Results tagged ‘ Grant Balfour ’

My Insight into Joe Maddon

 


Mike Carlson / AP

 

Since the Rays began their trip towards a high flying destiny in 2008, most of the old school baseball world outside of Tampa Bay, or even outside the immediate California area around Anaheim had never really gotten to know Rays Manager Joe Maddon. And to explore into his massive baseball past is such a pleasure. Most fans here in Tampa Bay know of his long devotion to road cycling treks that he does both here and when the Rays take their show on the road. Maddon even takes along his personal bike to Rays away games to explore some of the historic and scenic venues in those cities.

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.




Some of Maddon’s activities outside of the season might surprise some fans outside of Tampa Bay. But outside of the bay area, most fans do not get to know Maddon, the humanitarian. Maddon is entering his 35th season in professional baseball, and 16 of those years has been at the major league level. But few people know of the community efforts and the compassion this man has for his new adopted community. One of the most visual and celebrated efforts of his generosity for giving back to Tampa Bay is his annual “Thanks-mas” celebration the last three seasons.

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.




Another humanitarian/charitable effort held close to Maddon’s heart is the John Challis Courage for Life Foundation. Maddon even wore a special bracelet during the 2008 postseason commemorating this fine mans courage while battling cancer. If anyone has ever taken a step into Maddon’s office, they will see a jersey case with one of the jerseys signed by Challis before he passed away at the age of 18 last August. Challis, a native of Beaver County in Pennsylvania met Maddon during the 2008 InterLeague series when the team went to Pittsburgh to play the Pirates.

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.



Another element of Maddon that most people in Tampa Bay do not even want to think about is the fact that he was up for the job in Boston at the same time as Terry Francona, and if things had gone differently, the Rays never would have gained his services, but would have had to plot against Maddon instead of with him. When Maddon won the 2008 BBWAA American League Manager of the Year award, he was only one second place vote shy of becoming only the first AL or NL manager to ever get a unanimous selection for the award.

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.





But more than ever people are starting to remember the charismatic manager for other things besides his vocabulary and situational quotes. On August 17, 2008, while playing the Texas Rangers in Arlington, he became the first AL manager in 107 years to order an intentional walk with the bases loaded. Maddon had reliever Grant Balfour walk former Rays prospect Josh Hamilton with 2-outs in the bottom of the ninth inning with the Rays winning 7-3 at the time.

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.




But that just goes to show you how he values the past of baseball and brings it alive today in 2009. Some of his current methods come from a meshing of old baseball thought and current cerebral instincts to go “outside-the-box” with the Rays and it sometimes questions baseball logic. And that is one of the things that makes him so refreshing to some people among baseball. His fond admiration for past things that have worked, like the shift for left-handed batters, or the five-player infield have made some other people within baseball begin to question some of our current methods and actions.


www.tbo.com

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.



AP file photo/unknown



But on the personal side of the Rays skipper, Maddon has many fantastic hobby and interests that generally fall outside the realm of most of his fellow managers. He has been a guest at a White House dinner in January 2009 held by former President George W. Bush. And following his marriage after the 2008 season, Maddon took a small adventure throughout Europe with his new bride and at one point during the honeymoon he even found a Rays fan in a train station Italy.

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.




But one of the biggest thrills of his life might still be on the horizon when he takes off after the last Rays game this Sunday and heads to the All-Star game in St. Louis, Missouri. As the American League skipper in the World Series, he will get to take the helm in this years All-Star game coaching the superstars of the American League. Fan Voting for his team will end on Thursday, which is also an off day for the Rays. He will be only the second coach to ever appear in an All-Star game with Rothchild being the first when he was selected in 2002 by Joe Torre.

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.

Rays Bullpen Struggling

 


Kathy Willens / AP

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. 


Getty Images

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.


Ted S Warren / AP

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.



Steve Nesius / AP

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.

 

Explosion, Implosion, Devotion

 


Tony Dejak / AP

EXPLOSION


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?


Tony Dejak / AP

Implosion

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.


Lynn Sladsky / AP

DEVOTION

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.

The last two game have been disappointing and miserable during our Memorial Day weekend, but it is only the cusp of the season to come for the Rays. People use this as a benchmark for if you will be successful the rest of the season. Well, Toronto has finally fallen from the top of the grid, and the Rays are sitting only one game below .500 right now. Just to give you some insight, at this point in the season in 2007, we were 19-28, or 4 games worse than 2009. This is the time to rally and show we can beat those Indians in their stadium.

