Results tagged ‘ Matt Joyce ’

Pitching and Defense Providing Perfect Harmony

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Tampa Bay Rays Manager Joe Maddon has
always preached that his “pitchers set the tone of a game“. I’m
not sure, but I think the Rays skipper forgot to tell his young
outfield and his rookie Shortstop.


On a night when the Rays offense struck
early against usual Rays-killer Edwin Jackson, the Rays defensive
unit kept the pressure off southpaw hurler David Price with
incredible plays in both in infield and the outfield. Possibly this
young Rays fielding unit has finally found the right note to play in
harmony with their pitching staff.


Rays outfield Sam Fuld who wandered
over to his more familiar Centerfield spot again left his feet for an
incredible catch, and Ben Zobrist looked more like a sprinter going
towards a ball near the Rays Bullpen that was just a inch out of his
reach.

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Everyone of the Rays outfielder last
night made incredible running catches last night to help synchronize
Price’s artistic game on the mound. Rays SS Reid Brignac also got his
own note in with a deep ball hit towards the edge of the Rays new
AstroTurf surface, then turned and fired a strike that would have
made any pitcher envious for the 6-3 put out.


Little by little this Rays patchwork
Blue defense is gelling and beginning to showcase not only their
defensive skills, but show great support for their Rays pitching
staff by boosting their offense. I have to say, this might be one of
the best Rays athletic defenses we have seen in a while from corner
to corner…Sorry Carl Crawford.

Tell me this little quote will not infuriate the Red Sox
Nation. Rays Maddon on Sam Fuld’s LF defense compared to
Carl Crawford, who won a Gold Glove last year:

“There’s no drop-off. There’s no drop-off. To say
that right now, I would just be appeasing everybody. That’s
not true. Sam’s playing that level of defense right now. He
throws the ball better. And right now, all the different
things he’s doing defensively, I can’t tell you that Carl’s
better. I can not.”

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High praise for Fuld from a Rays
Manager that got to see Crawford nightly from 2007 to 2010 along with
a duo of trips to the post season. But this entire Rays outfield
right now is torqued to perform and to provide moments that even ESPN
would be proud. Interesting enough, Fuld currently has a comfortable
points lead (18) on the ESPN Web Gems standings over both Braves SS
Alex Gonzalez and Marlin OF Chris Coghlan.


Interesting enough, Rays 2B Sean
Rodriguez is in a 3-way tie for fourth place with 9 points, and Rays
1B Dan Johnson has 7 points. The Rays as a team currently have 36
points and are being chased hard by the Rockies (24) and the Royals
(19) in this early stage of the season. The Rays current .986
Fielding Percentage ranks second in the American League.


Before tonight’s broadcast, FSN Florida had an on-air interview with Price and his quote says it all: “ I hear that water covers 75% of the World, the other 25% is covered by Sam Fuld.”


Pitching may ” set the tone”, but
if you have your defensive unit also in unison playing extremely
stingy defense, it helps lighten the burden of the pitching staff.
When a pitcher is down 3-1 or 3-2 in a count and his defense is
playing with humongous gloves, they can skirt a ball in on the hands
or outside hoping for a ground ball and a sure fire out.

The overall confidence the pitching
staff can gain by the Rays defense playing superior right now will
play into guys trusting the players behind them and let the game
unfold instead of the pitchers’ trying to win it all on their own
shoulders.


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Acrobatic plays, leaping grabs and full
sprint catches might seem like a rare occurrences on a baseball
diamond, but here in Tampa Bay, it is just business as usual for Fuld
and crew. When I played football, my Coaches used to preach that
“defense wins championships “.


Right now the Rays are playing a tune
like “Take It On the Run” by REO Speedwagon in with both starting
and relief pitching strumming along, hitting banging hard to provide
tempo and the entire fielding unit playing in harmony. Maybe Maddon
is right because right now pitching is setting the tone…. and it is
simply beautiful to the ear.

Maddon: Mad Man or Crazy as a Fox


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I really do kind of understand how
difficult it can be in the final methods of deciding who plays or who
get the pine for the night. Scrolling over a mountain of facts and
figures and calculations can drive a normal person insane.


But sometimes, just sometimes I truly
think Rays Manager Joe Maddon is just toying with our minds. Some
days I think he is more apt to throw 9 darts at a board featuring his
picking his final 9 for the line-up or ask the Magic 8-Ball for game
day guidance. Seriously sometimes I think he diverts the obvious
choice in the line-up to test our tolerance….or ignorance.


From Maddon posturing to let a recent
Tampa Chamber of Commerce luncheon audience decide to insert Tampa
native RF Matt Joyce into the 3-spot, to posting tonight’s line-up to
include a slightly more 2010 Triple-A line-up with his young Rays
“Ace” David Price on the mound borders on simply criminally
insane, or crafty like a fox.


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Got to admit, like the recent Barry
Bond’s grand jury of his peers, I am not sure what is the whole truth
and what is truly fictional anymore about Maddon’s line-up choices.
And that is sad for me.


I stand wholeheartedly in unison with
most of the Rays Republic united behind Maddon’s maddening mantras
and his sometimes diverse ways of pushing his team towards the next
level without physically jamming it down their throats.


Sometimes though I still find myself
puzzled and bewildered from what rationale place some of Maddon’s
diverse decision originate from, and why? Heading into tonight’s
Chicago White Sox 4-game series, I really expect to see 4 different
line-ups over the next 4 games with more than a few head scratches or
questions from the Rays Republic. Maybe bring on RP Andy Sonnanstine
as a pinch-hitter late in a game.


I understand “Rock Star” Johnny
Damon took one on the ring finger in Sunday’s contest and can’t even
hold a bat today, but to take one of your best hitters, even if it is
B J Upton, and sit him against a free-wheeling hurler like White Sox
starter Edwin Jackson tonight just makes me go back to the above
questions…slightly insane or crafty like a fox.


Moving Sam Fuld into Centerfield might
seem a bit crazy to some, but if you read any of Fuld’s 2010 minor
league scouting reports, you will notice Fuld has played mostly
Centerfield in the minor leagues. This idea shows more of the “fox”
tendencies to get Fuld in the line-up, plus possibly exploit another
fielding talent area the Rays Republic has not seen from Fuld outside
of Spring Training.


