great play-calling back-up catcher in the major leagues.  10, 693 fans hit the stands today to witness the game against the Rays.  I am not getting worried about the lack of hitting or even scoring by the Rays in their first two games.  A few pretty odd moments happen in today’s game. Elliot Johnson scored the Rays first run of the spring, and was stared down a bit by Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli. You might remember in early 2008, it was Johnson who took out Cervelli with a shoulder high shove as the Yankee catcher was blocking the plate. Johnson ended up scoring on the play, but the action put Cervelli out for a few months and drew the anger of Yankees Manager Joe Giardi at the time. Also interesting is the re-emergence of Former Rays basher Shelly Duncan, who originally released by the team last season. Duncan came out today and did not taunt or even whisper towards the Rays bench. This might be a sign that Duncan has put the 2008 incident behind him and plans on making his statements on the field this season.

 


 

The team heads home tonight with a 1:05 pm start tomorrow against another American League East foes, the Boston Red Sox.  The visitor’s will send pitcher Michael Bowden to the mound. Bowden only threw 5 innings for the team on August 30, 2008 against the Chicago White Sox. It might be a guy that the Rays can get to early and score some runs. The Rays will  start right-hander Jeff Neimann as he tries to make his impression to get  that fifth spot in the rotation, or a spot in the Rays Bullpen this season. Neimann needs to make an impression for the Rays to want to keep him in 2009, since he is out of minor league options, and would not make it through waivers if the Rays tried to send him to the minor leagues.  Additional Rays pitchers scheduled to appear in tomorrow’s contest will be Jason Childers ( RH ), Jason Cromer ( RH ),  James Houser ( LH ), 2008 Rule-5 draftee Derek Rodriguez ( RH ) will see his first Rays action, and Brian Shouse ( LH ). 
 

 
To give some of the Rays fans notice for the Saturday game against the Phillies in Clearwater, the team has tenativly penciled in Rays prospect Mitch Talbot to get the start, with J P Howell ( LH ), Dewon Day ( RH ), Neal Frontz ( RH ), and Lance Cromier ( RH ) getting their second chances this spring to make lasting impressions on the coaching staff.
 
  

Photo credits for today’s blog go to: www.theStPetersburgTimes.com , and RRcollections. 

Top Rays Memory of 2008………………..Playoffs Baby!!!

 

 

 

Everyone remembers the magic of your first time. The first time you had a bubbly ice cold soda, or maybe even tried that ride at the fair that scared you to death a year earlier. But the fascination and the excitement of trying something, or achieving something for the first time can be a rush that can not be beat.

 

 

It is for that reason that my Top Moment for 2008 for the Tampa Bay Rays includes a new “first” for the franchise. As I said before, we always remember our first time entering the ballpark, checking out the sounds, smells and the atmosphere of this new electric-charged dome. You still think about the first Batting  Practice or your first foul ball catch, or even the first autograph you ever got at the game. And who could ever forget the taste of that first stadium hot dog. I know all of these are still fresh in my mind, and it has been over 40 years since my first game at Al Lang Field watching the St. Petersburg Cardinals.

 

 

So it is with great pleasure that I introduce my number one memory of 2008. It occurred on September 20, 2008 with 36,048 other believers in the stands and jumping up and down like madmen. It was a time for rejoicing and for remembering all the things we loved about the Rays. Not only did the team play a hard fought 7-2 victory over the Minnesota Twins, but the team secured its first EVER playoff berth.

 

Considering this team had never won more than 71 games a year, and for most of the year fought hard to keep its top spot in the American League East race, this was the moment for the home fans and the players to salute a great season, and the celebrate together. I know a lot of people might consider one of the many I picked as a number 2 moment for this top spot. This was personal to me. I got to celebrate with a few friends as they wandered and cheered around the stadium,

 

I got to remind a few of them that the journey has just began and they made sure I knew that it was us, the fans that drove this bus to the playoffs as much as the players. And I got to drink from the champagne bottles and taste that sweet nectar that went down like cool rainwater and tasted like spun honey. It was one of the biggest moments for me as a fan of the Tampa Bay Rays…………….and hopefully you got to enjoy it too that day…………….

 

Basking in the Moment………..1st Playoff Berth 

 

 


It might have looked like a mob scene out of your favorite sports movie, but believe me, the energy in that place yesterday was so severe that it sometimes seemed to choke you from the intensity in the air. From the energy and the explosion of emotion in the stadium atmosphere yesterday, this game was won by the time they  even first stepped  on the turf.

 


Seriously folks, I have never felt so drained emotionally and mentally in my life. I was literally crawling out of the Trop at 9 P.M. after celebrating in the stands, near the clubhouse with a few friends, and in the Budweiser Brew house having a few brews with the old crew from the last 10 years. This was a night were everyone in Tampa Bay would have a peaceful nights sleep.

