Results tagged ‘ Jonny Gomes ’
Mariners 1, Rays 0
Still the Royalty of King County
Most of us Floridians do not know that Seattle is located in King County, and if yesterday afternoon is any indication, we know who rules with a multi-directional fastball and a beautiful change-up. But the young King is truly going to be one of the leagues premier superstars once the east coast of the country get a good scouting report on the guy. Felix Hernandez is hyped to the roof top by the Mariners, and for good reason. He has only been on their major league roster since 2005, when he appeared in only 12 games and furnished a 4-4 record.
But the sea-faring fans of the Mariner’s have been waiting for the day that the rest of the league catches on to this hard-throwing Venezuelan product. Funny, but in that short period of time he has stacked up 42 wins and over 620 strikeouts and still is mostly an unknown outside of the shadow of Mt. Rainer and the west coast. People have said that the Mariners lucked out by having another Venezuelan product on their roster back in 2002. Freddie Garcia was a childhood idol of Hernandez, and it was the fact he trusted and loved the Seattle area and team that finally convinced the young Hernandez to sign with the Emerald City team. In 2002, he then went to play for Aquirre in the Venezuelan Summer League.
From that point on up through the Minor League rosters he has done nothing but impress and persuade the team that he is their next home grown star. Very rarely do pitchers seem to grow up in a team’s minor league system anymore. Most are packaged or brought in via trades to compete in the minors for a shot in the majors. But Hernandez did his time working up from Class-A Everett to Triple-A Tacoma, then finally to the clay of Safeco Field. But what is more amazing is the future that this series will hold for him and the budding Rays stars. We all know that Carl Crawford and B J Upton have dealt with him for years, but Evan Longoria and Pat Burrell got their first official look at the man locals have dubbed the “King”.
And of this series is any indication of their fights and battles, we are going to have a fun time watching the Seattle ace take on the Rays for the next 10 years. Henandez might have won battle number one with a clear margin, but the game seemed like a different story after he left the mound yesterday. Before that, the Rays did manage to claw and fight to get 4 hits off of him in the game. Crawford had the most impact gaining two hits off of him, including a ball hit to shortstop in the thrid inning that handcuffed him severely into committing a throwing error on the play. Burrell made his presence know early in the second inning by popping the first hit of the night off Hernandez to right field.
Then in an error-filled play ( 2 errors, one by first baseman Jaimie Burke and the second on catcher Rob Johnson) by the Mariner’s team on Ben Zobrist’s fielders choice, it put a tying score less than 60 feet from Mariner’s catcher Rob Johnson. But the Seattle defense and Hernandez stiffened and Hernandez got the next two batter retired to save his shutout. In the fourth inning, after two walks to Burrell and Zobrist, the Rays again eventually had men at first and thrid with two-outs, but the Rays again failed to convert anything to get the run home to tie the contest.
Then in the fifth inning, with Crawford up for the third time tonight, he hit a screamer back towards the mound that Hernandez tried to bare-hand with his pitching hand and throw to first base. He ended up doing a spin and dump to the turf instead of getting balance and throwing the ball towards first base. But with Crawford’s speed, it might have been a blessing that he did not wing the ball towards Burke at first base. Burke was only playing the position for the first time in his career because of injuries to Mike Sweeney ( back) and Russell Branyan ( back ). Plus usual fill-in Jose Lopez could not switch over to first base since his sub, Ronny Cedeno had a bad hamstring from the previous night’s game. Dioner Navarro did get a worm killer single to left field in the seventh inning, but a rally-killing double play by Jason Bartlett ended the Rays chances.
The Rays did fight and claw back all night long with Burrell making the most trouble for the Mariners and Hernandez. For the afternoon, he went 1 for 1 with three walks and always seemed to get into scoring position for the Rays. But the Rays usual lack of hitting with men in scoring position doomed their day. The Rays ended up leaving 15 men on base, and also struck out 7 times against Hernandez. They had their chances against the Mariners, but let every one of them slip away. The Rays did not lose this game for lack of effort to get on base, but lost it for lack to the killer instinct needed at key time in this contest. But the Rays came into this series wanting to set the tone, they did in the middle game of the series, but got out-played, and out-hit in both their losses in Seattle.
Shields Make only One Mistake
The oddity of throwing your second pitch of a baseball game and it landing into the right field stands and becoming the winning margin in a game is rare, but not unknown in baseball annuals. Ichiro usually gets his two hits a game no matter who is pitching, but those who have seen the Japanese product take Batting Practice know he has the power and the ability to take a bad pitch and deposit it into the stands at any point in the game. Ichiro’s lead-off home run accounted for the game’s only run. He’s the second player in Mariners history to hit a lead-off homer in a 1-0 game. Greg Briley did it in 1992 with a home run off the Twins’ Kevin Tapani.
But how rare is it really in baseball? Does an early mistake happen as much as we think, or is it just a twist of fate that doomed the Rays early in this contest? Well, according to Stats Inc.,it was just the third time since 1994 – most recently by the Cubs on May 9, 2007, against the Pirates ( Alfonso Soriano homered ) and before that by the Mets on
May 12, 2004, over Arizona ( on Kaz Matsui’s homer ). A rare feat, but also a rare omen for the Rays. It had been 12 days since they suffered their last shutout, and the team had ample time to get back that elusive run because of the pitching of James Shields. His one mistake should not have been the margin of victory today.
Shields did everything in his power to keep the score close and also crush any potential Seattle rallies throughout the game. After Ichiro’s blast, Shields and the Rays defense sat down the next 7 hitters until Endy Chavez hit a single to center field to lead-off the fourth inning. But the Rays quickly erased that threat by getting Lopez to hit into a 6-4-3 double play to again empty the bases. Even in the fifth inning, after Shields walked Johnson, a hard hit ball to Longoria by Yuniesky Bentancourt provided the 5-3 putout to end the inning. But in the sixth inning, the Rays defense reared its ugly head and put its mark on the game. The only blemish was a bloop single over Bartlett by Ichiro, who now had two of Seattle’s 4 hits in the game.
Shields did pitch deep into the game finally giving up the ball after throwing 102 pitches in 7.1 innings of work. His lines score would usually show a victory, but in tonight’s wild and unusual battle he was given the loss after only surrendering 4 hits himself and giving up the lone run. Tho his efforts were valiant, he did give up only one walk to Johnson in the fifth inning and posted 4 strike outs on the day. His pitching matched Hernandez’s pitch-for-pitch. And except for that lone one pitch that he might have known would spell doom the minute it left his hand, he was to suffer his second loss of the year to even his record to 2-2 on the season.
Twice this year Shields has been opposite a “hot” pitcher when he took the mound. Even if Shields was as effective in this contest as he was for the Opening Day game in which Red Sox starter Josh Beckett pitched a masterpiece, it is the underlying problem of pitching in the number one slot. You always face the premier pitcher of the opposing staff, and even if you are on your game, situation can take it from you. But Shields has the inner confidence and the stamina to know that karma and things can change in an instant and go for the Rays. Tonight it was just one swing of the bat that took the wind out of the Rays sails. Just less than 16 hours from one of their best road wins of the young season. Games can shift one one pitch or moment, and unfortunately Shields know that all too well tonight.
Pat Burrell is Heating Up
Burrell is in a weird situation for the first time in his career. He is having to take a crash course in the American League hitters and also the tedencies of the leagues infields to get a firm grounding in the batter’s box this season. Consider how hard it is to not only adjust to the fact you are no longer in the flow of the game by being out in the field, but now you have to sit a majority of the time on the bench and observe your team taking their defensive licks, and you can do nothing but cheer and clap for them. I think that would be the biggest adjustment he has to make since signing with the Rays this off season. Jonny Gomes found it difficult the last few seasons, and it might have cost him his spot. Cliff Floyd was a great addition to the clubhouse in leadership and mentoring young players, but his bat did not surface to save him either.