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But seriously, Joe. You really expect
me and the Rays Republic to not take a gander at Felipe Lopez who is
hitting .265 this season to be the right choice at Designated Hitter
and hitting clean-up and not go find a binding white coat for you to
wear?


Just because Lopez has a career .286
average against “Action” Jackson, did you fail to see that was
only a limited 2-for-7 slice lifetime against tonight’s starter. I am
starting think we might have to watch the exits of the Hard Rock Cafe
and see if you might have a hidden gambler tendency to you…or maybe
you are asking the valets’ for their opinions too. Don’t get mad Joe,
we are just worried about you.


I bet Jackson quickly ran looking for a
calendar in the Visitor’s Clubhouse thinking it was his birthday (
his B-day is actually Sept 9th). How can you possibly
think you are fielding a competitive squad when you send your first 3
players in your line-up tonight who spent most of their 2010 season
at the Triple-A level. Hopefully you have written in the line-up
card in crayon so we have a key defense item against an insanity plea
in the near future.


Seriously, this Rays game can go two
directions tonight. Either it can be another solid outing by Jackson
with another possibility of a “No-No” in the air , or could
implode into a brilliantly conceived Maddon master plan that awakens
a few bats that have laid in mostly silence so far in 2011. Brilliant
or baffling, less than three hours to go to fully divulge the answer.


I still think the real loser here is
Rays starter David Price. He either gets a re-energized solid defense
behind him and is on his game tonight, or it will snowball into
another questionable loss that Price doesn’t deserve. It is almost as
if Price has to hit the mound thinking of a perfectly pitched game
for him to even have a sliver of a chance of celebrating a victory
tonight.


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But that is the thing about this Rays
staff and players. They have been portrayed as AL East second class
citizens in pre-season predictions, butchered by a 0-8 start, but
have quickly risen like a Phoenix from the ashes. Only 9 innings and
27 outs tonight will show if Maddon played his hunches right, rubbed
the rabbit’s foot in the right motion or read his morning tea leaves
with any hint of clarity.


Usually you want to have you most
consistent 9 on the field for a contest against a team who is coming
in for the last 4 games you will play against them in 2011 (baring
the playoffs).


By midnight tonight we are either going
to think Maddon is a pure baseball genius, or Maddon will have most
of us muttering a few choice four-letter words unprintable on here to
describe the performance of his line-up as we exit Tropicana Field.


Whether Maddon is clever as a fox, or
insane in the membrane, you got to love the fact he is not afraid to
tinker, tamper or stir the pot. Hopefully tonight he got his
tendencies right and the dome will be lit up in an orange hue. Just heard a tidbit that
 Maddon is battling a cold…..Could cold medicine have been the true culprit in deciding today’s line-up?  Can’t wait for the post game conversation now…….




Matt Had Us All Re-Joycing Last Night

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You’ve been waiting for this day for a
while Tampa Bay. The perfect time to board the bus and support Tampa
Bay Rays RF Matt Joyce. Sure he is a local guy, graduated from
Armwood High School just a stone throw away from the State
Fairgrounds. But you had doubts.


Hopefully a few of those “doubting
Thomas’s” got some sense of religion last night after Joyce produce a beautiful
2-run single to tie the game against the Twins at 2-all setting the
plate for more hi-jinxs in the later innings. Still some of you
pointed to Joyce getting nailed on a steal in the fifth inning.


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Then again some of you are finally
seeing that this Rays team needs someone like Joyce who seems to pick
his moments and then seals the deal with a key hit, a sensational
catch, or maybe even something as simple as a single into the CF-RF
gap that sent Denard Span into hyper gear, but to no avail.


The mantra of these feisty Rays is
“Find Another Way”. Last night that simple but multi-layered
mantra ended up dancing in the late night streets, celebrated by
howling at a sliver of the moon, and brought the Rays their first
victory at home this season.

The victory also snapped a 2011 5-game
losing streak at Tropicana Field that used to play into the Rays
hands, but has been an albatross for them this season. Furthermore,
the Rays snapped a 9-game consecutive losing streak (including post
season) since September 29, 2010.


Suddenly a team mired in the cellar has
found ” another way” to win, via a new hero every night. A the
Rays Republic are the ones re-Joycing.


  

“The Animal” is Making a Lot of Noise in the Rays Outfield

 

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I love it when a guy comes out of nowhere and makes a play for a spot on the final 25-man roster. It is especially exciting if that guy is one of the Spring Training non-roster invitees who is beginning to make a whole lot of noise with his play in the field, and at the plate, possibly pushing a young Rays farm system player to the side as he tries to stake a claim on a potential roster spot with the Rays for Opening Day.

Most fans who follow the Rays probably did not do a double-take or even bat an eyelash when outfielder Chris Carter signed a minor league deal with a Spring invite back on January 21st. But I took notice. Here was a guy who former New York Mets Manager Jerry Manuel called “The Animal” for his work ethic and who played 100 games for the Mets last season.

He was another of those under the radar signing by Rays VP of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman that could pay huge dividends either at the beginning of the season, or if an injury bug nips the Rays. Carter is one of those guys you want on your roster. His bat speaks loud, hitting .263 with 4 HR and 24 RBIs in his limited time up in “The Show” in 2010.


alg_mets_carter2.jpgBut if you look at his history, then you get a real view of what potential he could have as another left-handed bat for the Rays. Oh, did I fail to mention as a pinch-hitter for the Mets in 2010, he batted .328 with a solo HR and 10 RBIs. Sure he might miss the final cut due to numbers, go to Triple-A Durham and fortify a chance for a recall sometime in 2011, but this is a guy who gets hot in the early stages of the season and keeps the fires burning for the entire year.

Carter only hit .336 with 6 HR and 22 RBI before the Mets recalled him after 29 games at Triple-A Buffalo. Heck in 2009, while still in the Red Sox system, Carter had 37 multi-hit games (25 2-hit games) while leading Triple-A Pawtucket in batting average, homers,RBI,runs, hits and doubles.

Carter even had a chance to make his MLB debut against the Rays back on June 5,2009 coming in as a pinch-runner, then getting his first MLB hit off Rays reliever Grant Balfour later in that contest. Carter even has the unique distinction of hitting a 4th inning RBI double to bring home J D Drew with the first run to come across the new Home Plate in the first-ever exhibition game (4/9/2009) at Citi Field.

