Results tagged ‘ Elliot Johnson ’

Rays Handle Red Sox for First Spring Win

 

 
I remember a line that Rich Herrera, the Rays Radio pre-game and post-game host used to say about winning. “Your wife looks better, the kids are smarter, and life just feels great.” After watching today’s game I have a few more to add to that list. When you are winning, the cocoa butter smells like ambrosia and the long drive home flies by and you seem to be driving on air.  Okay, I might be embellishing it all a bit, but the first win the the spring can make you believe again. It is not like I have been down in the dumps or sitting with the local winos complaining about lack of hitting and spotty pitching. Okay, I have been sitting with the winos, only because they are friends of Rays Manager Joe Maddon from his “Thanks-mas” celebrations.

 
But the real key to today’s game was the change in traffic priorities that saw almost everyone into the parking lots and at least going towards the gates by the first pitch. The Rays did some fast work to upgrade and facilitate the need for a speedy coming and going to the ballpark. Me, I have not left yet. I am sitting in the shade here at the Charlotte Sports Park trying to decide if I want to eat dinner down here before taking the drive back to reality. Because it is Friday, and nearing beer-thirty, I am hesitant to hit the lonesome highway yet. I might just wait for a few of the Rays players and ask them what is their choice for fine dinning aka bar food with a gorgeous server in the Port Charlotte area. That is right people, I am not in the mood for the dollar value menu today, I want some hot wings and I want them now!

 
But let’s forget about my stomach and talked a bit about the game today against the Boston Red Sox. It is the first time since Game 7 of the ALCS that these two teams have squared off. Missing were most of the Red Sox starting staff, who were back at their training complex doing workouts and maybe a little shopping. But it was the first time for all of us in the Rays Republic to try and get used to the fact that Rocco Baldelli was wearing the Red jersey today. I guess I will be used to it about the time they also use the green jersey for St. Patrick’s Day. Rocco did come on over and was very cordial to the Rays faithful and chatted with former manager Joe Maddon during Batting Practice today. He looks rested, cheery and ready to rumble this season.

 

 

 

The Rays sent big right-hander Jeff Niemann to the mound today as he tries to win a spot on the Rays 25-man roster. He has the odd choices of either making the roster as a starter, a reliever, or even being in another uniform on Opening Day.  Niemann did show his nerves as he gave up a single to Red Sox lead-off hitter Jacoby Ellsbury to start the game.  Ellsbury moved over to third base, but Niemann then began to settle down and got out of the first inning with no real damage.  The Rays were facing Michael Bowden today who actually wore three different jerseys last season in the Red Sox organization. He did finally make it to the majors for one start in 2008 against the Los Angeles Angels.
 

But Bowden did have  bad case of the nerves also and Rays lead-off hitter Fernando Perez took his pitch up the middle to also give the Rays a baserunner to lead off the ballgame.  Perez then stole second base on Bowden and after an apparent off throw to try and pick Perez off second, he advanced to third base on the bad throw. All this time Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett was standing at the plate, and he eventually hit a nice flutter ball towards Angel Chavez and third who had no play at the plate and threw to first to record the first out of the inning. Evan Longoria got the second out of the inning and  D H Pat Burrell came up  and hit a sharp grounder towards Chavez that he knocked down, but could not control in time to get Burrell. Willy Aybar the  came up and stroked a single to right field to put men on first and second for the Rays. Dioner Navarro then came up and hit a sharp ball to second that was handled and quickly thrown to first to end the inning with the Rays up 1-0.
 

Niemann came out again for the second inning and got the Red Sox to go down 1-2-3, with two strikeouts in the inning. The Rays quickly got going again as Ben Zobrist  lead off the second inning with a walk. He was quickly erased from the basepaths on a 6-4-3 double play ball hit off the bat of Gabe Gross. With two outs in the inning, it looked like Bowden might have survived and would leave the game with a nice line for the day. But Elliott Johnson had other plans as he  Hit a double into left field that seemed to confuse Jason Bay. The Red Sox outfielder seemed to have lost the ball in the sun and it one-hopped to the left field wall.  Perez then came up and walked to give the Rays two men on base with two outs in the inning. Bartlett again came up and hit another nice looper over Bay’s head to score both Johnson and Perez and put the Rays up 3-0. Boston then made a pitching change and Bowden was done for the day.
 

