Results tagged ‘ Grant Balfour ’
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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
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
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 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
The worst thing you can do as a team is come up against a hot pitcher in the beginning of a series. It was the kind of performance the Rays might have feared, even with a game time temperature of 46 degrees. Well yesterday, the Tampa Bay Rays came upon a pitcher that was as hot as the surface of the Sun. I mean, do not take into consideration that he only struck out Carlos Pena, who tried to bunt a ball down the third baseline in the top of the second inning, three time himself in the contest. I mean, the guy was just so hot that he got 5 one-two-three innings, including the first two innings before running into a buzzsaw inning where he threw 23 pitches and only one run. I mean he threw only 93 pitches in seven innings, but shut down the Rays offense totally. It seemed like only yesterday these two teams met on October 19th, down in St. Petersburg to decide who would face the Phillies in the World Series.
In this start, he only gave up 2 hits, and struck out 10 batters. And some of his pitching just fooled and perplexed the Rays hitters. Consider in the second inning, He struck out Pena to begin the inning on 3 pitches, then he got Pat Burrell to fly out to Jason Bay in left field on the first pitch he saw from Beckett. Then, Beckett got Matt Joyce, who was making his Opening Day debut, to take the first pitch and hit a wobbly fly to Dustin Pedroia for the third out. He had Joyce so ahead of the swing that his bat ended up in the stands behind the Rays dugout. It was a beautiful massacre at the plate for the Rays as they combined all day for only 3 hits. In his seven innings, Beckett only surrendered one solo run to the Rays.
And the top three men in the batting order were the only one to hit off Beckett and the Red Sox Bullpen. Akinora Iwamura got the first hit in the second inning when he slapped a single to left field to move up Gabe Gross and Jason Bartlett. But the Rays had to wait until the sixth inning, when Carl Crawford hit a double into the left-center field gap for their next hit. But that would be all that Beckett would give the Rays. But that is what many people feel is the true Boston strong point this year is their starting pitching. Beckett proved that with this outstanding outing. Considering that the Rays hit only .209 against him in 2008,but they did hit a robust .342 against him in the 2008 post season. But even with that playoff blurp on his record, it seems that Beckett has been coming up big for the Red Sox against the Rays for several seasons. And him posting a opponents batting average of .091 to begin 2009, might spell a long year for hitting in the American League.
It was a fitting Opening Day. It had all the splendor and frills you hope to see on the first real day of baseball for either team. I was especially taken back by the Boston Red Sox players coming through the crowds,down to the field during their introductions. That was a very classy move, and looked even better than the one done by Philadelphia a few days earlier. This one actually looked more “fan friendly”, and the ladder was not taken away before Red Sox Manager Terry Francona reached the turf. I still do not know why Phillies Manager Charlie Manuel did not smack someone in the head over that blunder on Sunday night.
But Fenway Park looked great decked out in all the colors and ribbons fit for a king. And the crowd was very supportive of former Red Sox Gabe Kapler during his introduction. I believe that it was the first time he has been back in the old yard since he left. Between him and Rocco Baldelli, it seemed to be a tie in the vocal cheers and jeers. But how fitting that the Rays seem to be playing their playoff roles in 2008 in reverse the last three games. First two in Philly, now three in Boston. That is a pretty ironic setting considering that the MLB schedule was made up last summer, and the league had no idea the Rays would rise to the top.
But then you have guys like new Rays Matt Joyce and Joe Nelson, who were making their first Opening Day rosters, and appearances. Joyce, who was acquired in the Edwin Jackson trade this off season fought to get to this point by changing the minds of the Rays coaching staff and front office to get a shot at playing center field for the Rays while B J Upton rehabs back in Florida. This was the first time Joyce had ever been to Fenway Park, and he certainly did not know the nuances of playing the outfield here. So he went to the Rays resident expert on Fenway Park, Gabe Kapler and got some valuable knowledge and insight to the corners and odd angles out in center field.
Joyce did not make the greatest debut at the plate, going 0-4, with two strikeouts. But he did make a basket catch running towards the wall in the fourth inning off the bat of David Ortiz. He also made a second catch with his back towards the infield in the seventh inning off a blast by Jason Bay for the third out of the inning. But Joe Nelson might not be the guy you would pick to not ever being on a Opening Day roster. The 34-year old reliever has been around for a while. He has played with the Florida Marlins, Atlanta Braves, Kansas City Royals, and a short stint in 2004, with the Boston Red Sox. At no point in his previous appearances has he been on the roster this early in the season. Two other Rays players were making their first Opening Day rosters. Both pitchers Grant Balfour and Jeff Niemann were with the Rays Triple-A affiliate, the Durham Bulls to begin the season in 2008. Both were in attendance at Fenway Park yesterday, but neither got a chance to appear in the game.
There were not a huge amount of great moments for the Rays in their season opener against the Red Sox. But there were a few hints that the team is not going to sit back and relax either in 2009. The rays again began their quest to be the best running team in the league by stealing three bases on the day off of Boston pitching. Gross got it started after walking in the third inning by stealing second off of Varitek and Beckett. Then in the eighth inning, Bartlett, who was hit by a pitch, and Iwamura, got got walked by Hidecki Okajima, converted a double steal on the Red Sox to both get into scoring position. It is a positive sign to see the Rays running early in the counts, and trying to take pressure off the Rays hitters.
The Rays did have limited scoring chances in the game, but they also stranded 5 runners, including 3 who were in scoring position with two outs. But they did come through in the clutch in the third inning when Crawford came up with the bases loaded and hit a sacrifice fly to Jacoby Ellsbury in center field for the first Rays run of the year. Gross came in to score that first run of the game for the Rays. The Rays did try and make another scoring opportunity in the sixth inning when Iwamura walked to start off the inning and Crawford hit his ball into the left-center field gap. But the Rays went down 1-2-3 after those plays to strand both men on base.
The Rays did convert against the weakest point of the Boston pitching staff, their Bullpen in the eighth inning. With Okajima on the mound, the Rays lead off the inning with Bartlett getting hit with a curveball. Then Aki walked to put two men on base for the Rays. After Crawford struck out, Red Sox Manager Terry Francona brought in reliever Justin Masterson to face Longoria. He ended up hitting a 2-run RBI single through the gap in center field to bring the Rays within 2 runs at 5-3. Masterson then shutdown Pena and Burrell to get out of the inning with no more runs. That was the Rays last great chance at scoring in the game as Jonathan Papelbon came on in the ninth inning and got Joyce to pop out to Pedroia before striking out both Dioner Navarro and Gross to end the game.
Shields looked better than the score in the game yesterday. His command was just a bit off at times, but he also made some incredible pitches for outs during the game. He did start the game off great by getting Ellsbury to strike out looking with a great pitch on the corner of the late. But he also got into trouble early in the game giving up a solo shot to Pedroia off the Sports Authority sign above the Green Monster for an early 1-0 Boston lead. Ortiz, got a single off the first pitch he saw today, and J D Drew hit a beautiful shot off the Monster for a double. Shields walked Bay before getting himself together and got Mike Lowell to pop out in front of the plate to Navarro to end the inning with the bases loaded.
Shields then seemd to be gaining control by putting the Red Sox down 1-2-3 in the second inning. But in the third, he gave up a lead-off walk to Pedroia. Keven Youkilis then got his first hit ever off Shields to left field. Shields then seemed to have a bit of concentration problems as he went to his mouth on the mound, and Home Plate Umpire Tim Tschida issued a “ball” to Drew. He then hit a sharp ball down the first base line that Pena had to dive to save extra bases and runs. Drew did get an RBI on the play. Bay then hit another ball right through the same hole down the first base line to drive in another Red Sox run. Lowell then hit a ball high off the Monster for an RBI double. Then Jed Lowrie hit a short looper between Bartlett and Crawford that neither could get to in time. Varitek then hit a hard ball to Gross in right to stop the bleeding at 4-1 Boston at that time.
