Results tagged ‘ Chase Utley ’
Okay, I promise to really abandon and resign to the fact that 2009 is right around the corner here, and 2008 is just a past memory. But here we go on a crisp, cool night in January sitting there watching the second game of the World Series on the newly launched MLB Network. I almost for got how huge the crowd was in the stands, and could still smell my loaded nachos and the sugary goodness of my cinnamon almonds.
It seemed like so long ago now that this game even was played. But then again, if you are a Rays fan, you have waited for this moment for 11 years. The aspect that this team could get to the playoffs was a distant memory until maybe July after the second half of the season started with a Rays victory via a Ben Zobrist home run. Not until the last out in a game on September 24th, did the team realize a long time dream by both those in the stands and in the dugout.
There were a handful of Rays employees who have been here the entire time. People from Bill Wiener and Mike Yodis, who have been driving forces in the procurement department of the team. Executive Assistant Diane Villanova, who was once Vince Namoli’s executive secretary and has seen the entire evolution of this franchise. Then you have someone like Barry Jones or Kristy Capone, who sat in the sales department cubicles and might have wondered at time how long it would take to finally get here.
The re-broadcast of that game brought about a lot of emotion. A lot of sweat equity that so many have given for the Rays cause. But it did not match the joy and the total abandonment of logic as we celebrated the teams first win in a World Series contest. To say it was a typical Rays win would be pretty accurate. It showed the heart and the character of this team to the nation. Before that first win, people knew we had won over 97 games during the season, but had not seen the formula used to win a majority of those games.
Tonight the nation got to see how “Raysball” was played, and also saw the emotional and physical toll it had on fans and players. Baseball is truly a fickle game. A short blast that fall in between two out fielders can make or break a game. A single throw into the plate can make or break a game. And a single pitch, left over the plate can be rocketed to the outfield walls and beyond.
Watching this game can also make you yearn for more……….More Wins, more times like these again in 2009. To even imagine another run into the World Series right now would be a little premature and crazy. But the pieces are in place to make a run at it all. Several pieces will be replaced in 2009 from the 2008 crew, but these will be upgrades and not just fill in the blanks players as in the years past. The new winning tradition is now set in stone, and the clay and mortar are still wet on the basis of the 2009 roster.
In the next few weeks there will be optimism and renewed vigor about the 2009 season, but this small look into the past was just what I needed last night. I needed to remember the feelings and the emotions that gripped me on that night. I as a fan, needed to remember where I was, what I was doing, and who I first slapped high fives to after the win.
It is a emotional and physical high I would hope on all the fans of baseball at least once in your life. To say that night changed my life would be an understatement. I have attended 3 World Series games before this season, and got into the mood with the crowd, but did not have a center to grab a hold of and attack the event with gusto. This series had all my past feelings and tears in ti’s framework from the first pitch.
So it was pretty emotional to sit there and see again the high sacrifice bunt by Jason Bartlett that scored Cliff Floyd from third base and Rays starter James ” Big Game” Shields reminded people that he strives under pressure shutting out the Phillies for 5 2/3rds innings, scattering 7 hits on the night. That was a lot of excitement for a Thursday night in St. Petersburg.
But from the beginning of this contest, you could tell it was all Rays tonight. Akinora Iwamura got on with a lead off walk, and moved to third on B J Upton’s drive to right field that was misplayed by Jason Werth to put both guys into scoring position with no outs in the game. Then two straight ground outs by Carlos Pena and Evan Longoria put the Rays up first 2-0.
The Rays again got to business fast in the second inning as Upton drove in Dioner Navarro and Baldelli was thrown out in the most photographed picture of the World Series at that point. His slide into Phillies’ catcher Carlos Ruiz would be plastered all over the Internet and the newspapers and finally made it to the cover of Sports Illustrated . It was one of those World Series moments etched in stone that will be remembered for decades. It might have been an out, but it showed the determination and the spirit of this franchise.
Then came the moment of truth with Floyd and third when Bartlett put down that safety squeeze and the Rays went up 4-0. Baldelli also helped out in the field on that night going a long way for a Chase Utley drive that looked more destined for the hole than into Baldelli’s glove. The action produced a double play as Baldelli was able to fire the ball to first base and he doubled up Jayson Werth on one of the best defensive plays of the entire World Series.