 

 


This is a day/night/weekend that will sit up there with the best memories I have involving sports in my life. I have been to a few wild celebrations, like the Baltimore Ravens victory party in Ybor City after they won the Super Bowl in Tampa, or even a late night cocktail party at Reign after the Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup with a few ex-Rays players.  I am so spent right now and I have not come down from this yet. And I have a  Season Ticket holder Picture Day in 6 hours with the players. Well, the ones who are awake at 10 am.

 

 

All I can say is this is going down in my memory banks as one of the greatest day in my fan life. How can it get any better………….oh, wait WE could have THREE more of these great celebrations before the playoffs are all over with this year!  And then the real party will begin!  But let’s not get too far in front of ourselves here, there is a long road to go to even think of that situation right now.

 

 


THREE more chances where these guys pay as much attention to their team partying as they do out with us, the fans.  From interview to interview last night, the guys to a “T”, talked about the Tampa Bay Rays fans. They included the fans in their celebrations. Getting up on the dugout and spraying the masses with champagne and beer. Throwing 9=8 playoff hats and T-shirts to them all, and relishing a moment that will live in this franchises history books  and memory forever.

 

 

 


You always remember your first time. You remember where you were, Who you were standing with, and what you were doing at that exact moment. When the guys came running down into the Bull Pen Cafe area and I was standing on the railing, I can not remember how many of those guys came up there and slapped my hand and gave me a fist bump. But the ones that were special were the Hugs from J P Howell, Jonny Gomes, Chad Orvella and Scott Kazmir.  I have chatted almost daily with  a lot of these guys on their way to the Bullpen, or back in the right field area, and they are some of the best guys you will ever want to meet.

 


Howell for instance used to be one of the quietest guys on this team when he was a starter. He was moody and never seemed to want to talk. Now since he has found his calling in the bullpen,  he is one of the friendliest people I have ever encountered on the Rays. Dan Wheeler is not known to smile a lot, but he does when we chat back and forth during the games. There is a unique bond there between the Bullpen and the fan here that I have never seen before in my life. But then again, they are living the dream this year.

 

 

From the first champagne bottle out of the clubhouse, to the two bottles that Bullpen Coach Bobby Ramos had ordered for himself and the close fans down there, it was a magical night. The parade around the Trop outer perimeter was a show of the love and respect these guys have for the fan base. I have been lucky enough to know a few of these guys off the turf in private. And I have to tell you this in total confidence, not one time this year did any of these guys take this responsibility to the fans or to the community as a  job or work.


 

                        

 

This group actually enjoys interacting with the fans. From the time they walked out at the Spring Training complex in mid-Feb. to now has been a long and rewarding journey. There have been player injuries and players have come and gone from the roster, but the core of this team have been strong, mentally tough and been an inspiration to the fans. Not many groups have a tie to the fans that these guys have. The Rays community can honestly say the have the team’s back at any moment.

 

 

The funny thing about this celebration is that about 25 percent of it was outside the locker room in the field where these guys have toiled and struggled and left themselves bleeding and wounded some nights. To say this battle did not end with a fairy tale ending is totally accurate. This season has now almost come to a close at home, but in the next wek they might have a Divisional Crown celebration either in Detroit or Baltimore, then sprint home and get ready for the First of many October games in the Trop.

 

 

I really need to hit the sack for a few hours before I fall down, but the adrenaline is still pumping hard in me right now and I have tossed and turned for about 5 hours since I got home. I am a emotional wreck right now, but I would do it again in a New York moment. If you have never been to one of these defining moments, you know how the Rays Republic is now feeling. If you have not, I truly wish it upon yourself and your team sometime in the future. It is a roller coaster ride fitted with some great ups and downs that is not even over yet.

 

                                

 

 

I just want to repurchase my “E” ticket so I can climb aboard the coaster again and roll through another three of these celebrations with the Rays and this truly spectacular group of guys.  I actually now know what other team’s fans have talked about when the y remark about the feelings and the intensity of the moment. I can see why New York Yankee and Boston Red Sox fan yearn and seek thin moment in their lives yearly. But I have to almost admit, I do not want to share it with them anytime soon.

 

 

So As I finally slink out of the stadium, and check out that bright orange roof, I am reminded of all the glory and the sweat and tears that have blanketed this great dome in the past 10 years. But tonight they all seem like a distant memory as we have a new found tradition of winning and are celebrating the success of our boys’ tonight. I can’t wait to get back into my seat tomorrow and see how much of the energy is still trapped in this building…………….9 am is coming fast to me tonight.

 

Where is Kool and the Gang When You Need Them?

 

 

Rays 7, Twins 2

 

Back in the first weeks of Spring Training, the local fishwraps here in Tampa Bay asked the Rays starting pitchers’ about a prediction for the season. Most gave a pat, simple answer that it is too early to  predict much, but good things will happen to the Rays this year. Only one guy seemed to want to go above the norm and blow the lid off the prediction kettle.