Enrique Gonzalez came on for the Red Sox and still needed only one out to get out of the inning. He did not fair any better than Bowden as he left up a breaking ball and Longoria smacked the ball into the boardwalk area above left field for a 5-0 Rays lead. Gonzalez finally got Burrell to fly out to Ellsbury to end the inning.  The Rays sent Brian Shouse out to face Boston in the top of the third inning. In the inning, Shouse gave up only one hit, to former Rays player Nick Green before settling down and getting out of the inning with no other problems. Quickly Navarro and Zobrist got on base for the Rays Gross then hit a single to center field to load the bases for the team. Johnson then came up and hit a hard grounder to center that scored both Navarro and Zobrist.  Johnson ended up on second base advancing on the throw home and was in scoring position for Perez.  He then hit a nice ball to the left field wall and tried to advance for a triple, but Bay got the ball into Green who gunned him down at third for the first out of the inning. Bartlett then came up and hit a single to left, but was stranded on base after Longoria and Burrell got quick outs.
 

At that point, the Rays were up 10-0 on the Red Sox. Jason Childers came on in relief for the Rays and got Youkilis to strikeout before giving up a towering foul ball down the right field line to Baldelli. He ended up walking Rocco and gave Boston a baserunner. But Bay hit a ball to Bartlett, who scooped it over to Johnson to start a 6-4-3 double play and get out of the inning. The Red Sox brought on Devern Hansack to face the Rays and the team went down 1-2-3 for the first time today. Hansack got two strikeouts in the inning.

 

 

The top of the fifth inning saw Rays 2008 Rule-5 draft pick Derek Rodriguez come on to pitch. Rodriguez did not have a lot of major league experience, and it showed as the Boston hitters took advantage of him quickly. Non-roster invitees Brad Wilkerson and Dusty Brown got on base quickly, with Brown putting ball over right fielder Gross’s head. Then Green came up and hit a soft fly ball to center field that Perez could not get to before it fell to the grass . That scored Wilkerson and put the Red Sox finally on the board in the game.  Chavez then got on base and Ellsbury hit a ball to rookie Tim Beckham at short that he could not handle to start a double play.
 
 

Beckham was given his first error as a Rays even before he took his first at bat for the team.   Jed Lowrie then hit a sacrifice fly to center that scored Brown and tacked another run on the board for the Red Sox.  Youkilis then came up and hit a hard fly ball to center, but the runners did not advance on the play.  Baldelli then came up and stroked a single and was replaced by pinch-runner Lars Anderson. Baldelli ended up scoring Green on the play and picked up his first RBI as a Red Sox. Bay then came out and got a quick out for the Red Sox before James Houser came on to pitch for the Rays. Houser got Wilkerson to commit on a bad pitch and the inning ended with the score Rays 10-4. In the bottom of the fifth inning, the Red Sox got the Rays to go down 1-2-3 for the second consecutive inning.
 

The sixth inning saw Mark Wagner get on base with a lead-off walk, but the Red Sox did not take advantage of the situation as Houser closed down the team on three straight batters. Boston sent non-roster invitee Charlie Zink to the mound for the bottom of the sixth inning. Zink, a knuckleballer had the Rays guessing and quickly outs from Justin Ruggiano, Reid Brignac and Morgan Ensberg to again post a 1-2-3 inning against the Rays. The Rays sent Lance Cormier to the hill in the seventh inning and he got a quick strikeout from  Zack Daeges.  Then he got Chris Carter to hit a pop up to Ray Olmedo at third base.  Anderson then came up and quickly was deposed of to end the inning.

 


 

In the bottom of the seventh inning, the Rays took advantage of Zink to get a walk by Rays catcher John Jaso. Then Chris Richards came up and hit a towering homer out to right field that struck the murals on the side of the Rays offices for a two-run home run. Tim Beckham then came up and got an infield single in his first at bat as a Ray. Jon Weber then struck out, and Ray Sadler got the honor of getting plucked by Zink with a pitch. If you are ever going to be hit by a pitch, being hit by a knuckleballer might be the best gig in baseball. But the Rays could not capitalize with two men on base as Olmedo and Ruggiano both flied out to center to end the inning.
 

Jason Comier then came on to face Boston in the eighth inning and Got Daeges to strikeout before also getting Chris Ambres to commit to an out. With two outs in the inning, Wagner hit a nice ball into the center field gap over Ruggiano’s head for a double.  But he ended up stranded on second after a strikeout by Ivan Ochoa ended the inning.  Boston sent  a reliever named Green to the mound to start the bottom of the eight. You can tell this is Spring Training when a player is not even listed on the traveling roster and he gets to pitch in a game. Green got the Rays out quickly in the inning to again post a 1-2-3 inning for Boston pitching. With Neal Frontz now on the mound for the Rays, he got  Ochoa, Gil Velazquez and minor league player Johnathan Van Every to go down to end the game for the Red Sox.
 