But this is a guy who has always hit well in the minors, and is showing this Spring that he deserves a long,hard look by the Rays as a viable candidate for an outfield position. Carter is currently hitting .412 with 3 RBI, 7 hits, and only one extra base hit ( double) and a .892 OPS. Carter even had a chance to complete a double play from the outfield in his 16 Put Out opportunities and a 11.25 RF rating, which is tied for third best on the Rays this Spring.

All the numbers point to Carter getting an extended “look-see” by the Rays this Spring, but he is currently trying to push the issue by providing spirited play and a hot bat. The problem is there is already a logjam at the outfield position with both Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon expected to get a large slice of the Left Field opportunities.

B J Upton is probably cemented in Center and Matt Joyce and Ben Zobrist with an occasional Sean Rodriguez start should solidify the Right Field platoon unit. It might come down to the numbers the Rays will carry on their bench as to if Carter gets a realistic chance to gain a Opening Day roster spot.

091408_7224.jpgSo far he has done everything right, and provided some offense while former Stanford and current Rays teammate Sam Fuld has suffered at the plate. I am anxious to see if Carter can keep up his offensive number through the rest of the Spring and possibly force the Rays into a long and hard decision concerning his immediate future with the Rays. He possesses the hitting and fielding the Rays desire, but also hits from the left side of the plate like Joyce.

As you can see by the photo to the left, Carter can take the pressure. Here he was dressed up for the Red Sox Rookie Hazing as a buxom quasi-blonde, and he seems to be having fun with it all.

 

 The ultimate decision might come down after the Rays last Grapefruit League  game held on March 31st at Tropicana Field. Maybe by then Carter will know where to store his gear for 2011. Even if the answer is a ticket to Triple-A, if Carter gets off to a quick start, the noise from Durham might be deafening, and a return should be in the cards.

 

But what else would you expect from a guy named “The Animal”?

 

 




Dynamic Duo Make Their Rays Debut

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RaysRenegade

Got to admit to all of the Rays Republic, in the beginning I had a few doubts and even reservations about a Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez duo signing. Maybe it was the aspect that they have been associated with the 2004 Red Sox “Cast of Idiots“, or maybe I was afraid they might not be able to “Cowboy Up!” one last time.

After witnessing the magic and pure adrenaline rush permeating through that Tampa Bay Rays Press Conference media room, my doubts and worry suddenly melted off like Ramirez’s pounds during his workouts in Arizona. From the moment their agent Scott Boras led them into the room until Rays Vice President of Communications Rick Vaughn yelled “Is that all?” This was a glorious ride to see in person.

I was not suppose to be in this room nestled near the darkness with my little camera, but the entire Rays office was poised at noon today to see the next chapter unfold and I tagged along for the ride. From the media buzz to the clicking of camera’s and live video feed both locally and from MLB, this quickly became a love fest, not just for Tampa Bay, but for the two men seated in the middle of the large table.

Instantly you knew both guys were on the same page, had the same intentions and wanted to the guys to help usher in a repeat American League East title. Like Red Sox General Manager Theo Epstein so eloquently said recently, “The demise of the Rays is greatly exaggerated.” I am not climbing the flagpole just yet, or marching fully to that beat of triumph again, but this duo instantly make me hunger for that chance.

Both said the right things too. Ramirez flexed his right arm to show his muscle when asked if he was “fit” ,and Damon said insistently this was not the “last chapter” of his baseball career. Instantly the void that grew immense when former clubhouse guru Carlos Pena vacated for Chi-town became smaller. Suddenly I could see the Rays clubhouse leader ship not come from one speaker, but act in stereo with their actions and observations going to make this team competitive every game.

Suddenly I remembered why I hated these two so much. Their competitive nature just seems to ooze from their confidence levels, and that used to scare the death out of me. But there were comments from both that instantly brought me back to why they were signed, Damon called the Rays his “Dream Team” or Ramirez saying while putting on his number 24 Rays jersey that he ” looks good in white“.

Integrity, confidence and ability all joined hands in that room today. Manny was his usual joking self, but did not shy away from questions on if “Manny might be Manny” in Tampa Bay, but a guy who has hit almost .300 lifetime in this dome knows what is expected of him. Possibly Manny even threw out a nugget for the Rays to consider in 2011 that he thinks he can play “five more years”. Not making any predictions, but if Manny is right he has already made his money….maybe a Tampa Bay discount knowing this team can compete might be in the future.

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 The love fest we saw between these two today was incredible. You can tell they are more than happy to be playing with each other again, and the respect level is very high between them. Several times during the Press Conference I expected both to rise and do an Ari Gold (Entourage) “hug out“. Not since Baseball Hall of Fame member Wade Boggs and HOF hopeful Fred McGriff put on a Rays uniform have I been excited about such a veteran duo. Some in the assembled crowd made predictions of a possible 70 Home Runs between the pair while other were optimistic of a great meshing of the duo with the young Rays corps.I left that room running for my laptop in the car wanting to write this. Eager to let this feeling flow from me today of this incredible moment. Some say defining moments in a franchise’s history never reveal themselves until later, but today the moment just felt perfectly right for a half hour. So the signings are official, the jerseys have pressed their backs for the first time and the media got to shake their verbal hands with Damon and Ramirez. For some reason the comment from Ramirez to Damon of “You play 100 games, I’ll play 62” (referring to LF) is still ringing in my ears…in a good way. 

I snuck in to see this magical moment mush like a kid who sneaks under the canvas at the circus. I expected to see a sideshow event. Once that propped both of them up in a definite light. What I got was two men who had extreme confidence and respect for each other pass compliment after compliment not just to themselves, but to the young team they will embrace in 2011.

I really do hope that Evan Longoria and Matt Joyce and the rest of the Rays budding hitter pick the brains of these two baseball icons. I hope the competitive nature and confidence level showed by Damon and Ramirez today fills that Rays Spring Training clubhouse. But most of all I am just glad I got to see the magic happen….firsthand.

Tampa Bay’s Own Casey Kotchman Added to First Base Mix

 

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Zimbio 

Anyone who has attended a Rays game in the past knows that when Casey Kotchman came into town for a series, there was a line at the Visitor’s dugout. Former teammates, Kotchman Baseball School students, coaches and even friends have been known to surround the dugout rails for a moment with the former Seminole High School star before Rays games. Now the Rays dugout might be feeling that pressure as the Tampa Bay area product is coming home to play for his hometown Rays.

