Results tagged ‘ No Hitter ’

Take That! Garza Distractors!

 

When you think of Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Matt Garza, usually the words patience, consistency and cool under pressure do not immediately come to your mind. Garza has always had the reputation on the Rays of being the lone wolf, the agitated always combustible pitcher who take everything a bit too personal, and craves perfection. Well, after tonight, we just might see a different side of Garza, because once you have had the ultimate confidence booster….A No-Hitter, the rest of the season seems to be on a rail sometimes.

And the beginning of the evening saw Garza with his I-Pod at his side bopping his head to his pre-game musical mix almost invisible within the confines of Tropicana Field. Even as Rays reliever Andy Sonnanstine was adding a few darker goatee touches to the image of the Matt Garza bobblehead on the Rightfield wall, Garza seemed immersed in his own hip-hop World tonight. And even as he began throwing in the Rays Bullpen before the game, he did not produce his usual “pop” when catcher Kelly Shoppach caught him tonight.

 

His ball seemed to flow off his hand tonight. His breaking ball was snapping with a nice downward spiral, and his fastball seemed to have a little more movement than usual. It was almost as if Garza and the ball knew something we all did not know yet. But as the Rays game began tonight against the Detroit Tigers, Garza seemed to be in a different set of parameters.

But early on, it almost seems as if both Garza and Detroit’s starter Max Scherzer were occupying that same unique space of rare air and traded zeros back and forth as both starting pitchers saw hitters being sent down 1-2-3 until Garza made the first blip on the radar by walking Brennan Boesch on 7 pitches in the top of the second inning. This removed the “perfect” label from Garza’s outing. Boesch was quickly erased from the basepaths by a 5-4-3 Double Play to end the scoring threat by the Tigers. 

After his walk to Boesch, Garza sent down the next 22 Tiger hitters in a row to secure the first No-Hitter in Rays history. Now only two National League teams, the New York Mets and the San Deigo Padres are the lone members of the non No-Hitters Club. What was really impressive is the fact that before tonight’s game Garza had gotten close before on June 26,2008 when he lost both his shutout and a No-Hitter by giving up a Home Run to Hanley Ramirez in the bottom of the seventh inning.

 

Before tonight’s No-Hitter, the farthest a Rays pitcher had gone without surrendering a hit was actually shared by two players. Rays leftie Tony Saunders went 7.2 innings on 4/22/1999 against the Baltimore Orioles, and former Rays First Round Draft pick Dewon Brazelton went 7.3 innings against the Florida Marlins on 6/23/2004 before surrendering their first hits of the night. But as the innings seemed to progress, Garza seemed to gain more composure and confidence as the night commenced.  On the night, Garza had only one 3 ball, 2 strike count( Gerald Laird/ 3rd Inning) before getting into a bit of a jam to begin the seventh inning.

Both Austin Jackson and Will Rhymes fought back to identical 3 ball, 2 strike counts before going down and preserving the night for Garza in the top of the seventh inning. Garza got Jackson to fly out to B J Upton, and Rhymes hit a grounder to second baseman Reid Brignac that was easily converted for the second out. Garza got Ryan Rayburn to strikeout on four pitches to end the inning.  In the top of the eighth inning, it took Garza 16 pitches to strike out the side. But mixed into that bunch was a possible problem as Garza went down 3 ball, 2 strikes to Boesch, but he ended up just watching Garza’s strikeout pitch hit Shoppach’s mitt.

 

Then came the top of the ninth inning with goose eggs all over the Detroit side of the scoreboard. Garza spent a little extra time composing himself behind the mound for the ninth inning visiting the rosin bag, looking into his cap for the fortitude to get this game finished on his terms. Garza quickly got a first strike on Tiger hitter Don Kelly before he fell behind  with three straight pitches just above or outside the plate. On the next pitch, Kelly hit a soft grounder to Brignac, who easily converted for the first out.  Laird then came up and was whiffed on four pitches by Garza to set up the night most intense moment.

In the balance was the chance for Rays immortality as Tigers Pinch Hitter Ramon Santiago came on to hit in place of shortstop David Worth. The stage was set for Garza, and all he had to do was deliver and he would be the proud owner of a No-Hitter of his own. Santiago went to a 1 ball, 1 strike count before hitting the next Garza offering to Rightfield. The ball seemed to slowly come to Ben Zobrist’s glove, but the moment it hit leather, Zobrist erupted by jumping straight up in the air and sprinting towards the increasing mob of Rays players at the mound.

 

Even as the excitement and emotions were swirling all around Garza, he still seemed as cool as a cucumber and a bit oblivious to what had just happened to him. Even in the post game interviews, Garza seemed unusually relaxed and calm, a bit of cool “Zen” to him. But maybe it was the realization that he has so much to offer this Rays team. That maybe by going down into that fifth slot in the Rays rotation he can preserve and protect a few more Rays wins. Or maybe we just saw one of the last steps of pitching evolution tonight with Garza.