But what was remarkable about the night was the cool and calm demeanor of Rays rookie David Price when he came in to pitch in this contest. He came out there with 2 outs in the 7th inning and he walked Utley before going after Ryan Howard and striking him out to end the inning. In the 8th, Price got started quickly getting two quick outs before leaving up a slider and watching Eric Bruntlett stroll around the bases for a solo shot and take away the shutout from the Rays.
But even after all of that, Price looked determined and strong on the mound and got Pedro Feliz to ground out to only surrender 1 run to the Phillies. In the 9th inning, Carlos Ruiz got a quick double and scored on an error to put the Phillies within 2 runs of the lead. That brought up Utley and Howard for a second time in his brief relief appearance for Price. He got Utley to strikeout, and induced a ground out from Howard.
It was a night of lost chances for both teams, but after the last out in the game, you could see the excitement and the emotion in Price’s face as he was leaving the mound. This put the series back at 1 win each and put the pressure on the Phillies gong back home for the next 3 games. We all know how it turned out by now, but at that moment you had to believe if you were a Rays fan.
The energy and the excitement in the stadium could not be bottled up and released again in Citizen Bank Ballpark, but you wish it could. It was a night when you saw the Rays mature right in front of you. No longer did you see a team that could blow a 5 run lead, or even strike out three times in the bottom of the 9th to preserve another team’s win. You saw a squad that was on a mission and a fan base that believed in them more than any other time in their short existence. It was a great time to be a Ray.
I know that everyone and their brothers are gioing to write some kind of blog or opinion on the State Farm Home Run Derby.
I am just going to give my views opinions, and maybe a few qoutes from people in the Derby. Hopefully you will be entertained for a short moment in time and not hit the delete or exit the blog.
With that in mind, here we go……….
The Rays Evan Longoria is one of 4 first-time Rookies to the All-Star festivities this year. Add the pressure of the State Farm Home Run Derby on top of all the other stuff, and you got a pressure cooker the size of Yankee Stadium. Not only does Longoria get to visit the site of the beginning of his teams’ 6-game road losing streak, but he gets to be a part of the media circus that is the All-Star Game.
Longoria became the sixth rookie to compete in a Home Run Derby, and the first since Nomar Garciaparra — who hit zero home runs — in 1997. He earned an invitation only after drawing more than nine million votes in the Monster 2008 All-Star Game Final Vote competition, securing the last opening on the American League roster.
He didn’t know any of this, of course, until two days before the All-Star break, when he received a phone invitation to the Derby. Naturally, he accepted. And naturally, he would accept it again.
And that, for Longoria, was the whole point. He didn’t expect to win, but he was still quite anxious to hit … nervous, even.
That makes sense, because Longoria is only 22 years old. He wasn’t even on the Rays’ Opening Day roster, and he has only 16 career homers to his credit. Longoria just purchased his first house, and he’s spent the better part of this All-star break trolling for items to put in the memorabilia room.
Though a Home Run Derby trophy would have been a nice centerpiece, it will have to wait.
Uggla, who led off the competition, did just that — and he managed to avoid going homerless. What he didn’t do was advance to the second round after hitting six.
“It felt good,” Uggla said. “It was a lot of fun, a lot of fun. I definitely would have liked to have hit again, but those guys are pretty good.”
Grady Sizemore arrived in New York City downplaying his participation in the State Farm Home Run Derby from the get-go. He’d leave doing the same. Sizemore was the first of four American League representatives to take a swing at clearing the Yankee Stadium fences. He followed Florida’s Dan Uggla, who set the starting standard at six home runs.
Halfway through the eight-player first round, Sizemore looked to be in good position to be one of the four players to advance to the second round of the three-round event.
The Rays Evan Longoria led off the second group and his problems in this Derby came early, when, after hitting an opposite-field home run on the second pitch he saw, he sent a series of pops, liners and grounders toward the left side of the field. The outs piled up in a hurry, before Longoria took a few pitches to slow the pace.
It worked. With three outs remaining, Longoria launched back-to-back home runs to the upper deck in left field, the longest of which landed 446 feet away. His 3 home runs averaged 419 feet, but placed him third among the competition’s first three hitters.
Chase Utley’s left-handed swing appeared to be a perfect fit for the State Farm Home Run Derby at Yankee Stadium. Unfortunately for the Phillies’ MVP candidate, his line-drive stroke betrayed him.
Utley jacked five home runs, including an upper deck shot and another that clanged off the facade of the second deck in right field at “The Stadium,” but he left too many balls just short, on or near the right-field warning track. Unlike mashers such as Lance Berkmanand Josh Hamilton, his homers and his outs tended to be low liners rather than majestic moonshots.