After a 1-2-3 inning in the fourth, Shields got a great bit of defensive help after giving up a lead-off double to Youkilis in the fifth inning. Drew then walked and gave the Red Sox two early base runners. Bay then hit a sinking liner towards Crawford, that he tried to grab, but it went off his glove. But Crawford’s quick thinking had him fire the ball to third base, and Longoria applied the tag to get Youkilis out at third base. Lowell then hit a grounder to Longoria that he simply stepped on the bag for the force play on Drew, then fired the ball to first to complete a 5-3 putout and end the inning. Shields last hit given up was a solo shot by Varitek around the right field foul pole.
Something to take into consideration here is the fact that as the weather does get a bit colder, a pitcher can lose his feel for his breaking pitches. I am not trying to make excuses for Shields today, but his fastball and slider did seem to pop on the corners at times, and his change-up did have a bit of a lack of bite at times in the outing. I would be curious to hear from Shields if the weather did have a bit of a factor in his control problems with his breaking balls at time during the game.
Every stadium in baseball has those revolving signs behind home plate that seem to turn every innings or two to show sponsors and events coming up. I had to chuckle a few times during the game yesterday as the Red Sox has an ad for Wise potato chip products up there for most of the first three innings. What is wild about this is the fact that is is a logo of a owl’s eye. When batters are in the box, the eye seems to glare out at you on the mound just beyond the back-side of a left-handed batter. I am not saying it might be a bit confusing, or even a distraction on the mound, but it did give me a few chuckles during the game.
We should see Rocco Baldelli make his Red Sox debut today to face left-hander Scott Kazmir. How wild will it be for Baldelli to actually take an at bat in the field that he fantasized about as a kid playing for the Red Sox. We all know he has played here before with the Rays, but this will be his first time in the batter’s box wearing the Red Sox colors in Fenway Park. Also, a wild fact. Rocco Baldelli’s picture is actually on screen during the movie “Fever Pitch”. He became friends with a few of the people on the movie’s production crew, and there is suppose to be an audible mention of him coming up to bat in the movie, and his photo on the screen above center field.
Photo Credits: 1) AP ( Charles Krupa )
2) AP ( Elise Ameadola )
3) AP ( Elise Ameadola )
4) AP ( Charles Krupa )
5) AP ( Lisa Poole )
Oh this is going to be a long day, a stressful day and maybe even a day where I will be so tired I will just sleep here at the Spring Training complex then head north in the morning. The reason is complex. You see, I have a 1:05 pm game today in Port Charlotte, Florida, plus I have a 3 pm “live” ESPN MLBloggersphere Baseball draft. I am going to try to multi-task and keep my eyes on the game and the computer at the same time. I am anticipating a huge headache, so the Tylenol is loaded in the car, plus the sheets for me league can not spread out over the seats of the sold-out stadium.
So I am going to have to find a semi-quiet, but good view of the field so I can do both items at the same time without compromising either of them. This is a huge task, but I am up for it. I have my large Dr. Pepper at my side, with a huge chili dog and a bag of peanuts for the munchies during the draft. It should be exciting because everyone online seems to be anxious to see what kind of game everyone has with their drafting skills. Me, I am going to keep it simple and go for the big boys as early as possible, then take a few sleepers everyone forgot about in the later rounds. Either way, it is going to be a blast.
So here I am finally finding a spot, but it might be a bit noisy down by the kid’s play area down the right field line. But I have the permission of someone here in the stadium to pop my laptop into the electric plug and away we go with the pre-game rituals and the pre-draft anxious moments. I almost forgot what time it was and looked on my laptop to see that it was 2:30-ish. Time to crank up the volume and remove my eyes from this great game going on in front of me. So as I get ready to joy down a few names to search for that did not hit the top 200 players, I am cyber-wishing everyone luck and hope we have a great draft.
So, here is the non-draft portion of the blog. Here I am going to try and go play-by-play with you in the Sunday game. I always love coming down here to Charlotte Sports Park, but starting next week, I will be able to hustle on over to the other fields in the complex to check out the minor league games before the Rays play at 1 pm. I am excited to see some of these future stars of the Rays or other clubs take the field and show their stuff. That might even be another great thing to do before the Rays game the rest of the month. Come down and get 2 games for the price of 1. Check out the future of the Rays, then go watch the present guys take the field. I think that plans is now written in stone for me.
Okay we have the Rays sending starter Matt Garza to the mound today for his second appearance of the spring. As we get started, the 6,968 fans in attendance seem to be poised and ready for a barn-burner today. It is extremely hot for this time of year with a small breeze blowing in from right field at game time. This is the first game of another home and home series for the Rays. Today in Port Charlotte, and tomorrow night in Bradenton for the first night game this year for the Pirates. You can always tell when it is about time for the real guys to get more at bats, the teams will play more games under the lights to acclimate themselves to the nightly routines of the regular season.
Garza is done with his warm-up pitches and we are set to go today. The Pirates send center fielder Andrew McCutchen to the plate first today. He swings at the third pitch and sends a short squirming ball in front of the plate that Rays catcher Shawn Riggans picks up and throws down to Carlos Pena at first for the first out of the game. Jose Tabata then hit a one-hopper to Gabe Kapler in center field for the first hit of the day for the Pirates. Adam LaRoche then hits a towering fly to left fielder Carl Crawford, who puts it away for the second out of the inning. Tabata did not try to advance on the ball hit to left field. Craig Monroe, who has been hitting the ball for Pittsburgh then comes up and strikes out to end the inning.
The Pirates send Tom Gorzelanny to the mound today to face the Rays. This is not the first time the Rays have seen Gorzelanny. They also got to see him on June 29 in PNC Park during the Inter-League schedule. He pitched the Sunday finale and went 6 innings giving up 8 hits, with 2 runs and 2 homers, with 8 strikeouts that day. He did not get the loss, but did pitch a great game. Justin Ruggiano comes to the plate first for the Rays and hit a ball to Andy LaRoche at third base on the first pitch. He easily takes the ball in and throws to Steve Pearce, who is playing first today for the first out. Crawford then come up and works a full count off of Gorzelanny, then ends up popping out to LaRoche at third base. Gabe Kapler then comes up and hit a sharp grounder again toward LaRoche that he easily fields and complete the play for the third out of the inning. All three outs in the first inning had LaRoche’s fingerprints all over them.
The Rays send Garza back to the mound for the second inning. Pearce is the first batter of the inning and he hit a high fly ball towards the right-center field gap that Kapler adjusts to and finally brings in for the first out. Kapler was moving around a lot in the outfield before that play and might have been blinded for a second by the sun. Andy LaRoche then walks to give the Pirates their first base runner of the inning. Shortstop Brian Bixler then comes up and hit a single to center field to put 2 men on base with one out in the inning. Garza has been having a little trouble so far in the game by falling behind early against the first three hitters. Luis Cruz then comes to the plate and hit a sharp liner right to Morgan Ensberg at third base, who quickly catches LaRoche off the second base bag for a L-5, then a 5-4 force out on LaRoche to end the inning .
Carlos Pena leads off for the Rays and gets Gorzelanny to a full count before flying out to McCutchen in center field for the first out. Pena doesn’t seem to have his timing down yet this spring. But with almost three weeks until Opening Day, you can be sure he will be ready in time for the season. Pat Burrell then comes up and ens up fouling the ball off into the glove of Pirates catcher Jason Jarmillo, who holds on for the second out of the inning. Ensberg then comes up and drills a ball to left field over third base for the first Rays hit of the day. Reid Brignac, who started at shortstop today then hit a fly ball to McCutchen for the third out of the inning.
Garza take the mound for the third inning as the Rays are starting to let their starters extend themselves more this spring. Jaramillio comes to the plate and hit a short grounder towards Garza that he fields and quickly get to Pena for the first out of the inning. If teams knew that Garza has a weakness fielding the ball, they have not focused on it this spring. McCutchen then comes up and strikes out swinging to get two quick outs in the inning. Tabata then comes up and hit a monster towards the center field gap over Kapler’s head and it two-bounces to the wall for a double. Adam LaRoche is now at the plate for the Pirates. After the second pitch to LaRoche, Riggans fires a ball towards second and almost gets Tabata looking. It was a strong on line throw that only missed the tag out by a milli-second. LaRoche then lifts a fly ball to Ruggiano in right for the last out of the inning.