Scott Kazmir came out and predicted that the Rays would be in the playoffs. Plain and simple. He was not under doctors care, he was clean, clear-headed and about to pitch in a simulated game when he answered the question. For a few seconds you might imagine the newspaper guys and the video crews wanted to check Scott’s locker for unsual item, like a Quija board, a fortune telling 8-ball, or a deck of Tarot cards.

It is with great pleasure that I can now deem Scott Kazmir one of the prophets of the Rays Republic. Kazmir is now a member in lifetime standing in the Rays Republic for comments above and beyond the scope of normal citizens. I have to admit I had the Rays at 80-85 wins, which would have been a mass improvement in one year. But I also would not throw away any more than that total.

At the beginning of the season I was unsure of Matt Garza as a total pitcher. Now I think this guy can turn into an ace onb this staff with some time and patience. I also had a few doubts about Jason Bartlett, but those fell by the wayside soon after he made plays that past shortstops would just wave at as they slowly bounced by them. He molded into this team’s 2008 MVP. He was chosen for his defense, his leadership, and for his huge upgrade at the position in general.

 

Rays 7, Twins 2

 

 

                               

 

 

Scott Kazmir

Come out for warmups freshly shaved, Scott Kazmir took his cap off and showed the Rays faithful his new ‘hawk, the symbol of this young ballclub this season. I could think of no other pitcher who deserved to be on the mound today to secure the Rays their first Playoff Berth in the club’s short history. Since Kazmir will probably be the next retired Rays number in the Trop. some day, it was fitting and truly an honor to watch this guy hit the mound tonight.

And Kazmir came out with the heat tonight. He went 6 innings of 5-hit shutout ball and picked up 5 strikeouts on the night. Those 5 k’s put him in 10th place in th AL this year with 158 for the year. Kazmir had all thre of his pitches grooving on the plate last night. Gone was the odd feeling of the ball leaving his hand as he talked about in his last start earlier in the homestand. Now the ball felt right in his hand and his slider was especially on today.

 

 

 

 

Top 6  batters’ in the Order

The top 6 batters’ in the Rays order each got at least one hit today. Akinora Iwamura, Jason Bartlett, Carlos Pena, and Evan Longoria each had one hit on the day. Carlos Pena made his one hit count as he hit a 2-run double to deep right center that scored Iwamura and Eric Hinske to put the Rays up 2-0 in the game. Evan Longoria rounded out the top 4 batters with an RBI  to deep center that scored Jason Bartlett in the 5th inning.

Cliff Floyd went 2-3 on the night with a homer to right in the 7th inning, and a single to right center in the 4th inning. Floyd was also intentionally walked in the 5th inning when the Rays ended up scoring 5 runs. But the show tonight was centered on the guy who was calling game behind the plate.

Dioner Navarro had another banner night when his team needed it most. He went 3-4 in the game and 1 RBI. Navarro started the night hitting a single to deep right in the 2nd inning. Navarro then hit a double to right to get Cliff Floyd into scoring position at third base. Then Navarro hit another double to right that scored Pena and put Longoria and Floyd into scoring position. On his only out of the night, Navarro hit a squibbler down the first baseline that was easily turned into an out. But he had already done the damage that night on the bases.

 

 

Bottom of the Order

The bottom of the Rays order has kept them in a huge amount of games in the past few weeks. Tonight the bottom of the order only produced 2 hits, but they also had 2 runs scored and 2 RBI’s on the day. Rocco Baldelli walked on 4 pitches in the 4th inning to score Longoria and put the Rays up 5-0 at the time.

Fernando Perez only went 1-4 today, but he also scored a run and got an RBI. Perez homered for his 3rd of the season in the 6th inning. Perez also made another great play in centerfield today on a dying ball hit into shallow centerfield. He quickly got a bead on the ball and caught it about a foot above the turf.  Perez also got a outfield assist today when Delmon Young hit a sacrifice fly to center and Prez quickly got the ball back into the Rays infield where  Pena threw to third base to get the sliding Justin Morneau  for the second out of the 4th inning.

 

 

Troy Percival

I have been a huge of everything that Troy Percival has done this year for the Rays. I understand how he wants the ball in key situations, but I also wonder if he might still be nursing an injury a little more severe that he lets on to the public and to Rays Manager Joe Maddon. Percival had a few epidermal injections in the last few days to take a bit of the pain away from his back region.

I am now wondering after this outing if the injury might be a disc problem based on him changing his warm-up routine in the Bullpen area. Troy used to do about 5-10 push-ups dailt and do a bit of yoga back stretching before taking the mound. He no longer does either event and it might be leaving him a bit stiff, or the injury might be limiting his mobility. Either way, it should be a red flag to the Rays that he is not able to be 100 percent for the team right now.

In the 9th inning last night, Maddon wanted his big horse to take these guys to the promised land of securing the playoffs on his broad shoulders. What ended up happening is that Percival gave up 1-hit and 2-runs in his 1/3 of an inning today and might not be the closer we want him to be right now. Brendan Harris got on base on an error by Jason Bartlett on a bad throw to first base. He then stole second to get into scoring position with 1 out in the inning.

