Results tagged ‘ Grant Balfour ’
Steve Nesius / AP
A lot of times during the Tampa Bay Rays 2009 season we have seen a Rays starter get into a dominating groove against an opponent and he begins to take complete control of the game only to be taken out after a mystery number of pitches, or because the current pitching match-up philosophy dictates he has run his course in a game. But the common question still on our minds is why is there a mystery pitch count number,and why do some of the Rays starters seem to get more of a leash than others before getting yanked out of a contest?
We have all witnessed the unusual pitching formulas in person where the Rays Coaching Staff will let a starter come out in the top of an inning to face maybe only one batter before being yanked for a reliever. But why it the system doesn’t let this starter finish the inning? Why is the match-ups more important than the flow of the game at that point. Would letting a starter throw an additional 10 pitches to try and finish the inning endanger him more towards an injury, or a possible loss?
The Rays current pitching situation is apparently based on computer-based match-ups and not pitch count, but sometimes it just seems like misused mathematics gone wrong when the Bullpen ruins the outing for the starter..
Because we have all seen starters who are in total control on the mound get taken out late in the 7th or 8th inning with a definite shutout possibility and a still possessing a manageable pitch count, usually under 100 pitches. And then the Rays reliever comes in and gives up either a few base hits or a home run and the shutout and quality start have been flushed down the toilet. With good intentions by the starter, but a loss in the process. Could the system need a bit more instinct than Sabermetrics at times. And do the Rays have any flexibility in the system at all?
Sure there have been pitching moments this season where we all collectively felt Rays Manager Joe Maddon might have left a guy in too long, or maybe might have taken someone out a bit early and he could have fought through the problems and collected a “W”. But the physical side of the game of baseball along with the fans has been slow to accept this new found set of pitching principles. But it seems to me that the Rays Coaching Staff is now totally committed to this new style of pitching, and we are the one who must learn the system before we pull all of our hairs out of our skulls.
And the argument for or against a set number of pitches for a starter or even a reliever has been a winded and highly emotional debate that will go on until we can get some critical answers to our overflowing bowl of questions. What we as a fans need to do now, for our own sanity, is to try and understand the new pitching system before we can make an clear and educated judgment or even begin to condemn the operation as a waste of our pitching talent base. And it is hard to accept what some people have coined as the “wussification of pitching” because of the adaptation of this process by many teams in the Major Leagues.
Has the games parameters changed that much in the last 10 years where we are now considering a formally common thing like a Complete Game or even a quality start as a thing of beauty and rarity instead of a by-product of the game? Have we whittled down the pitching system so much that if a starting pitcher hits a 130+ pitch mark in a game it is a time to get really excited, or maybe even concerned?
In a recent series against the Rays on September 4, 2009, Detroit starter Justin Verlander threw 126 pitches and the Rays let starter Jeff Niemann throw 115 pitches before he was pulled from the home game. I mean this newly anointed system points oddly towards the century mark( 100 pitches) as a precursor to the thought process of removing someone from the game. But is that number set in stone if a guy is struggling on the mound, or is that just set as a barometer mark for guys throwing with authority and control? Right now this pitching system is beyond the infant stage, but is just now being accepted by some people in the stands.
We see the actual game pitch count now displayed everywhere from the Internet In-Game boxscores to the stadium scoreboards or special displays, to the constant verbal barrage by the Television and Radio announcers to this 100+ marks level of mortality in pitching. This designated mark in the game now seems to be the key determination factor more than actual game performance now. I mean will we some day just look up at the scoreboard and see 100 pitches flashing on the screen and know that our pitcher’s personal time bomb is ticking and will soon be taken out of the game?
I mean this must have a wild effect on the pitching staff as a whole knowing that even if they are cruising along, that at that century mark they could get pulled from the game and see their work trashed within a 1/3 of an inning by an unstable Bullpen. But in recent Rays games we have seen a glint of pitch count flexibility in this system. Maybe it is because we are no longer playing for the post season, or maybe it is just the fact that right now the Rays Bullpen is fighting a uphill confidence battle amongst themselves.
Either way, it is encouraging to see Rookie Wade Davis take the mound in front of the Tropicana Field crowd for his Major League Debut and get to throw 105 pitches, and leave with the lead and a possible 1st MLB victory. But then we quickly saw it evaporate as the Rays Bullpen threw a cookie down the middle to Tigers slugger Brandon Inge who hit a Grand Slam in the top of the 9th inning to boost Detroit to a victory 5-3. But the aspect of letting Davis even get to that 105 pitch mark might have been dashed if the Rays were still hot in the fight for a playoff berth.
But could there be other determining factor like adjusted work load and the fact that some of the staff might be fighting arm fatigue or shoulder soreness that we do not know about. But so far the Rays have not announced any shutdowns or reflected minimal outings for their starters in 2009, which hopefully means that people like Davis, Niemann and David Price will get to throw deeper into games for the rest of the season. But that again becomes a double-edged sword for the Rays.
For if one of those three were to come down with an injury before the October 4th Season Finale against the New York Yankees, the fans would be wondering out loud of the system hurt or helped the pitcher this year. That is why yesterday I brought up the idea of shutting down maybe two of the guys who have put in maximum innings the past two seasons. But in reality, the Rays usually employ a 75-pitch count in
the minor league for some of their starters, and for that reason, even Davis has thrown a total of 158.2 innings in the minors before his current 9.2 innings so far for the Rays.
Both Davis and Price were held to strict pitch counts in the minors in 2009 with an eye towards the end of this season. The minor league system of limiting pitches might have actually helped the Rays in their decision to maybe shut some people down this year. But considering Price only threw a total of 34.1 innings before coming up to the Rays, and only has a total of 144 innings right now, both Price and Davis should be able to complete the rest of their starts this season without a shutdown.
But can the same be said for fellow rookie Jeff Niemann? He put in a total of 133 innings at Triple-A last season before finally coming back up to the Rays and throwing 16 extra innings in the Major Leagues in 2008. Combine that with his 2009 total of 165.2 innings with the big club this season, and he also might be about ready to cross into the new systems red danger line for yearly pitching totals. But with each pitcher maybe getting three more total starts each, the possibility of adding 15+ innings to those totals seems to be garnishing no concerns from the Rays.
This new system is as curious to me as a new girlfriend. You know you like it, and you know it is right for you, but you are afraid of the consequences if it falls apart and you are left in the ruins. There will be a huge bit of discussion in the off season by both the fans, media and the Rays themselves as to the merits and demerits of this new found system. But in the end, if it can reduce injuries and keep guys playing longer in their careers and with more explosive stuff, then it might just be the savior of the pitching game.
But the system will have to be flexible to adjust to each teams needs and wants and not be written into stone tablets for all to follow with a strict code of obedience. The system will show its flaws soon, and it is how we adjust to those waves of ups and down as to the future of this system with the Rays. “Going with the flow” might be the term for the rest of 2009 and 2010. For if we do transfer a bit of the workload onto a competent Bullpen with guys secure and ready for anything, then this system and the Rays fan can again see glory coming their way.
Lately I have been focusing a huge amount of my attention on the aspect of getting the Tampa Bay area convinced and enticed by the possibilities of this Rays team thrusting onward and upwards towards a possible American League Playoff spot. As the noose gets a bit tighter, and the ice begins to melt faster beneath all of our feet, I think it is time to back it down a notch and maybe have some fun today. Yeah, it is definitely a time to take a step back and chill for a moment and just have fun with today’s blog.
Heck, I even began toying a bit with what if I had some sort of theme music, or a walk-up introduction music that would play if I walked into the stadium. And my personal choice of music would be Bon Jovi’s hit “Have A Nice Day”. I mean we all have thought about it for a few minutes, and we all have a few songs rolling around in our minds that might play out our hidden personalities and our music styles. Wouldn’t it be too cool to have that music playing even if it is on our own personal Ipods every time we stepped down into the bowl of the stadium.