We will send the most consistent of our pitchers to the mound tonight to try and spark the Rays and demolish the Indians hold on the Rays.  With a win tonight, we will still be 4 games off the 2008 pace, but baby steps will get us back in line soon enough to again take on the top of the division.  I will leave you with a few words from the modern baseball philosopher Bruce Springsteen who said, : “Some guys they just give up living, others start dying little by little piece by piece, some guys come home from work and wash up, and go racing in the streets.”

Play Ball!

Bird is the Word Last night

 

                Orioles 7,      Rays 5

           
                   Mike Ricigliano/www.baltimoresun.com

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.

 
Nick Wass / AP

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.

               
                Nick Wass / AP

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.


Nick Wass / AP

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.

The second outfield assist came from centerfield as B J Upton got Cesar Izturis and second base for his first outfield assist of the year. Upton, who was the Rays leader in outfield assists in 2008 with 12 assists. This play, along with Kapler’s earlier assist in the same inning, kept two more runs from scoring for the Orioles in the second inning.

**** 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.

Ramblings, Rants, and Raves, Oh My!

 


               
                Verbamatedrinker@Flickr.com
             

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.

         
          Blog.new-record.com


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



www.bowlinggreenhotrods.com


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.

                   
                    www.yahoo.sports.com


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.


Michael Dwyer / AP

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.

Classic Rays versus Red Sox Game

 

               Red Sox 4,       Rays 3


Michael Dwyer / AP

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.


Michael Dwyer / AP

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.

So we leave the confines of Fenway with out first losing series of the year against the Red Sox.  But this time, even the Red Sox Nation have to agree that this series was one of the best in the history of these two divisional rivals. Not just for the Rays huge win on Sat., but for the close games that could have gone either way with a few breaks. The best thing about this ever growing rivalry is that it is not going to die down anytime soon. Both teams are loaded in the minors, and they both will find incredible ways to beat the other team today, tomorrow and in the immediate future.


Michael Dwyer / AP

De-Fense, De-Fense

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.


www.tbo.com

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
.

Red Sox Post “7” on Rays in Win for Dom

 

  Red Sox 7,     Rays 3

         
          Charles Krupa / AP

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.


Charles Krupa / AP

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.


Charles Krupa / AP

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.


Charles Krupa / AP

Saturday Scribbles

**** 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.

Rays take first loss to Red Sox at Home




 
Red Sox 10, Rays 6


Steve Nesius / AP

Butterfly Balls and Odd Plays

To Say that last night’s game had an odd feel to it might seem like I am making excuses for the type of play. But come on people, when is the last time you saw a guy trying to steal second base and basically takes himself out half way to the base? I felt bad for former Ray Nick Green for about 20 seconds on that play before I was rolling in the aisle about it. I mean the poor guy was trying to steal second base off Dioner Navarro, which is hard enough, but he seemed to stumble out of the gate and finally came face first into the soft clay of the Trop’s infield before trying to save some face and get back to first to keep from making an out.

I know the throw from Rays catcher Navarro did get there a few seconds later, but got to admit he was probably laughing so hard he almost forgot to throw the ball. That bit of impromptu comedy was only a small slice of some of the antics last night. Besides the usual Boston showers going on in the stands ( beer throwing), the game had an interesting feel to it. You know that bringing in a pitcher like knuckleballer Tim Wakefield can put a crimp in almost anyone’s game. The way that ball flutters and dances at times, it can even make a .368 hitter look a bit foolish. But thank goodness no one was spinning in their shoes and falling down trying to catch up to the multi-directional pitch.

But then their was the throw in by Carl Crawford later in the game as Dustin Pedroia tagged up at second base. Crawford, who is not always known for his swift and accurate throwing ability somehow threaded the needle and got a nice hard throw to Evan Longoria to try and get Pedroia at third base. The odd part to it is that the throw did not make it into Longoria’s mitt, but got deposited right into the cup region of Pedroia, who was visibly shaken by the throw. We know it was not an intentional thing, but the odd timing of this play on the Red Sox team crybaby was a bit humorous at the time. And for that reason, it is always great to wear a cup if you play baseball. Another incident that caught me laughing was the fact that Tim Wakefield hit Dioner Navarro in the fifth inning with a knuckleball. You could see Navarro at the plate break a huge smile knowing that it is not only odd, but pretty funny to have a butterfly ball peg you. Thank goodness it was not a 76 mph curve or a 86 mph fastball, but a 46 mph flutter ball.  But that was not the only hit batter in the game that made you wonder.

