Results tagged ‘ Gabe Gross ’
Steve Nesius / AP
After last night’s game, during the Florida Sports Network post-game interview newly anointed right fielder Matt Joyce acknowledged the fan base in rightfield that was so supportive of him after he hit his second homer in two games. The young right fielder has only been back in the Rays fold since coming back up to start in centerfield for B J Upton during the Sunday afternoon game. He is beginning to get the feeling that the rightfield crowd can make or break a player in Tampa Bay. During the interview he was quick to voice his appreciation for the show of support and loud applause for him so early in his Tampa Bay career.
Joyce is a local guy who dreamed back when he was in Tampa’s Armwood High School of someday patrolling the outfields at Tropicana Field. It is quickly becoming one of those great hometown stories that national and local papers like to use to show the local fan base is alive and well in Tampa Bay. And little by little he will get to know that sometimes this same fan base that is happily clapping cowbells louder and louder for him can be a fickle bunch at times.
From the first game ever for the Rays on March 31, 1998, when current Bench Coach Dave Martinez was the first guy to man the “9″ spot for the Rays, the love-hate relationship with our rightfielders have been a very open subject. In that first contest, Martinez got the first hit by a Rays player in history and the crowd in right field was there to show their support for him loud and clear that night. From the days of Martinez to the fan adulation of another right fielder, Bubba Trammel, the position has had its share of positive and negative men man the spot under the Jumbotron. Martinez has since gone on to become another special piece of the Rays puzzle as he is the second eyes and ears of Rays Manager Joe Maddon, but you know he still has a special place in his heart for that rightfield corner.
Martinez played with Tampa Bay until they traded him to the Chicago Cubs in 2000 for pitcher Mark Guthrie. Most of all, Martinez had played in over 1,799 games as a player and did not get to the post season one time. During his first stint as a coach for the Rays, he got his dream and more in 2008. But it might have been the tough guy Bubba Trammell that so far has been the most revered of Tampa Bays rightfielders.
He was the chosen object of affection of the old 142 Crew, which sat out in Section 142 of the Trop and cheered for him nightly. And he was the kind of guy you wanted to see achieve great things. He was a hustler and a gambler on the field, and carried a big bat into the box with him nightly. Originator of the 142 Crew,Ted Fleming, who now is a member of the local media for The Examiner.com covering the Rays and hosts his own sports radio show on WSRQ-1220 AM in Sarasota, Florida was one of the first to loudly and proudly cheer for Trammell.
His 142 Crew used to be so vocal during Trammell’s at bats that the Rays stopped the music early so that the “Bubba” chant could be heard throughout the stadium.
Trammel was one of those guys you wanted to see do good and excel in the game. After his short time in Rays-land, current Kansas City Royal Jose Guillen enjoyed moments among the Rays rightfield crazies. But who knows, maybe the 142 Crew can reunite and find a second life now in Section 142 again with the likes of Matt Joyce patrolling the outfield fences.
But there have been a host of great outfielder to gain fans vocal support in the past in right field. Current Royals rightfielder Jose Guillen spent a few seasons listening to the cheers and jeers in the Trop. Guillen was known mostly for his rifle arm that just seemed to be able to pinpoint and throw out anyone on the base paths. The you had the always smiling Damian Rolls, who was more of a Ben Zobrist clone in the early 2000-2002 seasons.
He used to play wherever and when ever the Rays needed him, but he liked playing rightfield for the fans yelling where the base runner was right before he turned around to throw. Jonny Gomes, another fan favorite for his playing style that seemed more “Pete Rose”-style than anyone else to ever put on a Rays jersey used to love jogging out to right field because of the cheers he got every night from the fans. He also made sure to reward them with balls ever so often to show his appreciation for the fans support.
Jose Cruz Jr. also made a stop with the Rays after playing for the rival Toronto Blue Jays and saw a quick difference in the jeers to cheers he got for finally playing for the Rays. Cruz used to batter Rays pitching in Tropicana Field, and he continued to hit well in the Trop while he was with the Rays. Even when Gabe Gross first took his right field spot in 2008 after being traded to the Rays, the crowd made sure to welcome him on his first night with a thunderous applause.
But not everyone who played rightfield was met with cheers every night. Some players who played out there actually dreaded some of the nights they had to go out and play in right field. To say the rightfield crews were not well versed in baseball would be a crime. But some of the guys who have also manned the spot forgot how to play the game sometimes. Ben Grieve came to the Rays after a great beginning to his career in Oakland.
He never seemed to be at home here and quickly he seemed to garner the vocal backlash from the fans. His playing style was not accepted by the Rays faithful because he seemed to be so lackadaisical about the simple things of the sports. Add that to some hitting woes and it was a recipe for insults and catcalls for the young player.
But the fans seemed to be just getting started because after Grieve left the Rays, another player came out to play in rightfield who always seemed to get a mixed bag of reactions from the fans. Aubrey Huff did not come out and vocally state he did not like playing in right field, but sometimes it did give that impression to the fans out there.
Even though he was still a monster at the plate, his defense in right was questioned a few times during his brief time out there. Huff played his last baseball in Tampa Bay in rightfield, and even to that last day the fans always held him in a love-hate relationship.
But the guy who seemed to be the most hated rightfielder was not a member of the New York Yankees, or even the Boston Red Sox. He was a guy who was quiet on the field and might have even been hated or despised even before his first game in a Rays uniform. Delmon Young never seemed to have gotten a fair break from the rightfield fans, but then again, he never reached out to them either.
The young star held an air of entitlement and fut
ure glory from the moment he first stepped towards the slanted rightfield corner. Most of that was played out in comments and actions by him while he was coming up through the Rays minor league system.
But his lack of general respect for the game was not lost on the rightfield faithful, and they rained down on him whenever he made a goof or a mistake, even a unintentional blunders on the base paths. I can not say he never got a fair shot, but he also never seemed to care, so the rightfield fans fed on that and rain down catcalls more than cheers for him while he was here.
So the Rays fans have embraced the young Joyce and have seen greatness in him. The best part is that he has been here before in his career. Unfortunately he was in leftfield, but he has heard the roars from the right field stands before and might have been more aware of the fans because of his 2008 time with the Detroit Tigers.
Most might remember that he went 2-8 during the Tigers only visit to Tropicana Field from August 1-3, 2008. In that game he played two contests in leftfield, but made impressions for his hustle and defensive skills. He also played in all four of the Tigers home game against the Rays from September 25-28, 2008, but only managed to secure one hit in that series. He is off to a great start in his career with the Rays.
He has made a great impression in the spring when he came back from his ankle and calf situations to pound the ball late in Spring Training. So far with the Rays he is 6 for 17 for a nice .363 average to start the fans in his favor. His 6 RBI, with 4 just last night will also go a long way in securing the fan’s early support for the young star.
Rightfield in Tropicana Field has seen its good and bad times. But the players who have manned that position have made not only a impression into Rays history, but some of them still are considered a part of the Rays family. Joyce is just the latest in the line of great players to man the “9″ spot, but with his future bright and the crowd behind him.
He could easily move into cult status like Jonny Gomes or Bubba Trammell with a great season for the Rays. And wouldn’t it be great to see more signs like the one last night that said, “The Right Choice…. Matt Joyce” ever night in rightfield.
This One Did NOT Hurt As Much
Every season you have games that will come down a test of wills at the plate. In last night’s game, Jonathan Papelbon won this first face-off of the season against the Rays. But even if you are a Red Sox or a Tampa Bay Rays fan, you had to enjoy this game for the pure pleasure of it being a ever-changing affair from the first pitch on. There was everything you want in a featured baseball game on ESPN.
You have the tale of the struggling hitter, the emotional pitchers from both teams, the outfielder who replaced a former Fenway legend who is making his own legacy, and you had a scattered amount of hits and runs to keep everyone interested until the last out. Heck, even the ninth inning pinch-hit by Carlos Pena had me at hello. Coming into that at bat, Pena was 1 for 3 against Papelbon with a home run. There was that instant anxiety that Pena, the MLB home run leader could take any pitch yard on him.
And there was the fact that Papelbon is usually at his best in this kind of scenario. Even with the count 3-2, you had to imagine what was going to happen next in this game. The only thing that spoiled it for me was the strikeouts. I know I am being a bit critical here, but I wanted to see the Boston defense step up and show their teeth or their obvious weakness tonight. When Dustin Pedroia left the game with a gimpy hammy, you knew the pressure would fall upon the Red Sox shoulder even harder to win this first series from the troublesome Rays.
But in the end, it was the flamboyant closer thrusting his fists and doing his best Joba Chamberlain impression. I am only hoping that the next time a Ray hits a homer off Papelbon, he gets the same greeting as Joba after Aubrey Huff took him yard on Sunday. This was the Rays 20th game against the American League East opponents , with two more on tap before they finally greet another A L Central opponent at home this next coming weekend. I mean let’s think about the game in a really abbreviated form.
The Red Sox ace, Josh Beckett had given up 25 runs and 44 hits since his Opening Day win over the Rays in Fenway. He had blossomed to a 8.13 ERA. He was ripe for the picking, and the Rays did not take full advantage of a guy who was having trouble with his fastball. But that is the game. You never know where your offense or your pitching will be at any moment.
The game did begin with a classic National League style run production after Carl Crawford got on base with a slap single to Mike Lowell at third base. Pat Burrell hit a nice slow rolling RBI-single to deep left and Crawford did what you have to do when he scored on the play. He bowled over Jason Varitek like we were taught in Little League. It was not a locomotive collision, but it was the classic side punch to get him off the plate and send a message slam. The Rays wanted this game, and even a great catcher was not going to stand in Crawford’s way tonight.
And what was even better, Willy Aybar, who gracefully pushed a catcher in Minnesota and cost the Rays a run in a Rays loss got a front row seat to it. Aybar now can see with his own eyes what playing the Rays way really means. You go all out no matter what…..even into a catcher. You might remember in Spring Training 2008, Elliot Johnson blew Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli to the backstop with a massive slam. Ironic that it was also seen as a catalyst by the Rays of the potential and the power of this teams confidence in 2008.
I hope the message got through to people on that bench. The emotion and the confidence is still within that roster, they just have to physically bring it to the surface, and the win will pile up again for the Rays. I heard a guy last night complain about B J Upton’s lack of aggression at the plate. Well, if he had really seen his last 10 at bat this series, you would see the slow evolution of his swing and that he is not long for a huge game. He needs to outwardly display that confidence, then the team will also respond accordingly.
People do not visualize that Upton is a key component in the Rays machine. Without him 100 percent on-board and showing his abilities, this time is running on 7 cylinders. Great illustration of this was Upton’s blast down toward the leftfield corner in the fifth inning for a double. Then Crawford hit a bloop single in front of Jason Bay for an RBI single. With that RBI, Crawford is now tied with former Rays Aubrey Huff for the team RBI record ( 449). But if Upton needs to have a example of what it takes, he only has to look towards the On-Deck circle to Crawford.
Earlier in the year Crawford was beginning to slump a bit, but now he is one of the hottest hitters in baseball. And to add to that fire is the fact he is also the most feared man on the base paths right now. Of course in Boston they throw a few well phrased adult superlatives with his name, but that comes with success. Considering the fact that there are three players who have not hit their stride yet ( Dioner Navarro,Pat Burrell, Upton), this team is only 3-games below .500 right now. That is only 3-games off last years pace, and we have a harder schedule in 2009.