We all know that a player’s walk-up music is a signature of their inner personalities that we might not see outside of the lines of the baseball field, and some them have some unusual and odd choice for their music. Some base it on childhood memories or a friendly reminding beat that gives them a sense of calm and clear mind just before they step into the batter box, or on the pitching rubber. But one of the wildest music I have heard is the music that accompanies J P Howell as he comes to the mound.
I have never asked Howell why he picks a song by Huey “Piano” Smith who was an important part of the great New Orleans piano tradition, following in the footsteps of Professor Longhair and Fats Domino to take his place among the Crescent City’s R&B elite. He was also one of R&B’s great comedians, his best singles matching the Coasters for genial, good-time humor, although his taste often ran more towards nonsense lyrics. So why would a guy who was born in Modesto, California in 1983 come in contact with a song written and recorded in the late 1950′s? That has got to be one of the great stories that underline some of the Rays players song selections.
But then you have a guy like Rays starter James Shields who uses a well known song from a German band Rammstein that came into all of our subconscious when the band performed it live during a scene in the movie “XXX” with Vin Diesel. ”Du Hast”( Do Have) is a great techno song that does get your mind and physical being up and ready. The pumping of the bass and the hard guitar licks do get you wanting to start a mosh pit right in the Rays Bullpen area each time you hear it. It was actually a undercover favorite of mine and I can truly see how it could be a favorite of Shields. Seriously I want to bang my head and pump my fist every time it plays in the stadium.
You might be wondering why I am focusing so much on the Rays pitcher’s music instead of the Rays hitters? Well, really the answer is quite simple, the batters get their music heard sometimes 4 times a night, while the starters and the reliever might not get their music heard but once a series. So I decided to focus more on the pitching staffs music then the hitters right now. But that could be a possible future blog entry.
One of the newest members of the Tampa Bay Rays relieving corp is veteran Russ Springer. And in his mound music he reflects on his home town roots and his affection for the music that had influenced him for so long. Being a native of Pollack, Louisiana he is truly what you would expect of a country boy. The guy is low key, but passionate about the sport and remarked in a recent article in the St Petersburg Times that in his hometown, people ask “How your coondog is doing?” as mush as they ask about you.
But Springer has been able to keep that low key personality under the MLB radar until 2006 when in May of that year his name was spread out all over the media when he was a member of the Houston Astros and threw at San Francisco Giant several times in a series, finally plucking him once. He ended up with a 5-game suspension and a reputation that you do not mess with him.
Another guy who can changed and tossed his music around a lot during his Rays career has been Rays reliever Grant Balfour. He has gone as far as using fellow Aussies’ Midnight Oil and their hit “King of the Mountain” to the wild and mysterious pick of Men at Work and their classic “Land Down Under.” I have to tell you, the Men at Work song tends to freak me out a bit. I really hate to admit I liked that song so long ago when it first came out.
But seriously here, he has done a bit of mixing those two up with a few wild off the cuff picks like The Doors in the recent Red Sox/Rays series. I could not place the song title, but know it was not “Back Door Man”, or even “The End”, which could be a interesting twist to his use as a 7th, 8th inning set-up man for the team. Got to admit, the Midnight Oil song is an old classic I had not even thought about for years, but is a nice classic tune for a mound mood.
But then you have the left-side of the brain music of two of the Rays southpaws that really sets the tone for a reliever coming into the game late in a contest and gets the bass and the hard back beats going in your mind and body. It is the band AC/DC and their hard core rock and roll themes like “Thunderstruck” and “ You Shook Me All Night Long”, and “Dirty Deeds (Done Dirt Cheap)” as their mound music.
I know that Brian Shouse and Randy Choate did not intentionally pick those tunes just for their times here with the Rays, but it is actually really funny, that they pick that music since resident Brian Johnson, who did the lead vocals for the group actually lives in the Sarasota area and attends some Rays games during the season. Hopefully the lead singer can get to a game before the end of the season and get a chance to chat with the guys who enjoy his band’s music so much. Heck, I think he would be a fantastic National Anthem singer if the former Aussie would not mind belting out the tune.
As you can see some of the Rays pitching staff has a wide variety of musical tastes that can range from the wild and unusual to the down at home music from their regions. But most of all, it can be a audio cure to them personally to get into that mode of operation that will result in total concentration and effort on their parts. The job of a Major League pitcher is difficult enough knowing that the guy at the plate is trying to knock every pitch out of the ballpark, and it is your job to keep that from happening.
Music, song lyrics and also beat can get them into a frame of mind to mask that objective by the batter and get their job done so they can all go home with a win. Some days it works, some days it fails, but it is their own personal stamp on the game and it is their badge of recognition for the fans. Music can be the great inspirational point in a game. That is why we have certain songs that play during the game to key emotions and get not just the players, but us the crowd into the heat of the battle.
What better way to celebrate a series ending victory than take a group of 10,000+ of the Rays biggest supporters to a place in Ybor City that celebrates the kid in all of us. And boy, did we all have a great time and also get a few great moments playing game with and against some of those same guys who took the field that very same afternoon. It is an event I have been looking forward to every since the invitation hit my mailbox, and the Rays Email system must have gone nuts with how fast I responded to the RSVP.
Yesterday was the Second Annual ( hopefully more) Season Ticketholder event at Gameworks in Ybor City. Now if you have never been in a Gameworks, think Dave and Busters on PED’s with a gleaming polished metallic finish that would send anyone into “Kid Mode”. Now I have been to both of these events, and let me tell you this season’s events kicked some royal booty. Missing were some of the Rays stars, but the entire rotation of James Shields, Scott Kazmir, Matt Garza, David Price and Jeff Niemann hit the event to show their support to the fans.
But they were not the only ones to come on out and see the masses in this crowded but truly spectacular event put on by the Group Sales Department of the Tampa Bay Rays. The Bullpen was also very heavily represented with Randy Choate, Lance Cormier, Grant Balfour, Brian Shouse and J P Howell holding court near the racing games and near the “Dance, Dance Revolution” platform. But not to be forgotten was some of the guys who also play out in the field for the Rays who made the journey over to Ybor City. Ben Zobrist and Dioner Navarro came on out to represent the guys who play in the infield, and Gabe Gross and Gabe Kapler also made the event along with B J Upton last night to show the love from the Rays outfield.
But even with people clammering (myself included) to get personal pictures and autographs from the fans, I could see that the guys truly enjoyed their time out with the fans last night. Shouse and Choate were even able to blend in and play a few games before some people noticed they were there last night. But some of the true hits of the night were delivered by the Group Sales Department as they again put on a first class event. From the photo opportunity area where you could be put into a Rays photo, to the awesome stuff given away as door prizes, the event sparkled from the first fan entering the building. And it was great seeing these guys out and about not in uniform and enjoying themselves.
And some lucky fans even got to race or play against some of the players during the night festivities. I remember seeing Kazmir in the back of the Game Room playing an NBA game against a fan and it was a highly contested game with a lot of great plays by both until someone had to lose. But the true hit of the night for me was the fact that 6 foot 9 inch Jeff Neimann got up on the “Dance, Dance Revolution” stage and strutted his stuff. I was in such awe of the event I forgot to pop my camera into video mode and film the entire wild and crazy event. But I have to tell you, once he got the hang of it all, the guy held his own on the dance floor, or platform.
I did not see Rays Manager Joe Maddon, but Rusty, the Rays game day host was remarking (joking) that he was holding a wine tasting seminar in the corner of the bar area. From seeing people like Matt Silverman, the numero uno of the Rays, to Andrew Friedman, the Vice President of Baseball Operations out in the crowd was fantastic. Oh, and Andrew, I truly loved the photo of the top of your head in my picture with Ben Zobrist, but I laughed out loud when I saw it. Some days I have wanted to pick your brain about the team, but never thought I would get a photo of the “brains” of the Baseball Operations group.