It is as if the Rays Designated Hitter spot is the place where hitters have gone to die or retire for a long time. I am not even going to get into the Greg Vaughn or even the Jose Canceso days as a DH, because the formula has changed since their times. Now the DH has to be a run producer and a cheerleader second. Burrell also had the second horrific duty of having to digest and memorize the pitch selections and tendencies of every pitcher in the AL in a compressed manner. No longer can he just go up there and take his swings like in the Spring, but now he has to adjust and compensate for tailing breaking pitches on the fly, and catching up to fireballs coming in at his hands.
It has been a tough first few weeks for Burrell evident by his average, but the last week of game have also given a sign he might be gaining on the AL pitching staffs and being more selective at the plate. In yesterday’s game he was only 1-1, but his 3 walks showed he is seeing the ball and making great judgments at the plate for the Rays. In the entire three-game series, he went 4 for 9 , with 4 walks and 2 RBI’s to raise his average to .265 this year. He is beginning to come to terms with the American League. Some hitters who have spent their entire careers in the National League do not adjust fast, but Burrell is hitting even better on the road ( .276 ) than at home ( .250 ) this season and he knows that for the Rays to be successful again in 2009, he has to be on his game. It might have taken a bit longer than either he or we wanted for him to adjust and come to terms with the different hitting in the AL, but in the next few months, it is the Rays that will benefit from it all.
Elaine Thompson/ AP
Navi needs to Trust Hitting on the Ground
Dioner Navarro is beginning to heat up a bit at the plate. In the last three games he has gone 2-13, but the true fact is that in the last two series he has garnered only two hits a series. I am not about to cast him under the ships rudder, because his two hits recently have been down a bit and not the usual rocket fly balls that have plagued his average this season. the last few days, Rays Manager Joe Maddon has been stressing the fact of ground hit balls might be the ticket for this team to survive right now. And for Navarro, that might be the right ticket. He is not going to beat a ball hit in the infield 9 out of 10 times, but the lone time could make for a scoring opportunity.
Not since the Baltimore and Yankees home series has Navarro had two hits in a single game. Navarro hit 6 fly ball outs in this series and 3 ground outs in addition to his two singles to right field. But in yesterdays game, he hit two long fly balls out to center field with men in scoring position. He did get Burrell to tag up and go to third base on his fly out in the fourth inning, but his fly out with Gabe Kapler on second in the ninth inning finished the Rays in that contest. Navarro seems to be the lone holdout still hitting the ball primarily into the sky for outs for the team. Because of his defensive abilities, it would be a down grade to sit him right now. He is calling a great game behind the plate, and is getting into a groove with his throws to second base on steal attempts. His peg of Ichiro in this series will be a the highlight of the year for him.
Cursi Magic Runs Out
My buddy Scott Cursi
is one of the best people you will ever meet in the Rays organization. It has been a thrill for me to see him get some extra recognition that last few days in taking out the line-up card and also doing double duty as the “Jobu” of the Rays. Cursi has been the Bullpen Coach pro tempre before, and also been know to celebrate with the best of them during the Rays run in 2008. By Maddon picking Scott to have the honor again last night of handing out the line-up cards shows that Maddon respect streaks and anything that can make them roll on for another game. I hope he again get a chance to redeem his karma tonight when the team hits the field in Oakland at 10:07 pm.
During last night game, the line-up card that Cursi presented to Home Plate Umpire Sam Holbrook had a Chinese Proverb written on it by Maddon. I am unclear if this is the exact verse, but this is the only one I could find with that phrasing in an old Chinese Proverb quotation book at the library. It might have said, ” Tell me and I’ll forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I will understand.” The saying has been found in two references, one in Chinese lore and the other in Native American. Which ever is the true origin of the proverb, it might be a unique key to the Rays success this season.
Now you really want to know why having a guy of this height on your roster is a positive thing, just look at current San Francisco Giant pitcher Randy Johnson. Because of his powerful fastball coming in at a downward angle, bot his power and breaking pitches seem to have a bit moire bite to them at the plate. The intimidation factor is big for a pitcher. And when you are tall and can seem to almost reach out and touch the batter in just your wind-up, it can be a huge mental edge going into a game. I think that Niemann doesn’t have the most powerful stuff on the Rays staff, but he does have the advantage of that downward flow to the plate, which should keep some guys deep in the batters box on him to begin the season.
Now, I addressed a bit of this issue earlier in the blog, but the real guy who is the winner of the Hammel trade is actually reliever Lance Cormier. Just like last season, the last roster spot of the Spring went to a reliever. Last year it was the battle between Grant Balfour and Scott Dohmann, that surprisingly took Balfour to Triple-A to begin the season. But Balfour went down with a chip on his shoulder and actually worked harder than in Spring Training to again get back up to the major league level. This year, Cormier had some fantastic moments on the mound and looked to just be the odd-man out in the Bullpen.
But with Hammel’s trade, it not only opened a long-reliever slot for him, but will give him more time to convince the Rays that he is the man to keep once Jason Isringhausen is ready to make his Rays debut on the roster later in the month. So it will be a short period of time that Cormier will have to convince the Rays to keep him and maybe throw another reliever on the hot seat, or even trade them to keep his arm on the staff. During this spring, Cormier made only 10 appearances for 16.2 innings, but his 1.62 ERA was the highest totals by a Rays reliever this spring. his control was also spot-on all spring, which is evident by his 12 strikeouts and 2 walks. He was the only true reliever to post double digit strikeouts this spring for the Rays. Balfour was just one short with 9 for the Spring.
Rays Watch Parties for Red Sox Series
Fresh off the Internet after midnight tonight I got word from the Rays Fan Experience Coordinator Sean Liston, that the team has finalized plans for watch parties during the Rays Opening series in Boston. These events will also have some samples on hand to check out that will be given out in the home stand starting on April 14th. Among those items on display at the events will be the replica A L Championship ring, the World Series Cowbell, and the mini A L Championship trophy.
But that is not all, on hand before the game will be Mr “Magical Season” himself, Rich Herrera with the Rays pregame and post game shows live at the location. Liston mentions on his email that he want the Maniacs and other Rays fans to shout and cheer so loud the “Rays announcer Rich Herrera can’t hear himself think.” All locations will be in the Tampa and St Petersburg region this series, with additional watch parties to be announced in other areas of Tampa Bay in the future. So be sure to come out and support the Rays, and maybe make some new Rays friends at any of these three locations during the Red Sox versus the Rays series from Fenway Park.
Tuesday, April 7th:
Lee Roy Selmon’s Restaurant, 4301 West Boy Scout Blvd. Tampa Florida ( 813) 871-3287. This location is right across the road from the entrance to the International Mall complex off Sligh Avenue just east of the Tampa International airport. Rich Herrera will begin his Pregame show at 3:30 pm LIVE on WDAE 620 AM radio.
Wednesday, April 8th:
Smokey Bones Restaurant, 8020 Citrus Park Drive, Tampa, Florida ( 813)920-9434. This location is located just west of the Veterans Expressway ( Toll) at the Gunn Highway Exit. Rich Herrera will start the pregame at 6:30 pm LIVE on WDAE 620 AM radio.
Thursday, April 9th:
Hooter’s Restaurant 10400 Roosevelt Blvd, St. Petersburg, Florida ( 727) 568-0685. This restaurant is located off Roosevelt Blvd just east of 9th street North between 4th Street North. It is hidden a bit off the road just to the east of the Walgreens in the shopping plaza. Rich Herrera will begin his pregame show at 6:30 pm LIVE on WDAE 620 AM radio.
Ex-Ray Gomes Does Everything but sells popcorn for Reds
With the final rosters having to be submitted to Major League Baseball by 3 pm on Sunday, one former Rays player did not make his respective teams 25-man rosters for the 2009 season. This one was a complete surprise, because of the comments and posturing of his manager in recent discussions about the player. Jonny Gomes not making the final Reds roster was a bit of a surprise since he seemed to have hit the ball well and was very active in the field during his spring training tryout with the Cincinnati Reds as a non-roster invitee. He started off real strong in the beginning of Spring Training, but did tail off a bit and ended up hitting .244, with a team high 4 homers and 12 RBI’s. Red’s blogs the last few days have voiced their opinions loud and clear as to the demotion and sending of Gomes to the minor leagues. Cincy GM Walt Jocketty told Cincinnati.com that he hopes that Gomes accepts the minor league designation.