Carlos Gomez then walked on 6 pitches to put two Minnesota runners’ on base. Denard Span then hit a ball into the rightfield corner that was mishandled by Rocco Baldelli and Harris scored the first run of the day for the Twins.  Span moved to second on the throwing error by Baldelli who actually had a great idea of throwing to second to keep Span from moving up, but there was no one at second to recieve the throw and the ball skidded through the infield before Bartlett got it in the shortstop hole.  Alexi Casilla then grounded out to Bartlett, who zipped the throw to first as Gomez crossed the plate with the Teins second run of the inning.

 

 

Trever Miller

Miller was warming up as Percival was beginning to get into truoble in the top of the 9th inning. Trever came in immediately following Span’s double down the rightfield corner and got Casilla to ground out before  getting Joe Mauer to finally hit a foul ball up the third baseline that Longoria cradled for the third out and the beginning of the celebration.

Miller was one of the first people to be interviewed after the on-field celebration, and when he took his cap off, you saw the new mohawk haircut that threw the crowd into hysterics. Miller earlier in the week said he might be the last one in line for a ‘hawk hairdo, but here he was supporting his team by sporting the fashion statement in Tampa Bay. I hope his wife did not mind his hairy donation to the Rays cause.

 

 

Rays Bullpen

The rest of the Rays Bullpen quickly came down to Miller side and celebrated between home and the mound and began a 3 hour celebration seen on the Jumbotron for everyone in the stadium. Also having a great night on the mound for the Rays today was Grant Balfour and J P Howell, who each threw an inning of scoreless relief for the Rays.

 

 

Where Is Kool and the Gang?

 

          

 

The celebration quickly rang out in the stadium as the P A  announced that the Rays were in the Playoffs. The player were still in their white uniforms and celebrated for about 5 minutes on the field before going into the lockerroom for a bit. They quickly came out wearing playoff t-shirts ans hats and began spraying the Rays faithful with champagne. Carl Crawford, Akinora Iwamura, and Edwin Jackson began the fluid barrage on the top of the dugout before moving to the turf and spraying everyone within range with the bubbly.

 

                                    

 

As this was going on, the Rays announcers were interviewing and looking out for flying suds as the beer as well as more champagne was flowing all over the clubhouse.  Rich Hererra and Todd Kalas should get combat pay for the amount of suds and bubbly residue that was soaking on their skin and well manicured hairs. It was a scene of mass hysteria for the right reasons as players came in and psrayed the inteviewees’ more than once. The best of the night was the side explosion approach by Chad Orvella on Jason Hamell.

 

                                   

 

Shortly after this, the players came out and did a victory lap around the stadium as players and fans hugged and congradulated each other around the stadium. I was propped up at the Bullpen Cafe and got alot of great sloppy hugs from very drenched individuals. It was a time for celebration, and the actions of Gabe Gross getting on the rightfield fencing and cheering to the crowd sent the rightfield into a frenzy.

 

                    The beaming Rays celebrate their playoff berth with their jubilant fans after the game.   (AP)

 

As they made it around the Trop. player were jumping up and slapping the hands of the masses who still remained in the stadium and did not want the moment to end. Finally about 8 P.M. the players were agin in the locker room and the post game videos and commentary was shut down for the night. But as you left the stadium in the halls, you could still hear the yells and screams from down by the locker room area from players, family and Rays officials.  This was a day that no one with a ticket will every forget…………………I know I will never ever forget this day.

 

Basking in the Moment………..1st Playoff Berth

 

 

 

 

It might have looked like a mob scene out oif your favorite sports movie, but believe me, the energy in that place yesterday was so severe that it sometimes seemed to choke you up. From out-to-out yesterday this game was won by the time they got on the field. Seriously folks, I have never felt to drained emotionally and mentally in my life. I was literally crawling out of the Trop at 9 P.M. after celebrating in the stands, near the clubhouse with a few friends, and in the Brewhouse having a few brews with the old crew from the last 10 years.

This is a day/night/weekend that will sit up there with the best memories I have involving sports.  I am so spent right now I have not come down fron this yeat, and I have Season Ticketholder Picture Day in 6 hours. All I can say is this is going down in my memory banks as one of the greatest day in my fan life. How can it get any better………….oh, wait WE could have THREE more before the playoffs are all over with this year!

THREE more chances where these guys pay as much attention to their team partying as they do out with us, the fans.  From interview to interview last night, the guys to a T talked about the fans. They included the fans in their celebrations. Getting up on the dugout and spraying the masses with champagne and beer. Throwing 9=8 playoff hats and T-shirts to them all, and relishing a moment that will live in this franchsies memory forever.