But what makes this such a great events is the milling of the Front Office guys and the players and the fans themselves just discussing everything from baseball to the chocolate fountain that is always the highlight of the event. I got lucky enough to be photographed last season at the fountain, but this year I kept an eye out for the camera. Just to see that light blue, dark blue and yellow chocolate flowing out of the top of the fountains crowned with a triangle of baseballs was tremendous.
And again, the food was one of the true stars of the evening. From the beautiful ladies handing me pot stickers or small wrapped tasty morsels, to the cute and personable bartenders, this was a night to celebrate everything Rays. From the hot stations in the front area of the party, to the temporary apps station piled upon the ticket counters, it was a feast made for a king. And if you did not try the roast beef, you missed out on some fantastic meat with a juicy and succulent au jus.
But the evening had to end sometime, and even as it neared 10:30 pm Garza was still laughing and holding court near the back game room. Gabe Kapler had left by then with his two boys, but he was the perfect doting Dad last night. By the time I left, or my card read only 100 minutes left on it, there was a light rain falling outside, but it felt great on the skin after all the sweating I did beating some unnamed pitcher on “Dance, Dance Revolution” score 1 for the old jock. I know I had a tremendous time, and the Group Sales guys and gals have to feel great about this event.
The sheer fact that so many people fit into that small place and left with smiles should be a great indicator of the event. And my ticket rep, Craig Champagne was there from start to finish. I have to tell you a wild story about that night concerning Craig. My game card did not work and I asked him if anyone else had that problem. Well, instead of making me plow my way back to the front, he took the card and return within minutes with a
new one for me to use.
A small minor flaw that night was quickly fixed and repaired like new by one of the Group Sales best guys. Seriously, me not playing shooting and alien-killing games might have put a damper on my night. Then I would have had to sample a few more intoxicating beverages, and enjoy the view. But in the end, I was physically exhausted and sore, was full of great food and spirits and did not want to leave. But as I walked to my car parked in the Centro Ybor Parking Garage I was already flipping through the memories and the sights of the night in my mind.
This season there have been some changes in the Season Ticket realms. Some things have been scaled back,some things have changed,but all in all,this event is still a benchmark of the dedication and the commitment of the Rays to the fans who attend so many baseball games. It was a great environment to see so many people you knew, and would get to know have a great time by themselves and with their kids. I know I am already with a red marker ready to circle the 2010 date to do it all again.
And he has his own sense and realities to his job as a major league manager. He even has a “fine” bowl in his office where guilty players, who are found guilty by the Kangaroo Court have to purchase a bottle of wine for the skipper with the paper divulging their fine. He is one of the only mangers in the major leagues that I know of who has his own wine rack and wine cooler in his office for post game tastings and special occasions. And you know that cooler got plenty of good use with champagne and fine spirits during the 2008 Postseason celebrations.
Held between the holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas, Maddon along with his Rays Coaches and front office staff have personally shopped, cooked and even served special dinners of spaghetti, sausage, pierogies, past and salad for over 1,000 people in the Salvation Army shelters in Bradenton, St. Petersburg, Tampa and Port Charlotte areas. One of the biggest food hits in this event is the special meatballs Maddon was taught how to make by his mother Beanie back in his home town of Hazelton, Pennsylvania.
The two immediately fostered a great bond emerged during that series between Maddon and Challis. Maddon has since been actively involved in fund raising for the foundation and in November 2008 when he was named winner of the Chuck Tanner Award as major league manager of the year, he had John’s father Scott, accept the award for him in Pittsburgh.
He get to share that honor with four other managers’ who have come one vote shy of perfection. He even gets to share the honor with a personal member of his staff, Rays Senior Advisor Don Zimmer, who in 1989 while managing the Chicago Cubs came up short while winning the award.
After that walk, Maddon replaced Balfour with reliever Dan Wheeler who got the last out to preserve the win for the Rays. The only other time it has happened in baseball history was on May 23, 1901 when Clark Griffin, then a player/manager for the Chicago White Sox intentionally walked future Hall of Fame member Nap Lajoie with no outs in the ninth inning with a 11-7 lead.
Some people forget he is only starting his fourth season with the club in 2009, and already has the most victories of any manager in Rays history. He passed Rays Inaugural manager Larry Rothchild on August 23,2008 with his 206th win in a game against the Chicago White Sox.
People forget he has had a taste of being a major league manager before he got his first full-time stint in the dugout in Tampa Bay. He first got a taste if it in 1998, when the Los Angeles Angels Manager Terry Collins got an 8-game suspension following a bench clearing brawl in Kansas City. He got an additional turn at the skipper post when Collins resigned on September 3, 1999 and he led the team the rest of the season to a 19-10 record.
But the most unique moment might have been when Maddon was called upon to replace John McNamara in 1996, who was replacing Rene Lachmann who resigned that August as skipper. McNamara had developed a deep vein thrombosis( blood clot) in his right calf. Maddon took the helm for 22 games, finishing with a 8-14 record.
Maddon did get another set of circumstances during his tenure as a Angels Bench Coach when current Angels Manager Mike Scioscia had to leave the team for a short period of time. Maddon lead the Angels to a 33-26 record during his stint with the squad.
As for his biking hobby, he is a very dedicated biker who puts in 60-100 miles every week. An unknown fact about Maddon in his youth is that he was recruited as a shortstop and pitcher for Lafayette College in Easton, Pa. He switched positions voluntarily to catcher midway through his freshman year. At Lafayette, he majored in economics and he will also receive an honorary degree this summer from his old Alma Mater.
It will be his second All-Star game. He previously got to attend when Sciocsia was the 2003 AL Manager. Maddon is expected to select two coaches from among the AL Managers, and then bring six of his own coaches, along with Bullpen Catcher Scott Cursi to round out his 2009 All-Star coaching staff.
Maddon has only been in Tampa Bay for a short time, but the teams and its fans have united around him to show support for his new ways of thinking about the sport of baseball. Along with the fan base uniting to support the manager with the formulation of the “Maddon’s Maniacs” group three seasons ago.
From speaking engagements to small snippets of chats with fans and media members the Tampa Bay community has gotten to know Maddon deeper and closer than he ever imagined. With the 2008 success and the renewed interest in the team during their recent seven game winning streak, the Rays might be the team to watch in the second half of the season.
You have to think sometimes that the new item out in the Tampa Bay Rays Bullpen has to be an hourglass. You know that simple time measuring device that is simply turned over the minute you want to restart the clock and readjust time. And with the recent problems in the Rays Bullpen, who do you even attempt to point the blame at when the ERA is bouncing up and down like a EKG chart.
I mean how can the most improved part of the Rays defensive alignment go so north and south in such a short time. To begin with, in April you knew that this was not the same unit that dominated the American League in 2008. You saw that in the type of spring a few of the guys who held it together for the Rays had coming into the season. Grant Balfour, one of the most improved Rays in 2008 went through the spring with an uncharacteristic 5.63 ERA in only 9 appearances.
In a total of only 8 innings he gave up 12 hits and 6 runs , but he did get 9 strikeouts. Can it really be true that in this 2009 season it might be feast or fathom for the Aussie? So far in 2009, he has not always looked like his old self, but he has shown improvements recently before his recent outing again put his name in the whispers of the fans.
On Saturday, Balfour gave up his first homer to a left-hander when Mark Teixeira took him yard during his one inning of work. He also set-up the run scored by Jorge Posada before he left after a pitching change. But then on May 30th, against the Minnesota Twins, Balfour was on fire as he threw 2.2 innings and dominated his 7 hitters he faced in that appearance.