But Gomes was trying to do everything in his power to make this squad, even trying to take reps at a position he has not played a lot during his major league career. This spring, Gomes was trying to be the back-up plan that first base for the Reds, but now that he is not on the squad, that duty will fall to current catcher Ramon Hernandez, who has played the position only 7 times during his own MLB career. Gomes was jobless from Dec. 13, when the Tampa Bay Rays, the only organization he had played for, announced they wouldn’t offer him a contract, to Jan. 19, when he signed with the Reds. “I wouldn’t recommend getting non-tendered to any ballplayer,” Gomes said. “But it’s a way to get you ready for spring training. I just came in ready for anything. You never know what you’re going to be asked.”
In Gomes’ case, that has included learning a new position. Gomes has done all the Reds have asked and more. You pretty much completely discount early spring training stats – unless you’re in Gomes’ position. He knew he had to get off to a decent start to remain in the running for the left field/extra outfielder spot. But how did Gomes think he did during this spring to make it a tough decision for the Red not to sue him this year. “Not being on the 40-man, minor-league invite. When it comes down to cut time, you don’t have a good argument when you have 21 at-bats Gomes told me the other night. “I had to come in here ready, physically, mentally, all of the above. I felt I have.”
Gomes’ situation is not completely foreign to him. He spent some time on the fringe of the roster with Tampa Bay. “I know how that feels,” he said. “Coming up through the minor leagues without establishing myself as a big leaguer, I played winter ball a lot. A few seasons, I was into early February playing winter ball still. I always felt that was an advantage for me. This year, not being on a roster, I just felt I couldn’t risk going down there and getting hurt. I had to do my own work in the cage. You do what you’ve got to do.” Well, personally Jonny, I hope they see the errors of their ways and get you back into a Reds uniform soon. You are the type of player every team needs in their dugout, and in their clubhouse. I know I would play you on my squad if I was a manager.
I mentioned in a blog a few months ago that they Tampa Bay Rays had changed a bit when 10 members of the 2008 American League Pennant winning team either left via trade or were not resigned by the team. Well, I was sitting here today and was wondering what might have happened with those guys after they left the team in the off season. Well after doing a bit of research, I can tell you pretty much what they have been up to with their posted statistics as of last night ( March 20th).
Some of the guys have fallen off the total Major League Baseball radar, but a few are having the type of spring that the Rays envisioned them having when they were with the club. I guess the best one to start with is the one player who left via a trade this off season that was greeted by some with cheers and other with the true ability of filling one of the team’s biggest holes with a future budding star. When the trade first went down, I was not totally with it, because I envision a breakout year for this pitcher once he gains some control and confidence on the mound. But with his team tying 14 wins in 2008, I was expecting a little more out of him this spring.
Edwin Jackson is currently in the hunt for a spot on the Detroit Tigers starting rotation. I think he has a good shot to make the final 25-man roster even if he is not a starter this year. His ability to start and relieve make him an enticing pitching piece to the Tiger puzzle. If the Tigers can not agree upon a closer, you might even see him taking a few turns late in the game on the mound to further make the Tiger’s mouths water. But this spring, he has posted a 0-2 record in his 3 starts. He has thrown for 9 innings and given up 4 hits and 7 runs. The worst part is he has surrendered 3 home runs this spring, which was his downfall last season. He has not gained total control in his pitch command yet evident by his 6 walks and 8 strikeouts.
Cliff Floyd was again as free agent after the Rays declined his option on November 3, 2008. At the time, Floyd was considering the same surgery as B J Upton, but decided to rehab his injury instead. That might have been a great idea as the former Rays Designated Hitter is hitting a robust .381 this spring with a .667 Slugging percentage. He is also still seeing the ball well at the plate getting 4 walks this spring. The only downfall is that he has been mostly DHing with the San Diego Padres, and during the regular season he will either have to play in the field, or be just a bench player for the team most of the year. His 2 doubles show he still has some ability left in his old legs, but it is his power ( 1 HR, 5 RBI’s) that will get him a chance with the Padres.
Eric Hinske was one of the Rays major finds in 2008. He was signed for a simple $ 1 million dollar contract and only hit like he was making over 3.5 million. Even in his limited at bats, he made them count for the Rays and was always a constant positive influence in the clubhouse. But the Rays did not try and resign him and he moved onto the Pittsburgh Pirates who were seeking outfielders. This spring, on Feb 26th, Hinske suffered a left ribcage contusion after smacking into the wall at Pirate City in Bradenton, Florida. Until recently he has been held out by the Pirates as a precaution, but is now starting to get at bats and time in the outfield. His average is not “Hinske-like”, as he is only 1-7 right now, but his .400 On-Base Percentage shows that he still has a great eye at the plate and will be an asset to the Pirates in 2009.
Gary Glover was the kind of reliever that you either loved or hated with the Rays. He had an up and down love affair with the fans, and his pitching with the team never hit a consistent point. But after being released by the Rays, he cleared waivers, but refused a assignment to Triple-A and became a free agent on August 2, 2008. He signed this off season with the Washington Nationals and is currently throwing some great ball for the squad. Glover is currently holding a 0-1 record with a 1.80 ERA in his 4 appearances for the Nationals this spring. In his 5 innings he has only given up 4 hits and a solo run. He has seemed to gain a bit more control as he has only 2 walks and 5 strikeouts in those 5 innings.
Al Reyes and Kurt Birkins are two relievers for the Rays that currently do not have any ties with a single Major League Team. Reyes was designated for assignment by the Rays and was not claimed, but he refused an assignment to Triple-A and was released as a free agent on August 18, 2008. He did sign with the New York Mets organization and did have a small part in the New York Mets minor league system before he was released on September 18, 2008 by the parent club. He has not been invited or appeared for any club so far this spring. Birkins was released by the Rays on August 29, 2008. He did not get picked up by another club that season and is currently not on a Major League Baseball roster.
Rocco Baldelli did not have his 2009 option picked up by the Rays on April 1, 2008. The Ray decided to not exercise the option because of his growing health concerns with his fatigue syndrome illness. But Baldelli made huge physical and medical advancements and finally joined the Rays roster in September in Seattle. He performed amazingly for the team in the final month of the season and was a pivotal player during thei
r first playoff run. But the team decided to not pursue Baldelli and he signed with his hometown Boston Red Sox instead. Baldelli is being viewed as a fourth outfielder and occasional DH for the Red Sox. He has been used in 8 games this spring, and had gotten 24 at bats, which produced 5 hits, and 2 doubles and 4 RBI’s for his new Red Sox team. It is still a bit unnerving to see him in the Boston red jersey after his entire career as a Ray.
Trever Miller was another player who had his option declined by the Rays on November 3, 2008. But Miller, being a lefty specialist did not hang out long on the unemployed list as the St Louis Cardinals came fast to sign him to a two-year contract. But with their hunt for a closer for 2009, he might be a few reps trying to close out games in the late innings this spring and during the beginning of the year for the Cardinals. So far this spring he has appeared in 8 games and has an 0-1 record. He has posted a 3.86 ERA and given up 8 hits and 3 runs in 7 innings of work. He has hit 2 batters and also gotten 6 strikeouts in his limited pitching performances this spring. He will be a valued member of the Cardinal Bullpen when they leave Florida and head north this April.
Jonny Gomes has been called many thing when he was with the Rays. He has been an inspirational figure, a feared man at the plate, and a great guy to have in your clubhouse. but the Rays decided to non-tender Gomes on December 12, 2008. Gomes is now fighting for a outfield position with the Cincinnati Reds, and is making quite an impression on Reds Manager Dusty Baker. He is considered to be fighting with Chris Dickerson for the left field spot in the regular lineup. Gomes had made quite a case for himself this spring hitting for a .286 average, with a .679 Slugging Percentage. He has appeared in 17 games and gotten only 28 at bats, but has produced 8 hits, 2 doubles to go along with 3 homers and 10 RBI’s for the Reds. I can not see the Reds going north without Gomes this April. He has the ability and the confidence to again be a daily member of a MLB squad.