You always remember your first time. You remember where you were, Who you were standing with, and what you were doing at that exaxt moment. When the guys came down into the Bull Pen Cafe area and I was standing on the railing, I can not remember how many of those guys came up there and slapped my hand and gave me a fistbump. But the ones that were special were the Hugs from J P Howell, Jonny Gomes, Chad Orvella and Scott Kazmir.  I have chatted almost daily with these guys on the way to the Bullpen back area and they are some of the best guys you will ever want to meet.

 

 

Howell for instance used to be one of the quietest guys on this team when he was a starter. He was moody and never seemed to want to talk. Now since he has found his calling in the bullpen,  he is one of the friendliest people I have ever encountered on the Rays. Dan Wheeler is not known to smile alot, but he does when we chat back and forth during the games. There is a unique bond there between the Bullpen and the fan here that I have never seen before in my life. But then again, they are living the dream this year.

 

From the first champagne bottle out of the clubhouse, to the two bottles that Bullpen Coach Bobby Ramos had ordered for himself and the close fans down there, it was a magical night. The parade around the Trop outter perimeter was a show of the love and respect these guys have for the fanbase. I have been lucky enough to know a few of these guys off the turf in private. And I have to tell you this in total confidience, not one time this year did any of these guys take this responsibility to the fans or to the community as a  job or work.

 

                        

This group actually enjoys interacting with the fans. From the time they walked out at the Spring Training complex in mid-Febuary to now has been a long and rewarding journey. There have been player injuries and players have come and gone from the roster, but the core of this team have been strong, mentally tough and been an inspiration to the fans. Not many groups have a tie to the fans that these guys have. The Rays community can honestly say the have the team’s back at any moment.

The funny thing about this celebration is that about 25 percent of it was outside the lockerroom in the field where these guys have toiled and struggled and left themselves bleeding and wounded some nights. To say this battle did not end with a fairy tale ending is totally accurate. This season has now almost come to a close at home, but in the next wek they might have a Divisional Crown celebration either in Detroit or Baltimore, then sprint home and get ready for the First of many October games in the Trop.

I really need to hit the sack for a few hours before I fall down, but the adreneline is still pumping hard in me right now and I have tossed and turned for about 5 hours since I got home. I am a emotional wrexk right now, but I would do it again in a New York moment. If you have never been to one of these defining moments, you know how the Rays Republic is now feeing. If you have not, I truly wish it upon yourself and your team sometime in the future. It is a rollercoaster ride fitted with some great ups and downs that is not even over yet.

 

                                

 

I just want to repurchase my “E” ticket so I can climb aboard the coaster again and roll through another three of these celebrations with the Rays and this truely spectacular group of guys.

September Call Ups Part 1

 

I know a few names might be missing off the suspected roster call ups on September 1st, but you got to remember that two of our farm teams have playoff aspirations and might not have their players brought up until mid September of this year.

With the success of the Triple-A Durham Bulls, and the playoff push by the Montgomery Biscuits, the two teams will have to haorde a few players until their playoff aspirations are completed, or they win the whole thing.  With that in mind, the Rays did a great bit of foresight by protecting at least two spots on the post season roster for players still involved in the farm system playoff races.

With the Rays bringing up injured reliever Jae Kuk Ryu to the major league disabled list, it makes him and injured reliever Chad Orvella the two guys who could be dropped off the roster due to injury, and two other guys inserted into their spots. Most people have opinions on whose those two players should be, and who should  see the playoffs from the stands.

I can tell you this, the addition of Fernando Perez to the roster is a great additon based on speed and ability to play any outfield position. If he can get us a few extra runs down the stretch as a pinch-runner, all the better. But if he can give us more depth and give the guys in the outfield a few days off, it will help refresh a few of these guys and get their minds sharp for the post season.

Now I have already heard a few grumbles about David Price or Wade Davis not being here right now, but think about it, they are getting valuable experience playing in the Triple-A playoffs right now. That is the kind of education you can not buy or substitute. It will give them a taste of what will be October right now. So iof either of them are put on the Post Season Roster, they will be mentally prepared for the excitement and the adrenaline rush that comes with the call up.

I am a bit upset not to see two of the Rays’ veterans not get a shot up here this September. I am a huge fan of thinking that Mike DiFelice has done everything asked of him this year, and did not get rewarded with even a call up. I know he is entering the twi-light of his career, but name another player who has sweated and been there for the Rays since 1998.

Even though he was not with the franchsie for a few years, you know he watched and wanted those guys to have the excitement and the dream of a playoff berth. And now he is not even invited to be up here just for the September run.  Pity, he deserves better from the Rays.

And, this might not a popular pick, but I feel Jonny Gomes needs to be here as soon as the Durham playoffs are over. People have been knocking him all year, but as soon as he got some extra at bats in Durham, he exploded and is hitting with more power and even placing the ball into the oppositie fields.

I am not asking that Gomes be put on the post season roster unless he shows his bat is alive and deserving of a shot, but that he is the heart and soul of more than the players here in Tampa Bay. I think the crowd will aslo feed off Jonny’s vibe and get into this playoff push with more vigor and enegry. He has been the poster boy for a few years of the confidience and the energy of this team. It would be a shame if he can not even come up and help them get to October 1st without even picking up a bat.