It was the longest he has been on the mound since July 20, 2004 when he faced 3 innings of work against the Detroit Tigers when he was with the Twins. Balfour is also currently tied for 4th in the AL with only 15.4 percent of his inherited runners scoring on him. But is this the same Balfour this season that lead all MLB relievers last season with a 12.65 strikeouts per 9 innings ratio, which also ranked 9th best all-time among AL relievers. I mean last year he struck out 36.6 percent of the batter he faced, and his .143 opponents batting average was the best in the game.
Could a pitcher change that much in such a short period of time? Well, if you have watched the radar gun in the Trop. during his 2009 appearances, this question might be easy to answer. He has consistently been a few clicks below his former self, but was this done as a camouflage for his high and hard fastball by throwing some a bit under his usual blazing speed, or is there something else going on here.
It is understandable that a pitcher, especially a reliever can impose some tricky maneuvers to try and disguise either a flaw in his arsenal, or even try to hide a change in his delivery. Could Balfour be toying with some new angles and pitch placements and just be getting beat right now? Both could be happening, but they are beginning to happen at the wrong time for the Rays and their Bullpen.
Right now as the team is close to the .500 mark and about to reel in a few of the big fish in front of them in the A L East division, they need all hands on deck to eliminate any chance of defeat in the late innings. So far in 2009, the Bullpen has been a bit inconsistent at the wrong times.
And Balfour is not the only culprit that has been manhandled so far in 2009. One of the brightest emerging stars and most surprising pitchers in the Rays Bullpen last season was J P Howell. He was trying to make that difficult transition from being a starting pitcher to a reliever, and in essence fell right into a perfect flow in the transformation.
And his last 7 appearances this season made you think more and more of his 2008 glory. He has gone 7.1 innings with only 2-hits, 2-walks and 12 strikeouts to post a 0.00 ERA. He was beginning to show the same promise in 2009 that he used to dominate and establish himself in 2008. I mean the guy has been a iron man for the Rays this year appearing in 29 game so far this season. Is this number deceiving in that he has pitched great, but been the victim on the mound too much in 2009? Or could it be hiding another fact that his inherited runners are scoring on him.
Howell is also currently second in the AL in strikeouts by a reliever with 36 this season. So why is it that I picked these two guys to chat about if their numbers are so consistent for the Rays. Well, mainly it has seemed in the last two years, as these two guys go, so does the team. So when during Sunday’s game both of them suffered a bit of a one-game meltdown defensively, it brought about a certain element of worry.
Balfour threw only 19 pitches in the game on Sunday, but he also let the Yankees bully him for 2-hits and a walk to basically take the Rays out if the game. I am not going to throw him totally under the bus here, but he did have the steering wheel at the time of the accident. And that sort of pitching brainfart can not happen against a divisional foe who we are chasing to secure another divisional title.
This is the one team you do not want to give scoring chances to in the AL right now. I mean they are only a few runs behind the Rays as a run producing machine right now, and to give them any daylight is almost suicide right now.
Balfour came out to relieve Joe Nelson in the bottom of the eighth inning with a fresh slate, but he allowed 3 out of the 4 hitters to face him get on base. So Howell was brought on to clean up the mess with one out in the inning, and Balfour left Howell with Yankees on every base and a slim 2-run Rays lead. Howell did not make matters any better after he got a 1-1- count on Robinson Cano, he threw three straight balls to walk a run in and give the Yankees a chance by trimming the lead to 1-run.
It was at that moment that someone else actually committed the final blow to the Rays chances by not thinking quickly and clearly to prevent another run. Willy Aybar, who was again at third base as Evan Longoria rested his hamstring took a grounder at third base beyond the bag and sort of hesitated enough to lose the force out at home, and had to throw to first for the sure out in the inning.
It was only the second out, so Teixeira stepped on the plate to tie the game at 3-all. In review, it was shown that Aybar would have gotten Teixeira at home if he elected to go that direction instead of trying to get Posada at first base. He was also too far away from third base to even try and complete a double play to end the inning.
Hideki Matsui then hit another fielder’s choice to second base that got Posada for the second out if the inning, but it also scored Alex Rodriguez with the eventual game-winner. But the damage could have been worse as Howell walked Nick Swisher on 4 straight pitches to again put two men o
n for the Yankees. But he did get Melky Cabrera to strikeout for the last out if the inning and stem the bleeding.
But the damage was already done as the Yankees now had the lead 4-3. Howell threw 15 pitches in his 2/3rds of an inning, with only 6 going for strikes. Some people might say I am nitpicking right now into the recent loss to the Yankees, and I might agree with you. I am trying to find a reason for a loss to a divisional foe that might come back and kick us in the butt in September or October.
You bet your life I am trying to sort out if there is a problem with the match-up system right now that other teams might have finally figured out for the Rays. Matching up hitters to pitchers has been a new fangled invention for only, what 20 years or so and has seemed to work at times, but also blew up in a managers’ face too. Well, this one might have been more of an example of reading the charts more than you were trusting your pitchers.
Some one said to me on Twitter last night, “You go with your hot guys”, and the more I thought of that last night I began to agree with it. Nelson was looking good, and maybe the idea of using Randy Choate instead of Howell last night would have made a bit more sense. Not only because Choate has three saves this season and has only had to face 4 batters to earn them, but he has a bit of familiarity with the Yankees system having pitched here.
I might be important that he spent the first 7 years of his career in pinstripes, and even if some of the hitters were new to him, he did know the hitting styles of some of the Yankee long time guys, which is always a plus. So did the Rays match-up system doom them yesterday? I am not sure if I can give a definitive answer to that because the Balfour appearance might have been the only real question to the loss.
We can pint to Aybar’s mistake, but if Balfour had dominated the Yankee lineup, we would never have gotten to that situation in the game. The Rays have lived and died by Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s match-up system both this season and in 2008. But you have to agree that the system might have been flawed a bit last night in not using your hot reliever Choate or even extending Nelson a few more hitters into the eighth inning.
Of course this is truly speculation that either pitcher could have made a huge difference. But I guess I was in a New York frame of mind today. You know, the Yankee bloggers and newspaper reporters love to dish and bury the team at any moment based on their own observations during a contest. I might be guilty of the same today, but with a twist.
I hate to admit it, but I am seeing a trend in this year’s Bullpen that is going to spell more trouble in 2009. This is not the same unit as 2008 based on Balfour’s 5.68 ERA or Dan Wheeler’s 5.50 ERA. The Rays might be beginning to tread a bit of water right now with their late inning guys, but confidence and stamina will be the key right now.
The team got an unexpected rest during their last series at home, and it might have relaxed the guys a little too much this early in the season. The Rays Bullpen in 2009 has gone a combined 6-7, with 15 saves, but has a modest combined ERA of 3.89 this year over 171 innings. The Rays have surrendered 35 runs in the eighth inning this season, which is a great indicator of bad thing happening on the mound.
Combined with the 28 given up in the ninth inning, the Rays have surrendered 63 runs in only those two frames this year. That is not playoff quality Bullpen effort right now, but there is still ample time to fix the problem. Or maybe to consider just tossing the match-up idea away for a bit and letting your Bullpen gets its legs back under it and thrive again before it is too late……..just a thought.
Tony Dejak / AP
Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines the word explosion as: ” To burst or cause to burst violently and noisy.” Another definition shows it as:” To give forth a sudden and noisy outburst of emotions. ” Now that did sound like the last few days for the Tampa Bay Rays. Since their Friday night game against the Florida Marlins here on the road, the Tampa Bay Rays have scored an amazing 39 runs in 4 games.
That is just below a 10 run a game clip, which is unheard of for a team battling for the fourth spot in their division. But these Rays have always been about surprises and sudden bursts of emotion both this season and in 2008.
Coming into this game the Rays have scored a total of 273 runs. That is over 12 runs more than their closest rival, the Los Angeles Dodgers.