Chase Utley of the Philles concluded the second pairing by hitting 5 homers, 2 of which were Gold Balls to eliminate Longoria from the Second Round of the contest.
Then the Astros’Lance Berkman and the Twins’ Justin Morneau hitting 8 homers each. Berkman hit the Yankees Stadium upper decks with 5 homers, while Morneau spread out 3 in the upper seating area. Next came up the Brewers’ Ryan Braun, who posted 7 homers, and was in contention for the Second Round with only Josh Hamilton left to hit.
Seriously, what did you expect from someone called The Natural who swings a black bat inscribed The Dream? Josh Hamilton did not disappoint in the 2008 State Farm Home Run Derby.
As Hamilton quickly and dramatically aired out all the suspense from the early competition in Yankee Stadium on Monday night, only one question lingered: When does he launch a baseball off a light tower and scatter a section of fans with glass?
That didn’t happen, but virtually everything else imaginable, or even not, did.
Hamilton’s 28 opening-round homers shattered the record of 24 by Bobby Abreu. But after electing for an abridged Round 2, he couldn’t regain the feeling and opened the door for Morneau’s triumph.
Despite stopping at four outs in Round 2, Hamilton racked up a total of 32 homers (on 14 outs) in the first two rounds; Morneau’s 17 (on the full complement of 20 outs) was runner-up.
“I said after the first round, ‘If I don’t hit another, I’m satisfied,'” Hamilton said. “Just for being able to generate the crowd like that, and looking up in the stands and seeing my family there.”
But with the slate wiped clean for the finals, Morneau led off with five homers and Hamilton and his 71-year-old pitcher dead-ended at 3.
Yet, the impression of Hamilton’s majestic Round 1 display won’t soon fade. Even Morneau admitted, “We were all in awe. You want to see that story end in a good way.”
With a new Yankee Stadium rising across the street, this one will be razed after the season. Hamilton just gave the demolition a start by blasting home runs off a pitcher for whom he made room in his fantasy.
Clay Counsil, the gentleman batting-practice pitcher from North Carolina, left the field beaming as brightly as had Hamilton. “It was a thrill, sure,” said Counsil. “Nothing like this ever happened to me in North Carolina.”
Confirming that his only prior visit to Yankee Stadium had been on Oct. 8, 1956, for Don Larsen’s World Series perfect game against the Brooklyn Dodgers, Counsil said, “Whenever I come here, something special happens.”
“I’m really proud of Josh,” added Counsil, who made plenty of new friends among the AL All-Stars
“I was in here [before the Finals] and David Ortiz came by saying, ‘Don’t sit. Got to go out there and keep the blood moving.’ You just don’t realize how tired you are,” Hamilton said. “You feel like you can still muscle out the ball, but it just doesn’t go.”
He looked over his left shoulder, where Counsil was preparing to get out of his long johns and back into his civvies.
“It was Clay’s fault,” Hamilton said loudly, making sure he was heard a few lockers down. “He stopped throwing the ball in the same spot.”
Last year, Twins first baseman Justin Morneau participated in the State Farm Home Run Derby in San Francisco and was eliminated in the first round after hitting just four home runs.
This time, Morneau had a better showing in this year’s event at Yankee Stadium on Monday night and won the trophy in a stunning upset. He became the first member of the Twins, and first Canadian, to win the Home Run Derby.
Morneau may have won the trophy, but he realizes the story was Hamilton, who won the 56,716 fans over with his Mickey Mantle-type power. In the first round alone, Hamilton hit a record-setting 28 home runs and hit three homers measured at more than 500 feet apiece.
“[Hamilton is] the story of this year,” Morneau said. “I mean, the year he’s having, for him to come in and put on a show like that, I mean, it was something impressive. We were over there in awe of what he was doing.
“I was kind of cheering for him because, you know, the whole crowd’s behind him, everybody’s cheering him on. You want to see that story end in a good way, but, you know, at the same time, it’s something I always dreamed of. I played home run derby in my backyard all the time. … It was something that I always wanted to do. To be able to do it here, be a part of that performance Josh put on, it was something special.”
You know, he hit so many in a row,” Morneau said. “I mean, that’s hard to do in itself. Then to have to get back out there and swing a couple more times, you know, I mean, he was the one that put on the show tonight. I think everyone will remember Josh Hamilton’s 28 home runs more than they’ll remember I won the thing. I’m just glad I was a part of the whole thing.”