 

I understand the bringing up of John Jaso is a call up to get him some familiarity with the major leagues. Jaso is our future catcher, and might even be a back-up in 2009 for the Rays. He has improved alot at Triple-A, and with a teacher like DeFelice, you can go wrong. His increased awareness behind and at the plate will work in his favor when he is up here with the Rays. He can also get a few spot starts and get the feel for the type of abilities he will have to display and improve on to be here next year.

 

We have a young team in many areas, and it will just get better with a maturation process in the next few years. Players will be added and subtracted to make this team stronger and more flexible in the near future. I know a few familiar faces might not even be here next season for the Rays, and that might just be a true sign of the level of competition we have finally reached on this team.

 

This team is about to hit a stretch run from hell, but with the pitching starting to click on all 8 cylinders, and the hitting supporting itself, we might just see a push for 100 wins this year. I am not counting on that total, but it might be a fun sight to see the drive for it this year. I am still stuck on my number of 95 wins will be needed to secure a playoff spot.

The great bit about the playoffs is that we can beat every team that is fighting for the positons. The Angels, White Sox and Red Sox all know we can beat them.

The Twins have not been around us enough yet, but you know they do believe they will have to make a statement in the next homestand against us here at the Trop.  That series might be one of the best played series in the Trop. this year, with a playoff spot as the reward for both teams.

Hopefully we can pop the champagne before they leave for Baltimore or Detroit, but that will take alot of help from other team for that to happen at the Trop before that 8-game roadtrip to end the season.

And do not forget, besides the Detroit 4 games, we have a makeup contest from the first week of the season against the Orioles. That game will be made up as part of a day-night doubleheader on  September 23rd, with game 1 presently being telecasted on FSN at 5:05 P.M.

Recent Rays Moves………….My View from Rightfield

 

 

Wow!

Here it is a few days from the Winter MLB meetings in Opry-ville and we made a few needed moves that will help define our current and future goals for our squad.

 

First off, let me get that off my chest right now. I am not a Delmon Young hater in anyway, but, from my seat in Right Field, I could read some of his body language and tell  he was just buying time before the poisoned axe or his actions  dictated a move to new Fieldturf pastures.

 

 Have fun in the pillow-dome Delmon. You complained about not being able to clearly see balls at the Trop. Wait until you look up in that sea of lights and  true white roof at the Metrodome………..you will wish for the grey white roof of the Trop. I do wish him alot of luck in his future and success with that “Young” brothers curse of having a small attitude adjustment problem. His brother seemed to have finally gotten his attitude to shine with the Nats, let’s hope it doesn’t take Delmon as long to fine the right basepath to being the great teammate. Delmon’s departure will come back to haunt us at times,…………..but only for 6 or 7 games a year.

 

Now the players we got for Delmon are quality guys. Matt Garza is a young player that can br dialed into this rotation for years and will be a positive and needed upgrade to our constantly inproving and maturing pitching staff. Garza has not even hit the stride in his career yet, so the sky is the limit right now with him.

By the way, in Garza’s last 2007 start in, he pitched 6.2 innings with 4 hits and 1 ER against the Royals and Lost the game. We will take 6.2 inning outting any day with only 1 ER…….with the offensive power we have on our roster right now, it should always  be a “W” with the Rays.

 

The additon of Garza is great because this staff can grow into a huge AL East  pitching monster. Scott “The K” Kazmir is just getting started. James Shields was perfecting a few of his pitches last year, and gaining a boatload of knowledge about American League hitters.

 

 Those two will hold down the front of the rotation for a long time. Matt Garza is a great addition to help get those extra ( hopefully) 10-15 wins a year to get close to that hallowed 82-82 mark.

 

They only curious point to this trade is Jason Barlett,the second player involved in this trade.  He is destined to be just a stop-gap fill-in until protege’ Reid Brignac is ready to man the 5 hole for years to come. Bartlett  hit .265 last year, but only has 10 HR’s in his career and only 1,079 AB’s in his career.  He has primarily been a utility man during his career in the bigs, and this is his first extended playing time in the shortstop position.

 

Now he knows the role he will play here in Tampa Bay, but who knows, someone could come to camp to even replace him ( maybe Ben Zobrist ). Worst things have happened to our team.  Remember Danny Batista and Roberto Alomar retiring from our squad with only days to go in Spring Training. Losing these ex- All-Stars was viewed at the time as a failure by the team. It turned into the emmergance of Jorge Cantu and Jonny Gomes as “go-to” guys for the Rays for  that year.  So, sometimes a bad look can turn into a solid gold treasure when you only look at the surface of a situation. But that is why we play the games and do not award a trophy for roster potential, but game results.

 

With that in mind, let me wander a bit. and fantasize here.