In the seventh inning, with two men on base, Rays reliever Brian Shouse was trying to get David Ortiz with the count 3-2 on him and Shouse plucked the big guy with a pitch in the hip region. I mean if we are going to just walk the guy, let’s intentionally walk him like we did the previous batter Pedroia before Ortiz came to the plate. So basically the Rays used 6 pitches to walk Ortiz. But the wild part is that Shouse had him 0-2 before he issued 3 straight balls outside the strike zone. Last night had a wild vibe all around the Trop., but these events really made you wonder at times.  But there were also wild things going on in the stands last night. One spectator was watching a foul ball come towards him and did not even put his hands up to ward off the ball. Instead, he got plucked right in the cheek and it opened a good 10 inch gash on his cheek that might need stitches to close the wound.

             
               Steve Nesius / AP

Rays Bats  Went Silent


If Boston Manager Terry Francona was trying to slow down the Rays offense last night, he used the perfect weapon to get the Rays to take some time to adjust and then begin to again get hits off his starting pitching. Tim Wakefield, with his flutterball, effectively shut down the Rays offense for bits and pieces of this game without letting them string together any scoring opportunities like they had the previous two games.  Tampa Bay was able to pop a run across the plate after Evan Longoria hit a ball to the opposite field in right that fell only two feet from becoming his next home run. the ball hit on the green top to the outfield wall and bounced back into the playing area for a double.

Carlos Pena then hit a RBI single to right-center field that scored Longoria, and it almost looked like Francona’s idea was about to back-fire on him. But the Rays bats went silent after that moment and between the rest of the first inning until the fourth, the Rays only came away with a Carl Crawford single to right. Crawford then moved up on a stolen base to put himself into scoring position.  Leading off the top of the fourth inning, Pena got a hold of one of Wakefield’s mistakes and deposited it just inside the right field foul pole for his 11th home run. But that was the last hint of offense the Rays would have in the fourth inning.

In the fifth inning, when Wakefield had gone through the order a few times, the rays began to make some moves towards evening the score. After Gabe Kapler struck out,  Navarro got hit by a pitch after going 3-2 against Wakefield.  B J Upton then got three straight balls and finally gained a walk  to put two men on with one out in the inning.  Then Boston catcher George Kottaras had his first passed ball of the night to put both men in scoring position. Longoria then hit a liner down the left field line into the corner and both Navarro and Upton came in to score for the Rays.  Pena then got on base after four straight balls and put two men on base again for the Rays with two outs in the inning.  Pat Burrell then hit a double to left that scored Longoria and moved Pena to third base.  Ben Zobrist then struck out to end the inning with the Rays trailing by one, 6-5.

That would be the end of the Rays offensive strikes until the bottom of the ninth inning with the team behind 10-5 at the moment. Hedecki Okajima had relieved Wakefield after five innings and 101 pitches on the night. He immediately gave up two hits to Akinora Iwamura and Kapler. After Navarro hit a sacrifice bunt to move both men into scoring position, they got stranded there after the Rays made
two quick outs to get Okajima out of the inning. But the Rays did get more chances in the seventh inning when Pena walked and  Zorbrist got an infield single to put Pena into scoring position.  Pena went to third base on a throwing error by Nick Green, but got stranded after Iwamura struck out swinging to end the inning.

]In the bottom of the ninth inning, Takahashi Saito came in for the Red Sox to close out the game. After a 12 pitch at bat, Crawford singled into  center to lead-off the final inning. After Longoria struck out, Crawford moved over to second base on defensive indifference and then took third base on Pena’s grounder up the first base line. On the third pitch, Burrell hit a RBI single to right-center to score Crawford and make the score 10-6. But then Zobrist struck out swinging to end the Rays rally and give the Red Sox their first win of the home series. In tonight’s game, Wakefield got the victory, which was also his 20th win in his career against the Rays. He is the all-time opponent record holder, with Mike Mussina formerly of the Yankees in second with 15 victories.