Gorzelanny, who will be in the starting rotation for the Pirates takes the mound for the bottom of the third inning. Riggans comes to the plate and hit a nice hard grounder that comes up on Cruz and he is on with a infield single to start off the inning. Adam Kennedy then comes up and take a pitch inside that he fights off for a bloop single beyond the second base bag for the second straight Rays hit. It seemed he broke his bat on the ball, or Cruz might of had a play on the ball. Ruggiano then comes to the plate and hit a nice single down the line at third for the third Rays hit in a row off Gorzelanny. Crawford then hit a ball towards the right of Pearce, who fields the ball and throws to second to get Ruggiano with the force out, Cruz tries to turn two, but the speedy Crawford is already past the bag with a fielder[s choice on the play. Riggans scored on the play and Kennedy moved to third base. Kapler then hits a screamer towards left field for a RBI-double, but Tabata fields the ball quickly and fires towards Jaramillo who tags out Crawford right before he reached the plate. Pena then hit a ball to Cruz, who throws to Pearce to end the Rays rally. At this point, it is now 2-0 Tampa Bay. This would be Gorzelanny’s last batter and he went 3 innings with 5 hits and 2 runs and 1 strike out in the game.
Garza again comes out for the Rays and now is in his deepest outing of the spring. Monroe comes to the plate first for the Pirates and hit a pop up just into fair territory for a fly out to Rigggans. Pearce then hit a sharp ball down toward third base that seems to handcuffs Ensberg, who then throws a late ball towards first base. On the bobbling of the ball, he is given an error on the play. Andy LaRoche then hit a fly ball to Kapler for the second out if the inning. With Bixler come up to the plate and Pearce still on first the Pirates are down to their last out in the inning. After three pitches to Bixler, Pearce tries to steal second base and is thrown out easily by Riggans to Kennedy for the third out of the inning. This would complete Garza’s day in which he went 4 innings, with 3 hits, a walk and 2 strikeouts on the day.
rstens take the rubber for the Pirates and Burrell quickly get a single to left field to lead off the inning for the Rays. Ensberg then hit a short blooper towards center field that McCutchen dives for and just gets the ball for the out. He was moving so fast that he lost his cap upon contact with the turf. Brignac then come out and hit a long fly ball to right field, but it is not deep enough for Burrell to try and advance on it. Riggans then comes up and goes down swinging to set the Rays down in the inning.
Troy Percival comes out for the second appearance of the spring. During his first outing he was hitting the inside corners of the plate trying to jam hitters and produced a beautiful inning of work. Today Bixler leads off the inning by striking out swinging on an off-speed pitch by Percival. Cruz then comes up and gets jammed inside and pops a high fly ball towards Ensberg that he fights off the glaring sun twice before finally being able to bring it into his glove. He pumps his fists in the air high and the crowd goes wild for him. Jaramillo then hit a soft grounder to Kennedy for a quick 1-2-3 inning for Percival. This is his second 1-2-3 inning of the Spring. Percival still sports a perfect 0.00 ERA in his 2 appearances this spring.
Karstens takes the mound again for the Pirates and faces Kennedy first. He ends up hitting a fly ball to left field that is easily handled by Tabata. Ruggiano then come on and hit a grounder to Bixler at shortstop for an easy 6-3 play to Pearce. Crawford then fights off a few pitches and again hit a grounder towards Bixler that is taken in and throw to Pearce to complete the inning. It was an easy 1-2-3 inning for Karstens. But the Ray are still ahead in the game 2-0.
The Rays send mending reliever Jason Isringhausen to the mound for his first spring action for the Rays. Isringhausen came to the Rays after a wild and turbulent 2008 season with the St. Louis Cardinals. He is trying to re-establish himself with the Rays, and if he does, he will be a tremendous asset to the team in the Bullpen. That would give the Rays two men who have over 290 saves on the All-Time save list. McCutchen comes to the plate first this inning and hit a triple to Kapler in center field. Kapler can not handle the ball before McCuthen is past second and only get the ball back into the infield when he strikes the third base bag. Tabata then hit a sacrifice fly to Crawford to score the first run of the day for the Pirates. Adam LaRoche then hit a ball to the right of Pena, who ends up flipping the ball to Isringhausen for the second out. Monroe then comes up and strikes out on a nice breaking pitch from Isringhausen to end the inning with the score now 2-1 Rays.
Karsten comes out for his final inning in the bottom of the sixth and faces Kapler to lead off the inning. Kapler hit a grounder to Adam LaRoche at third base, who gets Kapler in time for the first out. Pena then hit a ball high into the sun in left field and Tabata has to shade his eyes three times before finally taking the ball in for the second out of the inning. Burrell then hit another single down the third baseline for a single, his second of the day. Morgan Ensberg then comes to the plate for the Rays. After the fourth pitch to Ensberg, Burrell takes off towards second and is easily thrown out by Jaramillo to Cruz to end the inning. Karstens went 3 innings and gave up 2 hits and got 1 strikeout in his outing.
The Rays send set-up man Dan Wheeler to the mound for the top of the 7th inning. This is also Wheeler second appearance this spring. First to bat for the Pirates will be Pearce. He quickly hit a grounder towards Brignac at short and is thrown out in time for the first out of the inning. Andy LaRoche, who is on fire at the plate this spring for the Pirates then hit a long deep homer into left center field over the Boardwalk for a solo home run. Still out of sorts a bit by the pitch Wheeler then gives up a triple to Bixler to the left center field wall. Cruz is next up for the Pirates. During the at bat, Wheeler throws a breaking ball 55 feet to the plate and Riggans blocks it and pushes it toward the front of the plate in case Bixler is coming in from third. the play might have saved a run for the Rays. Cruz is then hit by a slow breaking ball and the Pirates have men on the corners with one out. Jaramillo then comes to the plate and hit s ball towards Chris Richard at first base, who turns and fires toward Brignac at second for the force play, but he can not take in the return throw and gets charged with an error on the play. Bixler also scores to put the Pirate ahead in the game 3-2. McCutchen then comes up and strike out to end the Pirates rally.
Tyler Yates come out for the Pirates in the bottom of the 7th inning. He first faces Ensberg, who gets a full count before hit a long fly ball to McCutchen in center field for the first out of the inning. Brignac then hit a monster solo home run that misses me by about 20 feet to my right. I did not hear the ball even come off the bat since I was typing in a search for a player I was going to draft deep in my “live” draft today. The homer by Brignac tied the game at 3-all. I would have gotten up and tried for the ball if I saw it in the air. Riggans then comes up and goes down swinging for the second out. Kennedy then completes the inning by also striking out to end the Rays chance for more runs in the inning.
Grant Balfour came out to the mound for the Rays in the eighth inning. Tabata quickly went down after a nice fastball over the outside corner for a called third strike. Adam LaRoche then hit a nice flair to center field that one-hopped to Kapler for a single. Garret Jone, who came in to play first base, then hit a breaking ball for a single to right field to put two men on base with one out. Pearce then came up and hit a ball to Sadler in shallow right for the second out. Neil Walker then came up and hit a single to right field to load the bases with two outs. Bixler then ended the drama by striking out on a called third strike to strand three base runners in the inning. This would be the only inning for Balfour, who allowed 3-hits and no runs, but also got 2 much needed strikeouts.