All in all it was a great day for baseball in Florida as the sun was extremely hot, around 79 degrees at first pitch, and a breeze did not hit the stadium until the fourth inning. It would have been a great day to come out to the ballpark and sit in the grass berm and suntan, or just relax ans watch some baseball.   In the game, the Rays aw that Niemann is not going to make their decision easy as to what to do with the tall former pitcher from Rice University.  Niemann was not perfect, but he did bounce back and showed some great off-speed pitches today to get some critical strikes on batters.
 

Johnson and Perez got long looks by the Rays coaching staff today. Both players also made their decisions a bit more difficult by going an identical 2-3, with 2 runs and 2 RBI for the Rays. The only difference in their box scores is a walk in the second inning by Perez. Johnson is hitting a robust .429 in the first three games of spring and might be making a name for himself this time around for a roster spot. The Rays also had another pair who went 2-3 on the Day. Willy Aybar and Jason Bartlett also  were busy on the basepaths today, with Bartlett also getting 3 early RBI’s in the game.

The only real disappointment for the Rays might be in the performance of Derek Rodriguez. But considering that this was his first real exposure to major league hitting, his one innings might not be as bad as the line score shows for him today. He did give up 3 hits and 4 runs, to post a 13.50 ERA this spring, but he got great experience today by facing a great hitting team that will help him in his pitching development. During the day, Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations, Andrew Friedman spoke about Rodriguez and basically said that he cost the team only $50,000, and to get a look at a guy for six weeks and maybe hold onto him all year, that is a small price to pay.
 


Tomorrow’s game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Bright House Networks field in Clearwater, Florida will be shown on MLB.TV. If you have purchased the MLB.TV package, come on over and see one of the best looking ballparks in the minor leagues. I love the way this ballpark is set up, and I always have a great time when I come out here for a game. 
 

I will be in left field at the game tomorrow, and hope I can make some type of catch in the game. But you can never expect things in baseball so here are the tentative pitching match ups for both teams: Starting for the Phillies tomorrow will be Kyle Kendricks ( RH ), who will be followed by Drew Taylor ( RH ), Clay Condrey ( RH ), Scott Eyre ( LH ) and then Brad Lidge ( RH ). The Rays will counter with Mitch Talbot ( RH ), J P Howell ( LH ), Dewon Day ( RH ), Jason Hammel ( RH ), Randy Choate ( LH ).
 

Photo credits for today’s blog go to: www.stpetersburgtimes.com, RRCollections.
 
 
 

 

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. 

Rays Goals 6-10 for 2008 Exceed Expectations

 

          

 

In the beginning of the season I set 10 goals or written items that I hoped the Tampa Bay Rays would complete to become a more productive and successful team. At the time we all did not know the type of franchise success we would see in 2008.

Also stuffed into that list was a few personal obsevations ands wants for the team in 2008. I did a middle of the year evaluation of the list on July 18, 2008 and saw that the team was focused and moving forward in achieving outstanding success on the field.

I am again going to go over the high and lowpoints now after the season is over. I am no longer going to assign a letter grade to the options because this has been a totally “A” year in all aspects. There is no way I could see this coming, and the team took the region by storm in 2008. 

 

The blog today will focus on the items 6-10, and the logo unveiling last November in St. Petersburg, Florida at Straub Park.

 

 

 

As everyone might remember, 12 months ago we set out changing the basic style of the team with a logo change and a uniform retro-fitting. Gone was the old “TB” on the hat that had a ray centered beneath the “TB” symbol. In came a clean looking “TB” in a great marine blue color. Then you get to the uniforms that were streamlined into a more uniform design without the old “Rays” on the chest area of the uniform.

The uniforms went from a white and green basic jersey with blue pinstriping on the sleeves to a retro looking White and Blue model with a logo that popped with the odd shaped “R”, and the sunburst in the center of the logo blasting out for all to see. The team held a fantastic outdoor event to unveil the new look with most of the players coming in for the event.

The new design was met with some crtics wanting the old Rays look becuase it had a modern flair without being boring. Others were upset that the away jerseys would not have the “Tampa Bay” moniker blazen across the chest of the players anymore. It was replaced with the new logo “Rays” across the chest.