Scott Dohmann was the last pick for the Rays Bullpen out of the mix in 2008. He beat out Grant Balfour, who was none to happy to begin the year in Triple-A. But Dohmann did not keep his consistent pitching and was finally jettisoned as the Rays put him on waivers on May 14, 2008. He did clear waivers and was sent to Durham, where he stayed the entire season throwing great ball for the Durham Bulls. But this past off season, he became one of four pitchers to sign contracts with the Japanese Baseball League. He ended up singing a one-year $ 650,000 guaranteed contract with the Hiroshima Carp.
Tim Boggart, who was the Rays Quality Assurance Coach also left the team this off season. In that post he sat basically in the Press Box and overlooked the Rays during the game and watched for subtle gestures or even player movements that might tip off the opposition to what the Rays had planned on the field or mound. This was the first time the Rays had instituted this type of position, basically acting as a internal scout during every game. In the off season he accepted a contract to take over the Third Base Coaching position with the divisional rivals, the Boston Red Sox.
So the Rays have changed a bit between the last game of the World Series in Philadelphia and today. But the spirit and the confidence in this team have grown from the signings of relief pitchers Jason Isringhausen and Joe Nelson and Brian Shouse. The Bullpen, which was one of the true Rays strengths in 2008 has been fortified with a bevy of better situational and late inning guys. The Rays took care of their right field needs by signing Gabe Gross and acquiring Matt Joyce from Detroit for Jackson. But the signing of Pat Burrell to replace Cliff Floyd might have been the biggest indicator of the Rays commitment to getting back and finishing the job in 2009. It is going to be a rough and tumble year, but the team seems set to again strive for excellence, even with a few pieces swapped out from their 2008 model.
Photo credits: 1) RRCollections
2) Associated Press ( S. Rakocic )
It is always good to see Jonny Gomes at a game. Iman the guy always has a smile on his face and is always eager to see fans and player he knows while traveling around during this years Spring Training. So here I am in Gomes-land, the Sarasota complex where the Cincinnati Reds will call home for only the next month. If Gomes does make the Reds 25-man squad, we will not see him here in Florida in 2010. that is right, for the first time in a long while, next season’s Grapefruit League might not have Gomes to kick around anymore.
The main reason is that the Reds have decided to move their spring operations to Arizona next year. This will make most of the team still here in the Grapefruit league have to play split-squad games because there will only be 15 teams left in Florida. You know that MLB will be laboring and straining to again get a 16th team back in the Sunshine State, but who could it be. Everyone who currently play out in the Arizona sun seemed to be happy and pleased with their complexes, and none of them have voice even any unhappiness about their next year. So this spring might be the swan song of Mr Gomes. It will be a said day when the Rays last play the Red here again on March 29th.
Today’s game will be the second start of the spring for Scott Kazmir. He is still fighting some of the rust of the short off season, but he reported to camp with 20 pounds of additional muscle and lean throwing ability and wants to regain his edge again this year. That should be a great thing to hear if you are a Rays fan. When this guy feels good, it is usually a bad sign for opponents in the American League. So he takes the mound today looking to gain more control and to stretch his inning totals for the first time this year. And that could also be a bad thing for batters.
Brandon Arroyo took the mound first today for the Reds and was trying to seek some early rhythm in his second start of the spring. Jason Bartlett lead off the game on base for the Rays as he was hit by a Arroyo pitch. Carl Crawford then hit a single to right field to put two men on with no out in the game. Evan Longoria then hit a nasty liner to Keppinger at shortstop who grabbed the liner and then tossed to second base to get Bartlett who had wandered too far off the bag for a double play. Carlos Pena then hit a double that scored Crawford from first base and gave the Rays a 1-0 lead. Pat Burrell, who was playing right field today then came up and hit a RBI-double down the left field line to score Pena. Willy Aybar then struck out to end the Rays rally, but they now led 2-0.
Willy Taveras is the first batter to face Kazmir today and he was selective with Taveras before getting him to strikeout on a breaking pitch for the first out. Jeff Keppinger then came to the plate and hit a solid ball through the hole between short and third for the first base runner of the game. He then stole second on Kazmir, who seemed to take an extra amount of time between pitches today on the mound. Layne Nix, who is fighting for a spot on this team then hit a grounder to Willy Aybar at second. Aybar then flipped the ball to Pena for the second out of the inning. Keppinger moved over to third on the play. Daryle Ward then struck out to end the Reds attempt at a rally.
Kazmir came to the mound again in the second inning and Juan Francisco to hit a hard grounder to Aybar, who threw to Pena for the first out. Craig Tatum the hit a single to left field to put a man on for the Reds. Norris Hopper then hit a fly out to center for the second out of the inning. Paul Janish then hit an RBI-triple off the top of the left field wall to score Tatum. With the game taking part in a National League park, it was the Reds decision for the pitcher’s to bat today. So with two outs in the inning, Arroyo came up to bat in the inning. He ended hitting a deep fly ball to Ben Zobrist in center field for the final out of the inning.
Francisco Cordero, who like Weathers is trying to come back after injury took the mound in the 8th inning. He quickly gave up a single to right field to Reid Brignac. Rays Olmedo then hit a grounder to second that was thrown to second and then to first to complete a 4-6-3 double play. It was the first one of the day against the Rays. Johnson then came up and hit a deep ball to center for the third out of the inning. Niemann again took the mound for the Rays and faced Luis Bolivar first in the inning. He got him to hit a short grounder back to the mound that Niemann threw to first for the first out of the inning. Maddon then came out and pulled Niemann from the game and brought in Wade Davis.
Jeff Niemann did nothing to discount his stride to take the fifth rotation spot. He ended up going 2 innings and only gave up a walk. but he also lowered his spring ERA to .082. I am thinking that barring a bad outing in the next two weeks, the spot in the rotation might have been decided today. I am not going to put it in stone until the next outing by Jason Hammel, but the writing is beginning to be written on the wall. Carlos Hernandez also still has an outside shot at maybe gaining ground and maybe a roster spot with a great spring.
Photo credits: 1) RRCollections
2) The Enquirer ( Michael E Keating )
3) The Enquirer ( Michael E. Keating )
4) The Enquirer ( Kathy Willens)
I decided to venture over to Myspace the other day to check my
mail and maybe tweak my profile a bit when I noticed that I had a message. I
clicked on it and lo and behold had an email from the Cowbell Kid. Now anyone
who knows me will tell you I had a few small run ins with him, but nothing
serious about respect for the game and some behavior I heard about in the past.