Michael Dwyer / AP
For some time, one of the biggest improvement over the Rays in recent years has been their commitment to their defense. Well, you have to give a huge amount of style points to the Rays last night, because their defense kept them in this contest. For one of the first games in recent memory, the Rays did not complete a single double play on the Boston hitters. But then again, the Rays defenders did keep their base runners to a minimum thanks in part to a former Ray.
Nick Green has been removed from the Rays system for a few years, but he still has a fond place for the Rays. I do not think that was on his mind when he tried to stretch two single into doubles last night, but the Rays will thank him for the outfield assists and the outs. The first one came in the third inning off a hard hit ball bouncing off the Green Monster in leftfield that Crawford took fast and threw hard and true to the base to nab Green for Crawford’s team leading third assist of the year.
But then again in the fourth inning Green again tried to test his former infield teammate Ben Zobrist when he hit an RBI-single in the fourth inning to rightfield, and Zor-illa turned and fired a strike to nab him for the second time tonight to also get his second outfield assist of the season. Bartlett did not have to move an inch to take Zobrist’s throw in and tag Green in time to end the fourth inning on that play. I think the rest of the American League can attest to Upton and Gabe Gross having the rocket arms on this team, but Crawford and Zobrist will get their shots to disprove their own detractors this season.
But the Rays defense was not perfect tonight either. Crawford almost got the Rays into early trouble when he overthrew to second base on a double by Jason Bay in the second inning. The ball went high and wide from Bartlett and the Rays had to scramble to get it before Bay knew what had happened on the play. But the Rays did have a helper in some of the defensive troubles tonight. The Red Sox secret weapon for years has been the Green Monster.
Several times in the game the wall made its presence known and take simple balls off it and transform them into directional switching ricochets that made the Rays scramble a bit. But every team has that home field advantage, but in Boston, it is a huge green painted wall that grins every time a ball hit it.
Pink Cleats almost become Verboten
I actually love the fact that MLB celebrates the holiday of Mother’s Day the way they do every season. I mean I remember a few years ago if you bought a certain dollar amount in the Team Store you got a make-up bag and small pillow embroidered with the pink ribbon and the MLB logo. Well, my mother had passed in the last year, but I gave the pillow and the case to my daughter’s mother and she loved the thought, but she is a hockey fan. Oh well, such is life.
But the fact that the teams were a sea of pink wristbands and stretchable bands everywhere on their arms and wrists was amazing. And the pink bats were out on force with players suing them throughout baseball on Sunday. And with those bats being collected again and being offered on MLB.com’s auction site will bring in more great amounts of funds for the possible final solution to this cancer that has taken so many of the people we love and know from our lives.
Among those who are expected to wear the pink Reebok cleats are twelve players from the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays, as well as the game’s umpiring crew and the entire Red Sox staff including Manager Terry Francona. Players “getting their pink on” include David Ortiz, Jonathan Papelbon and Tim Wakefield of the Red Sox and Gabe Gross, Grant Balfour and James Shields of the Rays, along with other players from both teams.
But I love the fact that MLB and the MBL Player Union finally let the player where those Reebok cleats with the pink striping in the game yesterday. There might not have been a huge display of the pink shoes, but thanks to Rays reliever Joe Nelson, it might not have even happened if not for his insight and call to the union about the exclusion of the shoes. You see, Nelson doesn’t get a pink bat, and his armbands can not adorn his body and arms on the mound. All he would have had to honor his mother-in-law that day would have been the glue able ribbon on his uniform top.
But after consulting the union and getting a ” we will work it out” response from the union on the Reebok situation, he was able to put on those pink striped cleats and show his support for this awesome cause. The original reason that the cleats were forbidden to be worn on the field was an outside of MLB sanctioned charity getting the proceeds from the future auction of these shoes. By the union and MLB taking into consideration the multiples of players and families that might be effected by exclusion of this display of support and honor, I commend MLB and the Player’s Union for their quick and positive actions. The charity to be honored with the cleats is the Avon Foundation for women.
Most of the time this kind of decision-making can not be made on the fly. For the league and the union to step up and get a fast resolution and supportive stance will be a huge win-win for them in not only the public’s eye, but in the players too. Way to Go MLB and MLBPA for your insight and gracious admittance of this sign of support for guys who do not get to go to bat, or hit the mound during the game. You know their mother’s love you for it.
Just to let you know, the Florida Marlins also received batting gloves and cleats from Easton this week to wear on Sunday during their game against the Colorado Rockies. These items are also going to be made available in a future auction to benefit the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. Marlins stars Hanley Ramirez, Luis Gonzalez and Cody Ross, who wear Easton goods during the season will be the highlighted players wearing the pink-hued accessories. It is just a great thing that so many of the games best have taken the time to honor not only their mothers’ today, but a chance to eliminate a horror that plagues women daily all over the world
Just Wasn’t Their Day
Every once in a while a game comes around that reminds you that nothing is guaranteed in life. Well yesterday, in front of a Fox Television audience, the rest of the country found out what we already knew in the American League East division. Ever game is a battle, and even when you think you can win, you can lose. I really never thought we might have “parity” in baseball the way the NFL has weaned its teams towards. But in the AL East, even with the gigantic payrolls and the talent for days, the division is probably tighter today than it has even been.
There is not clear cut winner or loser anymore, it has been refined and designed down to the simple fact that the team with the highest score will win in the end. And that is the way it should be, it should not be decided by the pencil pushers or even the guys with the microphones protruding out of their faces, it should be decided by those 9 men on the field against that guy at the plate every at bat of the contest.
We are closer to that in the AL East. When you have a team that was predetermined to be a cellar dweller manning the second spot just a click away from the favorite, it is time to believe everyone is equal until the last out. When you have a pitching staff that has been destroyed by injuries but rebuilds itself within its own minor league system to emerge with more victories than you can count on your two hands, it is time to believe in parity. Who care if $ 2 billion dollar stadiums still need fine tuning, these squads within our division are hungry, and the plate is full for them right now.
With the AL East getting center stage in the East of the Mississippi for most viewers, it was a time for either the Rays or the Red Sox to proclaim dominance in the division. Even though Red Sox Nation might be mourning a loss, they should also rejoice in the game gave more validity to the fact we might have the ultimate division in baseball right now. The Rays showed why they can not be taken solely on their record by bashing 17 hits on the day. They also continued their stranglehold on Red Sox starter Jon Lester, who used to handle them like a rag doll.
The bevy of teams in the MLB also have this passion and skill, but still lack that personal challenge stage that besets every Red Sox vs Rays battle lines. Both teams know that to win this division, you have to conquer the elite first. The Rays have yet to even play their first contest against the Toronto Blue Jays, and some say that is why they are off to their big start in 2009. The Rays do not play their first game against the Blue Jays until June 29th. Here we are in one of the most closely competitive divisions in baseball, and the defending divisional champs do not play one of their first games of the season against their nemesis divisional foe until almost the All-Star break.
Not to be outdone is the fact that the Blue Jays also are coming to Boston on May 19th for their first run at the Red Sox in 2009. So as you can see, even if we do have the division right now, the aspects and the smoke-and mirrors designed by the MLB schedulers make the division look a bit more one-sided than it truly is right now. The Blue Jays only played the Baltimore Orioles from our division in the first month of games. They have been set up against mostly A L Central and West divisional foes before finally taking on the Orioles in the beginning of May. Even though they did sweep the three-game series against Baltimore, they do not go against another divisional foe until this week when they play a mid-week series at home against the New York Yankees.
So even though the Red Sox might be currently sitting in the catbird’s seat, they also know that their work is just beginning in 2009. With every Red Sox loss to the Rays, they give a valuable key to the division to their southern brethren. And since the Rays have now won 5 out of the first 8 contests, giving them an early leg-up, but it is a long season. Today’s game was an abnormality in these two teams game over the long haul. Every year their is a small segment of games that show a huge disparity of scoring, but so far in 2009, neither team has set a dominance in that category against each other. The only other game this year that featured any type of dominance by either team was the Rays 13-0 shutout the last time Matt Garza met the Red Sox.
For the first time in their divisional match ups, these two teams come in with defined roles, and lofty expectations. No matter what happens tonight, the game will be have a national audience so that the rest of the country can see what all the fuss is about in the A L East. From shore-to-shore, baseball fans will again see the rivalry that some say only exists in our own minds. That these two teams just hate each other and that nothing but a win will do for either team’s skipper. That might be true, but if the Rays do take the game tonight, it will be their seventh straight series they have defeated the Red Sox, both home and in Fenway Park.
That will not sit well with Red Sox Nation. They are accustomed to winning these games, and not settling for the Rays to gain any momentum towards the top of the division this early in the season. People have talked about the dismal start of the Rays as if they were 25-5 at this point last season. After 32 games, they are only minus two wins from their 17-15 record last season at this time. So much has been written, and so much has been anticipated of either team in 2009. For both of these squads to be within 4 games of each other after their collective starts is amazing on its own…but what else would you expect in the A L East.
Rays put on a Hit Show
Coming into the game the Rays were t
he fifth best hitting team in the American League with a .274 team average. Considering they were taking on the second best team in the AL in the Boston Red Sox, it might seem like a tall task. But the Rays have made their living the last two seasons out of beating the odds and winning the game people think they should lose on paper. So coming into yesterday’s game against the Red Sox leftie Jon Lester, the consensus might be a Red Sox victory. This is the first game that Lester will have thrown against the Rays in 2009.
I am not going to dive into the inning by inning blows of this game, but might just pick up on some of the highlights of this contest. We all know the score by now, and that Lester had an early dominance on the Rays before their bats awoke in a big way. Every hitter in the Rays lineup got a hit in yesterday;s game but Gabe Gross, who was on deck for his first at bat of the game when Evan Longoria flied out to left field to end the top of the ninth inning. Five members of the Rays had multiple hits in the game. Carl Crawford led all Rays batters by going 3 for 4, with a walk in the game.
But the biggest winner of the afternoon had to be B J Upton, who went 2 for 5 and had two nice hits during the game. Considering that Upton came into the game with a .156 average, which was the lowest average in the MLB for a starter, the game was a huge success at the plate. For if he is about to breakout and contribute to the Rays offense like he did in 2008, the sky is truly the limit for this team. We have seen a lot of frustration out of Upton at the plate, maybe trying to do too much at times, but his defensive plays have shown he is mentally on his game, and he only needed some plate confidence to get rolling this season.
Kazmir finds his Groove
A lot has been written lately on the good and bad side of Scott Kazmir’s 2009 season. He has always seems a bit out of sorts and fighting something within himself on the mound. It might be a small adjustment to his release point, or maybe a different grip on his slider, but he has always looked a bit off on the mound. During todays game, he finally had a sense of confidence and mound presence we have come to know from Kazmir. His day might not have started on the right foot, but his first inning looked more productive and more controlled then usual.
Even his second inning lead-off slider that Rocco Baldelli put out of the ballpark for his first Red Sox homer was put in a nice spot, but Baldelli made a great swing to take it yard. But there was a small thing I did notice on the mound with Kazmir. He made a effort to look down and always check his footing after releasing the pitch. If you noticed on the television screen, after every pitch he glanced down to see where his landing point was on the mound. Maybe that was the small mechanical point he spoke of after his last outing. He voiced a displeasure in a level of his mechanics in his last post-game interview, and maybe they figured it out and he was just trying to maintain that level of consistency in the start.