 

 Can you go back home again in baseball? Not to a home per se, but to an old team that left you unprotected in the Rule 5 draft, and you selected to a good NL team that did not even know if you could play an entire season because of health and personal concerns.

 

Josh, I have always wanted success for you and knew that you could and would pull yourself together and show the world what a ture 5-tool player looks like up here. You went on to  prove you can play at the highest level and even make their opening day lineup in Right Field. the start of the season offensive expolsion you provided made everyone’s jaws dropped in awe. You finally had an entire country knowing you had it in you, and you proved it to everyone.

 

Hey Josh, I was there the day you came back after your off field problems that took you from baseball and the Rays. I was the Pepsi  guy in the locker room talking to Tim M. right before you went out the door of the training complex and first met the media.

 

I knew then that you had it again. That your head and attitude felt right to me, and I wanted the sky for you. Can you forgive the powers from beyond the Trop’s D-rings and just listen to them if they want to trade and include you on our squad.  I would cheer and enjoy watching you in Right Field again. And a huge plus that people forget, you can be the left-handed bat that Joe has been searching for in the lineup. Could be a sea of pluses for both the team, and yourself.

 

Okay, fantasy time is over……… Trade number two might not seem big on paper or even in reality, but it can be the jump start for each player. Elijah Dukes and Glen Gibson both needed a team that wanted them and believed in them. Now I do not think the Rays ever disliked or wanted harm for Elijah. His off-field and on-field distractions just took their toll on himself and the front office. Both parties knew that a change of scenery can work wonders for you, as a  person and a player.

 

 I wish you a cartload of homers in that new park Elijah. And we will not see you for  about 6 years. It take a few years for the schedule to again list the Nats’ as a interleague opponent again.So this trade might be a hidden blessing for you.

 

 Now Glen Gibson is  daily becoming a more polished pitcher.  Baseball America rated Gibson’s changeup and curve the best in the Nats’s farm system. Now we  know he has inherited talent and a great barometer a phone call away from him. Not every guy has a father that pitched in the majors. That could end up being a hidden blessing for him and the Rays.

 

Fantasy time again…………this time Minor edition.  The Rays’ top draft pick last year, David Price has set high expectations of himself and his progression in the Rays farm system this year. Now I will never argue with a Vandy grad, but I just want him to have a shot to know the systems and not rush his progress. When he gets called up to the Big club, he may  get hit like a pinball for a few weeks, but being a Southeastern Conference pitcher is a bit of a farm system in its own right. The best have had a rough beginning until they adapt and conquer the unique strike zones and brutal power potential of a MLB batters’ box.

 

I love to hear bravado and throwing caution to the wind, but I think a year in triple-A and a call up down the line could be his best medicine. There are a great amount of talent in Double-A and Triple-A right now biting at the bit to get that Spring Reporting date here and start to show their stuff. Jeff Neimann, Jeff Ridgeway, JP Howell,Mitch Talbot, and ex-big club guys like Chad Orvella, Jae Kuk Ryu want another shot up here as well. And that does not include the future power pitchers scattered in the Montgomery, Columbus, and Vero Beach teams. The future looks really bright for this team in the pitching department.

 

Having a prospective rotation of………Scott Kazmir, James Shields,Matt Garza, and add any of these  current teammates names,………Andy Sonnanstine, Jason Hammel and my favorite, Edwin Jackson to the mix, make for an exciting rotation problem  that could win anytime they hit the rubber.

 

Back to reality.  The addition of  closer extrodinaire, Troy Percival only makes the 6th through 9th inning  a more secure spot for the Rays.

 

What I am talking about is the fact that  Gary Glover,Al Reyes, Dan Wheeler are proven MLB relievers who can make it a challenge for any team to try and score after the starter leaves the game.  We have had great relievers before, but never in the middle roles.

 

 I think Reyes showed a huge amount of class in knowing that what is right for the team is great for the future of this squad. I think that is why they picked up his option. There is no doubts or questions he is a plus everytime he hits the mound for us.

 

 He might be the last guy to get the ball on most nights, but he is the first to know that this team has  within reach lofty goals, and they are within reach most nights, even in Fenway Park.

 

Now I have heard a bushel basket of rumors about additons and subtractions to this team. I want to address my views on a few subtractions here.

 

 Delmon might have been a player with a career that will bury his older brothers, but he also has the Young family cancer of that hidden danger and aggression that could ruin all that is good with……..a simple, casual walk to first.  Rays’ fans know what I am talking about here. I enjoyed watching Aubrey Huff hit for years here, but when he started to jog down to first is when he got that dreaded “Ben Grieve” epidemic. Maybe it is in the aura of Right Field that our players get that attitude and begin to falter right in front of us. 

 

Brendan Harris and Josh Wilson were the “blue collar” guys last year. Each guy experienced  a banner year. they got to play ball almost every night and did it the right way. Both got rewarded in different ways.