And with that kind of explosion of runs the Rays have won 7 out of their last 11 games and a rise towards the .500 mark for the first time since the team was 4-3 in April 2009. But the team is not just relying totally on their hits, no this squad also has a beady eye at the plate and currently have 200 walks this season, which trails those same Dodgers by 8, but they are the leader in the American League right now.
The team has used a good formula of strong base running along with a keen eye at the plate to turn their walks into legitimate scoring chances almost every inning. The Rays are also seeing more pitches per at bat than any other team in the MLB right now. But they are still trolling dangerously at the sub .500 or .500 mark for most of this explosive time. Why would the team leading the majors in RBI with 259 this year be struggling to hold onto wins? Can the explanation be simple, or is there a underlying problem here we do not see yet.
Heck this Rays team has gotten 44 free passes (walks) in the last 4 games. They have tied the season high mark of 9 strolls to first three times during this road trip. Carlos Pena has even walked in 11 consecutive games now, a new Rays record. Pena now has 35 walks this season and is only one shy of Toronto’s Marc Scutaro who is tops in the AL right now.
And worst part of it all is that this is the Rays second best record after 47 games in their young history. There has to be a reason for the fall from grace of this team. Can you really throw all the blame on the pitching staff, or are there team effort mistakes that are making this a season to remember with mixed emotions right now?
The same dictionary shows the meaning of Implosion to mean: ” To burst or collapse inward.” Is that the problem with the Rays right now? Are the competition bursting some bubbles and exposing some of the weaknesses we have currently in our pitching staff. The Rays pitching staff after the fourth inning is going through a state of internal implosion in their minds and on the mound right now. You have to admit in last night’s game, both teams did their own special takes on the word implosion.
Combined we saw over 19 walks in this game. Granted, these are the top two squads in the AL with walks, but it was downright annoying at times to see the strike zone get smaller at times during the contest. Not to be outdone by the walk total, both teams also combined to throw 422 pitches last night, which is tops in the majors this season by two squads. The Rays had their own share of 230 tosses in the game, which is the third highest total in team history.
The game was an abnormality for both teams, but you can not let the history of this ballpark come up and snag you either.The Rays have now lost 14 consecutive games in this ballpark. The steak is the longest consecutive streak in any ballpark for the Rays.You have to go back to the days of ex-Rays pitcher Seth McClung as a starter to find the last win in Progressive/Jacobs Field. That was back on September 28, 2005, when McClung beat Cliff Lee.
But the implosion, for the second game in a row by the Rays Bullpen is starting to signal a weakness in the Rays Way of relief pitching. I am not going to throw the Bullpen under the bus here totally, but someone has to take some of the past two games failures under their skin and boast this Bullpen back up again. Is the way they are being used the culprit, or is this Bullpen right now not as good as the 2008 model? I mean we did lose another cog in Brian Shouse to injury in Sundays game, but can one guy be the key to the implosion experienced during last night’s game. Some sort of change might be needed, but where do you look first?
But if you look at the players who have been inserted in both the 5-4 walk-off loss to the Marlins, and in this contest, they are the regular guys mixed with a few of the “newbies”. There is not a consistent plus or minus from any of the pitchers in either game to instill or conduct a massive witch hunt for a scapegoat here. At least in Sunday’s loss the team was battling back and forth throughout the game until the Marlins plated the winning run in the 11th inning. In that contest, the word implosion is not fitting to use. The Marlins only came back from a single run down to tie the game, not 9 runs like the Indians did to the Rays last night.
The implosion started with three quick singles to load the bases in the eight inning. The Rays defense did their part by getting a 6-4-3 double play and get two quick outs on the board. Considering the Indians got 4 hits in that inning and only scored 2 runs, it can be a minor “atta boy” for getting out without surrendering more. But the ninth inning is going to be the poster boy of implosive actions for this Bullpen for quite awhile.
Not only did the Rays use 4 pitchers to try and get three outs, but they used some of the tried and true veterans along with recent call-up Randy Choate. But then again, you had Choate and Thayer, the newbies in the Rays system as the first two guys on the mound in the bottom of the ninth inning. As a bookmark for both of these guys to separate what the rookies did and the veterans accomplished was a nice high,wide and not very handsome throw by Ried Brignac at short to make the inning drag on more for the Rays.
Willy Aybar could have been LeBron James and he could not have had enough reach to get that ball from Brignac. Funny we are in the town of LeBron this week, and more people have seen Cavaliers’ basketball this year than an Indians game, and their complexes are right next to each other. Anyways, The Rays bring on the first of two vets in Grant Balfour with one out and a 10-5 Rays lead. Hearing the Indians faithful beating the tom tom drum in the background Balfour get Mark DeRosa to line out to Evan Longoria.
Two outs and a 10-5 lead is still intact for the Rays. Tom tom gets louder and Ryan Garko cracks a 3-run shot to left field that clears the high wall with ea
se. Now the stream of runs are beginning to flow for the Indians. They have gotten to within two runs at this point, 10-8, but have only one out left to play with here. From that point on, Balfour gives up a walk to Asdrubal Cabrerra to start the run carousel all over again.
He is replaced by former St Louis Cardinals’ closer Jason Isringhausen who the Rays signed as protection in case of some Percival problems this season. Izzy comes to the mound with the determination of Job, but issues three straight walks to score another Indians run and get the lead to within one run 10-9. Then the Indians protagonist for the Rays, Victor Martinez is up to the plate for the second time in this inning. His first at bat ended with the first out of the inning on a pop out to Longoria. Izzy gets him to a 2-2 count before he hits a ball on the ground between B J Upton and Ben Zobrist, and neither player can get the ball before the two runs score and the Rays go down again in Cleveland.
This is a word that can have many meaning to many people. It will depend on the way you have been brought up what this word means to you. Different religions and cultures have many interpretations of this word. But I like the fourth definition in the Merriam-Webster dictionary : ” The fact or state of being dedicated or loyal “. I also think a great parallel word is fandom here.
I truly think this is the time we either go for gusto supporting this team, or you abandon the bandwagon and go about your life until football starts in August. Seriously here people, this is the time we can send a message to other fans around baseball. The Rays are having their second best season in team history after the 47 game mark, and people want this team to be comparable to 2008 (27-20). Look at that record. 27-20 last season is only 4 more wins than this season currently. Is that a good enough reason to bring out the “D(evil)” word again in referring to this team?
I hope not. Devotion and support of this team will be the hidden treasure in 2009. They told us last season if we had a winning season the fans will show up. Well, so far this season they have shown up in moderate numbers, but we still have huge teams coming in future home series that will spike the attendance marks higher and higher. This is not the time to even think of digging out those other jerseys to wear, or caps to adorn your head. That famous phrase, “When the going get tough, the tough get going” really needs to shine right now in Rays-land.
During last night’s game, a scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller, The Birds kept going through my mind. You might remember the scene where they were stuck in the gas station and the pumps were about to blow up and the anxious and terrified adults were looking for options, but none came to their minds. That is the same rationale that was floating through my head after watching seven innings of the Tampa Bay Rays scrambling for answers and coming up blank.
I mean I could have only had to watch the game from the first pitch just past 7 pm until American Idol began on Fox Television at 8 pm, and I would have seen all the Rays offense in that contest. I know there were more scoring chances in the game after that huge second inning, but the Rays did not execute or even seemed to have the ability to provide any additional show of consistent offense after that inning. The wildest play of the night had to be on a fly ball hit by Ben Zobrist and a wild game of “catch me if you can” in centerfield by Adam Jones and Ty Wiggington.
That play was a negative Web Gem all its own. Jones came in for the ball and Wiggington stood to his right to watch him glove the ball for an easy out. But instead we had a Three Stooges (Wiggy was playing the part of Curly Joe) routine where Jones misplayed the ball and it popped off his glove and smacked Wiggy in the chest and he had a chance to be the hero, but the ball finally fell to the grass. For his efforts, Jones did get an error on the play.