Sean Burnett came to the mound for the Pirates in the bottom of the eighth inning. Ray Sadler lead off the inning with double down the right field line that trickled into the corner. Jon Weber then struck out on 5 pitches for the Rays first out. During Weber’s at bat Sadler stole third base. Elliot Johnson then hit a line drive to left field that scored Sadler. Willy Aybar the came up and Johnson stole second base, then moved onto third after Burnett threw a wild pitch into the dirt. Aybar then hit a hard shot towards Walker at third base that he ended up coming in on, but could not get Aybar in time for the infield single. He also could not prevent the run from scoring. Ray Olmedo then hit a blooper down the right field line that was bobbled by Jones at first and the Rays had men at first and second with two outs. Tim Beckham the Rays 2008 First Round Draft pick , then came up and hit a double down the right field line to score both Aybar and Olmedo. Beckham could have gotten a triple, but he fell down between second and third and had to go back to second base. Matt Spring then came up and hit a blooper in front of the plate that Jaramillo easily threw to Pearce to get out of the inning.
With the Rays now up 7-3 in the top of the ninth inning, they sent out veteran reliever Joe Nelson to complete the game for the Rays. Anderson Machado came to the plate first for the Pirates. He ended up getting a flair single to right field off of Nelson on a hanging breaking ball. Jaramillo then hit a liner to Beckham at shortstop for the first out of the inning. McCutchen then struck out swinging for the second out. The Rays now needed one out for the win. Tabata came to the plate ans was hit by Nelson. Pedro Alvarez then pinch hit and drove a ball half way up onto the Batter’s Eye blackout spot in center field for a 3-run homer and brought the Pirates to within one run of tying the game. Jones then came up and took the third pitch he saw up and over the Rays Bullpen for a solo shot and to tie the core at 7-7. Again, another ball hit within 20 feet of me, but I was in the middle of the 5th round of picks and could not get up in time to even think of chasing that ball down. And no one was out here…..argggggggg. Rays Manager Joe Maddon came out and replaced Nelson with Jason Childers. He only had to face one batter as he got Pearce to strikeout to end the rally.
Jason Davis came out for the Pirates in the bottom of the ninth knowing he might have to shut down the Rays for his team to have a chance in this contest. He got lead off man Chris Nowak, who was now playing third base to hit a grounder to Machado for an easily 4-3 play for the first out. Sadler then came up and tried to end the game on one swing with a long fly ball to right field that was cut down by the wind. Weber then struck out for the second time today to end the Rays chance to win this one in regulation.
The Rays sent out non-roster invitee Winston Abreu for the top of the tenth inning. He first faced Walker, who struck out swinging on 5 pitches. Bixler then came up and also struck out swinging. Then Machado came up and hit a soft grounder to Olmedo at second, who quickly threw to Richard to get out of the inning fast. Davis came out again for the Pirates in the tenth inning. Johnson came to the plate first and hit a high fly ball to left field that looked to confuse Tabata before he regrouped and finally caught the ball for the first out of the inning. Richard then struck out for a quick second out in the inning. Michel Hernandez then liner to right field for a single. Olmedo then hit a single between the holes between first and second to give the Rays a chance to walk off with a win. But Beckham ended that by striking out to end the Rays rally.
At the top of the eleventh inning, the umpires advised both benches that this would be the last inning of the ball game. If no one has taken a lead by the end of the inning, it would be a tie contest. With that in mind, the Rays sent Julio DePaula to the mound. Pirates catcher Steve Lerud was the first man to the plate and hit a fly ball out to left field on the first pitch of the inning. McCutchen then hit a single to left-center that split the two outfielders. Tabata then hit a sharp ball to Beckham that he threw to first base to get the runner in time. This put the go-ahead run on second base with two outs in the inning for the Pirates. Alvarez then hit a ball off the end of the bat to DePaula, who quickly turned and threw to Richard to end the inning and the Pirates chances to win this game.
Evan Meek came to the mound to try and seal the tie at least for the Pirates, Meeks, a former Rays farmhand had been the Pirates 2008 Rule 5 pick and was trying to seal a spot in the Bullpen for 2009. He first faced Spring, who popped out off the handle of the bat to Bixler at shortstop for the first out of the inning. Chris Nowak then hit a hard grounder to the right of Pearce, but he smothered the ball and tossed it to Meek for a 3-1 put out. This gave the Rays one last out in the game for either a win or a tie score. Sadler the struck out to end the game and preserve the tie for the Pirates.
At the time this was going on I was in the middle of the 22 round when I picked Jason Giambi, who people forgot was on the board. Anyways, the pitching of Joe Nelson doomed the Rays to a tie tonight. This is only the second time he has also taken the hill this spring and it is good now that he is seeing the problems and not in the late innings of a game in April or May. With time his command and his placement will get better and better. But at this time he is not in the right pitching mode to be a consistent reliever for the Rays. But as we all know, we have more than 20 days until doom and gloom can hit the pages for real, and with that this was just a bad outing …..period. That is the lifestyle of a MLB reliever. Some days you have the world striking out at your feet, and on other they are hitting you like a pinball machine. I hope Nelson can get it together because he is a great signing by the Rays and just might lack the in-game workouts to further his development this spring.
Photo credits: 1) Associated Press ( Tiffany Tompkins )
3) Associated Press ( Keith Srakoci )
Over the past weekend, the Tampa Bay Rays and the Boston Red Sox played a home and home series for the first time this year. Much like the regular season in 2008, the home teams got the better end of the bargain in the final scores. But what is amazing is the set-up this is going to play in future Spring Trainings in Florida. With Tampa Bay moving down 2 hours from their regular season home to Port Charlotte, they have seen incredible increases in attendance and in merchandise sales this spring. But is much of that subject to the new location and the initial buying of the team wares by the locals, who also helped sell out the regular seating areas of the stadium before the first pitch was ever thrown in this ballpark.
Rays 2009 Opening Day starter Jame Shields took the mound for the first time this spring. Jacoby Ellsbury lead off the game with a fly to center field for the first out. Shields then got Jed Lowrie to strike out to get two quick outs in the inning. Chris Carter then came up and hit a nice single to get the Red Sox started in the inning. But he was stranded on base as Brad Wilkerson got a quick out to snuff the Red Sox attack.
Tim Wakefield then came out for the Red Sox and hit Rays lead-off batter Jason Bartlett to start the game. He then stole second and Carl Crawford hit a grounder to short that pushed Bartlett to third base with one out. Gabe Kapler then hit another grounder to second, but Bartlett was already running on the play and the Rays went ahead 1-0 in the game. Gabe Gross then walked and stole second base before Adam Kennedy struck out to end the Rays inning.
Shields came back out to the mound in the second inning and gave up a lead-off double to Jeff Bailey who put the ball down the third baseline. Paul McAnulty then hit a shallow fly ball to left field, and Bailey did not advance on the play. Then catcher Josh Bard came to the plate and Shields threw a wild pitch to the backstop that advanced Bailey to third with 1 out. Bard then hit a ball to second that Kennedy quickly got to Chris Richard at first, but Bailey scored on the play to tie the game at 1-1. Nick Green then hit a fly ball to Crawford in left field for the last out of the inning.
Shields did not come back out in the third as the Rays sent reliever Brian Shouse to the mound. Argenis Diaz lead off with a sharp shot to Olmedo at third base, but he bobbled the ball and then overthrew Richard at first for an error on the play. That gave the Red Sox a runner at first base with the top of the order coming up in the inning. Ellsbury then hit into a 4-6-3 double play to erase Diaz from the bases. Jed Lowrie then hit a single into left field to give Boston their second base runner of the inning. Chris Carter then hit a grounder to Kennedy that he quickly converted to first to end the inning. Wakefield came out again for Boston in the third inning and got Kapler to hit a grounder to Lowrie at third base that he easily threw to first for the first out. Gross then hit a long fly to right field, and Kennedy hit a sharp liner to Green at second to send the Rays down 1-2-3 in the inning.
Grant Balfour came on to relieve Shouse for the fourth inning. This was also Balfour’s first action of the spring. Brad Wilkerson hit a fly ball out to Gross in right to start the inning off. Bailey then hit a ball to the right center field wall for a double. McAnulty then popped up to Balfour for the second out of the inning. Balfour then showed some of his own rustiness as he walked Bard to put two men on in the inning. Balfour then had a liner hit right back at him by Green that hit him between the bicep and tricep muscle oh his pitching arm. He quickly got the ball and threw to first to complete the inning. Balfour just shrugged off the bruise and walked to the Rays dugout.