          

 

Other were debating why to let go of the entire past for the new look. One thing the Rays did leave “old” on their jerseys was the flying ray patch on the sleeve. The team decided to continue that tradition and  replaced the dark black and colorful ray with one that matched the teams new blue and white jerseys. All in all, the new look showed the team was trying to move beyond the loveable losers’ of the past and were hoping for a new attitude in Tampa Bay.

 

 

                

 

Starting with the bottom of the list at number 10, was the Akinora Iwamura must feel at home at second base.  To sya he did not do a superb job this year would be an insult. the guy went from a position where he has won Gold Gloves in Japan to a new position for the betterment of the team. Not only did he do it with grace and style, but he made himself a front runner for years at the position.

Iwamura was one of the people nominated for a Gold Glove this year at second in the AL. He only committed a handful errors all year long and ended up ranked 4th among AL second baseman in his first year ever at the position. He became a vital cog in the Rays double play combination working with Jason Bartlett like he has been playing to position all his life.

The hardwork and the determination of Iwamura to make his transition flawless was carried out to a “T”. Aki stood tall and in the pivot long to make sure the team got a chance to complete every double play in 2008. He was also instrumental in the field making countless great plays behind second and relaying the ball into home. Iwamura has found a new home at second base, and will be even better in 2009.

 

 

 

 Number 9 stated that catching had to hit a new high this year. Well, that will be an easy one. Dioner Navarro started the year off on fire and got hurt. When he returned, he stayed above the .300 mark well into the second half of the season before falling below that mark for the only time in 2008. Behind the plate he took more control and exercised his own playcalling alot this season.

But the action with Matt Garza in Texas in the ruffle on the mound and in the dugout finally put him on top. It showed that he had the heart and the determination to lead this team behind the dish and put his stamp on the team. With his new confidence at the plate translated perfectly to his time behind the mask.

For the season, His batting average for the year was only behind Minnesota’s Joe Mauer at the position in the AL. That is a huge change from the guy battling to stay above .191 during the first half of 2007. Navarro continued during the first half of 2008 getting better and better every game. He was rewarded with his first All-Star invite and was key to the tying and winning run for the AL in the game. He caught 8 innigs in that game and solidified his place among AL catchers with is performance.

 

         

 

Number 8  was about the 1-2-3 setup guys securing the game. Well, this one is a bit tricky. the Rays Bullpen showed a huge upswing in 2008, but the closer role was up in the air alot more than expected in the year. Troy Percival was signed to make a solid end to the Bullpen but went down numerous times during the season.

His back and knee did show the wear and tear of all his MLB years, and by the end of the season he was on the DL and did not even get posted to any of the Rays post season rosters. His health situation put the pressure on the young Rays and they responded brilliantly in most cases.

From J P Howell and Grant Balfour securing the 7th inning for the Rays nightly, to Dan Wheeler or even Jason Hammel being called on to put out the fires in late innings, the young squad held together and mixed and matched nightly to get the Rays the victory.

It was not your picture perfect way to run a Bullpen, but the Rays did make it happen and post one of the best turnaround years ever for a Bullpen. The young guys matured and got valuable experience, and the veterans stood tall and made the plays when they were needed in 2008.

 

                           

 

Number 7  was that the right-field guy has to be consisitant and kick butt.  You would have to define that a bit more to really decide if it was a successful year or a failure. I have it more at a banner year for finding the right guys finally, but it could have been a lot better organized.

Jonny Gomes and Eric Hinske got most of the early reps in right during the beginning of the year. With the trade for Gabe Gross, the Rays brought in a guy who had never been counted on like this to raise the bar for the team. Gross came in and put his defensive and offensive stamp on the position early.

Gross made countless great play in the field and became a electric guy at the plate. He hit a 436 foot homer on August 6th that just showed the improvements he had made with the Rays. Gross made a massive improvement to the position to the Rays before the trade dedeadline.

After the return of Rocco Baldelli, the right-field platooning took on a more effective mode. You had the defensive skills of both guys as  a plus in the field and had bats fron both sides of the plate to balle pitchers’. The Rays had a solid core in the last half of the season, and the addition of Baldelli proved amazing at the plate during the rest of the year and in the playoffs.

 

     

Number 6  was our prospects need to improve. This became a double-edged sword to the Rays in 2008. We saw guys like Elliot Johnson, Reid Brignac and Ben Zobrist come up and solidify the infield when needed, but the additon of these prospects did not make the difference for the Rays. Zobrist was the most consistant of the guys from the minors in coming in and making the job his in 2008.