 

 Brendan got to play in another Dome, but has a great chance to be the everyday guy in the 5 hole up in Minn. Josh Wilson was put on the daily MLB waiver wire with the hopes he could pass through without a hitch. One big hitch, some people actually read those waiver wires daily.  The Pirates took a gamble, and got another quality infielder for their rebuilding ballclub. We wish you a ton of success Josh……you did a great job for the short time you were a Rays. Just a reminder, we did get Josh on waivers from the Nationals last year.  Karma?  you never know.

 

The last two trades I want to discuss did not happen as of the writing of this blog. That does not mean that the teams are not on their cellphone right now mending the deal or twisting the pieces to fit both teams.

 

 The First is the rumor of Edwin Jackson shipping off to Seattle for  1b/DH Ben Broussard. Now I am a huge “Action” Jackson fan, just ask him (lol). I liked Ben Broussard when he was an Indian, but I think his production has slowly seem a downward spiral. We could have done better even in a rumor than this one.  Another rumor had the Mets again this year coveting Jackson.  I do not know what the Mets’ still have left in their farm system. They have been active the last few years adding the missing pieces to their squad. But I am not sure their farm system is as strong as when we plucked Scott Kazmir from their clutches.

 

The second  non trade is a two-parter.It is the “non” trading of Carl Crawford and Rocco Baldelli.

 

I know that Carl would love to be a part of the first winning team in this franchises’ short history.  He should be a part of this celebration……front and center. Rocco I believe will come out of Spring Training in better shape, and better condition than any other time in his short Rays tenure.

 

 I used to be out at the Rays complex delivering alot, and when Rocco was mending from his surgeries and bumps and bruises, he was  always eagerly training and building himself up for his return. If you remember, Joe used to like to have Rocco in the dugout at home games and selected road series because of his great attitude and zest for success.

 

 I think this time it is totally personal for Rocco. I feel he knows that the team took a gamble and signed him to a long term deal. He is a proud guy, and he is probably the most excited about reporting in  Feb. 2008. Rocco stated in a news article he will relax this off season for a change. I believe that like I believe the “Clear” was a muscle relaxing ointment.  FDA approved too………right? He is probably getting in the best condition both mentally and physically for this team.

 

Right Field has been a concern for the big wigs upstairs since Delmon hit the road for the Great White north.  I think Jonny Gomes, Rocco, or even the tandem of Triple-A studs Fernando Perez or Jason Ruggiano can man it better than Cliff Floyd, Geoff Jenkins, or Darin Erstad. No disrespect to Darin, Luis Gonzalez, or Cliff. I even recently heard a rumor of my old baseball buddy Trot Nixon maybe being a good fit for us. He did hit great here against us, But remember fans,so did Jose Cruz Jr. when he was with the Jays and then got suddenly an average hitter at the Trop.

 

I think the Rays can have a perfect “wait and see” attitude here, unless Josh Hamilton is truly availiable….hint hint Andrew and Matt.

 

In conclusion, the non-tendered list of players will be announced in the coming weeks. This is a huge announcement that always has a few jaw dropping names on it. Things can change dramatically if a huge or unexpected name is released.  There always seem to be a  a few  high dollar drops, or a player with  health questions when  these names hit a wire……………We shall see.

 

 Kick the tires and look  real close under the hoods  there guys. This team is finally in a position to take quality over quantity in a players signing.

 

This team will have Carlos Pena back with a projected one year deal.  Pena has two years until he is a Free Agent, but both sides are working towards a agreement in place before the Spring Training report date.

 

I think this might happen to both prove both sides points.  His agent,Scott Boras says that “Carlos is just heating up”, and the Rays are hoping it was not  just a fluke year offensively for Pena. Either way, Carlos will be a rich guy come Feb. 2008.

 

 And we are a richer team both in knowing the talent is the best this team has fielded in its 11 years in the MLB. Sorry Fred McGriff, Wade Boggs and Jose Canseco. I wanted the “Hit Show” to be the thing that we measure our successes by, but that is not the case.

 

I will end this with a note about the hardest working Rays I have nkown in my years watching and following this team.  Bullpen Catcher Scott Cursi  is always working with the pitchers and providing BP pitching and foul pole comments and analysis. I have known Scott for years and truly feel blessed to have ever met him. We have had a routine of him coming to give me some grief before every game down the Right field line after he tosses with the Rightfielders.

 

 We have a habit of tipping our caps after the last out before he heads into the locker room for the night. Scott is a guy who has invited me out a few times when I have gone on road trips to celebrate with himself and a few people on the team. I have cherished these moments in Seattle and Cleveland. I look forward to 2008 for both the Rays sucesses, and seeing my baseball buddy again manning the Bullpen with Bobby Ramos. As always Scott, I tip my hat to you for what you do for the Rays, and our  Section 138 fans group.

 

Only ( as of Dec 7th, 2008) 77 days until Pitchers’ and Catchers’ report ……..and I can’t wait until 8 am that day.

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