Wes Littleton came on in relief of Wakefield in the fourth inning and lead off the inning by walking Zobrist on four pitches. Zobrist then stole second base and put himself in scoring position for the Rays. Riggans then hit a sharp ball down the third baseline that Jed Lowrie had a bit of trouble with, but got off a throw to Carter. But Carter could not turn and tag Riggans and he was safe with an error on the play. Littleton then hit Richard with a pitch to load the bases for the Rays with no outs. Olmedo then came on and got jammed and hit a ball back to Littleton that he threw to Bard to force out Zobrist at the plate. With the bases still loaded, Bartlett hit a shallow fly ball to center field, but Riggans did not try to advance on the play. Crawford then hit a ball to the right of Carter at third base, but Littleton came over and took the toss from Carter to get out of the inning with no runs scored against him.
In the fifth inning, the Rays sent Jason Hammel to the mound. Hammel, who was still in the running for the fifth rotation spot also is being considered by the Rays for a reliever role. He quickly got Diaz to hit a grounder to third that Olmedo got to Richard in time to post the first out. Ellsbury the hit a triple over the head of a pulled in Zobrist in center field. On the throw back into third base, they almost got Ellsbury, but the relay throw was a bit high coming into the bag. Lowrie then hit a sharp ball down to first that Richard snagged, but had no play at home and covered first unassisted for the second out. With Ellsbury scoring on the play, it put Boston within two runs 4-2. Carter then struck out to end the inning.
The Red Sox then sent Devern Hansack to the mound for the bottom of the fifth inning. Kapler lead off the inning with an infield single to third. Gross then hit into a 4-6-3 double play to erase both players from the base paths. Kennedy then walked to put another Ray on base. Kennedy then hit a grounder to Green, who quickly threw to first to end the Rays inning. Hammel returned to the mound in the top of the sixth inning and got Wilkerson to strikeout. He then got a called third strike on Bailey to get two quick outs in the inning. McAnulty then hit a sharp grounder to the right of Richard, who scooped the ball to Hammel, who came over to cover first for the third out.
Hansack again took the mound for the Red Sox, and Riggans took his first pitch to center field for a single to lead off the inning. Richard then struck out. then the Red Sox game plan started to come apart a bit on the field. Olmedo hit a hard grounder to Diaz, that he juggled but could not get either man out on the play. He was given and error on the play. Bartlett then hit another ball to shortstop that Riggans seemed to straddle and then break Diaz’s concentration and it lead to his second error of the inning. Morgan Ensberg then hit a sacrifice fly to center that scored Riggans. Kapler then walked to load the bases. Fernando Perez then came on to pinch hit and slammed a liner to Green at second base that he could not find the handle on and Olmedo scored on the play. Jon Weber then came up and hit a double down the right field line to score three Rays runs as the ball 3-hopped to the wall. Red Sox Manager Terry Francona then came out and replaced Hansack with Marcus McBeth, who got Zobrist to strike out to end the inning with the Rays on top 9-2.
Hammel again took the mound in the seventh inning and gave up a quick homer to right field to George Kottaras on a hanging fastball in the zone. He then hit Green with a pitch to put him on base. Diaz then struck out for the first out of the inning. Jonathan Van Every then hit a 2-run homer to left field into the Red Sox Bullpen. It was an opposite field homer for Van Every. Gil Velazquez then hit a single into the right-center field gap. Lars Anderson then was hit by a pitch and the Red Sox had two men on base with one out. Chip Ambres quickly struck out to give the Red Sox one more out in the inning. Bailey then hit a sharp ball towards third base that was quickly converted for the third out.
Billy Traber took the mound for Boston in the seventh inning. Justin Ruggiano lead off the inning with a grounder to Lowrie at third for the first out. Rays Sadler the hit another hard grounder to Diaz at shortstop, who easily threw to first for the second out. Olmedo completed the 1-2-3 inning by grounding out to third again. Jason Childers took the mound for the Rays in the seventh inning. He quickly loss control of the inning as he walked both McAulty and Kottaras to start the inning. With two men on base with no out, Green then hit a flair to right field that loaded the bases for Boston. Diaz then hit a RBI single to center that scored McAnulty. Van Every struck out and Rays Manager Joe Maddon emerged to take Childers out of the game. Lance Cormier replaced him and got Velasquez to hit a ball to short that forced Diaz at second base to get two outs.Kottaras did score on Diaz’s grounder to give him an RBI in the game. Anderson then struck out to end the Red Sox inning. The score was now 9-7 Rays.
Dustin Richardson took the mound for Boston in the bottom of the eighth inning. He quickly got behind and walked Michel Hernandez on 4 pitches. He then walked Ensberg to put two on with no outs. He then walked Tim Beckham to walk the first three batters in the inning for the Rays. With the bases now loaded, Fernando Perez came up and hit a sacrifice fly to left field that scored Hernandez. Jon Webber the came up and hit a 3-run homer to left center field. That gave him 6 RBI’s on the day for the Rays. Chris Nowak then hit a grounder to Velasquez at third that produced the first out of the inning. Francona then popped out of the dugout and replaced Richardson with Mike James. Ruggiano then hit a grounder to Velasquez that was bobbled and Ruggiano reached on an error by the third baseman. Sadler then hit a 2-run homer into the pond beyond the left field fence. Olmedo hit a grounder to Diaz at short that he quickly converted to get the Red Sox out of the inning.
Cormier took the mound again for the Rays in the top of the ninth inning. He quickly got Ambres to pop out to Nowak at first base for the first out of the inning. Zack Daeges then hit a double to left field that gave the Red Sox a chance in the inning. But the next batter, McAnulty hit a grounder down the first baseline that Cormier took a pitch from Nowak to record the second out. With one out left in the inning and a man sitting at third, Kottaras struck out to end the Red Sox hope of mounting a comeback. Final score Rays 15-7 over the Red Sox. The win gave the Rays a record of 5-4 on the year, their first above .500 this spring. the game also saw Cormier get a save because when he came into the game, the Red Sox had the tying run at the plate.
So tomorrow they strap it on again and this time play in the Red Sox home park in Fort Myers. One of the Rays top prospects, Wade Davis will probably be making his last start of the spring before being put into the minor league camp sometimes during the next week. The Red Sox will be putting Justin Masterson on the mound for the contest.
Earlier today, the St. Petersburg Times ran a story telling who the Tampa Bay Rays are going to be very aggressive in their push to increase their Season Tickets throughout Spring Training. The Rays are currently on the bottom of the list in the American League when it comes to Season Tickets, and the plan is to make the benefits more attractive and showcase what myself and over 10,000 Rays fans already know, that Season Tickets give you options. Television ads will be showing up and TV’s around the Tampa Bay area beginning today showcasing Rays players and narrated by Rays Manager Joe Maddon.
Most people look at Season Tickets as an expensive investment, but you do not have to buy two seats in the Home Plate Club for $ 12,400. a season. There are as many options as their are Rays jerseys right now. And just because you select a seat in the Upper Deck or the T B T Party Deck, you are still considered a prime member of the exclusive Season Ticket membership. Now I have sat in my section of the Trop in the same seat for the last 8 years, and I can not even imagine sitting anywhere else. but some people might not have the time or money to invest in the team to that level.
Take for example that a full ( 81 games ) Season Ticket in the Upper Deck area of the Trop is about $ 754. a season, which will come in at a savings of $ 215 over the entire season. But the Rays have thought about you fans that can not make 81 games, or have kids who play sports in the early spring and summer. They have a huge list of options that could fit into anyone’s budget. There are half season Season Tickets that will let you pick from two great options” weekdays and weekends. You weekday plan which will cost you $ 727.50 for an outfield seat and includes the Opening Day game and every game played from Monday to Thursday during the season, including games against the Boston Red Sox, Philladelphia Phillies and New York Yankees.