But for whatever reason, Kazmir did look good today. He showed composure and also a sense of dominance we have seen missing from him this year. Oh, he has had great starts in 2009, but this one felt different for some reason. He seemed to be watching himself more, testing his stuff and throwing like he did in 2007 with more sliders and that wicked change-up that compliments his fast ball so well. He only threw 5 innings in the game, and only 100 pitches, but he did display a great work ethic today. His strikeout ratio have gone down since his huge numbers a few years, but maybe he is becoming a more complete pitcher who doesn’t have to win every game anymore by extreme measures.
Sunday’s Smatterings of Thoughts
**** Yesterday’s Fox broadcast of the Rays versus Red Sox game seemed to be riddled with some mis-guided comments and observation by the broadcast team. I have always liked Tim McCarver and Dick Stockton as a duo, but yesterday they did make some very smartsy comments that I hope other people also heard during the broadcast.
1) Dick Stockton called Red Sox Jon Lester a “rightie” at one point when discussing the pitcher’s performance in the top of the second inning.
2)Tim McCarver in the top of the third inning said that Boston was the only team that had a winning record against the Rays in 2009. Well, Baltimore currently has a 4-1 record against the Rays in 2009 after winning their first series against the Rays, and splitting the last series against the team.
3) McCarver called Jason Bartlett “Evan Longoria” in the bottom of the sixth inning after he scored on Akinora Iwamura’s sacrifice fly.
**** The Rays are now 7-3 in their last 10 games and have scored 65 runs (6.5 runs per game average). They have combined for 304 hits this year and scored a total of 166 runs. They have also now hit 76 doubles this season, only trailing the Toronto Blue Jays by a single double for the A L lead. On the negative side, they have also now struck out as a team 258 times in 2009 to lead the American League in that category.
**** Jason Bartlett is currently leading all MLB shortstops in batting average (.355) and only one AL shortstop has less errors than Bartlett’s two ( Marco Scutaro , 0 errors). He is also hitting 69 points higher than any other AL shortstop right now. Combined, Bartlett and Longoria are hitting . 359 this season. That is the highest combined average for the left-side of an infield in the majors this season.
**** You might notice a small blurp in the box score today in which the Rays Lance Cormier received a save during his 3.2 innings of work in Saturdays 13-5 win. Even though there was not a threat of him losing the lead, the aspect that he pitched three innings and did not give up a run constitutes a save in the MLB rule book. This is his first save with the Rays for the former University of Alabama closer. in the MLB Rule book under section 10.19, the offcial scorer can give the relief pitcher a “save” if he complete three innings of work on the mound.
Mike Carlson / AP
The C.C. Show
How else could you describe the event more than just stating it was the Carl Crawford Show. For the Rays two-time All-Star did everything but sell peanuts and Cracker Jacks in the stands before the game. If you are a Tampa Bay Rays fan, you know the speed and the ability of this great athlete. And you have to remember, he is an athlete as well as a pretty good baseball player. But the simple fact that Crawford picked baseball over all the other sports that he loved as a kid is a telling tale all its own.
Here is a guy who could have gone into two other sports, and might have even reached the professional level in them too, but he stuck with the sport that he had the greenest talent in……….baseball. And the end result is that he is starting to get that National recognition for the things we have seen him do consistently since 2002. But does it really seem like 7 years ago that this skinny speedster came on board with the Rays? It seriously feels like he has always been here, because he is the face of this franchise in so many ways.
He has been here during the lean years when wins were as consistent as gas prices, and fans were still here cheering for the Rays, but the blue seats outnumbered the moving parts in the stadium. But now that the team is beginning to defend their first winning season, and their 2008 American League Pennant, Crawford is beginning to get his own personal engine revving up. The season did not start out particularly well for the team, and Crawford also had a few bumps in the road, like his team, but he stayed motivated and fought through the small slump.
He had gone a combined 2 for 10 in the last series before coming home against the Twins, and had to be at his best for this Boston series for the Rays to again establish dominance at home. During this series, he went 8 for 16 for a .500 average to boost his batting average to above .300 for only the second time since April 12th. In the early stages of this season his base stealing expertise was absent as he was held at bay by the opposing pitchers most game, only stealing a total of 9 bases in April. But in the last three games against Boston, he has emerged again as the front runner to again take the stolen base crown in the American League.
He stole a total of 8 bases, only one of his previous months total in this one series. But he saved his best for last on the series finale on Sunday. Coming into the bottom of the eighth inning against the Red Sox, he had victimized Jason Varitek all day by stealing 5 bases before he again got on base with an infield single to shortstop. With Evan Longoria at the plate, Crawford again stole his sixth base of the day, and he did not look like he was finished there.
I know I was one of the people in the crowd wondering if he might attempt to also take third base in this at bat, but Longoria quickly struck out to make the chance moot and end the inning for the Rays. You wanted him to go on the first pitch to Longoria after he had stolen second, but it was not meant to be today. Every pitch from that moment on hung in the air for awhile as you waited for Crawford to lunge off second and sprint towards that third base bag. But it was not meant to be today.
What Crawford did was amazing in its own right. He personally demoralized the Red Sox that day by being the man. Sorry, but it is true, he stole not only 6 bases, but the show that day. Oh, did I fail to mention he also went 4 for 4 with 2 runs scored and an RBI ? The feat had only been attempted by 4 men since 1900. One player, Eddie Collins also did it twice. Could that be the next goal for Crawford, match Collins. Also getting 6 stolen bases in a modern day baseball game were former Colorado Rockie and ESPN host Eric Young and former Brave Otis Nixon.
The pure fact that Crawford is in the company of these great base thieves is an honor all its own. So now Crawford is hitting for an .583 average so far in May, and the Rays are winning, you might have to keep your eye on Crawford because I can see a AL Player of the Week honor coming his way for his efforts. His base burglary has also now put him 4 stolen bases in front of early front runner Jacoby Ellsbury of the Red Sox. These guys will battle for the crown the entire season, but you can bet the guy who gets the most steals in this Boston/Tampa Bay series this year will walk away with the title in October.
What is amazing to me is the fact that the only two series the Rays have won up to this point in the season is against their biggest rival in the AL East. They took 2 out of 3 in Boston to start the year, then went through 7 series without a win before coming home and taking 3 of 4 from Boston in Tropicana Field. That is a total of 5 of 7 games in the series in 2009. Considering these team have played each other more in the past 12 months than anyone else, there has to be a huge volume scouting report on both these teams that must weigh at least 200 pounds. But the win this season have been gutsy come-from-behind wins in most of the wins.
Rays Take Series
None of the games except for Boston’s victory on Opening Day have had significant runs scored in the eighth inning or beyond this year. Most of the Rays and Red Sox’s win have been predetermined before the dramatic ending innings. But that doesn’t mean that this will hold true in the future contests. As these teams both heat up a bit at the plate, the dramatic endings and the luck of the past will again flow freely and we might see some of those classic Rays vs. Red Sox games real soon. Maybe even next weekend when the Rays come to Fenway Park again for three games.
Chris O’Meara / AP
Defense Wins BallgamesYou have to admit that this series did not always look like a defensive struggle for either team. Considering in this four-game series, both teams committed 4 errors in the series. The Red Sox did not commit their first error in the series until Nick Green’s errant throw to first in Sat night contest. But the Rays did have a couple of errors in the second inning of the game by Akinora Iwamura and Gabe Kapler. Iwamura was the first to commit an error on a hard hit ball by Ellsbury to him and he bumbled the ball and Ellsbury made it to first in time. Kapler made his error a few plays later on a throw trying to nab Ellsbury at the plate. The ball was up the line and bit and went by Dioner Navarro.
In Sundays game, the only error was made in the early stages on the game on a toss by Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek, who was trying to catch Crawford stealing his first base of the day. The ball ended up going into centerfield and Crawford moved to third on the errant throw. But the series did have their exciting moments when Ellsbury was caught stealing by Navarro on Sunday, and the comical stolen base attempt by Green on Sat. night. Kottaras also got into the act by catching both B J Upton and Gabe Gross on Sat. night. Upton was trying to make his second steal of the inning and was nabbed at third base by a great throw, and Gross got caught stealing late in the game by going straight towards the bag at second.
But the big defensive moments were the 5 double plays made by the Rays in this series. Not to down play any of the great defensive plays by the outfield or infield, but the double plays helped prevent scoring opportunities and get short innings out of the Red Sox. By keeping the Red Sox bats on the bench, the Rays made their best defensive plays of the game. But not to down play the awesome play by both teams defensively this series, but the Rays seemed to have more of them go their ways. Diving catches by Upton saved runs and Jason Bartlett made play after play to save runs and prevent more scoring opportunities by the Red Sox.
Mike Carlson / AP
**** Jason Bartlett has continued his hot bat into May as he again went 3 for 4 in the game to raise his average to .368 for the season. That currently puts him with the fifth in the American League. Ever since the 2008 end of the regular season, Bartlett has been on a tear at the plate. Considering he ended the month of April with a .358 average, which is now the third best April start for a Rays hitter. But this season, he has kept his best games for the Boston Red Sox. In the Opening Series in Fenway, he went a combined 4 for 10, with 2 runs scored to lead the Rays, and in this last four-game series he went 4 for 11, with an identical 2 runs scored in the just completed series.
**** The Rays have only had 11 home games so far in 2009, but they have seated 317,533 fans, which comes out to a 28,866 average so far this season. The figure puts them currently fourth in the American league. Those figures might go considerably smaller in the next two games as the Rays take on the Baltimore Orioles in a two-game series, with the last game an afternoon contest on Tuesday at 4:08 pm. Historically, the Orioles series is not a great seller for the team.
**** Dioner Navarro will appear at Coachman Fundemental Middle School in Clearwater, Florida from 11:45 to 12:45 as a part of the Rays and Raytheon’s “Math Moves U” program. The event will be a one-hour pep rally and instructional speech about the exciting possibilities of math.
**** Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena are the fourth set of teammates since 1954 to record at least 27 RBI through the first 25 games of the season. They currently lead all major league teammates in HR and RBI. Pena is also the Rays second quickest player to notch 11 homers in 25 games. Pena missed the Rays record currently held by Jonny Gomes, who hit 11 homers in 24 games in 2006.
**** Longoria currently leads the majors with 30 RBI, 19 extra-base hits. He shares the top spot with Alberto Callaspro of the Kansas City Royals in double with 12, plus is currently second in total base hits in the majors with 67 this season.
Chris O’Meara / AP
Red Sox Amnesia
Is it me, or did it seem like the Boston Red Sox came into this series forgetting about the recent history between these two polar opposite record teams. Did the mighty Red Sox forget that before coming in on Monday, the last time they stood in Tropicana Field was to watch the Rays celebrate their advancement to the World Series. It close but no cigar for the Red Sox. So as Red Sox Nation is now throwing their hands up in the air wondering what is wrong with their team, the answer is quite simple and easy to digest. These two teams have scouted each other to the point they know what breakfast cereal to have in the clubhouse. They might even know the collective birthdays and anniversaries of every one on the two teams staffs too.
Chris O’Meara / AP
Rays are being Pests Again
I was amused last night when a Red Sox fan behind me was jawing about the Rays and their base runners annoying the Boston starter Justin Masterson. I find it really humorous that he was sitting their complaining that our guys were trying to steal bases and not just take what the defense is giving them at the plate. I wanted to turn around and just give it to him by stating that it is an aggressive style of baseball that your own Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedoria love to play, but they have to be on base to get steals. Instead I just glanced up at the scoreboard and saw that beautiful 6-2 score shining bright.