Zobrist was being counted on to be the “go-to” guy in the Ray’s lineup in 2008. An early injury set him down and it took some time before he came back up and made his mark offensively this year for the team. He developed a offensive style that was not seen in his game before 2008.

Pitching saw Grant Balfour come back up and not back down an inch the rest of the season. Balfour came on and argued and grunted on the mound and held batter at bay most of the year. His willingness to not back away from heavy hitters made him a valued player in the Bullpen this year.  But the guy who made the entire minor league system tremble this season came up in September, and will not have to even think about the minors in 2009.

 

 

David Price was the Rays first selection in 2006. He had been annointed by many even before stepping on a MLB mound to be a phenom. Price did nothing to set that rumor to expectation down after his stint against the New York Yankees in New York. Price got better and better every time he hit the mound and became a inspiration to the team.

To out this into prospective, the Rays had enough confidence in this rookie in the ALCS to put him on the mound to finish off  Game 7 against the 2007 World Champion Boston Red Sox. Price performed brilliantly and helped paced the Rays during the playoffs.

The rest of the prospect system got a bit muddled in 2008. Desmond Jennings went down with an injury and saw limited time this season in the minors. Jake McGee went down with an arm injury and had to have Tommy John surgery. But even with these high ceiling guys going down, players like Fernando Perez came out of no where and made you know that the Rays prospect system is alive and well.

 

 

So here is the first of 2 end of the year goal realization blogs.  Goals 6-10 were finalized today and I will write about 1-5 tomorrow. All in all you have to admit that the Rays saw a increase in every aspect of the game in 2008. Every player on the team stepped up in the season and made it magical in their own ways. 

 2009 will be a year of expectations and the either success or failure to improve over 2008. It will be a harder road for the Rays in 2009. People will be gunning for the team and will not be broadsided anymore. That in itself might be the biggest challenge for the team next year. Living up to the expectations of the local fans and media after a darling season.

 

2008 Rays Team Photo……..No Where Else but Here

 

 

Finally I got my picture from theTampa Bay Rays today from the day that I took my  Team Photo with the 2008 American League Pennant winning Tampa Bay Rays.

 

All year long I had this weird feeling about this years team, but  not until the Rays Radio Pre-game host Rich Hererra started calling it a “Miracle Summer”  did it dawn on me how special it could become in 2008. It seemed different, but I could not place the vibe in the air at the time.

 

I have been wanting to work in the Rays clubhouse for about 3 years. I missed the fun and the charades that went along with being in a loose locker room. Some of my fondest moments happened in locker rooms on teams I played with in high school, college and beyond.  It is that feeling when you step into the room that this was your peaceful and energetic focuepoint. That this locker room was the beginnig of the whole sha-bang. There is truly nothing like the spirit and the bond  that pulls together by a team on a streak, or a winning season.

 

                                      

 

Sitting there watching them come out in Feb. 2008 at the St. Petersburg  Namoli complex for the first workout of the Spring, I had a gut feeling it was going to be one to remember. I yelled over to Chris Westmoreland, the Rays Clubhouse Manager and shook his hand and just chatted a bit about the upcoming year. The guys as they came out to the fresh mowed grass had a different air about them. Something felt different about this workout, and about 2008 in general.

 

A few days earlier, the Rays had their annual Fan Fest at the Trop., and as ususal I was there bright and early and checking out all the auctions and the items up for sale around the stadium. One thing caught my eye. “A photo opportunity with the 2008 team during the Team Photo Day.”

 

I jumped at the opportunity to jot down my name and have a chance to be positioned in a keepsake between these great baseball players.  I went about my day and came back a few times before putting down my final bid and heading home for the day. I got a call the following Monday that I had won the auction and they would call me when the team had a opportunity to all get together and take the picture. That day turned out to be May 10, 2008.

 

 

I got out there around 3 pm on that day to get down to field level and get a  white Rays jersey and chat a with a few of the guys I knew before everyone got into place for the pictures. I took these pictures as we were getting set into position for the photo.  As the guys came out to the field, a few saw me sitting there and were laughing and wondering how I could of wrangled this opportunity. I had been the Pepsi rep for the team for several years and had worked around the clubhouse in the spring and during the year. Everyone who knew me knows how much this baseball team means to me personally. 

 

Chris Westmoreland and Dave Barr, the Rays  Strength and Conditioning guru came over and shook my hand before PR Direcotr Rick Vaugh started arranging everyone for  the photo. By that time the guys were all chatting amongst themselves and just enjoying the moment. But little did all we know just how special this photo would end up meaning not just to me, but to each and every one of the team on that stage.