The addition of Kotchman today to a $ 750,000 minor league contract with incentives could become another fine tooled feather in the cap of Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman as he pieces together another contending ball club. It instantly fills a need for the Rays, plus provides another ounce of proven ability to a club most thought was going to roll over and die for a few seasons.

The signing of Kotchman shows the Rays value ability as well as staying within the limits of their thin pocketbook, and might be another off-the-radar pick-up by the frugal Friedman. Bringing in local star Kotchman could also have a clear double-edged sword effect on the Rays roster this Spring.

In one clear instance, this move will automatically raise the level of corner infield talent and ability at the First Base bag and provide a great measure of not only healthy, but needed competition between Kotchman and Dan Johnson this Spring. On paper, this signing might look a bit one-sided with Kotchman winning by a landslide the defensive side of the overall 1B equation, but as we already well know, the mind of Rays Manager Joe Maddon doesn’t always follow common baseball logic.

Kotchman has appeared at First Base 581 times in his MLB career with Los Angeles/Anaheim, Atlanta, Boston and Seattle. Johnson has only manned the First Base bag only 21 games total in his Rays career.

You automatically see Kotchman as a key defensive replacement for departed past Gold Glover Carlos Pena. Even though Kotchman, who sports a .998 lifetime fielding percentage including only one error in 116 games for the Seattle Mariners during the 2010 season, it isn’t as clear cut on the offensive side of the numbers.

With both Rays First Baseman taking their swings from the left-side of the Batter’s Box ( same as Pena), the ultimate winner of this Spring battle might come down to a few more intricate pieces of either players arsenal such as OPS, RISP. And possibly strikeouts. All First Baseman indications prior to the signing of Kotchman seemed to be focused on a Ben Zobrist and Johnson platoon, but the addition of the sure handed glove of Kotchman might actually provide a bit of outfield controversy this Spring.

The Rays Brian trust must have a plan in mind prior to this signing, and possibly a platoon action could be configured also with Kotchman and Johnson in mind. Looking at their offensive numbers, Kotchman has not produced as fluidly as he did from 2006-2007 when he was with the Angels.

Then again, Kotchman has been kind of pigeon-holed offensively over the past few years in platoon action while with the Mariners, Red Sox and Braves. If Kotchman can prove that his .219 average and 75 points fall off his slugging percentage was a fluke, he could see significant starts at First Base for the Rays. Kotchman actually on paper looks a bit like Pena in that when he gets into a solid rhythm at the plate, he can turn on the magic.

I still think it is Johnson’s spot to lose. The Rays have kept Johnson close to them for a few years for some reason that defies some of our own logic. Possibly the Rays have the gut feeling that with extended playing time and at bats, he can return to his pre-2007 offensive numbers he held while a member of the Oakland A’s. Back then, Johnson hit 42 Home Runs in 3 season and produced 162 walks.

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BleacherReport

I want to wax poetic here and think that Johnson’s 2008 Home Run against Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon was the greatest HR in Rays history, but some think it was the right guy at the right time only. Personally I would love to see Johnson get an extended 2011 try at first for the Rays, but considering his batting average against right-handed pitchers hovers below .200, but Kotchman only get a slim lead based on his own .239 average against righties.

An interesting tidbit is that Kotchman went 1 for 10 (.100) on turf in 2010 while Johnson only went 13 for 63 (.206). But if you look at a factor like On-Base Percentages, Johnson has a slight leg-up on Kotchman .343 to .280. It might just come down to something as simple as run production and game day match-ups to decide who out of this pair might get the nightly starting nod.

With runners in scoring position, Kotchman sits closer to .300 against both left-handers and right-handers while Johnson sits under .200 against right-handers. The numbers tend to bunch both of them close into a possible platoon situation with Maddon again possibly tinkering with his line-up nightly to get the slight edge. It might ultimately come down to plate discipline. Johnson’s posted a 25-to-27 walk to strikeout ratio while Kotchman leaned more towards the strikeout 35-to-57 in 2010.

By no means does the signing of Kotchman signal the end of the Johnson idea at First Base for the Rays. It just muddles the waters a bit and provides each player with a dynamic where they have to produce to get a shot at manning the bag full-time. But each player seems even in regards to right-handed pitching, so neither has a solid chance to cement their name on the line-up just based on which side the pitcher lines up on the mound.

2011 has been a year of surprises so far for the Rays. The addition today of Kotchman has to be viewed as a positive move by the franchise to give the Rays more depth and defensive ability going into Spring Training. Going into the February 20th report date for all players to the Rays Spring Training Camp, I am going to give a slight edge to Kotchman at First Base. I still think it is Johnson’s to lose, but I got to support and root for the hometown guy…Sorry D J.

Was Burrell just plain Evil as a Rays Doppelganger?

 


 

There was growing Tampa Bay Rays rumor floating in the Rays clubhouse prior to the 2010 season that Rays All Star outfielder Carl Crawford would not even entertain an idea of a contract extension because of this one player. In 2009, the tension grew and grew between these two leaders in the Rays clubhouse until finally a confrontation between the two exploded and Crawford had to be restrained by Rays starting pitcher James Shields.


Crawford’s adversary had taken a cheap shot at his friend and teammate B J Upton after a contest, and somehow pushed Crawford beyond his boiling point. Immediately a thickening line was drawn in the sand nonverbally that if the Rays valued Crawford, that this one individual had to go. Increasing rants and raves outside the locker room began to point towards this lone figure and provide a mountain of blame because of his decrease in productivity and leadership to this young budding squad.

More and more the sediment became apparent in the stands that member of the Rays Republic has seen their tempers growing thin with his antics and his chatter . That his mown rhetoric of playing in the field fueling his motivation fell upon increasingly deafened ears as the divide began to grow deeper between himself and the Rays fans. Finally on May 14, 2010 after he went 0-4 in a 4-3 loss against the Seattle Mariners at home in Tropicana Field, the door closed quickly on his time in a Rays uniform.

On that Friday night in May when he hit a long fly ball out to Ichiro Suzuki in the bottom of the ninth inning, it would be his last time putting on a Rays uniform. After that night, the evil doppelganger that was Pat “The Bat” Burrell was laid to rest by the Rays. The next morning the Rays front office officially designated Burrell for assignment, but he was not even in the Rays clubhouse.