       
       
Steve Nesius / AP

Red Sox Bats were wild tonight

Rays starter Jeff Niemann came into the game  after several impressive outing since his first start debacle in Baltimore. There was hope that he could hold the Red Sox hitters at bay enough to let the team get a few early runs and set the tone tonight. But from the first batter on tonight, it did not seem to be Niemann’s night. The  tall rightie gave up an early walk to Dustin Pedroia, and then Hit Kevin Youkilis with the first pitch of the at bat. That gave the Red Sox two early base runners in the inning.  J D Drew then hit a strong double to right to score both Pedroia and Youkilis and stake the Red Sox to a 2-0 lead.

Mike Lowell lead-off the second inning with a single to center, and Kottaras then hit an RBI double to  Nick Green then hit an infield single to Iwamura that plated both Lowell and Kottaras and give the Red Sox a 4-1 lead.  Jacoby Ellsbury then hit a ball to Iwamura that he tried to get the speedy runner, but threw the ball past Pena for an error. Pedroia then hit an RBI single to right that scored Ellsbury, and moved to second on Kapler’s bad throw.  That put the Red Sox up 5-1 at the time. Then in the third inning, Jason Bay got an infield single to Jason Bartlett that was deep in the shortstop hole and he could not get Bay in time for the out.  Bay then stole second base, and moved over on Niemann’s wild pitch to put himself in scoring position at third base. Green then hit an RBI single to center to plate Bay and increase the Red Sox lead to 6-1.

The Red Sox bast went silent a bit until the fifth inning when Grant Balfour relieved Niemann at the beginning of the inning.  After Green struck out, Ellsbury reached on a infield single to third base that was put down between Balfour and Longoria, and he could not make the play and get the speedy Red Sox outfielder.  Ellsbury the stole both second and third, and Balfour ended up walking Pedroia. After David Ortiz ended up walking after a 10-pitch at bat, Brian Shouse came in to relieve Balfour in the game. Youkilis ended up with an RBI double to left that scored Ellsbury and Pedroia and raise the Red Sox lead to 8-5.

In the seventh inning, Lowell ended up hitting a solo shot on the third pitch from Shouse to up the score to 9-5 Boston. Green then doubled to deep right field and moved to third on Ellsbury bouncer to Shouse.  The Rays then Intentionally Walked Pedroia to set up a leftie-leftie situation with Ortiz. After getting him to a 3-2 count, Shouse hit him in the right hip with a pitch to load the bases. Youkilis then got another walk to score a run without even taking the bat off his shoulder and put the Rays in a 10-5 hole.  Jeff Nelson then came in to relieve Shouse and got Drew to pop-out to end the inning. That ended the Red Sox offense for the night as the Rays sent down the Red Sox 1-2-3 in the next two innings.

 

 

For the game, Neimann did not seem to be able to handle the Red Sox base runners and they stole their bases at will while the tall righties was trying to adjust and get a faster delivery to the plate. This is one of the thing that a pitcher has to learn to become more adapt at during their first few starts in the league. Teams get a flow and ebb from them and can time their deliveries to the plate and make their base stealing calls accordingly. Niemann is very uncomfortable out of the stretch, and it shows in his on-the-mound mannerisms. For him to be able to go to the next level, he is going to have to incorporate some side-steps and practice more effective moves to first and third base to begin to stop the base runners from taking advantage of him. When he makes these adjustments and a few guys get caught  stealing by Navarro, then teams will have to re-evaluate their  signals and come up with another alternative.

 

 

 

Rays Catch No Breaks in Loss

 

 
                     White Sox 3,           Rays 2

 

 

 

 
 

The Dye was Cast

 
I hate to admit it when the umpires get a play right, but the circumstances surrounding their logic and reasoning last night boggled the mind. In the sixth inning last night with Dye at the plate, he hit a ball that seemed to go fair and then Aybar picked it up deep in the hole and threw to first base for a easy put out. At no time did the Third Base Umpire Gerry Davis or Home Plate Umpire Brian Gorman signal a foul ball. It was not until Dye and White Sox Manager Ozzie Guillen both started to act like a spoiled children that Gorman even considered the play by having a umpire conference just off the pitching mound.
 
 

During that time, I saw Rays pitcher Jeff Niemann do a really intelligent thing. Either he did it himself, or the Rays bench convinced him to roll the ball to the bench area before the umpire broke from their conference. Since none of the four umpires could of seen the ball  go off of Dye’s big toe and stream down to third base, they made a judgment call on the action. Well, they got it right by replays, but the reasoning left something to be desired. Why couldn’t they have just left it as ” it went off his foot” and not say another word.
 