The aggressive style will either help or hinder you, but so far in 2009, the arrow is pointing more into the help column. Coming into tonight’s game, the Rays have a combined 189 stolen bases. That is currently tops in the American League, but there are teams nipping at their heels like the Texas Rangers ( 187 ) and the Cleveland Indians ( 184 ). The rays aggressive system has caught the eyes of other teams too now, and they are adapting their own set of parameters to their own offensive battle plans. Even the Florida Marlins, who are tied with the Rays for the MLB lead with 189 stolen base have adjusted their game to include aggressive base policies. This is the style of play that is evolving in baseball. Small ball is back in a big way, and the Rays are the leader of the pack.
Consider in the last two nights, both starting pitchers have been taking extra time and slowed their wind-ups and throws to the plate hoping to catch the speedy Rays out of position and get some easy outs and erase base runners. For the most part, it is not working, but they are getting their chances. In Thursday nights game, only once did the Rays attempt to steal a base of Josh Beckett. Carl Crawford, the Rays head theft took third base off of Beckett and back-up catcher George Kottaras in the bottom of the fourth inning. It was all made possible by a double by Crawford. The aggressive nature of the Rays is not going away, and teams are beginning to experiment with ways to combat these pests on the base paths.
In their game of base larceny, you do get caught some times.
Chris O’Meara / AP
Does Tim Tebow Wear Longoria Underwear?
I found it funny the first time I heard that line that superman wears Tim Tebow underwear. The Florida Gator quarterback seems to be able to do what ever he feels like it in a game. I am getting the same vibe about Evan Longoria this season. He has just finished the fourth best April batting average by a second year player who won the Rookie of the Year award by belting a grand slam off the Boston Red Sox to send Red Sox fans either to the beer stand, or home. But people seem to forget that Boston put him in that position. If Masterson has been able to get the inning over with quickly, there would be no “Longo” chants bellowing in the Trop. Heck, if he had been able to do his job, there would not be a “6″ spot on the scoreboard. But the second year player is quickly putting himself up there with some great names to be considered again for dominance at the plate and in the field.
Chris O’Meara / AP
Sonny is not Sure Money
Last year at this time Andy Sonnanstine was sitting pretty with a 3-1 record and a 5.28 ERA. He had begun the season as the number three starter and was making his sixth start of the year on April 30, 2008. He would win that contest and become the first Rays pitcher to even win four games in April, plus tie the mark for the best record of any month by a Rays pitcher. Life was looking grand for Sonny. But what a difference a year can make in a pitchers’ life. It is not that he is throwing the ball any different, or even is off the mark by a wide margin. small little things have seem to plague him this season.
Chris O’Meara / AP
Josh Beckett: You Got Served!
I have to admit, I was a Josh Beckett fan when he was on the staff of the fellow Florida squad, the Marlins. I was excited to see him raise his arms in victory as his squad fought for the World title. At that time I knew this guy was going to be a great pitcher, but I had no idea I would have to begin to hate the little thing that he does on the mound. Last night though, the Tampa Bay Rays manhandled the Boston ace within an inch of his collective life. They did everything to get under Beckett’s skin but flirt with his girlfriend. The Rays did an extremely effective job of taking his rhythm away from him and stepping out of the box and collectively just getting him off his game.
And the local Rays crowd, which numbered only 20,340, did everything in their power to chant,harass and try to also become a factor in his bad night. Beckett tried to do his stall tactics on the mound, but the Rays did not play that game with him for the most part all night long. A few times the Rays did toy with him by calling for “time” late in the pitch, or even just staring Beckett down instead of concentrating on the pitch coming into the plate. And it did take effect on the right-hander. Several times in the game he seemed to be physically bugged by the Rays tactics, which is a kudo to the Rays coaching staff to point the small ways to get Beckett a bit uneasy on the mound.
That is right, Jason Bartlett and B J Upton got two straight nibblers to the third base side of the mound. Bartlett hit a good shot towards Mike Lowell at third, but he could not get a great throw off, and he was safe by a country mile. Upton then hit a short grounder off the end of his bat that Beckett finally got to, but could not get Upton at first base. Beckett then seemed to be a bit unnerved and gave up a walk to Carl Crawford on 5 pitches to load the bases for the Rays. What came next seemed to unravel him a bit on the mound for the next few batters.
Chris O’Meara / AP
Michel Hernandez Has Banner Night
The post-game shaving cream pie by Rays starting catcher Dioner Navarro could not keep that Cheshire cat grin off his face. Even with a mountain of white suds dripping off his face Michel Hernandez was having the time of his life during his Rays Radio Interview on the field. And I can think of no one better to feel like he had a huge part in this contest than Hernandez. Not only did the Rays current back-up catcher have a fantastic night by going 4-5 with 3 RBI’s, but Rays Radio call-in comments were calling for Rays Manager Joe Maddon to play the “hot hand” behind the plate right now instead of Dioner Navarro, who has seen some offensive up and downs this season.
Hernandez also is the second Rays back-up catcher in two seasons to catch a Garza one-hitter. Shawn Riggans caught the other in Miami last season against the Marlins. But if you are not a Rays fan, you might not have ever heard about this fine catcher.The guy has been in the minors for the past 11 years. Going from club to club getting consistent results and reviews, but not finding a home for his talents. The 3-year old catcher was also an add-on to another great Rays moment when he was the second player called up in 2008 to get to Boston in time for the Rays game against the Red Sox. His flight companion that day, Dan Johnson, ended up being the Rays hero in that game when he hit a solo shot off Red Sox closer Johnathan Papelbon.
Hernandez got his first major league home run in the fourth inning and really did not even know it had gone out before turning at first and seeing it on the Rays Jumbotron. You could see his toothy grin the rest of the way around the bases, and the mob scene on the Rays dugout stairs were a testament to this guy’s heart and abilities. But that was not the end of the night for Hernandez, he ended up going 4 for 5 on the night also collecting his first double and RBI. Before this game, he had a total of six major league hits. But all this would not have been made possible if he had not made a huge decision as an 18-year old.
You see at that time he was playing for the Havana Industriales of the Cuban National League on his current road trip brought him to the Yucatan Peninsula. That night, along with a few fellow team mates he made his marl for freedom and his chance to play baseball in the US. He ended up hiding out for almost two months as his wife Marta, who was in Venezuela at the time worked on his visa paper and his eventual freedom. Hernandez now lives in the Tampa Bay area, and with his new prize that first home run ball coming home with him last night, finally might feel like he achieved that dream he envisioned 12 years ago while lying in Mexico. But you know the first person to see that ball in the morning will be his son, Michael who also enjoys playing baseball.
Garza Gets a Bit of Deja Vu
Rays starter Matt Garza had been there before. He had felt that burning in the pit of his stomach as the pitch was hit by the bat, and it was not that long ago. the last time he ad heard that sound during a pitching performance like this it was on a balmy June 26, 2008 day in which Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez hit a blistering home run in the 7th inning to take his no-hit bid away, and also post the only run given up by Garza on that day. Even though he had struck out 10 Marlins that day, that sound of the bat crack is all he remembered of that day. So we flash forward to last night game and we again see that Garza is pulling off a miracle by blanking the Red Sox through six innings.
Garza went out again to the mound in the top of the eight inning to complete his night. After striking out Jonathan Van Every, Garza had given the Rays faithful a free Papa John’s pizza, but he gave us better thing to remember on this night from his pitching performance. He only pitched to Van Every in the eighth inning before Rays Manager Joe Maddon came out and brought in Grant Balfour to close out the masterpiece. Even as Maddon was heading to the mound, the Trop crowd, even Red Sox fans were on their feet to applaude the effort of the Rays rightie tonight. He had also fanned a duplicate 10 Red Sox tonight as he did in that June 26, 2008 game, but tonight he did it in front of the home crowd, which made sure he knew how much they needed and loved the effort. It was a thunderous clapping of hands and cowbells way until he was gone from the playing field.
But tonight, I think we saw the right hander take the right path and readjusted himself on the mound and stood he tall and gained inner growth that will do wonder for him in his future starts. Last night’s performance was a true masterpiece. It is another great point in Garza’s maturation process and personal growth beyond the baseball diamond. To night he might have lost his perfect game and hos no-hitter, but in his development to be more consistent and mentally up for the challenge, Garza threw nothing but strikes all night long.
Chris O’Meara / AP Longo and JB Fight for the April Record Coming into tonight contest, Evan Longoria and Jason Bartlett were battling to become the next Rays hitters to get recognition as the Best hitters in the month of April for the team. Bartlett came up in the bottom of the eighth inning with a chance to overcome Rocco Baldelli for second on the list, but his pop out to third base ended his chances at the spot and he settled for a final .358 average for the month. Now I have to say that a .358 average is not too shabby at all, and he should take great pride in that mark, but I also know he wanted that top spot and was eager in tonight’s game to hit. He ended up going 1 for 5 tonight, which is one of the first times in recent games that he has hit less than tweo hits in a contest.
Longoria went 3 for 5 on the night, which included his sixth homer of the season and also 3 runs to go with his 4 RBI’s. The night helped him boost his average up to .369 for the month. This was enough to top Baldelli’s previous .366 record he set in 2003. How fitting was it also that the guy currently sitting in the top spot for an April average was also sitting in the Visitor’s dugout for the game. When Longo hit a single in the bottom of the eighth, you could see Baldelli’s huge smile for the guy. That was a great sight to see. For these two guys not only have a great respect for each other, but they both share the fact that they both were the faces of this franchise in different times. Congrats Longo, with your .369 average you have also posted the fourth best April by a reigning ROY candidate. Now it is on to May’s mark for both of them.
Friday’s Funky Findings
****In tonight’s game, we will see the debut of the Rays Alternate jersey. And who better to show you the new uniform than tonight’s starter, Andy Sonnastine. Tne new additon features a navy blue button-down with RAYS outlined in white trim with a light blue shadow across the chest. Light blue piping surrounds the sleeve and collar and extends down the front of the jersey. The usual “sunburst” emanating from the “R” is 40 percent larger than the team’s ususal home and road jerseys.
**** I was talking with Shawn Riggans during the game about his up-coming rehab assignment and found out that he will be heading to the Double-A Montgomery Biscuits to begin his trek back to the Rays roster. He is putting a hopeful target of May 10th, which could be one of Matt Garza’s starts for his return to the Rays. Riggans had been out with shoulder tendinitis and was put on the disabled list on April 13th.
**** Rays starter Jeff Niemann was awarded the Al Lopez award before the game. This is the Rays award to the best rookie during the Rays Spring Training. During the 2009 Spring Training Grapefruit League season, Niemann had a 2-1 record with a 6.32 ERA. He appeared in 6 games and started in 3 while throwing 15.2 innings of work. Niemann also was in the fight the enitre Spring Training for the Rays fifth rotation spot, finally garnering that spot on the last day of Spring Training.
**** Throwing out the First Pitch tonight will be a local baseball star who recently got exposure on ESPN and numerous publications for his pitching. Patrick Schuster, a senior at New Port Richey’s Mitchell High School will throw out the first pitch tonight before the game. He recently set a Florida State High School record with his fourth consecutive no-hitter. Schuster lost his bid for five straight no-hitters in a recent game against Tampa Gaither. Schuster, who is off to the University of Florida to play college ball,ended his year with a 9-4 loss to Gaither in the Class 6-A District 7 semifinals. Schuster had thrown 26 consecutive hitless innings coming into the game.