Burrell had already heard the news and was adjusting for another shot somewhere else. He would have to endure a 10 day storm of criticism and negative innuendo before finally weathering the storm and searching for his next opportunity. He had hit a paltry .202 during that short span with the Rays, but he still knew he could play the game if he could find an employer who would listen to his plea and give him an opportunity.

 

Burrell had been crying to the heavens before his release to the Rays staff that he needed to ” get into the flow of the game” by playing in the field with an occasional Designated Hitter relief spot. That playing everyday in the green grass(turf) got him into a positive flow and environment where he produced instead of sitting on a bench expected to rise to the occasion 4 or 5 times a game. He needed a consistent game flow, not one predicated by InterLeague games and Spring Training starts only in the outfield.


So were we all fools not to heed Burrell’s logic? Did he really know the essence of his hitting stemmed from his getting some time in the fresh air and outfield, or was it just a ruse? Considering the pure fact that Burrell seemed to suffocate within his new restrictions as a DH in the American League, did that predicate his departure again for the National League and a chance to again force a team to insert him into an outfield situation?

Was Burrell’s pleas and wants to play in the outfield met by deafened ears within the Rays system and not even thought of as an alternative to getting his fires churning before the Rays designated him? Here the ideas are speculation, but the proof is in the pudding. Burrell suddenly seemed to excel again once his tootsies touched the green grass/turf of the outfield.

 

Burrell had to shed the evil doppelganger persona and renew his NL allegiance by signing with the San Francisco Giants for the rest of the 2010 season for the league minimum salary. The Rays were still on the hook for a bulk of his $ 9 million salary, but they now had no ties or bonds to the enhanced positive spirit and exuberated talents now showcased by Burrell during the reminder of 2010.


His evil doppelganger never reared its ugly side in San Francisco, instead a more centered and reliable bat spilled out of the rejuvenated Burrell. Before May 14,2010 ( 24 games) Burrell had compiled a .202 batting average with 2 HR and 13 RBI. In tune with the evil doppelganger, Burrell had struck out 28 times in only 84 plate appearances. Simple nasty numbers considering his high salary and the demand for consistent performance from his DH position.

Upon his return to the Major Leagues with the Giants in 2010, Burrell went on to play in 96 games for the G-men posting 18 HR and 58 RBIs and boosting his OPS to a .872 mark. His strikeout totals were still high (77 in 289 at bats), but Burrell quickly quadrupled his walk totals and provided a much needed offensive piece of power for the Giants. Burrell even felt a rejuvenation in his play in the field playing 87 games in the Giant’s outfield and collecting only 2 errors. A total of 632 innings in the outfield and only two small errors. By comparison, the Rays right fielder Matt Joyce played in 63 games for a total of 472 innings and had 3 errors.

Simply put, Burrell might have been right about his fielding help accentuate his hitting. Maybe if both the Rays staff and the fans given him a chance to play in the field occasionally, it might have worked to the satisfaction of both parties and given Burrell a renewed energy and vitality at the plate. Of course this is purely speculation because in hindsight, who knows what Burrell could of done if Burrell was included in the platoon mix in Rightfield for the Rays.

 

The cycle has now seemed to have turned 180 degree for Burrell with a level of success and another trip to the post season firmly within his grasp. Burrell is having the time of his life renewed by the pressure and stress caused in trying to win a National League pennant for his new club against his old squad, the Philadelphia Phillies. Funny how ironic it is now that the Rays signed Burrell as a offensive weapon in their arsenal for the next time the Rays could have faced the Phillies in a playoff situation.


Crawford has now boxed up his equipment and gone home for the season, possibly never to wear a Rays uniform again. The Rays never seemed to have gotten a level of consistent power or hitting from their DH even after Burrell’s departure. Ironic again that the Rays might have finally cut their ties with Burrell thinking he was not the piece that would get them to their final goals in 2010. Now Burrell is preparing for a trip home to San Francisco with the series tied 1-all and a chance to again be anointed as a godsend late addition to the Giants than as a possible evil Rays doppelganger.

Rays Getting their Virtual Hands Dirty on “We Farm”

 

Back when I played sports, the Internet was still in the early infant stages and wireless devices consisted of maybe a walkman or a portable transistor radio. The advent of WiFi technologies and World wide gaming communities had even came into anyone’s mind yet. Mostly we just played a variety of cards games like Poker or Hearts to bid the time before suiting up for warm-ups or during our transport to and from our charter flights.

Laptop were not even in the future thought process yet, and the Apple I Pod and I Pad were possibly just dreams or faint ideas still in computer technology think tanks.


With the advancements of the wireless and computing technologies all around us today, the Internet and games of chance with a side order of obsession are just a small mouse click away. I have a few friends who have plunged deep into the online farming community on Facebook known as “Farmville“, but as of now, I am still virginal and not partaking in that ritual farming industrial community. I
t is intriguing and a bit understandable that the players within the Tampa Bay Rays might have caught onto the growing fever of these downloadable games where compulsive endurance and chance both seem to rule the process.

These games seem just perfectly suited for a bunch of baseball players due to the odd facts that during a 162 game Major League Baseball season, there is a huge amount of “down” time usually spent away from home, waiting for something to happen (pre-game, rain delays) that could entice a person to become entranced into developing and cultivating an online community of their own.


During the 2010 MLB season, I have heard many whispers about an ever growing obsession within the Tampa Bay Rays clubhouse of several downloadable games and obsessive-compulsive programming that acted as buffers to the game pressures and simultaneously garnered internal competitions between the players. This rumor encircling the Rays clubhouse did not have to do with any World Poker Tour card playing websites, or even Fantasy leagues.

Somehow the Rays clubhouse, who all seem to have embraced their WiFi friendly Apple I Pads, has developed a budding cultivation within the online farming communities in the “We Farm” game. A game that is FREE to download from I Tunes or Apple, but can be as addictive as a large cup of caffeine if you give it a chance.

Several members of the Rays clubhouse have become a bit addicted and currently spend countless hours tending to their crops or designing the perfect scenario to be awarded a possible Blue Ribbon animal or get picked as the “Farm of the Week”.