But I do have to throw this compliment out there to him, he has made efforts to
clean and polish his act up a bit since late last year, and for that I sit back
and say thank you.
who has ever taken in a game at the Trop will know that he was famous, or
infamous for yelling at players during Batting Practice about certain
inconsistent behaviors in their past or in their playing styles. It is no secret
that he got more than one player a bit upset. I personally know of one incident
last year that got one player almost to the point of jumping into the stands and
taking him on during a weekend series against the Astros. I am not going to name
the player, but if you were at the Trop that Saturday night, you know who he is
by the yelling and screaming go to and from the
was part of his game psyche, to try and get into the head of mostly the
relievers or right fielder in the league. Now there have been a few moments
where personal stuff might have popped down between himself and another player
that were not above board, but that is in the past, and that play is no longer
on the New York Yankees, so it is in the vault with the rest of the deeds. But
since that has been one of his focal points over the year, he emailed me with a
problem he is just now starting to develop because of some recent trades or
actions by the Rays to change their
going to take the quote directly from his email so you can see that I am not
making this up, or trying to embarrass him. He said, “Here’s where it gets
tricky I have grown fond of some of the players that will no longer be a part of
our team, usually I will abuse any opposing players just because they are not on
the Rays team! But because of the respect some of these guys have gained in my
eyes I am going to have to be selective about my targets. ( never thought that
would ever be a problem for me ) oh well .”
know that will be a problem for him in 2009 and the season that will go on for
the Rays. I know he has a fond friendship and a game day type of bond with
former Rays players like Jonny Gomes, who is now with the Cincinnati Reds, and
Rocco Baldelli, who is now a dreaded Boston Red Sox. Because he is one of the
most vocal fans about the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, it is going to be
interesting what will happen during B P in 2009. But then again, he will also
see Gomes during Spring Training games, and it might be a tense moment for him
to see Jonny in red and white for the first
I know I
have had the same situation since the Rays began play. I would begin to talk
with a player and develop a bit of dialogue and when they were in the Bullpen or
out in right field I used to chat it up with them a bit, but when they left, I
did not stop trying to chat with them. My reasoning for this is that we are both
in love with the same thing………Baseball, and that common ground has a huge
amount of conversational pieces. A great example is former Rays right fielder
Jose Guillen. I used to yell out to him every game and even try and tell him if
a player was taking a wild turn at this if the ball came into the corner near
not to confuse or to even play coach, but to be his eyes when he had his back to
the field. I got to know him better and every time he comes back into the Trop.,
he comes over and say hello. Other players like Shawn Camp, who is now with the
Toronto Blue Jays have come over and shook hands and then got to their business.
But the best at keeping his old Tampa Bay baseball friendships up was former
Rays catcher Toby Hall. Every time the Chicago White Sox came into town, he would
stroll down to the corner and we would talk about his time in Chi-town and how
his kids were growing. Hall and I never went out fishing or even for more than
beers at Ferg’s, but we always seemed to have time to talk even during games
when he was in the Bullpen.
It is a
fine line and a personal choice if you want to remain friends or just change it
to a buddy who plays for the enemy. I was talking with former Rays player Joey
Gathright about that last year after a game and he said that it was tough
sometimes to come back here and see the people who cheered for him now booing
some of his actions. But he also knows that he can not pull punches or even
slack off a moment in front of his former home crowd or it would give them
another reason to boo louder to him. And there lies the problem. Can we as fans
of our team separate the player from the team, or are they a whole not matter
takes that problem and decides for themselves. I stood up and cheered for Texas
Ranger outfielder and former Rays Josh Hamilton the first time he came up to bat
at the Trop., and I am not ashamed of it at all. Some things happen in life that
you need to celebrate or show your appreciation to a player. The first time
Rocco Baldelli comes to bat I will also stand and clap. It is my way to salute a
great player that we will miss not only in the lineup, but talking with
field-side before the games. But then again, I have also mourned the loss of
two great former Rays players who I think were stand up guys and died way before
speaking of former Rays pitchers Joe Kennedy and Cory Lidle. I am not going to
go into the moments or the reason for their deaths, but they were moments that
made me question baseball and life in general for a moment in time. I was not a
close friend of either guy, but we did have conversations and used to talk down
in the Checkers Bullpen area any time they came into the Trop. It was a baseball
buddy kind of bonding that you just wanted them to be successful and have a
great life. I have written blogs about each of them, and my blog to Lidle was my
first sports entry in years on my old Myspace page. I have since removed the
posting and it is sitting in my blog scrapbook where only I can read it
So it is
now my place to celebrate baseball, and when it comes to our former players, I
try and keep in touch with them when they come into the Trop. Be is chatting
with Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Jesse Litsch, who last year told me about his new
home purchase in a great area west of Pinellas Park, Florida, or Brandon Backe
standing there talking with a group of Rays fans talking about nothing in
general, but loving every minute of it. So do we as fans, try and keep these
small friendships or baseball buddy situation alive and well, or do we let them
die because they are playing for another
to decide on a individual basis. There are players who I do not chat with that I
used to laugh at jokes with and see outside the stadium all the time. Even if
the player did not leave here without throwing insults or comments at the team’s
management, I do not hold them accountable because they spoke their minds and
the issue is closed. But it is hard to gain some face time with a player and get
to know them and then they get traded or sign as a free agent somewhere else.
best example might be Rays relievers Dan Wheeler and Trever Miller. I was not
close to either of these guys the last time they were here. We would exchange
comments and glances as they passed my seat, but it was not until they came back
to Tampa Bay after stints with the Houston Astros that the respect and the bond
grew. Every day they would pass my seat area and we would chat with them for a
few moments, and during the year, if I missed a game , they noticed and asked me
where I was, like friends sometimes do. And that meant a lot to me. But it was
the day after the Rays clinched their first playoff berth that really set the
tone for me with my Bullpen guys.
given one of the champagne bottles used in the celebration by a member of the team, and I asked Wheeler
if he would mind signing it for me. He took the bottle back in its bag and it
stayed back there for about 4 innings. He ended up having everyone in the Rays
Bullpen sign that bottle and then brought it back to me. I stood there and just
stared at the bottle for a bit then remembered why I like to talk to these guys.
They are good people, and even the short times we chat with them are remembered.
Guess sometimes there can be bonds outside the foul lines in baseball. So with
that, here is a question for you. Do you maintain your friendships and
conversation with your ex-players, even if they are playing for a division
All pictures used in this blog were obtained from the RRCollections.
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.
It is only a matter of time before Dioner Navarro is again celebrating. But this time it will be for a arbitration hearing settlement against his team, the Tampa Bay Rays. But he might not be alone that night celebrating as utility player Willy Aybar is also scheduled to go to arbitration with the Rays in 2009. Since Andrew Friedman took over the player contract reigns 3 seasons ago, he has only been to two hearing for the team. What is surprising is the fact that both of those hearing were for former Rays catcher Josh Paul, and the Rays won both hearings. So for the next 2 days, lets dig into the background and the career numbers for the Rays still arbitration eligible players. Both Navarro and Aybar are seeking substantial raises in 2009, and will go before an arbitrator for the first time to secure their 2009 contracts with the Rays.
But this year will be different for the Rays. Navarro, who is also a catcher posted personal bests in several offensive and defensive categories, and when compared to recent catchers in the MLB, is considered a bargain even at 2 plus million dollars a year. Navarro also went to his first All-Star game in 2008, and that just might be a nice piece of hardware to push him over that $ 2 million dollar plateau with ease.. The Rays started the off season with 6 members eligible for arbitration, but 2 were eliminated by trades, and 2 signed a contract with the team before the team’s 12 p.m. deadline on January 20, 2009.
Former Rays starter Edwin Jackson was traded to the Detroit Tigers for Matt Joyce and finally agreed to a $ 2.2 million dollar contract wit the Tigers, with a chance to earn an additional $200,000 dollars through innings pitched incentives. The Rays were not as kind to emotional and energetic cheerleader Jonny Gomes as the team cut ties with the fan favorite and he eventually decided on a minor league deal with the Cincinnati Reds for $ 600,000, with production incentives of $ 200,000 possible in the deal. Gomes also will have a chance during spring training to secure a left field spot in the Red’s outfield.
Rays 2008 Team MVP Jason Bartlett signed a contract with the Rays at 10:50 a.m. on January 20th, to just get under the wire of the Rays set deadline to discuss contracts with arbitration eligible players. Bartlett signed for $ 1,981,250 dollars on a 1-year deal, but the Rays control him until 2011. Rays platoon right fielder Gabe Gross avoided arbitration by signing a 1.255 million dollar contract on January 14, 2008 for a1 year deal. Gross will compete with Joyce and Rays new comer Gabe Kapler for playing time in 2009.
So that leaves the Rays with 2 very important members of their 2008 American League Pennant winning squad still on the outside without a contract. Both Navarro and Aybar can take a huge amount of credit for the surge of the Rays in 2008 based on their newly set career bests. Aybar can also put on a tag of “always ready” on his resume by coming in and taking charge several times in 2008 due to injuries of star players Bartlett, and Evan Longoria. So let’s begin with the Rays utility man, who played above and beyond his expectations in 2008.