**** Is this a growing trend against the Rays? If you go down by 10 runs, you bring in your right fielder to toss an inning of work. The Red Sox brought in right field Jonathan Van Every to throw the last 2/3rds of the game last night. Is this a growing trend? For his efforts, Van Every did his best to re-produce a “Nick Swisher” moment on the mound, but was tagged by one hit in his fifteen pitches to finish the bottom of the eight inning. you might rem
ember that the Yankees inserted Swisher to pitch against the Rays in their season opener and the leftie blanked the Rays, also getting Gabe Kapler to strike out in that inning.
Dr. Devilrays and Mr. RayThe beginning to the 2009 season began another chapter last night as the Tampa Bay Rays evened their road record in 2009 to 5-5 with a wild shootout in O-town. Now in the past, a game like this would not be possible with the dominance the last few years of the Oakland A’s pitching staffs. But this is not the same pitching staff your older brother was salivating over in his Fantasy Draft. It has come on a few seasons of wheeling and dealing as the A’s are going through a self-imposed rebuilding of their staff. But in this game, even the Barry Zito’s or even the Dan Haren’s might have been hard pressed to keep this Rays team under their thumbs.
In their usual Dr. D-Ray and Mr Ray fashion the Rays took control of the game from the onset and did not let up the entire contest. This is the type of game we hoped and prayed for during their 2-5 home stand last week. They did have a few minor base running mishaps, but the overall ability of the offense to take control of a struggling pitcher was a thing to be seen with your eyes. The team did what you are suppose to do when a pitcher is having control and command issues. they sat waiting on their prized pitch and drove it endlessly into the California skies to post their seventh victory of the year.
The fact that Mother Nature was also working in the Rays favor to begin the game was not lost on just the players. Rays Television Commentator Todd Kalas was quick to alert the fans at home to the 31-40 mph winds that were swirling in and around the stadium at game time. This just added to the Rays offense as they went on in the contest. But considering they were facing Oakland rookie Trevor Cahill today, the 21-year old, who was drafted by the A’s in the 2006 Player Draft, got his first look at Tampa Bay in his career. In his fourth start of the year, Cahill might have wished he had missed it after the Rays took an early 1-0 lead after B J Upton scored on a Carl Crawford RBI-double to start the game.
To put the Rays offense emergence into perspective, they put their lead-off man on base in five of the nine innings tonight, and in three of those innings, the lead-off man scored for the Rays. Gabe Gross and Carlos Pena lead-off two of those innings with solo home runs to pace the Rays offense tonight. In all, the Rays hit 4 doubles and 3 homers against the A’s, and only Upton and Pat Burrell did not have hits in the Rays 13-hit explosion. This is the type of Rays confidence that was so familiar with them in 2008. The Rays were hitting the long balls, but also concentrating on extending rallies tonight.
In their first inning, they strung together three straight base runners to put early pressure on Cahill. Then in their 5-run third inning, they got two early base runners before Pena hit a 3-run shot over 388 feet for his first homer of the night. After Burrell hit a fly ball to Mark Ellis for an easy out at second base, they again strung together 5 straight base runners before Crawford hit a sharp fly to Matt holliday in left field for the final out. But by that time they had exposed the young right-hander and paced to a 7-0 lead. In the fifth, the Rays again tired to mount an extended rally, with Akinora Iwamura getting a lead-off single into the gap in right-center field, then Jason Bartlett hitting a ball to Eric Chavez at third base that he beat for an infield single. But Upton hit into a 6-4-3 double play to prematurely take the Rally down.
From that inning on, the Rays only extended one inning to multipule base runners. In the eighth inning, both Burrell and Gabe Gross got walked by A’s reliever Maichael Wuertz, but were stranded on base after a Dioner Navarro fly out to center field ended the inning. At that point it was 8-0, with the Rays in control of the contest. For the night, the Rays got 13 hits, 8 of them off the Oakland starter and also gathered 8 total walks on the night. The Rays did leave 7 runners in scoring position, which is still the Achillie’s heel of this team. If not for the A’s starter getting into early trouble tonight, the Rays only sustained two rallies all night long after Cahill left the game, and both of those were off of reliever Dan Giese, who Oakland got on waivers after the New york Yankees released him.
Ben Margot/ AP
El Presidente Issues a Statement Carlos Pena has been the vocal leader of this Rays team now for several years. He is one of the first people to speak up for the Players Only meeting the other day in Seattle, that lead to a Rays victory, and tonight he let his lumber do the talking. It is great to see a Raya slugger let his bat do the talking in this contest. But Pena has always been someone who will “walk the walk, and talk the talk.” It is one of the reason the Rays took a chance on him several years ago and signed him to a Minor League contract. He did nothing more than surprise and rise this team by hitting the daylights out of the ball and make his love for this young team know.
The Rays made their committment to him by signing him to a multi-year contract, and since that day, he done more and more to take and portray a leadership role on and off the turf for the Rays. Tonight he took two pitches and made his statement in this game. In the third inning, he took a letter high ball and deposited it deep into center field to send the Rays in front 5-0 at the time. Then in the the sixth inning off Giese, he took a 3-1 pitch and drilled it into the first row into right field, about 333 feet from home to provide the last run of the game for the Rays. His two homers tonight puts him into the American League HR catbird seat with one more than Carlos Quentin of the Chicago White Sox.
His 4 RBI’s tonight also puts him at 21 for the year, which also puts him currently 2 RBI’s ahead of Nick Markakis of the Orioles for the American League lead. Pena went 2 for 5 in the game, and moved his average up to .254 tonight. For the Rays to be successful in 2009, they need their big hitter to remain consistent and producing. In their 1
0 loses this season, Pena is a combined 7 for 36, or a .194 average with 13 strikeouts. He has a total of 21 strikeouts so far in 2009, which is good enough for second in the American League. But the Rays seem to feed off his energy, and his success has been key to the team rebounding and rebuilding their oen confidence this season. El Presidente is a leader, and the young Rays seem to play better and with more consitent nature when their leader is setting the example on the field and at the plate.
Ben Margot / AP Kazmir Adjusts Mid-game for Great Start Rays starter Scott Kazmir did not start the game in great fashion he again seemed to be a bit off the mark, but adjusted correctly and posted one of the most impressive night of the year for him. He did not use his fastball to set-up hitters, but used a greatly improving slider and change-up to keep them guessing at the plate. When the game first started, you would not have thought he was going to go 6 innings and thrown only 96 pitches in the game. But coming into this game, he has always been extremely good against the A’s. He was a combined 6-2 against them with a 2.70 ERa in 11 starts.
During tonight’s first two innings, you did not see the dominating Kazmir stuff, but it was showing itself throughout those innings and gaining momentum. Kazmir did not start out the night in impressive fashion as he walked lead-off man Ryan Sweeney with four pitches. He neded up throwing 22 pitches just in that first inning. In the second inning, he surrendered a quick single to Jack cust to lead-off the inning and then walked Kurt Suzuki before taking control of the inning and sending the next 3 hitters down in order to strand both men on base. In that inning he threw 26 pitches. It looked like another early night for Kazmir.
Then in the third inning he again gave up a lead-off walk to Sweeney, his second of the night. At this point, Kazmir has given the lead-off hitter a chance in all three innings. But then he ended up getting Orlando Caberra to hit into a double play to erase Sweeney after a difficult 10-pitch at bat. At this point it seemed that Kazmir regained his command and ended up striking out Nomar Garciaparra to end the inning after 21 pitches. Up to this point, Kazmir had thrown 72 pitches in the contest and was heading for another early night.
But between the innings he discovered his small mechanical error and then took the mound in the fourth inning and went right after the A’s hitters. He only threw 7 pitches in that inning, getting Matt Holliday, Cust and Suzuki in order for his first 1-2-3 inning. In the fifth inning, he again took control and sent the A’s down 1-2-3 for the second inning, but this time threw only 15 pitches. He was beginnig to take full control of the game. In his last inning, the sixth, he again got the A’s down in order 1-2-3 to put an exclamation point on his night. In that inning, he had retired 11 straight hitters and did his last inning on 6 total pitches. For the night he had given up only two hits, and had held the A’s hitless from the second inning on tonight.
Ben Margot / AP
Gross Doesn’t Waste Opportunity Gabe Gross did not get an opportunity in the last few games to contribute anything to the Rays. He had not been in the field since the Rays 4-2 loss to open the series in Seattle at on Tuesday night. and in that contest, he only came on to pinch-hit for Gabe Kapler in the ninth inning and popped out in that appearance. His .130 average was cause for concern among the Rays faithful. People had been calling for Ben Zobrist to get more time since the left-handed Gross was struggling at the plate. But tonight he got a start against the A’s right-hander and did not waste his chances. He not only made a mark at the plate, but made sure the Rays did not forget what he brings to the table as a defensive expert.
In the bottom of the first inning when Holliday hit a hard ball to right field and Sweeney tagged up at third base to try the arm of Gross, he quickly got his feet set before the ball reached him and threw a missile to Dioner Navarro in front of the plate for an easy tag-out and to end the A’s rally and inning. But he did not let the momentum end there. He then was the lad-off hitter in the top of the second inning and blasted a 0-2 pitch into deep center field for his first home run of the year. Gross rode the energy to again in the third innig when he hit a double to the left-center field wall to start another Rays rally after Pena’s three-run shot.
He ended up crossing the plate in that inning to then put the Rays up 6-0 at the time. He again got on base in the fourth inning on a 5-pitch walk to put two men on base for the Rays. He did not get an opportunity to put anymore runs up for the Rays in that inning, but his offensive struggles seemed to be behind him. After a hard hit ball to center field for an out in the sixth inning, he again got on base in the eighth inning after a 5-pitch walk by A’s reliever Michael Wuertz. That was his last time on base for the game, but his 2-3 performance had made his average take a positive turn to end up at .192 for the night.
Some people have commented it seems like I do not like Gross. It is not that at all here. It is the fact I know the team is struggling right now, and when you are in a hole, you go with your best horses. At that time Zobrist was the hot bat, and also deserves some playing time considering his early season successes at the plate and in the field. Both guys have a single outfield assist this year, but Gabe Kapler is leading the Rays with two so far in 2009. I like the way Gross played in 2008. Maybe I got spoiled by his banner year and he is showing his more stable hitting average. No matter what, I think the Rays should ride the hot bats this year in right field. If that means Zobrist and Gross get the bulk of the turns, then so be it.
The first will be held on Sunday, April 26th at the Tradewinds Resort on beautiful St. Petersburg Beach, Florida. The resort is a key spot on the Gulf of Mexico and fans are invited to come out early and enjoy the beach and the resort before the Rays afternoon contest against the Oakland A’s. Your usual Rays host,Rich Herrera will be broadcasting the pre- and post game shows live and on location starting at 3:30 p.m., with the first pitch at 4:05 p.m.
Before and during the game, be sure to stop by and register for your chance to win an autographed baseball, tickets to a future Rays game, TradeWinds merchandise, and much more! The Rays energetic Street Team will also be in attendance, passing out prizes and giveaways. So come on by the TradeWinds Island Resorts, soak up the sun, enjoy the beach, and watch your Rays on Sunday, April 26! The resort is located at: 5600 Gulf Boulevard, and you can get more directions on their website www.tradewindsresort.com.