Also back will be the popular 20-game package, which will cost you about $ 550. for a Baseline Box seat. The package will be configured around the weekend games at the Trop. There are three options here, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday games. The most popular option might be the Saturday night games to secure a spot for the Rays Concert Series, and also get you an wristband to be able to go down to field level to watch the concert. But this package can also offer you games against the Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies.
Then there is the Weekend plan which for a Outfield seat will cost you about $ 678.50 and will consist of games played on Friday through Sunday, and will include the always popular Concert Series nights in the package. This package will also include Opening Day and games against the Chicago White Sox, Red Sox, and Yankees. All of the half season and limited game packages have a reduced level of Season Ticket benefits, but include such great items as postseason ticket purchases before the general public, 10 percent discount for merchandise at the Tropicana Field Team Store, and your own personal Season Ticket representative from the Rays.
But there are other goodies like you can use the same Season Ticket door at Gate 1 for faster entry to the games, and also can purchase discounted parking in Lots 2 and 6 for games. I used this option a few years ago, and I could actually park within 35 yards of the back door of the Trop and get to my car in less than 2 minutes after leaving the confines of the stadium. This comes in handy during those wild rain showers we tend to have in the summertime here in Florida. You also have priority if at any time you decide you might want to either upgrade your seat, or even decide in the off season you want to move closer to the rail or aisle end, you can contact your Season Ticket Representative and he will work with you to get that desired location or seat for you.
If Season Tickets for the Rays were to increase from the level they are today to about 15,000, the team would have a guaranteed attendance of 1.8 million fans in 2009. That is one of the reasons for the big push to increase the season Ticket base. Another is that the team has increased their budgeted payroll for 2009 to a level that is 2 1/2 times the 2007 payroll for the team. With the estimated payroll exceeding $ 60 million this year, it will be the most talented and expensive team in Rays history. And as a Season Ticket holder you can get in on the action.
A Full Season Ticket gets you a lot of great benefits besides the ones listed above. Full season patrons also get a guarantee of your seat every game, a personalized nameplate on your seat, and an opportunity to purchase extra tickets to games during the Spring Training and Regular season before the public. Another great benefits is the exclusive events and parties that the Rays provide every year for the Full season crowd. One of the best events every year is the Team Photo day held usually right before the end of the regular season on a Sunday.
In the past we have had events during the All-Star game where the Rays have invited the Season Ticket folks to places like Game Works in Ybor City for a party and gaming with players and other fans. That event last year attracted numerous Rays players like Grant Balfour, Jonny Gomes, Edwin Jackson and Rays Manager Joe Maddon. Players played video games and raced simulated car races against fans and Raymond during the event, which included free food and drinks and numerous prizes given out during the event. And yes, that is me doing the chocolate fountain in the photo at last years event.
Another one of the pluses of having a Season Ticket is the fact that the Rays will give you an additional item from selected giveaways two times every year. They are equally divided between before the All-Star break and before the last home stand of the season for the team. I can tell you as a Full Season Ticket holder since 2000, and a half season ticket holder since 1998, that it is one of the best investment I have ever made in baseball. Along with the tickets, you can get to develop dialogue and personal face time with players and staff that is beneficial to having the true baseball experience. And with this, it gives you a deeper understanding and knowledge of what Rays baseball is really all about.
Another Season Ticket plus that people might find pleasing this year is the fact that non Season Ticket holder over the age of 14, will have to purchase a wristband with a $ 10 donation to the Rays Foundation to get autographs this year. Along with your free wristband, you will get early admission to the Fan Fest an full hour before other fans. Not only that, but throughout the season you get birthday and holiday cards from the team, and also develop friendships and a common bond with your fellow Season Ticket buddies.
Another great item that the Rays give to their Season Ticket fans is the option of going down on the field during the Concert Series events. I know I took full advantage of this even though my seat was just a little to the right of the center of the concert stage. So be sure to check out some of the great options being offered by the team this year in their Season Ticket packages. As with most things in life, the more expensive the seat, the more extended benefits you can get with your Rays experience.
Not having the money to get the plush spots in the Trop should not keep you from wanting to come enjoy this team as they defend their 2008 American League East title and the American League pennant. Exciting things are in store for 2009, and if you decide to join the Rays train you can be on the ground floor with the rest of the 10,000 excited Rays faithful Season Ticket fanatics. Even if you can not afford to put out extra money right now because of the economic situation, please come out and support the team when you can. 2009 will be another year of expectations and surprises from the Rays, and it would be a shame for anyone to miss out on the excitement.
Think if we all could afford the Home Plate seats like The Heckler. We could eat and drink every night for free, and also have a parking pass in the Lot 1 right outside the 16th Street entrance to the Trop. But this group also get an outstanding benefit that the rest of us would die for……..they get a batting practice attended by Rays personnel every year. What a treat it would be to hit the cages and hit one out in left field and maybe have the video camera on. It would be totally worth the price.
All the photos in this blog were provided from the private collection of RRProductions.
One of the biggest questions that I am either emailed or asked in public is what will the Rays be like in 2009? It seems to be on the minds of any baseball fan, not only those wearing the classic “TB” on their caps. I have had New York Yankee and Boston fans ask me the same things, ” Is the offense better?”, or ” Will our pitching stay healthy in 2009?” These questions are right up there with the ” Is there life on other planets?” questions right now in my mind.
I actually think it is too early to even consider any type of prediction or even attempt to find those answers until they begin to hit and throw the ball in a few weeks. People forget that a bulk of some teams, including the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and the Rays will not be presenting 100 percent of their their true lineups this Spring because of the World Baseball Classic. The classic this year will take a measurable amount of players from all 30 MLB teams rosters, but there are three teams that train in Florida where the bulk of the eyes of the American League will be from Feb. to late March 2009.
That is because the three teams that have a shot at either retaking or defending the American League title will not be up to full potential strength until after teams have begun to be eliminated from the classic. We all know that their are certain teams that might not make it out of the first round, but people thought that about Korea in 2006, and they almost shocked the world by beating Japan. So with the “borrowing” of some of their starting players for a short period of time during the spring, the Rays and others in baseball, might use the time wisely and bring up some of their prized prospects to give them some needed seasoning and work against the major league players still in attendance.
This is not to mean that the two leagues, the Cactus and the Grapefruit will be water down at all, but it will suffer from some identity crisis in the beginning of the spring games. And would it really be so bad if an unknown pitcher took advantage of his situation and totally made a name for himself in the absence of his team’s dominating pitchers. But isn’t that what Spring Training is really all about, to give the rookies and the minor leaguer’s a chance to change the minds of those people in charge about sending them down and make them sweat the fact that they might have to keeping them around until the last moment.
That is the great thing about baseball. A guy like the Rays prospect Rhyne Hughes can come in and fill in some games for Carlos Pena while he is with the Dominican Republic squad and maybe turn some heads. We all know that Hughes had an outstanding Arizona League season, and might be able to turn his off season playing time into a shot at an upper level of the franchises minor league system. But it can also go the opposite way for a team. It could further show the defects in their system by showing their depth is actually pretty shallow in comparison to their anticipation of their minor league system. But like I always say, that is why we play 162 games before we even think of championships.
But the true tradition established the last few years with the Red Sox, Rays and Yankees will not be on display until late in the spring when all the teams have their usual guys back in house and hopefully physically able to compete the rest of the spring. For example, the Boston Red Sox have a total of 15 players that will compete in the classic. Almost their entire starting infield and designated hitter will play in the WBC, and then you include players like Daisuke Masuzaka and Hideki Okajima who will be competing for the 2006 champion Japanese squad. Boston will also only be missing one outfielder for the classic, Jason Bay who is playing for Team Canada.
Then you have the Yankees, who will send 13 total players throughout the classic’s rosters, and also will be 3/4 of their starting infield during the classic. Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez are already committed to playing for their countries, but besides Melky Cabrera and two relief pitchers, the Yankees have a larger contingent of minor leaguer’s going than most teams. They will have 7 players in their minor league system going to the classic, including Zhenwang Zhang, who will be playing for Team China.