Willy Aybar came to the Rays in a trade with the Atlanta Braves prior to the 2008 season. He had been a handful for the braves in both injuries and personal situations that almost got him a bad label in the league. Aybar had been obtained in a trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2006 and went straight into the Braves minor league system. When the Rays considered Aybar for a trade prior to the beginning of the 2008 spring training season, they had a lot of information and problems to sift through before finally completing the deal.
After consulting with their scouts and members of their new Dominican Republic complex staff, Tampa Bay began to really talk with the Atlanta Braves about a trade involving 24-year-old infielder. Aybar’s off-the-field issues, most notably a stint in a substance-abuse rehabilitation program that wiped out most of his 2007 season, could be an impediment.
The Braves had suspended Aybar indefinitely in April 2007 after he left the team without permission. He was supposed to report for treatment on a sore wrist that had him on the disabled list to open the season but instead drove from Atlanta to Boston to see his older brother for help dealing with drinking and drug issues. Aybar finally completed his rehab program in August 2007, but a broken hamate bone in his right hand kept him from making it back to the majors.
He underwent season-ending surgery and didn’t take the field again until October, when he began the winter-ball season playing for Licey in the Dominican Republic. He has had a strong season in his home country,hitting .339 and posting a .415 on-base percentage in 15 games during Licey’s run to first place in the league’s January semifinal series. So the Rays decided that Triple-A pitcher Jeff Ridgeway would be good enough bait to obtain the troubled infielder. But the Rays could not have anticipated the trouble in the off season prior to reporting for the Rays.
Aybar was arrested in February 2008 for suspicion of Domestic Abuse in the Dominican Republic and was initially held without bond. Even though Aybar’s lawyers have told a local magistrate that Aybar’s wife is dropping all of the charges, the infielder was still incarcerated in the Dominican for several days. After finally getting the situation solved Aybar went about getting ready to report to the Rays Spring Training complex in St. Petersburg, Florida for the 2008 season.
Then on February 20th it is learned that Aybar, Joel Guzman and Juan Salas are still being detained in the Dominican Republic on visa issues. The Rays consulted MLB about providing help to get their three players out of the country in time for Spring Training. Aybar and Guzman were both finally granted their visas and reported to camp in late February. But that was not the end of the frustration for the young infielder. During Spring Training he suffered a pulled or strained hamstring and it put him under suspicion that he might not be ready for the regular season.
When camp finally broke in April, Aybar had been given a spot on the 25-man roster and a starting gig at third base as the Rays sent their budding superstar, Evan Longoria down for more seasoning in the minors. With a regular spot in the lineup it looked like it would be Aybar’s year to shine in the major leagues. But 10 games into the season, Aybar was put on the disabled list because of the same hamstring injury and lost his starting shot at third base for the Rays as they finally brought up Longoria to stay for the season.
During 2008, Aybar started 79 games for the Rays. 40 of those were at third base during the early season and Longoria’s stint on the disabled list after the Seattle series. On September 17, 2008, against Boston’s Tim Wakefield, Aybar and Fernando Perez set a record by both switch hitters hitting a home run off Wakefield from the right side of the plate. That was the first time since 1969 that two switch hitters hit a homer against the same pitcher in a division play.
But it was during his stint at third base after Longoria injured his wrist in Seattle that he showed his versatility and power to the Rays. Starting all 30 games while Longoria was out, Aybar hit .308, with 5 homers and 18 RBI’s. During that span he hit 14 extra base hits and also walked 11 times for the team. But it was as a third baseman that Aybar made his number for 2008. Playing those 40 games at third, he hit .297 , with 6 homers and 20 RBI’s for the year. Elsewhere in the field or at Designated Hitter, he only batted .206, with 4 homers and 12 RBI’s. He had made a statement that third base was home for him.
But Aybar also played shortstop on occasion during one of Jason Bartlett’s disabled list ventures and performed a great job in the middle for the Rays. But he did go through a streaky pattern at the plate in 2008, hitting .309 on June 9th, before going 22-188, or a .186 average from June 10th to August 6th. He dropped his average all the way to .222 before taking over for Longoria after his injury. In his first game at third after the Longoria injury, he hit a career best 2 homers in a game against the Mariners’ and had a career high 4 RBI’s on the day. His 10 homers in 2008 are 5 more than he has ever gotten in his career.
But on the dark side, he did miss a total of 45 games due to his hamstring injury, but later in the season did go without incident or injury for the rest of the year. So his 2008 average of .288 against left-handers was one of the best averages on the Rays against southpaws during the season. Buy Aybar did save his best for last in 2008 as he went 3 -4 against the Red Sox at home on September 17, 2008 to help the Rays defeat the Red Sox.
The unfortunate side of Aybar in 2008, is that 8 of his 10 homers were solo shots and did not help get extra runs for the Rays during the season. But Aybar was the middle hitter in the June 9th game against the Los Angeles Angels at Anahiem where Longoria, Aybar and Navarro all homer in sequence for the Rays. Aybar did have 13 game-tying or go-ahead runs in the year, and also had 3 infield hits for the Rays. He also put down 3 bunt singles for the team, and was picked 6 times for “Web Gems” by the Rays PR staff during the year for his defensive plays.
On defense, Aybar had a total of 118 total chances on defense in 2008, with 29 putouts and 84 chances. He however committed 5 errors on the season to put his fielding percentage at .958. that is pretty average for a guy trying to fight to get playing time every day. I do not have a total breakdown of if must of these errors came from other positions besides third base in 2008. That total would put him in the middle of the pack with respect to utility men in the league, most of which make over $ 1 million a year.
So is this enough for Aybar to get rewarded with an arbitration figure higher that the Rays suggested contract of $ 900,000 dollars for 2009. Aybar did counter with an offer of $ 1,050,000 for the season, a difference of only $ 150,000 dollars. The proof might actually be in Aybars’ post season numbers as he went 9 for 23 during the playoffs, posting a .417 average, with 2 home runs and 6 RBI’s in 10 games. the fact that he hit for 16 total bases and only struck out 4 times in the playoffs might be enough to get him that extra $ 150,000 dollars in arbitration money.
Aybar has been one of the American Leagues hidden gems in 2008. He can hit, play defense and is a great clutch player for the Rays. I was actually surprised not to hear his name mentioned throughout the off season as trade bait for a big time hitter or reliever. Who knows if Aybar will even make it past the trade deadline in 2009 with the team. His stock has been going up all throughout 2008, and 2009 might be the year he can finally break through that utility player mold and become a starter with someone else during the stretch run.
Time will tell, but I am thankful that we have Aybar as a reliable and constructive member of the Rays bench. With a new contract in hand, and a chance to retain his psot on the Rays 25-man roster for 2009, Aybar might just be the happiest guy to report to the new training complex in Port Charlotte. But then again, maybe Navarro will spring for dinner that first night.
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.
Everyone remembers the magic of your first time. The first time you had a bubbly ice cold soda, or maybe even tried that ride at the fair that scared you to death a year earlier. But the fascination and the excitement of trying something, or achieving something for the first time can be a rush that can not be beat.
It is for that reason that my Top Moment for 2008 for the Tampa Bay Rays includes a new “first” for the franchise. As I said before, we always remember our first time entering the ballpark, checking out the sounds, smells and the atmosphere of this new electric-charged dome. You still think about the first Batting Practice or your first foul ball catch, or even the first autograph you ever got at the game. And who could ever forget the taste of that first stadium hot dog. I know all of these are still fresh in my mind, and it has been over 40 years since my first game at Al Lang Field watching the St. Petersburg Cardinals.
So it is with great pleasure that I introduce my number one memory of 2008. It occurred on September 20, 2008 with 36,048 other believers in the stands and jumping up and down like madmen. It was a time for rejoicing and for remembering all the things we loved about the Rays. Not only did the team play a hard fought 7-2 victory over the Minnesota Twins, but the team secured its first EVER playoff berth.