 
Most of us who do not cruise an Apple based I Pad system might not have even heard about this downloadable game for I Pads and Apple WiFi devices. This farming community gives game players the tools to make the barnyards of their dreams. Farmers who range from city slickers to real life rural country boys, have taken to this addictive game. As the 2010 progressed, more and more of the Rays roster have been engulfed by this addictive competitive game.

Maybe it is purely the fact that they can be a simulated Roy Oswalt and outfit their personal farms with tractors, hay balers, sprayers and even build produce stands to sell their farming products just beyond their own fields. Maybe it is the majesty of knowing you can surrounding your property with multi-hued outhouses or the great non financial aspect of breeding and raising your own digitally rendered faux horses, pigs, sheep, cows, duck and even ostriches within a online community that has peaked their brainstems.

Maybe it is something as simple as a PG-13 rendition of an activity that everyone, including involving their children into helping on the farming projects that can be developed mutually as a entire family inspired working farm.


The game seemed to have introduced into the Rays clubhouse by Rays starting pitcher James Shields, who used to help tend and tailor his young daughter Ashtyn on her own “We Farm” spread on off days and during a Rays home series. Quickly the competitive fires rushed through the Rays locker room as David Price, B J Upton, Matt Garza, Kelly Shoppach, Matt Joyce, and Shields were suddenly going head-to-head on their own farming communities, trying to be the best in the Rays small kingdom.

When late season addition Chad Qualls came to the Rays via a trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks, Qualls soon fell quickly into the Rays farming community battles. There is even a section of the game where you can have your friends and neighbors take pictures with you and your prize winning animals at the county fair. I wonder if Price has done that feat yet?
This farming community game has become such a web hit that the currently have their own Youtube Channel, and their own social media outposts to keep you updated and in tune with the whole sha-bang of new additions and words from game players all around the globe.

 

Even heard a wild rumor of some “We Farm” trash talking and farm challenges being issued by the Rays farmhands. Maybe if the Rays finish off the Rangers tomorrow in that Game 5 finale, for their next road trip (possibly to New York City for Games 3-5 of the ALCS) the Rays could all dress in blue overalls and straw farmers’ hats as a team homage to the “We Farm” gaming site. .

Heck they would be heading to the big city, the Big Apple, why not dress accordingly with their new found obsession. Think “Green Acres” or Petticoat Junction” if you need any motivation here. There are still plenty outside the city limits of “We Farm“-ville who do not understand the total intrigue and pull of the competitive game…..yet.

But you can bet that those already playing in the community within the Rays clubhouse will take their time converting more than a few other Rays roster members as they pick them off one-by-one and get them interested in the great off season treat of playing this game as a possible team bonding unit for 2011. Could also be a great way to indirectly see how teammates and friends are doing in the off season as everyone goes their separate ways until mid-February.


Wonder how many of the Rays players have unlocked the Diner at Level 23 that come complete with a surly waitress? Or the possibility of owning your own Drive-In that appears on Level 33. What a treat it would be to pull your pick-up backwards into the parking spot and watch the movies from the comfort of an old chair in the bed of your truck. Wonder if any of the Rays players have currently unlocked the farmhouse upgrade in Level 35 of the Outland Chateau?

These games can be great stress relievers and a great way to get your mind off the pressures and bottling emotions that can be constantly churning in your mind and stomach this time of the year. They can be hotel and airplane lag time deviations that can give you an outside visual or a faraway place to recharge, reconnect or just restock your chicken coop.

With the level of intensity all ready churning in the Rays clubhouse over “We Farm“, it will be amazing to see the level numbers and the upgrade or “Gro” options that the Rays involved players will have selected and presented to their colleagues come this Spring. It is a harmless and victimless game of competition that has no victims, no weapons or gore unlike some other obsessive online simulation games.

It is a great way to kill a few hours in-flight, during a rain delay, or possibly just before heading out onto the field for Batting Practice. Leave it to Shields to be the one character with tunnel vision in the Rays clubhouse that doesn’t let his every day actual job slip too far from his mind while playing online.

In Shields perfection on his farm he has constructed a baseball diamond within a surrounding mesh of blueberry bushes. Maybe there isn’t a corn option yet on Shield’s levels, but if there was, it would truly be his own personal slice of a Field of Dreams…Tampa Bay style.

 

What is Your Favorite 2010 Rays Moment?

 


 

As I was waiting for the Tampa Bay Rays plane to arrive Sunday evening at St. Petersburg/Clearwater Airport Rays game day emcee Rusty Kath was asking a few smaller Rays fans an important question for possible bobbleheads and assorted prizes. It was a simple question: “What was your biggest Rays moment in 2010?”


The question seemed so simple at first thought, but instantly there became a avalanche of special Rays moments throughout the season, including about 10 Rays moments that kept appearing again and again in my mind based on their place in the Rays scheme of things this season, and their importance to the overall Rays clinching their second American League East title in three seasons. And I guess the best place to start is in April and work our way back towards today.

 

April 6th

This was the Rays home opener against the Baltimore Orioles, and was set with pomp and circumstance normally associated with the first home game, but something felt different this year. It was not the two-colored flaming spirals in the Rays infield before the game, it was something brewing beneath the surface of this contest.

It was Carl Crawford’s eight consecutive Opening Day spot in the line-up, and possibly his last as a member of the Rays. But it was his play on the field that separated this day from any other this season.

Crawford sealed the Rays victory with a 2-run walk-off double that tore the feathers from the Orioles for a 4-3 loss. It was classic Crawford, and instantly this image came to mind as the reason I am going to miss C.C.


 

 April 17th

Was a special moment in Rays history as the day I truly began to believe that Rays closer Rafael Soriano was going to be something special in 2010. Not only did Soriano help save the Rays completion of the prior night’s suspended game, a 3-1 Rays victory. Soriano also got his second save of the day in the Rays 6-5 win in the high cap of the unexpected doubleheader . To win one game in Boston is a great thrill, to win back-to-back within 12 hours of each other is a moment to remember.


 

May 2nd 

This game evolved into a special home moment for the Rays Republic as Rays starter Wade Davis and Royals starter Zack Greinke both threw 7 scoreless innings each with Greinke only making one mistake. But that one mistake ended up being the only run scored in the ballgame when Greinke left up a fastball to Evan Longoria that he deposited in the Leftfield stands for a 1-0 Rays victory.