The you have the current American League champion Tampa Bay Rays who will be sending 8 starters to the classic. You have 3/4 of their infield also participating, with Akinora Iwamura playing for Japan, and starter Matt Garza throwing for Mexico in the classic. Grant Balfour will be throwing for the Australian team, and Dioner Navarro will catch for the Venezuelan team. Out of the Rays roster, they will be missing two starters as Scott Kazmir has also committed to playing for the US team along with Evan Longoria and J P Howell.
But what about those questions posed to me earlier in the post, what do I think at this moment. Well, we all know what happened in 2008. Will this team be able to effectively defend their American League crown knowing that the big boys in the A L East not only reloaded, but outspent and out hustled everyone else in baseball to again try and take the top spot away from the Rays. Will the huge money spent on pitching and hitting in New York be enough to overtake the confident team in the south. And if you are a Yankee fan, the pitching right now looks superior to everyone, but not one pitch has even been thrown yet.
It might be too early to claim victory with an entire season of games still left to play in the season. I admit that the Yankees will not be the shell of a team that we saw in 2008, but at what cost will they be more powerful. A lot of things have to gel for this squad to really propel itself past the top two current ” Beasts in the East.” that is not to say that even in Boston they are done making changes or acquiring the rights pieces to fight for their title. Believe me when I say that the Red Sox pretty much have a stacked arsenal of pitching arms that even make the Yankees jealous.
Some people predict a close A L East, with the second team not even making the playoffs because of the parity of the division might make then winner only post about 92 wins in 2009. I can see that scenario happening without a problem. This division is not all Yankees, Red Sox and Rays though. Toronto and Baltimore also will have a huge say in who will represent this division in 2009. Toronto will still have a great pitching staff that will defy and derail a few winning streaks , and the Orioles will be young and hungry, and that is a bad team to have to play 17 times a year.
Predictions can go out the window for this division in 2009. No one will be able to predict the amount of wins, or the team that will rise to the top. This might be the best fight for a right to play in October that baseball has seen in the long, long time. Will the money enhanced team be the final winner?, or will it be the team with a heart as big as the dome they play in nightly?. Or could it be the squad that just added pieces and did not rehash or even redesign itself in the off season to fit it’s division?.
After the next 50 days, we will begin the prelude to 2009′s MLB season. With all of the AL East contenders playing in Florida, it will be a fun month of March watching the battles and the adjustments by every squad. But until the teams get their guys back from the classic, we will not be able to fully comprehend or even evaluate the team with any true clarity. But the great thing is that this spring we will be able to see a lot of the future stars for these teams compete and maybe even show us what is in store for the next 6 years coming out of their minor league systems.
This years spring training might not be about the stars getting ready to play the season. It might belong to the guys who are struggling at the minor league level to show that they belong and maybe make a few roster decisions harder come April. But then again, you have to love watching the young pups playing hard, working for positions, and fighting for their collective lives on the diamond. Spring is going to be fun this year. Hopefully the hottest action is not in the air, but on the turf this year. We will be better fans for it.
With the deadline coming up fast for arbitration, the Tampa Bay Rays have gotten two of their eligible players signed to contracts for 2009. The Rays announced late tonight that reliever Grant Balfour has agreed to a one-year , $1.4 million dollar contract. He was the second Rays player to sign in recent days joining right fielder Gabe Gross, who signed for one-year, $ 1.255 million dollar deal on Weds.
That leaves the Rays with only three players who might be going to the arbitration table to exchange figures for their 2009 season. Rays 2008 MVP shortstop Jason Bartlett, starting catcher Dioner Navarro and utility infielder Willy Aybar are the only unsigned arbitration eligible players left for the A L Pennant winning Rays.
Most people will remember Balfour in 2008 as the Rays player who most resembles a patient from a mental institution based on his on-the-mound antics of cursing and screaming at himself. But besides that behavior,Balfour had a career season in 2008 after not making the Rays roster out of spring training for the Rays. The hard throwing Aussie went down to the Durham Bulls on April 2nd, and immediately began to work on his return to the Rays. While in Durham, Balfour appeared in 15 games in Durham and posted a 1-0 record and an outstanding .038 ERA, with 8 saves for the Bulls. On May 29, 2008, the Rays bought Balfours contract from the Bulls and he was brought up to replace Troy Percival, who began his first 15-day Disabled List visit for a left hamstring strain.
For the year, Balfour pitched in 17 of the Rays last 34 games of the season. During that stretch, he pitched scoreless relief appearances in 15 of his last 16 appearances. For the year, Balfour tied with J P Howell for the team lead in relief wins with 6, which was one win off the team’s current relieving record. During 2008, Balfour lead all MLB relievers with a 12.66 strikeouts per 9 innings pitched ratio, and also struck out 36 percent of the batters he faced in 2008, also tops in the majors.
His ending 1.54 ERA was the 4th best in the American League, and his .143 opponents batting average was best in the American League, but only second best in the majors behind only Carlos Marmol of the Chicago Cubs, who posted a .136 for the season. Balfour allowed only 3 home runs and 11 extra base hits all year long. His .230 Slugging Percentage was the second best average in the American League behind Joey Devine ( .168 ) of the Oakland A’s.
During a second Disabled List visit by Percival in July for another left hamstring strain, Balfour earned 3 of his 4 saves in 2008. If you combined his time with the Rays and the Bulls in 2008, Balfour went 7-2, saved 12 of 13 save chances, with a 1.23 ERA. Also of amazement is the fact he held batters’ at both levels to a .123 batting average in 2008.
In the 2008 postseason, Balfour did not fare as well as during the regular season. The usually confident Balfour ran into trouble and appeared in 10 games going only 8.2 innings and gave up 11 hits and 6 earned runs during the Rays postseason run. His 6.23 ERA showed he was battling throughout the postseason with control, further evidenced by his 8 walks and only 7 strikeouts during the playoffs.
Outfielder Gabe Gross came to the Rays in a trade with the Milwaukee Brewers on April 22, 2008. In his last game with the Brewers the night before, he came around to score the winning run in the team’s victory. To obtain Gross, the Rays sent minor league pitcher Josh Butler to the Brewers. During the course of the season, Gross began to platoon in right field with Eric Hinske and Jonny Gomes and was a key defensive substitution for the Rays in later innings in games.
Gross started in 78 of the 141 games since he was acquired from the Brewers. 4 of those starts were in center field for the Rays. He entered the game 39 times in 2008 as a late inning substitution. During 2008, he hit a career high 13 home runs. His prior career best season total was 9 home runs in 2006, with the Brewers. Gross hit a monster 437-foot 2-run home run on August 6th against the Cleveland Indians to tie the score for the Rays. During the 2008 season, Gross was credited with 5 outfield assists in right field.
Tampa Bay went on to win 10-7 on a 3-run blast by Carlos Pena later in that inning. Gross also combined to hit .293 in August with 4 home runs and 11 RBI’s for the team. During the 2008 season, Gross had 3 walk-off RBI’s tying the clubs record for a single season. The first came on May 13th against the New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera when he singled home Jonny Gomes for the winning run. The came his walk-off homer against Matt Thronton and the Chicago White Sox. This homer was also his first homer off a left hander in his career. The last one came on June 21st against Houston Astros reliever Doug Brocail when he doubled to score the winning run.
During the 2008 postseason, Gross also did not have a very productive post season as he only appeared in 10 games and went 1-19, with 2 RBI’s to post a .174 average for the playoffs. Gross was responsible for several defensive plays during the postseason playing 61.2 innings and garnishing one outfield assist for the Rays. It is expected in 2009, that Gross will be sued primarily in right field, but could start in center field the first week of the season while B J Upton is still rehabbing from his off season shoulder surgery. The Rays have primary plans to use Gross as a rightfield starter against right handed pitchers in 2009.