Considering this team had never won more than 71 games a year, and for most of the year fought hard to keep its top spot in the American League East race, this was the moment for the home fans and the players to salute a great season, and the celebrate together. I know a lot of people might consider one of the many I picked as a number 2 moment for this top spot. This was personal to me. I got to celebrate with a few friends as they wandered and cheered around the stadium,
I got to remind a few of them that the journey has just began and they made sure I knew that it was us, the fans that drove this bus to the playoffs as much as the players. And I got to drink from the champagne bottles and taste that sweet nectar that went down like cool rainwater and tasted like spun honey. It was one of the biggest moments for me as a fan of the Tampa Bay Rays…………….and hopefully you got to enjoy it too that day…………….
Basking in the Moment………..1st Playoff Berth
It might have looked like a mob scene out of your favorite sports movie, but believe me, the energy in that place yesterday was so severe that it sometimes seemed to choke you from the intensity in the air. From the energy and the explosion of emotion in the stadium atmosphere yesterday, this game was won by the time they even first stepped on the turf.
Seriously folks, I have never felt so drained emotionally and mentally in my life. I was literally crawling out of the Trop at 9 P.M. after celebrating in the stands, near the clubhouse with a few friends, and in the Budweiser Brew house having a few brews with the old crew from the last 10 years. This was a night were everyone in Tampa Bay would have a peaceful nights sleep.
This is a day/night/weekend that will sit up there with the best memories I have involving sports in my life. I have been to a few wild celebrations, like the Baltimore Ravens victory party in Ybor City after they won the Super Bowl in Tampa, or even a late night cocktail party at Reign after the Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup with a few ex-Rays players. I am so spent right now and I have not come down from this yet. And I have a Season Ticket holder Picture Day in 6 hours with the players. Well, the ones who are awake at 10 am.
All I can say is this is going down in my memory banks as one of the greatest day in my fan life. How can it get any better………….oh, wait WE could have THREE more of these great celebrations before the playoffs are all over with this year! And then the real party will begin! But let’s not get too far in front of ourselves here, there is a long road to go to even think of that situation right now.
THREE more chances where these guys pay as much attention to their team partying as they do out with us, the fans. From interview to interview last night, the guys to a “T”, talked about the Tampa Bay Rays fans. They included the fans in their celebrations. Getting up on the dugout and spraying the masses with champagne and beer. Throwing 9=8 playoff hats and T-shirts to them all, and relishing a moment that will live in this franchises history books and memory forever.
You always remember your first time. You remember where you were, Who you were standing with, and what you were doing at that exact moment. When the guys came running down into the Bull Pen Cafe area and I was standing on the railing, I can not remember how many of those guys came up there and slapped my hand and gave me a fist bump. But the ones that were special were the Hugs from J P Howell, Jonny Gomes, Chad Orvella and Scott Kazmir. I have chatted almost daily with a lot of these guys on their way to the Bullpen, or back in the right field area, and they are some of the best guys you will ever want to meet.
Howell for instance used to be one of the quietest guys on this team when he was a starter. He was moody and never seemed to want to talk. Now since he has found his calling in the bullpen, he is one of the friendliest people I have ever encountered on the Rays. Dan Wheeler is not known to smile a lot, but he does when we chat back and forth during the games. There is a unique bond there between the Bullpen and the fan here that I have never seen before in my life. But then again, they are living the dream this year.
From the first champagne bottle out of the clubhouse, to the two bottles that Bullpen Coach Bobby Ramos had ordered for himself and the close fans down there, it was a magical night. The parade around the Trop outer perimeter was a show of the love and respect these guys have for the fan base. I have been lucky enough to know a few of these guys off the turf in private. And I have to tell you this in total confidence, not one time this year did any of these guys take this responsibility to the fans or to the community as a job or work.
This group actually enjoys interacting with the fans. From the time they walked out at the Spring Training complex in mid-Feb. to now has been a long and rewarding journey. There have been player injuries and players have come and gone from the roster, but the core of this team have been strong, mentally tough and been an inspiration to the fans. Not many groups have a tie to the fans that these guys have. The Rays community can honestly say the have the team’s back at any moment.
The funny thing about this celebration is that about 25 percent of it was outside the locker room in the field where these guys have toiled and struggled and left themselves bleeding and wounded some nights. To say this battle did not end with a fairy tale ending is totally accurate. This season has now almost come to a close at home, but in the next wek they might have a Divisional Crown celebration either in Detroit or Baltimore, then sprint home and get ready for the First of many October games in the Trop.
I really need to hit the sack for a few hours before I fall down, but the adrenaline is still pumping hard in me right now and I have tossed and turned for about 5 hours since I got home. I am a emotional wreck right now, but I would do it again in a New York moment. If you have never been to one of these defining moments, you know how the Rays Republic is now feeling. If you have not, I truly wish it upon yourself and your team sometime in the future. It is a roller coaster ride fitted with some great ups and downs that is not even over yet.
I just want to repurchase my “E” ticket so I can climb aboard the coaster again and roll through another three of these celebrations with the Rays and this truly spectacular group of guys. I actually now know what other team’s fans have talked about when the y remark about the feelings and the intensity of the moment. I can see why New York Yankee and Boston Red Sox fan yearn and seek thin moment in their lives yearly. But I have to almost admit, I do not want to share it with them anytime soon.
So As I finally slink out of the stadium, and check out that bright orange roof, I am reminded of all the glory and the sweat and tears that have blanketed this great dome in the past 10 years. But tonight they all seem like a distant memory as we have a new found tradition of winning and are celebrating the success of our boys’ tonight. I can’t wait to get back into my seat tomorrow and see how much of the energy is still trapped in this building…………….9 am is coming fast to me tonight.
I was sitting at the computer this morning trying to pick out a second possible winning moment in 2008 for the Rays when it dawned on me that there are too many to even count. So I have decided to instead list all the important events, as per my opinion, that have made 2008 so great for Rays fans. I mean I truly sat there after deciding on number 3 yesterday, and decided that one was the easiest pick of the bunch.
If you get to go to the big show, it has to be a top 3 moment in your team’s flight that season. There are a huge bunch of moments that helped define 2008 for the Rays. Be it a event in 2007 at shaped the look and feel of the franchise again, or the elimination of a curse in another stadium that served as a mental block to the team. 2008 was the Year of the Ray, and it is one I am glad I got a front row seat for all year long.
I decided to run this in chronological order from the first event in 2007, up until the final out in Game 5.5 of the 2008 World Series.
So let’s begin with the first order of business way back in November 2007, when the Rays held a rally in Straub Park near the waterfront in St. Petersburg, Florida. The event was the unveiling of the teams new logo and colors. The Uniforms were fashioned to represent the old style of baseball with a new Rays logo on both the home and away jerseys. The “R” on the uniform front posed a new sweeping motion for the bottom of the letter, plus the sunburst between the lettering also brought about a new look and feel to the organization.
The ray of light was a new focal point of the team, which abandoned the former Ray on the cap and also on the team’s official logo. But the Rays did get to stay for 2008 on the sleeve of the jersey, but might be retired in 2009. The event was to showcase the new look and feel of the team. And with it came a new spirit of winning and posting new attitudes for the team. And one of baseball’s biggest supporters came out and celebrated with us. Kevin Costner and his band, Modern West came out and entertained the masses after the unveiling and rocked the house all the way up to the fireworks display.
Then came the last Spring Training reporting for the pitchers’ and catchers’ to the Ray Namoli Complex in Northwest St Petersburg. The team came out onto the field and Rays Manager Joe Maddon had a small speech in which he wanted to stress fundamentals and team work and chemistry in 2008. That was the day he unveiled his famous “9 =8 ” formula for the world to decipher for the rest of the season.
Then came the first event that molded and formed this band of players into friends and bonded them for the rest of the year. In the day prior to this event, the Rays Elliott Johnson had made a hard charge into Yankees’ minor league catcher, Francisco Cervelli a few days earlier. The event did not sit well with the Yankees’ staff and during the March 12th rematch at Progress Energy Field, Yankees enforcer Shelly Duncan decided to take matters into his own hands.