 

June 8th

This contest displayed the versatility of the Rays as a great offensive and pitching team as Rays starter Jeff Niemann 2-hit the Toronto Blue Jays in a 9-0 shutout of the birds at Tropicana Field. The night was highlighted by 2 Home Runs by Carlos Pena., one a Grand Slam. Niemann has his bid for a No-Hitter broken up in the top of the sixth inning by Toronto shortstop Mike McCoy.



 

June 19th

This road game during the InterLeague schedule will be remembered for a lot of reasons. First it was an away contest against the Florida Marlins in which 15,000 Marlin Air Horns tortured the Rays players eardrums for the entire contest. But it might have been the true signal that the Rays patience at the plate was beginning to return dividends as the Rays got 4 walks in the 11th inning, including 2 with the bases loaded to secure a 9-8 win.


It was also the night that saw the debut of Rays usual starter James Shields as he came in for one scoreless innings of relief and picked up the win on this night. Rays reliever Andy Sonnanstine also got his first Major League Baseball save on this especially extra noisy night (I am bringing my Marlins Air Horn to Game 1 of the ALDS tomorrow).

 

July 26th

This date will probably be set in stone by many among the Rays Republic as the most important night in Rays pitching history. On this night, Rays starter Matt Garza produced the Rays first No-Hitter against the Detroit Tigers. More amazing was the fact Garza and Detroit starter Max Scherzer were trading No-No bids until Rays slugger Matt Joyce hit a Grand Slam to provide the needed punch to seal Graza’s gem.


Garza threw 120 pitches on the night with 6 strikeouts and one lone walk to Tigers Rightfielder Brian Boesch in the second inning to eclipse the chance for a Perfect Game. The entire night Garza seemed on a different plane and was constantly bombarding the strike zone pushing 80 of his 120 pitches across the plate for strikes.

 

August 1st

This extremely exciting Sunday afternoon game against the New York Yankees where Alex Rodriguez was still hunting for his 600th career Home Run. He did not start in the contest, but came on as a pinch hitter and was struck out looking to end the 7th inning by Rays starter James Shields. It also signaled the coming drama between the Yankees and the Rays as the Rays pulled within one game of the Yankees after this 3-0 victory at Tropicana Field.


 

August 10th

During this road game start the Rays Republic got to see some of the immediate future for the Rays on the mound. Rays rookie Jeremy Hellickson took the mound in this contest at Comerica Park against the Detroit Tigers and gave up a lead-off hit to Austin Jackson before he then retired 18 straight Tiger hitters enroute to his second straight Rays win. Hellickson threw 7 inning and got 7 strikeouts and the Rays countered by getting 8 runs on 9 hits, including 4 doubles, to defeat the Tigers 8-0.


 

August 28th

This game was the contest at Tropicana Field against the Boston Red Sox that saw both Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria flirt with a possible cycle in the same game. It was also the game that B J Upton hit a tying Home Run in the 8th inning, then Dan Johnson hit a walk-off Home Run that pushed the visiting Red Sox to 5 ½ games behind the Rays for the American League Wild Card. It signaled the beginning of the end for the Boston club as they never got closer than 5 ½ game again to the Rays in 2010.


 

September 13th

In this premier contest we saw two of the American League’s best left-hander going against each other to try and prop each other up as favorite for the 2010 American League Cy Young candidate. Both Yankee starter C C Sabathia and Rays starter David Price traded zeros for 8 innings each before each left the ballgame.

It wasn’t until the bottom of the 11th inning when pinch hitter Reid Brignac sent a solos shot into the Rightfield stands that either teams blinked in this 1-0 walk-off victory.


So there are 10 possible candidates for my greatest moment in Rays 2010 history. I truly think Garza’s No-Hitter is the top pitching moment of 2010, but as a team, there is still another moment I truly feel has to be added to this list.

October 3rd, might be the biggest team based moment of 2010. As a team the Rays stood solid and would not break after going down early to a 2-0 deficit. With the bases loaded, Rays reliever Chad Qualls got a well deserved double play ball that got the Rays out of the inning without further damage.


The Rays ended up scrapping together an impressive top of the 9th inning rally when pinch hitter Rocco Baldelli single to leftifield, then stole second base ( his 1st SB of 2010). Rays catcher Kelly Shoppach then put down a great ball down the Third Baseline that Royals Third Baseman Wilson Betemit misfired a throw to First Base for an error and Baldelli scampered in to score. Rafael Soriano then converted his 45th save of the season as 8 Rays pitchers combined for the 3-2 victory.

 

The win cemented the Rays clinch of the 2010 American League East title with an exclamation point needed going into the playoffs instead of question marks. The victory solidly put all discussion to bed that the Rays backed into the post season as A L Champs, plus gave the Rays Home field Advantage throughout the American League segment of the post season. 

The gutsy extra inning win completely embodies the Rays mantra of “WIN- What’s Important Now”. It also helped send the Rays homeward so they could host the Texas Rangers instead of travel straight to Minnesota to begin the American League Divisional Series tomorrow afternoon.


Those are my special Rays moments of 2010 so far. With the post season about to get into full swing in 24 hours, possibly more fantastic Rays moments could be added to this list before the Rays take their last at bats, or final place in the field in the 2010 Playoffs.

Hopefully I have 3 more champagne celebrations to cover, and a parade downtown to photograph. The time is upon us for greatness to arrive. It is time to show the rest of the country what Rays Republic fans have known all season long, it is never over against the Rays until that last Umpire’s call.

 
 
 
 
 

The Red Sox are Coming, The Red Sox are Coming!

 
 
Chris O’Meara/AP
You could just sense that something was coming. Your ears would begin to burn and vibrate with increasing velocity, and you could just feel the barometric pressure beginning to rise the minute the Red Sox plane landed. This was going to be the series where the Red Sox laid it all out on the Trop’s turf and by heck or high water would make their ultimate 2010 stand to reclaim a spot in the 2010 playoffs.

At first you were not sure if it their first attack was an ambush at you from the Northeast, or maybe a flanking move from their Spring home in the South (Fort Myers), but you knew that the Red Sox Nation’s spirits were going to be flying sky high the minute they opened the doors for this decisive 3-game series. And you know every swing and every pitch will have viewers in the seats in at home pulsing towards the television feeling every ebb and tide of this series this weekend.