 

 

I was a bit nervous before getting out there and getting into position. Not because of the guys around me, I knew enough of them to know that they are a great group of guys and would make this picture a true treasure for my collection.  I had seen alot of these guys come up as rookies ans now they were taking on verteran leadership roles for the first time and truly leading this club by example.

 

But what I truly found amazing was a few facts surrounding the picture that if you did not know the team well, or the players, you might miss the subtle differences in the picture.

 

 

So I had a few minutes to just take in all the surrounding before getting into the photo and saw some of these funny situations:

 

1) Usually in a team photo you try and put the tall trees in the back row or above the height-challenged members of your roster. In the back row today were Rays’ back-up catcher, Shawn Riggans and Reliever Al Reyes. Both are over 6 feet, but seem a bit short compared to the height of  Reliever Gary Glover on their left and Outfielder Rocco Baldelli on their right. So becuase of this height ripple, it looked like a wave going across the front row and rolling up and down.

 

                    

 

2)  One of my favorites, Rocco Baldelli was in this picture on May 10th with a full on Grizzly Adams look-alike beard. The beard was a wild look for Rocco. But since he was the disabled list at this time, he used it as his own measure of coping with his situation. Little did wqe know at the time to what extent Rocco would play in this teams playoff push.

 

3) If you notice the two groups on the left and right of the players, you have the Clubhouse crew to the left, and the teams’ trainers and physical staff to rhe right. And among the characters to the right is Kevin Barr. He is the Strength and Conditioning Coach for the team, and refused to wear the  dark carolina blue polo tops that the rest of the staff wore that day. He stands out real good in his white top and black long pants, while the medical staff wore their dark blue tops and tan shorts.

 

Kevin is not a fan of the University of North Carolina, and it would be a personal insult to wear those colors.  Kevin, I understand, you could never get me to ever wear any FSU colors even on a threat of death. You sometime have to make a moral decision on things. He stands out real good in his white top and black long pants, while the medical staff wore their dark blue tops and tan shorts in the picture,

 

4) in the  official Team Photo, but not with the team much longer after the photo were: Rays reliever Kurt Birken and Elliot Johnson.

 

 

So then it is my time to get situated in the photo somewhere in the middle of everyone. You can definitely tell where I am in the picture, because I did something that intially looked a bit dumb at the time, but it makes it easier to find me because of it.

I have heard in the final picture that I am making into a 11X16 photo with a lettering spelling out “2008 American League Champions”  I will look the same as everyone else.

What I did was cross my hands in front of me instead of behind me in the picture. Yes, that is me right behind Rays Manager Joe Maddon, who was laughing that I  must have paid someone off  to get that close to him. But he knows me from the “Maddons’ Maniac” group and we have chatted many times in rightfield during BP.

 

They decided to put me between Akinora Iwamura and Willy Aybar for the photo. Great choice considering we are all three about 5 10-ish and would make a better height blend for the photo. To get into that spot I had to cross over the feet of Jason Bartlett, Evan Longoria and Gabe Gross. The chairs in front of the risers were right on the shins of the guys in the second row and it was a tight space to get in there for the picture.

 

As I was passing by them, my Bullpen buddies Scott Cursi and Bobby Ramos were giving me a bad time as to not step on their toes since the guys had to play that night.

 

As if to curse me, I then stepped on Evan Longoria’s right big toe. I did not hurt him, but went gentle into position for the photo. Skip, the team photo guy then took about 3 picture before I pulled myself out of the picture for the official team photo in the media guide.

 

I did not get in that photo, but I do have a wall photo that is as orignal as the guys in the picture. We might never have a team like this in Tampa Bay again. Not because of talent or event ability, but the personalities from the Coaching staff up to our closer was one of the best I have ever seen on a field.

 

This team not only were impressive on the field, they were even more impressive as to how they reacted to each other off the field.  This photo might have cost me a bit in money, but the experience was priceless.

 

And I know it took some time to get this photo finally up and posted, but Tricia Johnson, who works in the Community Relations department for the Rays did a great job hunting down the photo and getting it to me. She tried to get it to me by e-mail, snail mail, and finally we just put it on a disc and I came and got it after the World Series. I love the photo and the memory will be one that will be told over barstools for a long long time.

 

It is a memory not only of spending time with a team of champions, but watching friends mingle as they took a photo that would be priceless in the annuals of our team’s history.

 

 

 

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