The second Rays Watch Party will be held in a location that Upper Pinellas County fans know well for their outstanding food and open dining areas. The Rays will again be holding another event at the Clearwater location of Smokey Bones located at 2693 Gulf-toBay Blvd in Clearwater, located in the north section of the Clearwater Mall complex. So if you are a extreme Rays fan like the “Maddon’s Maniacs”, or just a casual Rays fan who loves great BBQ ribs, we invite you to come watch the Rays play the Twins in Minnesota on Monday, April 27, from 6:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. at Smokey Bones Bar & Fire Grill in Clearwater!
Come out and watch the game with fellow Rays fans and enjoy great drink specials. Rays Radio pre game and post game guru Rich Herrera will again be live as the Rays play in the Metrodome. We hope to see you there, and GO RAYS!Saturday Scattered Thoughts **** Former Rays reliever Jason Hammel, who was traded just prior to the beginning of the 2009 season has been moved into the Colorado Rockies rotation. So far in 2009, Hammel has appeared in 3 games for a total of 6.2 innings with an 2.70 ERA and 5 strikeouts on the season.
The Rockies obtained Hammel thinking he could be effective as a starter or a reliever. Starts haven’t been available, so he’s made three relief appearances. All Colorado knows is that if he pitches the way he has in his last two outings, there is a place for him — possibly a prominent one.
**** Rays Commentator Brian Anderson has been a trip so far in the broadcast booth for this west coast road trip. Anderson who also doubles as the Rays Assistant Pitching coach has been a breath of fresh air in the booth in relation to the finer pitching aspects of the game. He has shown awesome insight and also techniques that a pitcher might use that have been missing since former Rays commentator Joe Magrane left for the MLB Network in the off season.
Also a great aditon is the use of his own key phrase he like “cookie” to demonstrate a pitch that is just eaten up by the hitter. I was afraid the Rays commentary might be a bit dry and stale for the first season with Kevin Kennedy. But both Kennedy and Anderson have injected a different viewpoint into the every day workings of this team. Kennedy shows a perspective from the catching side of the game, while anderson is focusing on his expertise……..pitching. The Rays hit a blast with the occasional pairing of Anderson with award winning Dwayne Staats in the booth. I can hardly wait for Todd Kalas to get his turn in the booth and see what magic can happen.
**** I can imagine the grumbling and the grunts from the Rays as they entered the Visitor’s Clubhouse yesterday to no food choices in the clubhouse before the game. I could see Rays Clubhouse Manager Chris Westmoreland on the phone scrambling to get something, even a bag of pretzels into the clubhouse at that moment. But even more entertaining in my mind would be the sight of the Rays getting back on the busses and maybe going ala minor league style to a local restaurant and having Westy and maybe Traveling Secretary Jeff Ziegler tossing bags of food up through the windows to the hungry Rays.
Maybe that was the motivation of the team in last night’s contest. They were hungry in more ways than one prior to the game. But you know that they did finally get some neded calories in their stomaches, but that would have been a sight of them trolling into maybe In-and-Out Burger with 35 chicken sandwiches and healthy wrap meals, with a small prize in the sack for their kids. Ahhhhhhhh, that would have made them cherish their old minor league roots.
Chris O’Meara / AP
Wow, No Tampa Bay Rays baseball until 10 pm tonight. I am not sure what I am going to do with myself because the shows I want to watch also come on at 10 pm. Maybe a split screen will work, but then I might get confused and think that Tommy Gavin ( Denis Leary ) is playing DH for the Rays. Sorry, I am not going to get confused by that, but there are some thing that recently have hit the papers, internet and also the radio waves that have me scratching my head a bit. They might not matter to 3/4′s of the country, but they matter to us down here in Rays-ville.
I mean we have a few questions, and I am thinking of putting on my special World Series game used Rays cap and try and figure out some of the possible answers. I think I am going to play on my mind’s thought right now and throw out a few examples and also maybe a suggestion as to our outfield situation and see what bubbles up to the surface here. So I am about to pop the old World Series cap given to me off the head of a Rays back-up and see what transpires, or even communicates itself to my little mind. They say that objects like this can store up energy and stored thoughts, hopefully they have garnered some baseball thoughts that can help me evolve this problem into a solution,or at least a wishful thought.
Let’s get into the meat of this right field outfield quagmire. We might have a more of a problem if B J Upton’s bum quad does need more down time. But hopefully we will not have to again do the Curly Shuffle to put the Two Gabes’ out there at the same time. I want to go on record as telling everyone that the Two Gabe’s can not play in the field at the same time. I think they both have ample ability to play in an MLB outfield, but with them both out there it opens a huge gaping wound in the Rays speed and agility in the center field and right side of the stadium. If Upton is down for any length of time, this three-headed monster will have to adjust and put a member of it into center field for awhile. But which one of the three Amigos would make the best fit if this situation rears its ugly head?
If you even saw an inning of the game on Sunday, you saw the massive drop off of even closing range speed on hard hit fly balls even into the shallow gaps in the outfield. Combine that with neither of them wanting to shout out, or even call balls in the air, and you get both of them falling to the turf ala Rays 1999-style. The good thing in all of that is that Gabe Kapler did catch the ball and it did not dribble to the wall or fall from his mitt after the collision. But can we forget the base running mishaps by both of the Gabes’ this year that have cost this team runs. I know we are going to be super aggressive as a team this year, but to openly show your lack of concentration in plays in scoring position actually puts you in a bad light. They were moves that defied logic, but they will end up on someone’s Rays gag reel this season.
Both Gabe has their positives. Kapler brings an energy and a leadership that will spark the Rays they way Eric Hinske did in 2008. But he has lost a step or two from the Kapler that used to fling his body everywhere in the Boston outfield years ago in the Trop. But his bat might be waking up, and that would be a huge up-side for the Rays. I will never question his commitment to this team, but he has to also finally admit to himself he is not the same player and has limitations now. But he is a good outfielder, but his arm and his closing speed on fly balls had dropped off in the last few years. He is not a liability as long as his average is creeping towards the Mendoza Line and above.
Now on to Gabe Gross. There is no question in my mind that he can, and will make a difference in this right field. The problem right now is that he seems to be a bit confused as to his role. He knows he is the swing guy on this platoon, but he also seems to be looking over his shoulder for Ben Zobrist to maybe steal his thunder and job soon. That might actually happen at some point this season. For the last year Gross has been the rocket arm for the Rays getting outfield assists because the American League questioned his true arm strength, but after posting some impressing plays to gun down people like Ichiro at third base, his arm is a true asset to the Rays. But is his offensive number going to compare this year?
That is s huge question. Last season he matched the Rays single season record for Walk-off RBIs, with 3 for the year, including his first home run off a leftie ( Matt Thorton / Chicago White Sox). For him to remain a vital part of this Rays team he has to again spark that second set of the lineup and get his average going northbound. Fans are already calling for Matt Joyce from Triple-A to supplant one of the two Gabes’ in this offense. That day will come. I can see one of them either being DFA’d or even traded after June 1st, but the Rays have to stay with their choice for now. But unlike some teams, they also have another option in the outfield.
Mike Carlson / AP
Joe Maddon is crazy about Ben Zobrist as a player, person and as a plug-in anywhere in the field for the team. He has grown so much in the last year in the organization’s eyes as a utility player. But he is also beginning to grow out of that role and might make it difficult for the team to leave him off the field in 2009. Take for example his playing time early on here in 2009. He had made play after play in right field, including an outfield assist in his start in Baltimore. He is growing more confident and secure in the outfield for the Rays, even in center field. I would not be surprised if he get the starting nod tonight in Seattle if the team decides to rest Upton for another day or two. But it is not like Zobirst is a one-hit wonder, he has been building himself and his playing time up in the last two years because of his versatility and abilities.
He is the one guy on this squad, which includes the hidden talents of Willy Aybar that has gone unnoticed as a limited role player for the Rays. But no matter what you think of his playing talents on the field, his hitting ability has gone through the roof since his 2007 days for the Rays. In that season he hit .158 in less than 100 at bats for the team. And in that time he only hit 3 extra base hits, which included a single home run. But after an injury in Spring Training in 2008, it seemed that Zobrist finally came into himself since we got him in that trade in Houston that also brought us pitcher Mitch Talbot, and jettisoned Aubrey Huff to the Astros. We forget he spent only 18 games in Triple-A before the Rays brought him up in 2006. But between then and now he has grown leaps and bounds, especially at the plate.
If you take 2008 as his break-out year in the eyes of the Rays, you might be correct. He had been high on their radar for several years, but showed an extra gear in 2008 when he finally came up for good and hit .252 for the season in 62 games. But that is not the stat that impressed and also endeared him to Rays Manager Joe Maddon. Before 2008, he was basically only thought about in the infield situation and roles, but in that year he blossomed out into the grasses of the outfield and made his mark bigger on the team. He might have only had one outfield assist compared to Gross’s five, but it was the quality of play that inspired Maddon and his staff to give him more time out there. But if it was not his extreme improvement in his outfield play, his bat might have been the deciding factor.
In 2008, his bat came alive. His .253 average might not show this fact, but his extra power and also ability to cause some chaos on the base paths did not go unnoticed by the team. He made 13 starts in the outfield in 2008, which was on surpassed by his 32 games at shortstop during Jason Bartlett’s injury. He had made his name a force in the outfield discussions for the Rays. His bat came out of nowhere this year and stuck in the minds of Rays fans and coaches. He hit two Grand Slams, the first in Baltimore on August 29th and another in Yankee Stadium on September 13th in the nightcap of a doubleheader. And add on his 12 homers in 2008 came on only 198 plate appearances.
The Rays had found a bench power option who could also play every day in the outfield. But Zobrist put the finishing touches on 2008 by hitting three homers in the season ending series in Detroit. So let’s just pop out his finishing numbers for a second here, 12 homers, 30 RBI’s and 25 walks in less than 200 plate appearances. Tampa Bay had finally found their hidden gem, and their outfield ” can do” guy.
And his 2008 is beginning to look like another added chapter to this great story. We have only played in 13 games, but already Zobrist has appeared in 9 contests and gone to the plate 26 times for the Rays. He is boasting a .308 average with 5 extra base hits, three of them for homers. His 9 RBI’s is currently tied for 26th in the American League, and he is a back-up player. So you can probably read my mind here on the future of Zobrist with the Rays. My only concern right now is if we do move him into a more constant role in the outfield, will be leave the infield vulnerable to injury or even understaffed. ( Hint: We currently have Adam Kennedy at Triple-A )
Why not play Zobrist in any spot where you need a bat and an able player. Seriously, players have made great careers having the versatility and abilities of Zobrist’s style. He is grounded, confident and totally committed to doing things “The Rays Way.” If you ever see the camera panning the dugout, he is always up near the coaches probably easedropping on their conversations to learn more and more about the way they want this team to run on all its cylinders. I am thinking he might just be that extra gear, or even the NO2 that could move this team upward this year. So you have to ask yourself if he could fit into this platoon method that the team is trying to institute in right field this year.
I actually think he is a huge upgrade over the current right field players, and could supplant either of them in a heartbeat. He has shown the effort and the stamina to dive for balls, make the difficult play, and proved himself at the plate. Oh, by the way, I forgot to mention above that he hit his third Grand Slam last week against the White Sox as a pinch-hitter. You want to talk about pressure situation……there is your kettle banging moment. But in the end, it is not my decision or any other bloggers as to the future of Zobrist. But here is something most people have forgotten about him.