With the Red Sox sitting just beyond the Rays grasp right now in their own divisional fight, it is imperative that they gain ground this weekend, or finally face the horrific truth that they will need allies to get back into either the American League East race, or get a helpful nudge into the American League Wild Card top spot. With word spreading like wildfire that Boston second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who has been a thorn in the Rays side all year pretty much done for the year, another viable weapon is taken out of the Red Sox arsenal.

And with around 35 games to go before the end of this season, the Red Sox will have to start an incredible push of possibly going on a unheard of 20+ winning streak, combined with some timely Rays losses to again be in a visible position to fight another day after October 4th. So what are a few key situations to keep in mind during this weekend series?

Chris O’Meara/AP

Red Sox Starters versus Rays Offense.

Rays have hit the combined Red Sox pitching staff with some consistency this season. But hold only a .226 opponents batting average against Boston this season. The key elements will be how the Boston starters hold the top of the Rays line-up plus adjust their pitching throughout the game. B J Upton is the only Rays hitter to hit more than one Home Run against Red Sox pitching this season, but the Rays have been patient and posted 53 walks.

Evan Longoria is not having a tremendous year versus Boston pitching this season, but has been on a bit of an offensive tear lately, which could work into his favor. With Carlos Pena now back behind Longoria, teams will have to pitch to Longoria more “straight-up” than pound his wrists and outer zones with the ball. Carl Crawford is definitely someone the Red Sox will want to keep off the base paths, but he has gone 8-23 (.348) at Tropicana Field this season against Boston with 13 total bases.

But in Boston’s favor is their first strategic move of the series, even before they landed in Tampa Bay when they scratched Daisuke Matsuzaka who was experiencing “back stiffness” on Wednesday and instead penciled in Jon Lester to start Friday night’s game. Granted, if you want someone with more spine, I would go to Lester too. The move might seem a bit hasty to some, but Lester holds a seasonal .182 opponents batting average over the Rays head, and a .052 ( 1-19) mark hitting in his only start in the Trop this season.

With a more solid chance to take a win in the first game, the Red Sox have pitcher Clay Buhholz ready to go Saturday night and holds a .261 average against the Rays this season. Combine that with 8 Rays strikeouts in their 23 plate appearances and you get a pretty provocative one-two punch to begin this series. But the problem is that this is a three game series, and John Lackey has not performed all that well within the roof of Tropicana Field this season. Lackey might be the Wild Card entry in this weekends games as the Rays hit him for a .308 average with 4 walks in his only Trop. Appearance.

 
Chris O’Meara/AP

Rays runners against Red Sox catchers

With the Red Sox catching crew decimated by wild injuries right now with former Texas backstop Jarrod Saltalamacchia out with a leg infection and Jason Varitek not able to run effectively yet on his injured right foot they are down to Victor Martinez and ex-Ray Kevin Cash. The Rays have stolen 22 bases off the Red Sox in 2010, and have only been nailed once by a Red Sox catcher. With the Rays possibly amping up their usual small ball offense this weekend, being a catcher on this Boston team right now might be one of the most stressful spots outside of their Bullpen. But the Red Sox also can not forget Ben Zobrist (6 SB) or Carl Crawford (7 SB) at any moment this weekend.

Another unknown factor for the Red Sox to consider is that the Rays have garnered 53 walks off the Red Sox in prior games, and the Rays now have more patient hitters like Dan Johnson and Matt Joyce in the line-up to bolster the Rays chances of base runners. This segment of the weekend series might play out the biggest in the end. If the Red Sox can stagnate the Rays running game along with their small ball tendencies, it could be a huge blow to the Rays usual game plan.


 
Chris O’Meara/AP

Rays starters versus Boston Hitters

This is another area where the Red Sox might have a bit of the surprise factor as they started three outfielders in their game on Tuesday night who have limited at bats against the Rays this season. Former Rays prospect Darnell McDonald has appeared in only 5 contests between the two teams, but sports a .455 average in 3 games at Tropicana Field this season. Daniel Nava has played in four Rays vs. Red Sox games and is hitting for a .333 average with a triple. The third member of their unknown outfield from that night, Ryan Kalish has not faced the Rays this year.

But even with weapons like Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis sidelined until 2011, this Rays pitching staff will have to be cautious. The Red Sox still have their power options in their line-up with both Adrian Beltre and David Ortiz, who both have 2 Home Runs in the Trop this season healthy and ready to go Friday night. But the Rays are also sending their best weapon to the hill on Friday night to combat the Red Sox bats.

 

Rays Pitching will have to “Set the Tone”

American League Cy Young hopeful David Price, who has held the Red Sox to a .258 average in his only 2010 start against Boston on July 7th at home before the All-Star break. Working in Price’s favor is that in that lone start against Boston this season, he posted 10 strikeouts in the game. But Price has been more impressive since the All-Star break and this Lester versus Price match-up might be a pitcher’s duel until someone blinks.


Buchholz against Garza will have the same effect as the Lester vs. Price match-up in that two very selective pitcher will be wheeling and dealing until someone leaves a ball up and over the plate. And that was the case in Garza’s only start against Boston this season. He got rocked with 4 Home Runs in the outing and gave up 13 hits and 11 runs in the Red Sox’s 11-3 spanking of the Rays back on May 26th. But Garza has seemed more in control of his pitches in recent outings and better equipped for this pressure filled match-up.
Last, but not least will be James Shields coming in on the Nationally televised ESPN Sunday Night Baseball telecast against Lackey.

Shields has had his up and down moments recently, but he always seems to have a special 6th gear for Boston games. Shield has only faced the Red Sox three times in 2010, but held them to 4 hits and 2 runs and a .143 average in his only start against them at Tropicana Field on May 26th. Working in Shields favor is he is 2-1 against Boston this season and has held Boston to no Home Runs at home.


This series is going to be a bit of a :do or die” scenario for the Red Sox. They do not want to have to rely on any of the other American League East rivals to help their cause. This series might be all about the pride and the resolve of the Red Sox to show they can overcome and set the Rays down to get back into the Wild Card race.

If the Rays were to slip past Boston and sweep them in this home series, it could effectively put Boston near the double digit mark behind the Rays. This is going to be a great series, and one worth watching on ESPN on Sunday night.

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