But then Rays Manager Joe Maddon came out and argued his case as to the odd reasoning they also gave to giving him a foul ball on the play and not letting the play stand as an out.  The umpires called for the ball from the Rays dugout and  Gorman decided that the ball did show that Dye did foul it off his foot. But Dye was wearing grey spikes during the at bat and could not have made a mark on the ball. Also obvious to the fans, but not to the umpires was the fact that Dye was using a black maple bat, and could have produced the mark on the ball from the initial contact with the ball.
 

Maddon was livid at this point because he knew that they had the reasoning wrong on the call. He even went over and pointed to Dye’s spikes to show that he was wearing a neutral color spike that would not provide evidence on the ball. For his action, he gained his 10th ejection as a Rays Manager. But think about this, how can a grey cleat produce a black spot on a ball?  I can not. So Maddon was right in his argument. I wonder if Gorman or the rest of the umpiring crew might be on the lookout for similar situations the next three games at the Trop.
 
 

But the pure fact that none of the four umpires saw the play, or even made a vocal call on it tends to also throw some doubt on it all.  The television replay is the only solid evidence that they got it right, and it was not a reviewable incident.  They did get it right, but Maddon did have a few great points that I wonder if they even took a second look at before deciding that it was a foul ball and Dye again stood in the batter’s box. He did end up hitting a single  in the inning.

 
 
           
 
 
Niemann was a Changed Man
 

Rays starter Jeff Niemann did start off last night game a lot different than his last outing. Tonight he seemed more in control and had the White Sox double thinking a few times at the plate. And that is a great sign for the Rays. Since his last outing some sites and outside voices have called for the Rays to bring up David Price, but after tonight’s performance, Niemann hopefully has given some confidence to the Rays faithful. His ball did seem to have a bit more snap tonight and his pitch selection seemed a bit more in line with the White Sox tendencies. His breaking pitches also seemed to be hugging the corner better, and his fastball had great movement.
 
 
So the Niemann haters had to give props to the tall rightie tonight because he did everything in his power to keep the Rays in the game.  He did get hit around a bit for 9 hits in his 6 innings of work, but he only gave up two runs, and both of those was on a Dye homer run in the second inning.  He did get into jams and a few pretty hairy situations, but the Rays defense stiffened and got him through it with no problems.
 
 

Niemann even helped his own cause in the sixth inning after a Alexi Ramirez short bouncer in front of the plate. the 6 foot 9 inch Niemann got to the ball and as he was tumbling to the turf threw a strike to Dioner Navarro to get the force out at home  for the second out of the inning. The tall rightie looked like a down giraffe on the play, but completed it perfectly to record the out.  But the biggest point of the night might have been in the first inning when he sent the White Sox 1-2-3 to start the game. That bit of confidence is essential for him this season. Knowing he belongs after the media and fans blasted him after his outing in Baltimore is critical for him.
 

After tonight’s display, where he also got White Sox second baseman Chris Getz to fly out to B J Upton in center with men on second and third to end the innnig, just adds to his renewed confidence.  That might have given him the spunk to again come out in the third inning and shut them down again 1-2-3 in the game.  Niemann left the game with it still tied at 2-2, and gave the Rays a chance to win this ball game, but the White Sox came up with a run in the top of the ninth inning to defeat the Rays 3-2.
 

Lance Cormier

 

How much pressure do think this guy has felt in the last 10 days. He was basically the last guy to be told he had a spot on this roster and has fought and clawed his way ever since in the long reliever r
ole. I actually think he has been the most solid member of the Rays Bullpen early in this season. I am wondering if he might just have the type of year that Grant Balfour and J P Howell had last season ans cement himself a  rock solid spot in this Bullpen. So far this year he has appeared in 4 games and pitched for a total of 7.2 innings of work.

 
And in that time he might be the only member of the Bullpen to surrender over 6 hits this season,he has given up 9 hits so far in 2009.  He is also the guy who has been on the mound the longest from the Rays Bullpen.  And not lost in that translation is the fact he has been on the mound in critical parts of those four games against great hitting ball clubs.  Tonight he went 2.1 innings and threw  55 pitches, and gave up the winning run to the White Sox. 