He is totally inter-changeable wit
h either Gross or Kapler. He can play, and has proven it in 2009. Oh, and forget all that rightie-leftie match-up garbage with him. He is a switch hitter who is plowing the ball at a .400 clip from the left side this season, with an .800 Slugging Percentage so far this year. Right field was a main concern of the Rays before Spring Training. They gave Joyce every chance to change their minds, and also saw some great things for the future in his 5 games with the team before getting moved to Triple-A. But my choice for an everyday right fielder is no secret. I will give either of the Gabe connection some more time to show their want and desire to stay here, but a decision will be made at some point this year concerning them, why not make it early so they can hook onto another team.
Joyce might be the future, but Zobrist is making a huge play to be the present guy to bring this team some needed wins and offensive moments based on his offensive tear in 2008. Can Gross’s .136 average with no extra bases and a lone RBI be the key to the team’s ultimate decision. Or could Kapler’s .173, with only 3 doubles be his ticket to the bench. The Rays are in a pickle offensively right now. They are hitting .266 as a team with a league leading 109 strikeouts. Could the injection of some positive Zobrist energy and play be the ticket, or will the current tandem, who went 2 for 13 in the recent White Sox series, with no RBI’s or runs scored for the Rays. Oh, by the way, Zobrist went 4 for 6 , with 6 RBI’s in that series. Can the choice be any easier right now?
Rays 11, Orioles 3
Rays Even Road Trip Out 3-3
If you asked Rays Manager Joe Maddon if a .500 split on their first road trip would be acceptable, you might be surprised at the answer. Considering the Rays actually played 8 games on this road trip including 2 games in Philadelphia to close out the Spring Training schedule, they got a usual 10 day regular season road trip. you could hear it in the voice’s of the Rays Radio Network commentators the other night. Everyone wanted to go home. It is rough to start on the road, and the Rays have done that consistently since 2006.
Early in the month, it was reported that in 2007, the Rays requested to start at home this year. Since that time it has been learned that they in fact only petitioned this year to start 2010. The information I got off the Internet was incorrect. I am only bringing this up because I try and get the right stuff and the right information for you all the time. It is not unusual for bad information to get out here, but sometimes it gets nipped in the bud before the blogosphere picks it up. For that, I am sorry. But I know I am not the only one who got this. A few respected newspapers also got this bad information, but I doubt you will see any retractions.
Sleepy Offense Wakes Up Big Time
To say the Rays offense took a deep nap during Saturday night’s game would be an extreme understatement. But for what they lacked in that game, they more than made up for in this Sunday’s series ending contest. The Rays even started off first thing today as Akinora Iwamura lead-off the game with a single through the hole to right field. An interesting fact is that is the first hit ever given up by Orioles starter Adam Eaton to the Rays. After a strike out by Carl Crawford, Evan Longoria kept up his hot hitting by lacing a shallow single to center field to give the Rays two base runners early. Longoria then got his running shoes on and stole second base to put both himself and Iwamura in scoring position.
But the Rays floundered in their attempts to get both runners across the plate in the inning. The last out was made by Pat Burrell, who was 0-7 lifetime against Eaton. But the Rays did get Eaton to throw 27 pitches in the inning, which could lead to an early day for the Orioles starter. But in the top of the second inning, the Rays again began to pressure early on Eaton when Ben Zobrist hit a “Texas Leaguer” into left field that dropped in left field before the foul line. Gabe Gross then got walked on 9 pitches. Gross fought off Eaton from a 3-1 count in his favor with 3 straight fouls before Eaton threw a ball high for ball four.
Jason Bartlett then hit a single to left field to load the bases for the Rays. But Iwamura, who was 4 for 13 with the bases loaded in 2008, could not convert and was struck out. Crawford then came up and laced a ball into the right field that Nick Markakis had to hustle to get to, but not before Crawford unloaded the bases with his 3-run triple. Longoria then hit a long ball to right that went over Markakis’s head and landed just shy of the right field wall for an RBI double. At that point, the Rays were up 4-0 on the Orioles.
But in the 4th inning, it got really interesting for the Rays. Gross lead off the inning with his second walk of the game, this time on 6 pitches. Bartlett could not move him over after popping a ball in foul territory taken by Aubrey Huff. But Iwamura then laced a ball between Huff and Brain Roberts to move Gross into scoring position at third base. With Crawford at the plate, Iwamura stole second and put both men into scoring position. Crawford then hit a one-hopper into center field that Adam Jones came up throwing towards home plate.
Gross was heading for home and Orioles catcher Chad Moeller got situated in front of the plate. Gross did not plow into Moeller, but instead decided to try and side-step him. But there was a problem in that plan. Moeller had the plate blocked and Gross ended up falling over Moeller’s ankle and missed the plate. Bot men went sprawling backwards with Gross flipping behind the left side of the plate. He then realized he had not cross the plate and scrambled to try and get back to the plate before Moeller could tag him out. He was not successful and he was tagged out at home on one of the oddest play I have seen in a long time. The Rays did not score in that inning and stranded both Iwamura and Crawford on base.
In the fifth inning, the Rays again went for the jugular after Carlos Pena struck out to lead-off the inning. Burrell was walked by Orioles reliever Brain Bass, who came on for Eaton in the top of the inning. But the next batter, Dioner Navarro, laced a liner to the right field wall for a double. Zobrist then came up and crushed a shot over the out-of-town
score board in right field for a 3-run homer, his first of the year. But that was not all for the Rays in that inning. Bartlett got on infield hit when he hit a slow roller to Robert Andino, who was playing short for the Orioles today. Aki then hit a gapper into left-center field that scored Bartlett to give the Rays a 8-0 lead.
In the sixth inning, Burrell got his first extra base hit off Bass when he got a double into the right-center field gap. He was stranded on base, but it showed that maybe Burrell was beginning to climb out of his season opening slump. When he was Philadelphia, Burrell was infamous for streaks, both good and bad. The Rays got a bit of a surprise in the seventh inning when Bartlett hit his first homer of the season to dead center field. Bartlett hit only one homer in the regular season in 2008, and 1 in the playoffs for the Rays. It was a welcome sight to see him rounding the bases.
But in the eight inning, the Rays finished their scoring in great fashion. After Crawford was called out on strikes to start the inning, Longoria hit his 5th homer of the season off Bass’s misplaced cutter to left field. Carlos Pena then hit his second homer of the year to right field to complete the scoring for the Rays and post an 11-0 lead on the Orioles in the top of the eighth inning. Seeing both Pena and Burrell go a combined 3 for 9 might be a great indicator of both men beginning to come out of the darkness and begin to produce some more scoring chances for the Rays. Before today’s game, they were a combined 6 for 36 with a homer and 2 RBI’s, both by Pena.
Balfour’s Game Went Down Under
Grant Balfour’s 2009 time with the Rays has not been his favorite times. This spring he fought some control issues, and thought they might be gone now that the regular season has arrived. Little did he know before yesterday’s game that the problem was about to crest and produce one of his worst performances in some time. This spring Balfour appeared in 9 games for a total of 8 innings and 12 hits and 6 runs. But, something else happened that was not your usual Balfour signature, he also had 7 walks to go along with his 9 strikeouts. His release point and mechanics seems to be off a hair or two.
And so when he made his second appearance of 2009, he expected to be in a better frame of mind, and also a renewed vigor on the mound. But what ended up happening is that he had a minor meltdown on his release points and ended up throwing 24 pitches, 10 for strikes in the outing. He came on in the ninth inning to preserve a beautiful pitching performance by James Shields, but ended up worrying both Rays Manager Joe Maddon and Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey as to his value with the club right now with the Yankees and White Sox coming into Tropicana Field for the next 7 games.
Balfour was officially credited with 0.0 innings pitched yesterday, but he allowed 2 hits and 3 earned runs, plus gave up three walks to balloon his ERA to 20.25 in the young season. He started off the bottom of the ninth with a 11 run lead, but he did not even last until the first recorded out of the inning. Markakis lead-off with a walk on 6 pitches. Then Huff managed to again beat the Rays shift for a single into left field. That was the second time this series Huff had popped a ball down the left side of the infield for a hit. He then gave up another walk to Ryan Freel on 6 pitches to load the bases for Baltimore.
Luke Scott then hit a ball to right field for a RBI single that broke the shutout for the Rays. Balfour then walked Felix Pie on 4 straight pitches to force in a second run. At that point, the Orioles had Scott sitting on third base with no outs. Maddon decided to come on out and take Balfour out of the contest before it totally bombed his confidence. Rays Reliever J P Howell came on to get Moeller to hit into a 6-4-3 double play that scored Scott to make it 11-3 Rays. He then got Andino to take a called third strike to end the Orioles rally and send the Rays home with the victory.
I am not sure what was wrong with Balfour last night, but it looked a bit similar to the pitching reversal of Rob Bell a few years ago for the Rays. Hopefully it is something mechanical that can be fixed in side work and he will again be back to old self. Sometimes just an inch can change a pitcher’s velocity and accuracy to the plate. Hopefully he was just losing his release point for some reason and it will just be a matter of throwing a bit to get back into a groove. If not, it opens a huge hole in the Rays Bullpen because of Balfour’s aggressive nature on the mound.
Shields wears Rare Road Win
James Shields made a few changes to his routine on Sunday to try and figure out the reasoning for his odd road woes. If you noticed on the mound, Shields wore short sleeves under his uniform for the first time on the road this year. Sometimes superstitions and rituals can be the life breath of a ball player. Some like to eat the same thing on game days, or drive the same way to the ballpark. Other have uniform rituals like wearing an old t-shirt under their uniform, or wearing three pairs of socks.
Whatever it was that Shields did yesterday, I hope he wrote it all down so he can do it again after the Rays next road trip in about a week to the west coast. He started the game by retiring the first 8 men he faced in the game yesterday. Shields did not even have a ball leave the infield until Andino single through the first and second base hole for the first hit of the game. He got out of that inning without a problem, until Jones doubled into the left-center field gap to lead-off the fourth inning. Then Shields shut down the next three batters in a row to strand Jones at third base.
A simple 1-2-3 inning in the fifth gave him more comfort as the Rays were then up 8-0. And it wasn’t until Jones again came up in the sixth inning that he gave up his fina
l hit of the outing. After Huff struck out to start the bottom of the seventh inning, Shields gave up his only walk of the day to Freel on 5 pitches. But after two quick unassisted plays by Pena, the Rays got out of the inning. Dan Wheeler than came on in the bottom of the eighth inning and Shields was done for the day. You could see him over there trying to convince Maddon to let him finish out the game.
But the Rays Bullpen needed to get some innings, and Wheeler, Balfour and Howell ended up completing the outing for Shields. For the day, Shields went 7 innings of 3-hit shutout pitching, and ran his record to 1-1 on the year. He threw 88 pitches, 53 of them for strikes on the day. He did give up 1 walk to go with his three strikeouts. Hopefully Shields did remember every move he made in his pre-game rituals and warm-ups to again try and duplicate it when the Rays again take to the road from April 21-29, 2009. At that time the Rays will be making a west coast trip that will end with 3 games in Minnesota.