From the third inning on tonight the Rays only got five additional hits in the game. Unfortunately the Rays did provide the Orioles defense with 2 strikeouts and two double plays in those last 7 innings to secure their 14th win of the season. Missing were Akinora Iwamura and Pat Burrell from the Rays lineup tonight. Rays Manager Joe Maddon had decided to give Aki the night off since he has been working extra hard recently and did play extensively and looked a bit fatigued coming off the field after the Red Sox series. And Burrell has been battling a neck situation that had come and gone for the last week or so.
Considering this might have been a perfect match up for Burrell tonight, one has to wonder if the Burrell injury might be a little more than advertised by Maddon. And it is a shame he could not even use him as a pinch hitter in the ninth inning when George Sherrill, the leftie closer for the Orioles was on the mound. Both Sherrill and Hendrickson might have been great pitchers for Burrell to get some needed hit and confidence at the plate from in this game. Hopefully, we can see Burrell again at the plate in Wednesday nights contest.
Rays Did Have Offense..Early
As I stated before, the top of the second inning was a great display of what the Rays can do against a struggling pitcher. They seemed to be putting pressure on the jugular in that inning and never let Hendrickson get any reprieve until Carlos Pena finally flied out to Nick Markakis to end the inning. But the damage was already done by then by the Rays, who had a 5-1 lead at that point. In that inning Gabe Kapler hit a nice sacrifice fly to deep left field to score Willy Aybar, who had singled to lead-off the inning. It was Kapler’s first RBI as a Ray.
Dioner Navarro then hit a RBI-single up the middle to score Jason Bartlett, who had doubled down the third baseline earlier in the inning. B J Upton then walked to put men on the corners with Carl Crawford coming to the plate. Crawford, who had doubled in his first at bat, took a hanging breaking pitch and hit a 2-run double to deep left that Orioles leftfielder Felix Pie tried to dive for, but came up short. Evan Longoria then extended his RBI streak when he put a pitch off the out-of-town scoreboard in rightfield to drive in Crawford.
Carlos Pena then hit a long fly out to Nick Markakis to end the inning with the Rays now up 5-1. In that inning, the three outs recorded against the Rays were also hit balls. But a few great thing did happen for the Rays. Crawford moved past Aubrey Huff with his 2 RBI in the inning to become the All-Time Rays RBI Leader for the young franchise. And Longoria, after the Orioles announcers were debating if he could keep up his RBI pace, hit his ball off the scoreboard with the next pitch. Longoria is still the MLB RBI Leader, now with 45 on the year.
Sonny is No Longer Money
Man how it pains me to write that last line. I really like the lunch pail work ethic of Andy Sonnanstine. I can see that he has the drive and passion to go out there ever five days and throw until his heart gives out, or his arm falls off. But when is enough going to be enough here. At this time last year he had a 4-1 record, not the 2009 version that sports a 1-4 record with a inflated 7.27 ERA. Is there something wrong here, or am I just be too critical of a guy we had total faith in last season and might have a few struggles on the mound in 2009.
I am not a Pitching Coach, so my opinion is based solely on what I see and what I know about pitching, but there is something tell tale about him in 2009. I am not saying he is tipping his pitches, but something is tipping off the hitters more this season than in 2008. Or could it just be something a simple as he is not re-inventing himself a bit every start. Maybe the team Volvo has finally hit the point where team have scouted him so much they can even tel
l when he is exhaling now.
That does happen in the pitcher’s career, and they have to re-adjust or re-invent their pitching style to confuse and make hitter get back off their heels waiting for his breaking ball. I am not going to call for a change just yet because it might be fixable, but it will have to be fixed at this level and he can not go down to the minors and work on it. It either has to be done up here, or he might just be on his way out the door in Tampa Bay. Coming into the 2009 season, you looked at Sonnanstine as a consistent pitcher, but so far in 2009, that consistency is based more in the negative than positive so far.
Last night, he lasted only two innings, or 69 pitches before getting the hook with the Rays behind 7-5. Every one of the Orioles runs were attributed to Sonny last night. That second inning only paled in comparison to Hendrickson’s by two great plays by the Rays outfield. If not for those plays, the Orioles might have tacked on two additional runs. I know the minds in the Rays dugout are spinning right now trying to figure out what to do with this situation.
Like I mentioned before, it could be a simple mechanic adjustment like Scott Kazmir, or it just might be the end of Sonny’s run as a start with the Rays. Either way, the bleeding has to stop. The Rays had a killer inning in the top of the second and had no reason to have to stand out there and see all their hard work go bouncing by them in the bottom half of that inning. Change has to happen……….either good or bad, but it has to begin starting today for Sonny.
Wednesdays Wild Writs
**** The Rays got a huge boost from their outfielders’ in the bottom of the second inning. After Designated hitter Lou Montanez hit an RBI-double to right-centerfield. Greg Zaun hit a single to rightfield that Gabe Kapler quickly got a hold of and sent a rocket to Dioner Navarro at home to easily get Montanez trying to score. The ball was a one-hopper that came up to Navarro perfectly to secure Kapler’s third outfield assist of the year. That ties the part-timer with Carl Crawford for the team lead.
**** Every one was curious what had happened to the missing left fielder for the Orioles in the top of the fourth inning. It seems that during the bottom of the third inning after Pie had struck out looking against Grant Balfour, he reportedly was sent to the University of Maryland Hospital complaining of stomach discomfort and after a CT scan, he will be in the Orioles dugout for tonight’s game.
Orioles Manager Dave Trembley was not aware of the situation in the top of the fourth inning and went into the Oriole’s clubhouse looking for Pie, but had to send out Ty Wiggington to play left field for the inning. “We thought it was just a temporary thing, that he had a stomach ailment or virus, upset stomach,” Trembley said. “I went to the home plate umpire and told him and he said, ‘I’ll give you a couple minutes.’ And I told Wigginton to get ready and Pie couldn’t come back, so that’s why we had to make a change.”
Pie, who is hitting .180 right now has essentially lost his starting left field position to Lou Montanez after being brought over from the Chicago Cubs in the off season to shore up that spot in the outfield. Ex-Ray Joey Gathright was recently traded also from the Cubs to the Orioles for infield/outfielder Ryan Freel. Gathright does have major league experience, and could be a nice speedy option in left field for the Orioles to consider for the position.
**** I give Sunsports some credit for at least giving us the audio feed from Oriole Park at Camden Yards as they were trying to fix their video problems last night. We got to hear the pre-game voices of Brian Anderson and Dewayne Staats as they ran down the match-up and only missed Upton long drive to the 364 mark in centerfield, and Crawford’s ninth double of the season. We got back into the 20th Century right as Longoria began his first at bat of the night, which ended up being a liner to center field to move Crawford to third base.
**** After the game, Todd Kalas interviewed both Aubrey Huff and Kapler about their feelings on the recent demonstrations by players and pitchers in the league. Huff told Kalas that he had ” gotten several text messages”. I still thin it is a bit humorous that Huffdaddy had to wait two years before he got a chance to rub that fist pump back at Joba Chamberlain before Sunday;s 3-run homer. But it was Kapler’s comments that showed the best representation of what most of the league might be thinking on this subject:
“Personally,my standpoint is is that if the fans enjoy it. And it is good for all of us, and as long as it is not, you know, completely over the top and out of line, I think that anything that makes puts fans in the seats, ends up paying all of our salaries. media folks included, So I do not mind seeing a little bit of showboat or something good roots out there.”
I think Kapler has a great grasp of this whole situation having played with the Boston Red Sox for several seasons, then taking off for the Japanese League, which views cheering and also displays of showmanship completely different than in the United States. Then he comes back to the MLB and managed in the minor leagues for a year before deciding in 2008 he still had the desire and passion to play the game.