I was sitting there in my favorite sports bar the other day when it came to my mind that in the last few years there have been a multitude of adaptations and abbreviations transformed and formulated to even decipher the amount of chew spits a player makes during a plate appearance. It was at this time that I had a brainstorm thought about the Tampa Bay Rays and decided to pull out the old laptop and try and do some fast research while he went to did some business.
I jotted down a few fast pages of statistics from the bevy of sites like www.Fangraphs.com, who have developed a whole new language within baseball and speak about phrases and even notations that most sports fans have not even heard of before. I mean, until I ventured online looking for their explanation I could not tell you what bRAA, or even Tra stood for in baseball statistics talk. So let me try and decipher the first two here for you then get back to my conversation. BRAA is actually an abbreviation for batting runs above average. It is computed by taking a hitters RV/PA ( Runs valued per Pitches attempted above average) and multiplying the number of plate appearances he has had that season.
Okay now that I have you maybe totally confused, or I am talking Esperanto to you, let me use the first research abbreviation noted above with the American League MVP, Dustin Pedroia, and the 2008 American League Rookie of the Year, Evan Longoria. So using the formula of bRAA, I have calculated that Pedroia’s was 24.1 in 2008.
If you consider that his bRAA has risen from -7.8 in 2006, to a respectable 10.1 last season during his own ROY season, you can see the progression of this young hitting star. If you take the current ROY, Longoria, this is his first true season in the big leagues, so he doesn’t have even 1 at bat to put into account to show the fast progression of his hitting in the AL. But then again, when you come into the league for the first time, and have a projection of 16.4, the sky is the limit.
So unlike Pedroia, Longoria is showing immediate plus plate appearances and making his presence know in the MLB. That bodes well for the league and for his team in the coming seasons as his bRAA will increase a bit, and might spark another strong run at the playoffs for the young Rays. So as you can see, the SABR guys have taken a huge hold of baseball, and that is not a bad thing. As Kevin Costner said in the movie, “For the Love of the Game” when asked if baseball counts everything, he said ” We count everything, it is what we do.”
Odd stats and projections have become the backbone of fantasy leagues and professional betters and has been absorbed into everyday life now. 5 years ago, who would have known what OPS stood for, and what offensive production number were accumulated in that statistic. Now it is a commonly used graphic on most every ballpark in America when a hitter comes to bat.
I know there have been a few time this past season that I took out my laptop at games and tried to update a certain stat, or even produce a stat to supplement a comment I was making to a seat mate or even another fan in the section. It is almost as if very soon there will be a second language spoken only by statistics mongrels and the cyber republic to express our actions and reactions in abbreviations and commas. But that is not always a bad thing.
Since baseball is a game where statistics are law, and the amount of statistical firepower can make a drunk fan sit down and ponder even a simple fact, it is the reality of baseball in the modern days. I know my Dad used to say the only stats that matter are the ones under the “H”, “R” and “E” spots on the scoreboard. Now that is not to mean he did not know the batting averages or a the pitching selections of his favorite players’, but the love of the game was more physical to them.
Today, the game is taking on more power beyond just the batted ball or the nice 12-6 break on a curve ball. It is becoming a game where science and logic and even that math class we all hated in college statistics is coming to the forefront of information. I mean who was the top pitcher in 2008?
Was it C C Sabathia, or even Derek Lee? Or could someone like Randy Johnson or Ervin Santana sneak into the Top 10 without us even noticing it. To be totally truthful here, Sabathia was listed twice in the Top 10 performances of 2008. He was the top selection and also the 10th for his time with the Milwaukee Brewers, and Cleveland Indians. And how did Lee sneak all the way up to number 3 without anyone noticing him until late in the season, and during the playoffs. Sometimes the statistics as a whole show better productivity and more stable references to a players’ true nature at the plate or on the mound in baseball.
Okay, let’s head the other direction, who was the best in the batter’s box in 2008, was it the MVP’s of both leagues, Dustin Pedroia, or Albert Pujols? Or did someone else have a banner year and got lost in the shuffle? If you guessed Pujols, you win a huge prize. He had the best season of anyone is baseball at the plate in 2008. But if you picked Pedroias, you might be disappointed to know he did not even rank in the top 20 in offense in 2008.
He did have an amazing post season, but the season only produced him a slot at number 23, and that was not even the best showing on the Boston Red Sox. That slot went to Kevin Youkilis, who came in at number 9. And Pedroia did not come even second on his own team. So you to wonder, just how great a season did he have if he was ranked 4th on his own squad in total offensive numbers in 2008.
Well, if you consider the fact that Youkilis probably had his best season as a professional this season, his selection at number 9 might be realistic for him. But the two guys in front of Pedroia also had injury concerns in 2008, but when they were able to hit the plate, they were effective for their team. Both J D Drew ( 13) and Pre-Trade Deadline Manny Ramirez (12) had better statistics than the American League Most Valuable Player.
So since I am a Rays fan, I also took the liberty of seeing how my guys did on both lists. Well, even though we did have an amazing run towards that beautiful trophy in October, we missed out and will have to repeat to have another shot to hoist that beauty in the air. I scanned over the sheets and saw that pitching wise, we did not fare really bad on the list.
James Shields actually coming out 18th in the top 20 of the 2008 listing. Matt Garza and Scott Kazmir came in at 54th and 61st respectfully, and that is a great showing that the Rays had 3 guys in the top 60-ish of baseball. The one guy who really got me excited was the fact that number 4 starter, Andy Sonnanstine blew past Garza and Kazmir and came out a impressive 31st on the final list. He had some great statistics behind the front numbers and has shown some remarkable consistent numbers in 2008.
So the next time you want to wonder why Sonnanstine is still here and Jackson is gone, you can look at the 2008 numbers and they tell a very clear story. Jackson was listed at 114th best in baseball, while Sonnanstine was in the 31st slot. Consistency wins ball games, and with the Rays being a truly statistic friendly team, you know that Rays Manager Joe Maddon sees the potential of Sonnanstine even growing in 2009 for the team.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Rays did have a few guys who did better at the plate then imagined early on in the season. The team actually placed 3 guys in the top 100 hitters in 2008. As you might expect, Carlos Pena was the highest Rays with a ranking of 29th for the year. That was followed by a 55th spot by Longoria, and a 92nd slot for center fielder B J Upton.
On the surface, people thought the Upton was having a down season, which he actually was due to a shoulder injury, but with him adjusting his swing and even placing into the top 100, the sky is the limit when he is fit and healthy in 2009. And with Longoria placing so high as a rookie, it also sets a high expectation level for him in 2009. Hopefully the sophomore jinx will not hit him and he can remain in pace to become a new star at third base for the MLB.
But the category that really had my eyes popping was in the relief pitching listings. The Rays were consistently being praised for their upgrades in their Bullpen, and with the huge developments in their relievers, but just how great was this change for the team? The squad actually placed two guys high on the list.
Considering the guy who came in at number 10 on the list was not even on the Rays Opening Day roster is a amazement in itself, but he did not get any reputation, or even recognition until he came back with a fire in his belly to prove the world wrong about him. Grant Balfour came back to St. Petersburg to fulfill a potential of being a top 10 reliever in the MLB, not just the AL. If I took the top 10 and split them by leagues, Balfour would rank 7th in the American League.
But as great as the story is on the emergence of Balfour, the productivity of J P Howell can not be measured by just the statistics. During the season I saw the guy who used to slunk by the Bullpen area come alive this season and become a fan favorite for his personality and his spunk. As Howell gained strength and great numbers, he also opened up to the fans and showed that great inner champion to him. Howell just missed the top 50 in baseball by 2 slots, but he is a top guy based on his upswing in 2008.
So as we can see, the basic statistics in baseball sites and on leader boards can not always show you the total package of a player. Be it a MVP winner who is not even the 4th best player on his team, or a 5th starter who is actually statistically better than 3 other starting pitchers on his squad, the number can be deceiving at time. But we already knew that didn’t we?