Duncan was hustling on a hit into the outfield when he turned and made a move towards second base. It was apparent to almost everyone but Duncan that he would not be able to make it to the base in time to beat the throw. During his slide, Duncan brought his cleats up towards Akinora Iwamura and struck him mid-thigh with his metal cleats. Duncan came up immediately and contested the action before right fielder Jonny Gomes came into the action and leveled Duncan to the ground. It was an event that brought the team together for the first time in 2008.
Then two weeks later, the Rays said farewell to their present Spring Training home when the team played it’s last game at Progress Energy Field ( Al Lang Field, Waterfront Park). The game was met with sadness and joy because of the memories of teams playing on these grounds since the 1940’s in this present stadium. The event also was a visual point for the team to showcase the new proposed stadium that might some day rise on the same grounds.
Or could moments like Eric Hinske missing a cycle by a single. It is amazing to me that he went 3-4 on the night and got his triple and homer early in the contest at the Walt Disney complex, but could not get that elusive single. Hinske ended up being one of the true bright spots for the Rays in the Free Agent market. He signed for a low number, but produced high energy and some pretty impressive offensive displays during the 2008 season.
Then we have the first sweep of the Boston Red Sox at home this season. That would only be the icing on the cake as the Rays would send the Red Sox faithful home as losers in 8 of the 9 games at the Trop this year. The first series at the Trop. would end with a hard fought 3-0 shutout by James Shields.
Then comes the moment where Rays Manager Joe Maddon thinks the Rays season began to turn into its championship run. It was during a road trip up to Toronto when the Rays battled back from a possible loss. Edwin Jackson left the 8th inning with a Ray lead before Troy Percival gave up 4 straight singles to let the Jays tie the game at 3-all. The teams battled back and forth before Dioner Navarro, who went 3-6 on the day hit a screamer into the stands for a Grand Slam homer and sealed the victory for the Rays.
On May 13th the Rays got to celebrate for the first time in club history as the team officially took over first place in the American League East. It was the latest point in any Rays season that the team had enjoyed the top spot. The game produced one of the first moments in the Rays 2008 history for celebrations when pinch runner Jonny Gomes came on for Cliff Floyd after he singled in the bottom of the 11th inning. Gomes stole second, then sprinted home to seal the victory for the Rays 2-1.
Then came the L A Angels first visit to Tropicana Field, and the Rays shut them down to also sweep that series. Then came in the mighty Chicago Cubs for a three game Inter-League series that was deemed by many to be a possible World Series matchup. During this series, the Rays finally began to get some national exposure for maybe being a true team that could win it all in 2008.
But not until after the June 19th game, in which Carl Crawford hit a grand slam to propel the Rays. The team had officially beat the best team in baseball all three games did the national media begin to get on the Rays bandwagon. Cub’s Manager Lou Pinella commended the Rays on their young squad, and you could see a small twinkle in his eye that he approved of the young team getting the best of his team that series.
On June 27th, Rays starter Matt Garza was on the mound in a game against the Florida Marlins and gave up a blast to Hanley Ramirez in the 7th inning to produce the only hit and run in the contest. Garza went on to shut down the Marlins’ offense the rest of the game.
According to the Elias Baseball Bureau, It was the first complete-game no-hitter or one-hitter with a double-digit strikeout total in the majors this season. There was only one such pitching performance in each of the last three seasons: by Chris Carpenter in 2005, John Lackey in 2006 and Justin Verlander in 2007.
On July 19th, the Rays won their first game back after the All Star break to break the team’s longest losing streak of the season. With the Blue Jays in town for a weekend series, the Rays went on to break up a perfectly good pitchers’ duel on a Ben Zobrist homer on the first pitch he saw tonight. Toronto starter A J Burnett was on tonight, but the Rays caught a huge break on a hanging breaking pitch to Zobrist for the victory.
While the Rays were at home on August 30th they got to celebrate a first in Rays history. With the 14-3 win over the Baltimore Orioles, the Rays posted their 82nd win of the season. Marking the first time in franchise history they were guaranteed a winning season. It also marked the night of Scott Kazmir’s 10th victory of the year.
The mystic of Fenway Park was beginning to get the better of the Rays in 2008 before Scott Kazmir took the mound on September 10th in a series the team needed to keep their lead on the Boston Red Sox. It also began one of the most storied moments in Rays history. During the contest the Rays batters went a combined 1-15 with men in scoring position and almost gave the game to the Red Sox several times. As the team fought back and forth before the Rays sent up a pinch hitter in the bottom of the 9th inning.
Dan Johnson had been summed from the Durham Bulls earlier in the day and would have started in left field if he had gotten to the ball park a little earlier in the night. But because of flight problems and transportation to Fenway Park, he arrived just moments before the game. In the 9th inning, Rays Manager Joe Maddon inserted Johnson into the game to pinch hit against Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon. Johnson worked the count to 3-2 before he hit a monster shot that cleared the right center field wall to give the Rays a 5-4 lead in the game. Jason Hammel ended up coming out in the bottom of the 9th and secured the win for the Rays. It was Hammel’s first save of his career.
With the team away for their last series, it was actually the next day when most Rays fans learned that we had secured the American League East title the previous night in Detroit. With the Rays in Motown for the last series, many players came back to the clubhouse to celebrate into the wee hours of the morning. It was a wild fact, but players and staff went to area hotels sports bars to do a bit of scoreboard watching as the New York Yankees needed to lose for the Rays to be awarded their first title in team history.
After the hard fought season, the Rays staged a airport greeting for the team at St. Petersburg/Clearwater airport on September 29th. The event was attended by almost 5,000 people who flocked into the baggage area and loading zones to greet and cheer the team as they got off their chartered flight from Detroit. People filled the airport and also the outer traffic lanes of the airport to see their new champions come in from their road trip.
On October 6th, the Rays were in Chicago facing the White Sox when they secured their first series win in the American League Divisional series. The Rays won the series 3-1, and established that they were the team to beat to get to the World Series in the American League. In that series, the Rays battled back time and time again against the tough White Sox pitching staff before finally breaking through and getting right breaks.
When the Rays faced the Philadelphia Phillies on October 23rd, they sent James “Big Game” Shields to the mound. The game showed the waking up of B J Upton and Carlos Pena at the plate as both help produce much needed offense for the Rays. In a play featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, Rocco Baldelli came across the plate for an apparent Rays run, but Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz held onto the ball.
The game came down to great situational hitting by the Rays. B J Upton scored Akinora Iwamura from third to plate the first run for the Rays. In the 4th inning, the Rays took a hold of the game after Cliff Floyd hit a single and Dioner Navarro hit a nice liner up the middle to put two men on base for the Rays. Baldelli then hit a nice shot down the third baseline, but it was gloved by Feliz and the Rays had men on the corners. Jason Bartlett then came up and executed a safety squeeze perfectly in front of Phillies starter Brett Myers to put the Rays up 4-0. It would be the Rays first victory in the Fall classic.
Last, but not least is the Game 5.5 as I call it of the 2008 World Series. No matter what happened in this game, the historical significance was more pressing at the moment. The contest was a hard fought contest and each team traded runs and hits before the Phillies finally walked away with their second World Series Championship.
The game was a true test of everything that got the Rays here in 2008. The Bullpen, which was the team’s focal point in 2008 had finally given up a run at the most critical moment in the contest. And the Rays offense could not close the gap when needed during their last at bats. with Eric Hinske striking out for the last out of the game.
All of these events made a different focal point for the Rays in 2008. I hope a few of your fond memories have graced the blog. If I forgot a moment that you found remarkable in 2008, please feel free to comment on the blog and I will check into it and might even make it my number 1 choice tomorrow. Again thank you to all the readers of Rays Renegade for their insights, comments ans readership in 2008.
Hopefully in 2009, I will have more outstanding Rays moments to record for you.