Since Monday was the Rays first off day since their “fly-out” day on April 20th, I decided to just cruise the Internet looking for some great news to bring up for everyone to enjoy. But there are also over 22 teams that got to rest,relax and recharge last night so they can bring the heat tonight as everyone again hit the dirt. So with last night’s absence of baseball, I sat back and watched ” The Shawshank Redemption” for the first time from beginning to end until last night. I loved it, then of course I popped in “For the Love of the Game” as a sweet dessert. So here we go with some tidbits and morsels I found dancing in my mind like sugarplums and juicy bits on the www’s of the Internet.
Cowbell Gone Wild
I have to get this off my chest. I have seen this “member” of the Rays fan base go from being an obnoxious, arrogant mis-representation of the Rays fans to becoming someone who was more laid-back and might have finally considered that his heckling sprinkled with the art of smart heckling might be the way to promote himself and the Rays. But when I saw a recent Twitter message with an attached video from the Cowbell Kid, I began to fear the worse. He was at the Phillies game and heckling that night’s starter Brett Myers from the grandstands. I seriously thought the guy might be just toying with Myers and just wanted to see if he could get his goat a bit. But what I heard on the video , well I will let you form your own opinions on the subject here.
( I want to state here that the written text added to this video might be offensive to some people. If vulgar language, or the written presentation of vulgar language offends you, please do not click this video. The author of this blog does not condone such behavior).
I have heckled players for their on-the-field performance, but I have never used a personal family event as fodder for demeaning a player in front of his home fans. That is right, The Cowbell Kid was situated in the outfield seats of Citizen Bank Park in Philadelphia before the Phillies versus Braves game. I did however notice he was wearing a Rays cap and warm-up, but no big Marge Simpson wig at that game. What is even more surprising is I did not hear a single comment to him from the tough Phillies fans about his rants to Myers.
I am not on board with going after a player in his home stadium where you are considered a guest and not a regular. I do not know what might have happened after the video camera was turned off, but I know what I would have said or done at the moment. But maybe I am the naive one in that people do it all the time during the games. But if you want to be a “face” in the stands, and want to have any type of regional or national recognition shouldn’t you do it with class.
Umpires Boot 4-legged Team Employee
It seems that during a recent Southern Atlantic League game, the Greensboro Grasshoppers had a bit of a situation on their hands. No, the two team Grasshopper mascots were not thrown out for antics during the game, but one of their four-legged friends did suffer from the wrath of the umpires. It has been the custom with the team to send a black Labrador named Master Yogi Berra into centerfield to retrieve balls from the players warming up between innings.
But on April 23rd, the night did not go as planned for the great one. Berra did his unusual motion of going out into the outfield, but on his way back to the dugout with the ball, he decided to stop and re-water the pitchers mound area. And for his action that were deemed detrimental to the game, he was rung up by Home Plate Umpire Jason Hutchings and exiled to the locker room for the rest of the game. After the game the team put Berra on their team injury reports as suffering from a stomach virus and was day-to-day.
The game was delayed a few minutes as Grounds Crew put some soil down to retain the liquids and to be sure no more surprises might have been left by Berra before his exit. But that was not the only delay in this game as Umpire Koyu Inoue was also sent to the hospital after he was hit by a foul ball during the contest. The game was delayed for 47 minutes while Inoue was attended to. When it resumed, base umpire Jason Hutchings moved behind the plate. Following protocol, each team selected one player – pitcher Brandon Todd for Greensboro and pitcher Adam Jorgenson for Asheville – to make the calls on the bases the remainder of the game
Hot Rod have a Bear-able Mascot
Most people might not aware of the fact that the Tampa Bay Rays have now gained the Bowling Green Hot Rods as their minor league squad in the Southern Atlantic League’s Southern division. The team is currently 16-15 , and are only 2 games out of the division lead. But with the new team is the aspect of finding the perfect mascot. With an auto theme, you might think a personable mechanic or a grease monkey might be the perfect fit. But the Hot Rods went another direction and searched the surrounding mountains and caves until they found Axle.
Axle is a baseball lovin’ bear and hot rod enthusiast who is equally at home on the ball field or under the hood of a car. He brings a high level of energy designed to get Hot Rods fans and players pumped up during Hot Rods home games. When he’s not leading cheers from the top of the dugouts, Axle enjoys making kids smile and working on his classic car collection. He also enjoys fishing in the Barren River and spending time at his home in one of South Central Kentucky’s numerous caves, the identity of which must be kept a secret due to his large paparazzi following.
Is this mimicking Stuff Getting out of Hand?
I made a comment in my blog yesterday about the fact that I was glad that Orioles hitter Aubrey Huff gave Yankee pitcher Joba Chamberlain a dose of his own medicine back when he hit his 3-run shot against him on Sunday. I mean people are varied opinions on the on-the-mound antics of MLB relievers this season. We all know the history of Chamberlain showing outward emotion on saves and great strikeouts to end tense innings. But is it all starting to get to be more of an act than a true form of emotion.
I mean since October I have seen Phillies closer Brad Lidge try and re-produce the famous Tug McGraw “W” sit-down in front of the mound after winning the World Series. Then the Rays Grant Balfour get into the head of former White Sox batter Orlando Caberra so much that when Balfour complained and yelled on the mound he thought it was directed to him. Has the art of outward expression maybe gotten a bit to animated on the mounds,or am I just imagining it all.
Then we get word of a recent San Francisco Giants/ L A Dodger brouhaha where usual cool calm and collected Casey Blake is seen on the bench making a mock mimic of Giants closer Brian Wilson’s usual save celebration. What is so upsetting about this one is that Blake has seen this motion by Wilson before and has not deemed it necessary to mimic or play with Wilson’s head. After Blake hit a 12th inning homer off Wilson during his teams 7-5 loss to the Giants, he is caught on camera on the bench making a reference to Wilson’s personal tribute to his faith and late father that he exhibits after every save.
Made even worse was the fact that Wilson did not even know about the event until he got off the field and went to his locker. there he found a photo on his cellphone of the Blake mimic and it sent the closer into an outrage. It was said that the closer got so infuriated with the display by Blake that team mates had to calm him down immediately before the situation got out of hand. You know this one episode is going to play out again sometime in 2009. I hope that before these two meet again during a gem either Blake or Wilson can get some closure to the event before someone gets knocked on their butt by a high inside pitch or two.
People complain that most of these antics on the mound are done for the media and not for the team unity. I understand getting the perfect picture of Jonathan Papelbon after a great save against the Rays on Sunday night, but does he have to do it in two-different directions to make sure they get the frontal view of the action. Most people might not have saw that since the usual thing is for people to either change the channel or do other things right after that, but I saw it and it did tick me off for a few minutes.
But I also know that baseball is not only about playing the game right now, it is about a packaged set of entertainment for the fans and viewing audience. Did Papelbon or even Chamberlain change their post-game celebrations to promote the team, or themselves. I am not asking that emotional displays get tossed, or even shielded. I am just wondering if most of that outward display can be used to better good than to give a last minute whammy or punch in the gut to another team.
I know we have not seen the last of these displays, but can both batters and pitchers please be sure to get the right message out before some 11-year old thinks it is right to yell at the opposing team after striking out the side in a Little League game. Sometimes the big guys on the mound forget about the smaller eyes that idolize and want to duplicate their hero’s actions and reactions. I am not asking for a change of their collective personalities or antics. Just make sure it is something you can be proud of, and would not mind seeing your own kids do sometimes in the future.