In the top of the ninth inning, after getting a quick out from Ramirez, he gave up consecutive singles to Getz and Brian Anderson to put two White Sox on with one out.  Josh Fields hit a sharp ball to Jason Bartlett that he hesitated for a moment before trying to get the speedy Fields at first. He did not get Fields, and Anderson scored to put the White Sox up 3-2. The play was very close at first base, and if not for Getz coming in high at second base, he might have gotten Fields with an earlier throw to first. But for the sake of argument here, Cormier has come in for some hairy situations this season and came out smelling like a rose. Unfortunately, tonight was not one of them.

 

 
 

El Presidente’ lets his Bat do the Talking

 

Sometime I marvel at how much torque Carlos Pena gets when he arches his back and leans back a bit on his swing. There have been times this year that he might have had the distance to again homer past the wall, but his back was arched too much and it turned into a towering out high into the sky. But last night during the Rays game, Pena hit a monster foul ball moments before correcting the path and again depositing one in the deep right field stands of Tropicana Field. His foul ball was a monster shot, but his homer was of equal distance, and counted to give the Rays a tie at 2-2 at the time in the contest.
 

Pena has been consistent since coming to the Rays in hitting the long ball. And paired with Evan Longoria and Pat Burrell, the trio was the Rays best home run hitting product since the deflated “Hit Show” in 2000. And so far this season Pena and Longoria have not disappointed the home team.  Right now Pena, Longoria and Nelson Cruz of the Texas Rangers all share the top spot in the American League home run contest with 5 this year. Pena is doing it without the usual protection of Longoria in the lineup, which is a huge factor. In the last two games, Pena has had to fight off breaking balls and sinking sliders to erupt into the home run race.
 
 

But with his line-up mate Longoria expected to be back in the lineup tonight, the duo can set their sights on the fans beyond the outfield walls.  Pena also sit in a 6-way tie for the second spot in runs batted in ( RBI) this season with 12. Longoria is also in that mess of six tied with Pena in RBI’s. And even with him just beginning to get comfortable at the plate, with Longo and Burrell in the lineup in front and behind him respectfully, Pena is going to see more and more pitches this year for the Rays . This in turn will be good news, because with more pitches thrown to him, his chances of hitting one long and deep increase dramatically in games.
 

Escot Friday Night Bus Service to Games
 

Starting tomorrow night, April 17th, ESCOT Bus Lines will add three routes to provide transportation to and from Tropicana Field for Tampa Bay Rays Friday  7:38 pm home games. These three routes will service Pinellas, Hillsborough and Sarasota/Manatee Counties.  Here is a tentative schedule of games that will provide the bus service and a example of pick-up points in the three counties served by the Escort service.
 

Schedule

Date Opponent Game Time

Friday, April 17 Chicago White Sox 7:38 p.m.
Friday, May 1 Boston Red Sox 7:38 p.m.
Friday, May 15 Cleveland Indians 7:38 p.m.
Friday, May 29 Minnesota Twins 7:38 p.m.
Friday, June 12 Washington Nationals 7:38 p.m.
Friday, June 26 Florida Marlins 7:38 p.m.
Friday, July 10 Oakland Athletics 7:38 p.
m.


Other games could be added to this schedule in the future.

Pick-up Times for Serivce:

Pinellas County:


5:15 p.m. departure from Tarpon Springs Shopping Mall
5:45 p.m. departure from Country Side Mall
6:30 p.m. departure from Courtside Grille( Carillion Park)
7:00 p.m. arrival at Tropicana Field

Hillsborough County:


5:30 p.m. departure from Beef O’Brady’s, 9331 E. Adamo Dr., Tampa
6:00 p.m. departure from Channelside District
6:30 p.m. departure from West Shore Mall
7:00 p.m. arrival at Tropicana Field

Manatee County:

5:15 p.m. departure from Beef O’Brady’s, 5942 34th St. W., Sarasota
6:00 p.m. departure from Beef O’Brady’s, 1795 Lakewood Ranch Blvd., Lakewood Ranch
6:35 p.m. departure from Beef O’Brady’s, 8913 US Highway 301 N., Parrish
7:00 p.m. arrival at Tropicana Field

 
 
Photo credits:  All three photos are from Chris O’Meara / AP

….

Rays Come Alive for Road Finale

 

 
                      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

 
 

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