Sunday’s Scattered Thoughts
Carl Crawford coming into Sunday’s game has hit .352 in his last 30 games with 13 extra base hits and 26 runs. He also has added on 18 RBI’s during that time. But right now the hottest duo on the Rays might be the two guys who will flip flop in the eighth and ninth slot in the lineup for a while for the Rays. Iwamura and Bartlett each went 3 for 5 yesterday, but Bartlett is hitting .391 currently and is winning the batting average stats of the duo. Only person hitting better than these two is of course, Longoria who is at a lofty .481 right now and is leading the majors in homers, and is tied with Miguel Caberra for the hits lead with 13 for the year.
With B J Upton primed to rejoin the Rays on Monday at Tropicana Field for the home Opener, the Rays sent Matt Joyce down to the minors after the game. He will join the Triple-A Durham Bulls and be their primary right fielder for the season. Hopefully while he is down in the minors, Joyce can get some quality at bats against left-handed pitchers and give the Rays more confidence to give him the right field job for good upon his return up to the Rays.
The Orioles and James Shields have some interesting history together. It was the Orioles who first got a glimpse of Shields on the mound on May 31 2006 and gave up 5 runs on 9 hits in his Rays debut. The Rays have now won 8 straight wins when Shields has faced the Orioles.
I am going to be on “Good Morning Tampa Bay” with the rest of the Maddon’s Maniacs on Monday to promote the Opening Day chatter and cheers for the Rays. Be sure to check it out since I know I actually have a speaking part in the telecast about the purpose of the “Maniacs”. As usual, we will be loud and proud and cheering for the Rays today. Also anyone coming to the ballpark early can check out our video we did with the Raysvision people a few weeks ago on the “Ground Rules” for Tropicana Field.
All Photos are from Gail Burton / A P
Can I Worry A Wee Bit
I am not worried about the season, or the aggressive nature, or even the pitching of the Rays right now. But I do have concerns on their attempts to score runs. I mean before tonight, the Rays cored all 8 of their runs off of homers. That is right, no hit-and-runs, no situational hitting of any type, it was just plain slap the ball and hope it hits the holes. now I know that the Rays did manage to get 8 total hits in this game, but they only got three chances tonight where they either had two hits or a walk and a hit to try and score some meaningful runs without the long ball.
I am sorry to tell you that Evan Longoria came down to earth a bit tonight and only went 2 for 4, to post a .455 average so far this season. the closest Rays player to him is last seasons team MVP Jason Bartlett with a .333 average. In the third inning, the Rays did get Gabe Gross to slam a liner past Brian Roberts for the Rays first hit of the night. Bartlett then did his part by drilling a ball into the gap that one-bounced over the wall for a ground rule double. that put two men into scoring position for the Rays with one out.
It looked like the Rays might have a chance to get a few runs back on the Orioles, but Akinora Iwamura hit a soft dribbler to Orioles starter Jeremy Guthrie. But Gabe Gross guessed wrong on the play and made a break for home plate. Guthrie saw this and spun around and threw to Melvin Mora at third base. With Gross in a run-down, they played the dance for a few seconds before Gross tried to out-smart Baltimore catcher Gregg Zaun. But it was Zaun who got the last laugh. He also did a head fake on Gross to make it seem he was going field-side with his block, then popped his glove to the foul side of the plate and tagged out Gross before he reached the plate.
That basically made the Rays rally run out of gas, and they went harmlessly down after Carl Crawford popped out to shortstop Cesar Izturis to end the inning. The Rays again tried to mount a rally in the top of the fourth inning when Evan Longoria started off with a single to center. Carlos Pena then tried to keep the rally going by hitting a single down the left field line away from the Oriole shift. But Guthrie got into a groove and put his pitches in on the Rays hitters and got the first two to pop out before ringing up Dioner Navarro with the strike out to end the inning.
Longoria then tried again to mount something for the Rays when he hit a double off the out-of-town scoreboard in right field. Longoria has tried to do so much for the Rays this road trip, even getting his 10th hit tonight. But again, the Rays could not figure out Guthrie and stranded Longoria on third base. But one good thing happened in this inning, the Rays moved their first runner of the game over a base when Pena hit a soft liner down to first that Aubrey Huff had to toss to Guthrie to complete the put out. The in the seventh, Navarro tried to do his part as he hit a looper to right field for a single. Gross then walked to put two men on base for the Rays again in this game. But the Rays could not convert and stranded both men.
Then in the eighth inning, with the Jamie Walker in for the Orioles Bullpen, Carl Crawford hit a single to right field to lead-off the inning. It was only the second time tonight the lead-off man got on base for the Rays. The other was Longoria in the fourth inning. But Crawford was quickly erased from the base paths as Longoria hit into a 6-4-3 double play. their last chance in the top of the ninth actually looked like their best opportunity of the night. Matt Joyce walked and then Navarro hit a ball that bounced into the stands for a ground rule double. So with two men in scoring position, both Gross and Bartlett struck out to end the game and the Rays chance to break up the shutout.
For the night, the Rays went 0-11 with Runners in Scoring Position. Is this just the effects of a long first road trip for the Rays, or is this offense just feeling a bit anemic right now. Seriously, the team is batting .254 so far this season as a squad, but that might be helped a lot by the hitting of Longoria and Bartlett right now. Pat Burrell is mired in a bit of a slump, only connecting on 2 of his first 16, or a .125 average. the only other Rays near .300 are Crawford ( .286 ) and Iwamura ( .294). It is great to know that the four hitter listed above have comprised basically the 1-2-3 hitters for the team. Great to know they are getting their licks, but when is the rest of the team going to catch their winds and contribute nightly…….Hopefully before we head home tomorrow night for a 7-game home stand.
Tale of Two Pitchers
Jeff Niemann might had a bit of nerves welling up in him when Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey and Navarro met with him to go over the strategy for the first inning and the game tonight. Niemann probably had the situation totally under control and knew what he wanted to do on the mound. But little did he know that even with the best preparation for a game, if your stuff is not there early, it is going to be a long, long night on the mound. Brian Roberts lead-off the game for the Orioles by watching the first strike go by him before connecting on a screamer into right-center field that skipped once and went over the wall for a Ground Rule Double.
But Niemann might have just thought he had just hit a good pitch and went about his usual pitching style. But little did he know he was about to implode on the mound by throwing B P balls to the Orioles in the first inning. Adam Jones came up and was hit by a pitch to but two men on quickly in the contest. Nick Markakis then hit a long drive over the head of Matt Joyce that also skipped once and scampered over the wall for an RBI Ground Rule Double. But the inning was far from over at this point. Huff then came up and walked on 5 pitches to again load the bases full of birds.
Rays Manager Joe Maddon went to the mound, with the entire infield also in on the group conversation, but he was the only one chatting in the circle. You know that must have been quite an intense conversation, with Maddon pointing out they needed this game to pull out the series against the up-start Orioles. Maddon can be a great communicator and is well respected for his mind and situational guesswork. But tonight, for at least two more pitches, his magic did not work at all. For on the second pitch to Mora, he drilled the ball into the left-center field stands for a Grand Slam and all Joyce could do is look up at the ball.
Niemann gave up a single to right to former Rays/Astro Ty Wiggington two pitches later, then I think the light bulb went off in Niemann’s head. He then seemed to turn into a different pitcher and got three quick put outs to get out of the inning, but the Orioles were spotted a 5-0 lead. From the bottom of the second inning until he left in the sixth inning, he shut down the Baltimore hitters. In those innings, he only allowed two hits, a single to Markakis and a single against the Rays shift by Huff in the fifth inning.
Neimann threw a total of 25 pitches in that first inning. But in the next 4.1 innings he threw on 69 total pitches. He showed the promise again that the Rays had in him when they traded Jason Hammel and handed the fifth slot to him last weekend. I wonder if Maddon verbally questioned his manhood, or just brought up Hammel’s name as a motivator? Either way, Niemann was a completely different pitcher after Mora’s homer. He did get charged with another run after walking Zaun before he exited, and Rays reliever Brain Shouse could not shut down the Orioles But at that point, he was looking like a completely different pitcher. If you subtract his first inning stats of 4 hits and 5 runs, with a single walk and a hit batsmen, his final stats would be a pretty good night on the mound. Without to implosive inning, he would have only given up 2 hits and a single run, with 3 walks and 3 strikeouts. A completely Dr. Jeckle and Mr. Hyde kind of night.
Brian Shouse’s Website
I had heard before Brian Shouse signed with the Rays that he had a wild cult following since he broke into the major leagues. Little did I know just what kind of following it truly was until I went out and checked out his website. I mean you have to go to www.brianshousefanclub.com and see it for yourself. The photos totally cracked me up, but if you really want to see some magical moments, click on the links near the right bottom of the page and see what else his followers have in store for fellow Shouse sect.
I mean the guy has his own Brian Shouse fan Myspace page and also they have included links to articles and stories based on their head guy throughout his MLB career. I am beginning to become a bit of a follower, but not like these people. I love the fact that he was basically signed as a leftie specials like Trever Miller had been in 2008 for the Rays. But he threw 2/3rd of an inning tonight on 12 pitches. His sidearm delivery can make you question his ability, but the guy has the stuff. I am curious to see if a Rays fan will redesign or even start their own Brian Shouse online shrine this season. If I ever get down about his abilities, I can always go to his website and again click on the Shousegandi photo and all will again be right in the world. Well, at least in Brian Shouse’s world.
No I am not implying that the Orioles have lost their hair or their feathers tonight, but I am noticing a certain different look to them this season. I mean Huff has always seemed to have a bit of a goatee and beard going his entire career, but tonight he did not have a stitch of hair on his chin or face. I also noticed the usually mousy moustached Jamie Walker also was missing his signature hair follicles under his nose.
Could Orioles Manager Dave Trembley have instituted a clean shaven look, or was this maybe a bonding agreement by the entire team to get some confidence and karma going their way. Either way, it seems to be working for the Orioles who are currently half a game back of the Toronto Blue Jays for the American League East lead. I know it is too early to make remarks about the AL East leader board, but the Orioles have been famous for making fast runs at the top in April in years past. Could this hairless look be a great indicator th
at they are all about business this year?
David Price Short-changed in Durham Debut
For the last month or so people have been harping and complaining about the Rays sending their budding star David Price back down to Durham for a bit to start the season. I am thinking after tonight performance, they will be a bit more understanding of what the Rays might have saw this spring, and maybe they do know what they are doing with the young pitcher. Price did not get to make his debut on Friday night as originally planned since the game was rained-out, but the Bulls let the leftie take the mound today and he showed why he was there.
Price ended up only going 3.2 innings and was taken out after reaching his pre-determined pitch count for the outing. In his short time on the mound, Price gave up 4 hits and 2 runs, but did get 4 strikeouts today. He did not have a chance for the win, but the Bulls did pull out a 8-5 victory over the Norfolk Tides today. Rays Olmedo and Justin Ruggiano both homered for the Bulls. A early surprise is the low average of Jon Weber ( .125 ). Weber was tied with Pat Burrell as the Rays RBI leader this spring with 15 RBIs.
Some people seem to forget just how fast and easy he came through the Rays system last year. He mad the leap from the Class-A Florida State League all the way up to the major leagues last season. He did post impressive numbers, but did not get the repetition and game experience he needed before taking over the reins in the fifth slot for the Rays. It is always better to be careful and nurture a young pitcher than to try and force feed him at the major league level. In the minors he can tinker with his pitches without destroying his confidence in himself and his pitching. The Rays made the right choice.
Photo Credits: 1) Gail Burton / AP
2) Gail Burton / AP
3) Gail Burton / AP
4) Gail Burton / AP
6) Gail Burton / AP