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
Emotions Ruled the Game
From even before the first pitch tonight, the Boston Red Sox had a distinctive bonus in the game. The emotion and the air held a faint bit of Dom DiMaggio in it. Here was a guy who was the lesser famous of the three center fielders who graced the name DiMaggio, but he played his entire career in Boston from 1940-1953. the Red Sox paid homage to their fallen comrade in the several ways in this game, but it was the emotions of the night that carried this team to their 7-3 win.
Red Sox Head Grounds keeper Dave Mellor even put his own touches on the pitch for the contest. Out in centerfield, he had cut into the green grass of Fenway Park and “7″ surrounded by a circle to commemorate the passing of this Red Sox legend. Also there was a awesome huge black and white reproduction picture of Dom DiMaggio that was attached high above the Green Monster in leftfield to show respect for one of their own. And this night from the first guest into the park until the last security guard left tonight, the magic of the night was not wasted by the Red Sox on the field.
When they had their stellar sixth inning rally, for the second night in a row, even the Rays bench had to know that invisible powers were upon them tonight. For no matter what Rays starter James Shields could have done at that point, the emotions of the night were beginning to overtake this game. The Red Sox did not hit that magical seventh run in that sixth inning, but the five runs scored in that inning only set up the additional two scored in the bottom of the eighth inning to cement the 7 runs needed to win the game.
But the Rays can take solace that they did not stand a chance against the spirits tonight. That even as I watched at home I knew the outcome of the game from that sixth inning on. It had everything to do with the vast history of the franchise, and the love of one of their heroes. DiMaggio did not have the celebrity wife, or play for the World Champs in pinstripes, but what he did have was a great career where he hit .300 four times in his career and his 1338 games in centerfield for Boston ranked eighth all-time in the American League annuals. How and he also had a hitting streak of his own, which spanned 34 games, and is still a record to be broken in Boston lore. Even hitting streaks seemed to run in the DiMaggio families bloodlines.
Crawford Hits for the Cycle ( In a Way)
One of the best ways to illustrate the current events of Carl Crawford is to look at his last at bat in the Yankee game on Thursday night, and his first three during last night Red Sox contest. Match those four at bats together, and C.C. has a cycle. I know it is a bit far fetched, and it is not going to be recognized as such in the newspapers or any online account, but the guy is beginning to feel like a new hitter at the plate.
The cycle babble just shows that right now Crawford is seeing balls at the plate like beach balls. In his last 19 games, Crawford is 17 for 42, or a .285 average. In those last 10 games, only once has he not gotten a single hit in a contest, and that was in Monday’s game against the Baltimore Orioles at Tropicana Field ( He went 0-4). With his stealing of second base in the first inning, he is currently 23 for 23 this season, which is a Rays club record, and he is only one away from the current longest active major league mark currently held by Pirates outfielder Nate McLouth (24).
And that is not the only thing going for Crawford right now. He also leads the majors in infield hits with 11 this season. He only had 7 in 2008. In his last 16 games, he is currently hitting . 397, with 17 stolen bases and 11 walks. He has a total of 10 steals against just the Red Sox in 2009. His career stolen base percentage of 83.4 ranks first in active players, first in the American League, and is third in MLB history behind Tim Raines ( 84.7 %) and Eric Davis ( 84.4 %). To say we are not witnessing history on the part of Crawford would be insane. The guy is doing everything asked of him by Rays Manager Joe Maddon and his staff in 2009.
Shields Just Not on Tonight
Some night you just seem to have your magical stuff on the mound, and some night it just disappears as fast as it shows up for you. Last night Jame Shield was taking the mound for his 11th career start against the Red Sox. Coming into the contest, it seemed that the Red Sox had his number in Fenway Park. For his career he is now 0-5 in this historic park in his five starts. He seemed to be on early in the night by giving up only three hits in the first three innings, but started to pay the price in the fourth inning when the Red Sox torched him for two straight singles. Neither of those runners scored and he cruised until the bottom of the sixth inning with no real problems.
In that inning, the Red Sox began to exert some damage on Shields first by a hit back towards Shields by Dustin Pedroia that he deflected to the left of second base man Akinora Iwamura for a lead-off infield hit. Then David Ortiz walked on 7-pitches. Then Shields left up a curveball to Jason Bay that he deposited over the Green Monster for a 3-run shot to tie the score at 3-all. You could see that Shields was visually shaken by the bad pitch to Bay as he was screaming at the ground and pounding the resin bag as Bay rounded the bases. But that would not be the end of the horror for Shields tonight.
Mike Lowell then got a double off the facing of the Green Monster to extend the pain for Shields. Then J D Drew hit a first pitch 2-run home run to right into the Rays Bullpen to stake the Red Sox to a 5-3 lead in the game. It was the first time all night that the Red Sox had any offensive power against Shields. Masking the event was the eerie feeling of Deja Vu after the Red Sox scored 12 runs the night be
fore against the Cleveland Indians before posting the first out of the inning. Luckily for Shields and the Rays, the next batter, Jeff Bailey struck out. Shields then retired 3 of the next four batters to get out of the inning.
But the damage was done for the night. Shields did not come back out for the seventh inning as Rays Manager Joe Maddon instead brought in Rays reliever Grant Balfour. For the night, Shields threw 106 pitches in his 6 innings of work. He gave up a total of ten hits and 5 runs to boost his ERA to 4.02 this year. Coming into the game Shields wanted to buck his recent history against the Red Sox and get a win tonight. It was not in the cards for Shields, and he will have to wait another day to avenge this loss, his third of the season.
Nothing is terribly wrong with Shields right now, he is just not getting the quality pitches he needs to defeat his arch nemesis wearing those Red Sox jerseys. He is not out of control and issuing an odd number of walks or even not getting strikeouts against the Red Sox. But they are hitting timely and consecutive hits off him that lead to runs. This is just a mild roadblock for Shields, and he will find a way to finally take down the Red Sox in Fenway. But for right now, the Red Sox have been feasting on him and only Shields can change that outcome, hopefully sometime between September 11-13th, when the Rays again come into Fenway to play Boston.
**** Prior to the game, the Rays recieved some bad news as Shawn Riggans, who is with the Montgomery Biscuits for a rehab assignment felt some discomfort in his throwing shoulder and will go to see Dr. James Andrews in nearby Birmingham, Alabama on Monday to see if he might have re injured himself. The Rays picking up Michel Hernandez late last season from the Pittsburgh Pirates is looking more and more like a steal as Riggans has been on and off the injured list since the last part of 2008 until this recent setback. During that time, Hernandez has come in and hit .333 for the Rays and been a great asset behind the plate for the team.
**** There were several trade made during the day concerning both current and former Rays that could effect the Rays down the road. The first was the swap by the Chicago Cubs and the Baltimore Orioles in ex-Rays Joey Gathright and Ryan Freel. The players were swapped evenly with the Orioles maybe getting the better end of the deal. Gathright has tremendous speed and is a great utility outfielder. We will get our first chance to again see Gathright play later this week when the Rays go to Baltimore for two games on May 12 and 13th.
**** Another trade involved a play currently playing at the Ray Triple-A team the Durham Bulls. Highly liked infielder Adam Kennedy was traded to the Oakland A’s for a player to be named later. This is a huge plus for the A’s right now as they are experiencing a huge rash of infield injuries to Nomar Garciaparra, Eric Chavez and Mark Ellis. Kennedy will quickly have to adjust to his new team mates as he might be in the lineup right off the plane. The A’s are currently in Oakland with a series against the Toronto Blue Jays. It is reported that Kennedy will be in the lineup for the 1:05 pm game today.
**** In their last 8 games, the Rays offensive outburst has had some awesome results both in the standing and improving the Rays scoring punch. they have gone from averaging 4.5 runs a game to a more robust 6.5 runs per game. In that span the team has gone 6-2, with 13 home runs, 19 stolen bases and 19 doubles. the offensive explosion is coming at the right time as the Rays could move towards the .500 mark during this road trip.