Tonight was his night to shine like the moon outside. Big, bold and bright, with clarity and instant confidence. Just a few days ago a local Sports Radio icon began to question Garza and his pitching abilities. He wondered if we might have seen the best of Garza and would see a slow progression downward now. Guess this outing firmly put that question into your face like a shaving cream pie.

A night like tonight can define a players and take him to another level, if he lets it. I got a feeling the sky is the limit right now for Garza, or at least he can go outside right now and howl at that big old bright full moon. The first No-Hitter in Rays history is now firmly in the books by a guy who has always let little things frustrate him, but tonight, the only frustration felt by Garza is if his pitching glove is off to the Baseball Hall of Fame tomorrow.

   

 

The Head was Sad, but my Heart is cheering for Action Jackson

 

 
Associated Press

You want to hate that it happened again to the Tampa Bay Rays. For the second time this season another team not only shut the door hard on them, but left a few toes stubbed and bruised in the process. There were many honest scoring chances to change the final outcome, and even postpone an impromptu Arizona Diamondback Team meeting on the field with Edwin Jackson as the keynote speaker. The chips, dip and the alley-oops did not get instituted into the usual “Rays Way” of evoking late inning theatrics to the thunderous climax, but instead the Rays ended up with a solid and deafening thud heard throughout Tropicana Field.

With the band Tantric set to hit the stage after crushing loss, you hope the band did not start their hour long set with the song “Down and Out“, because right now, how much lower can you go, or feel at this moment if you are in Rays gear. It was one of those nights of mixed emotions and for all intentional purposes, it is am immediate game to forget and discard without review or even thought. Could the Rays be having their one month of trials and tribulation now, nearing the middle way point in the season. Or could this just be the storm before the clear skies and easy sailing for the Rays? This one just leaves you a bit dazed and confused.

 
Associated Press

You are glad to see an ex-Ray and a great person like Edwin Jackson finally get some props for the job he has done to learn the art of pitching,. That even after tying a Rays club record with 14 wins in 2008, he was jettisoned off to the Motor City for Matt Joyce (who went 0-4 tonight), but his 149 pitch eventual No-Hitter against his former team mates will probably never happen again …..Ever!

How wild is it now to imagine that even after Jackson settled into the Tiger’s locker room and posted 13 wins in 214 innings, plus represented Mo-Town in the All-Star Game, it would net him a plane ticket to hot and steamy Arizona, and not just for Spring Training. I have a feeling that even in the musty and crusty high humidity of Tampa Bay tonight, Jackson is just chilling, enjoying the flow, and reliving that magical moment in his mind over and over again with that wide smile of his on his face. This is the kind of night that defines a player.

                                RRC 

But even as Jackson has been on shaky ground ever since he left Tampa Bay, how many people really thought of how far this former positional player would escalate upwards in his career. How many people remember a Rays pitcher who was smiling on the mound even as he went 5-15 in 31 starts in 2007 before he snapped into pitching mode and rattled off 27 wins for the Rays over his next two seasons with the team. Some still say we sold out short on Jackson, before he truly hit his prime. But others saw a chance for decline in Jackson’s control and might have misplayed his calm demeanor for complacency, not a hidden gem of confidence and reviving ability.

But you truly had to admire the effort tonight. Jackson gave the Rays more than enough rope to tighten the noose around his neck, but the bats went deadly silent at the wrong moments. The Rays mantra of “Get The Man In” fell on deaf ears and misaligned swings. Jackson stood on the pitching mound more than once tonight and saw a bevy of Rays players pushing off on the surrounding bases. But the Rays failed to deliver, even remotely, to deliver that crushing blow. And in turn, Jackson just kept plugging away, getting his outs and simply going about his business hoping to go as deep as possible in this game.

But realistically, if Jackson was still a Rays pitcher, he would have never been allowed to hit that 149 pitch plateau that made him part of Major League Baseball history tonight. If he was still wearing a Rays uniform, even with the intense effort, it would have fell on the Bullpen to secure this win. But the Baseball gods were surely smiling along with Jackson tonight as he dodged several Rays attempts to rattle his cages after he hit his close friend B J Upton in the bottom of the sixth inning, then saw D-back teammate Stephen Drew bobble an easy out from his second base position for a sure error and give Carlos Pena and the Rays a chance.

 
Associated Press

But his defining moment tonight was not in the bottom of the first inning after Jackson walked Ben Zobrist, who advanced to third base after a wild pitch, but was stranded on base. Nor was it a cause for alarm in the bottom of the third inning when Jackson loaded the bases with Rays uniforms on three straight walks, then proceeded to get three straight Rays hitters to produce easy out opportunities and get out of the inning without a scratch. It was after that Drew error gave the Rays a fighting chance and Maddon inserted speedster Carl Crawford into the game as a pinch-runner. After a quick Joyce fly ball to Rightfield, Crawford was gunned down after a 93+ mph fastball was delivered to D-Backs catcher Miguel Montero who threw a perfect high strike to Drew to erase the scoring chance, and end the inning for Jackson.


Jackson’s effort might not have been as squeaky clean and tidy as Oakland A’s hurler Dallas Braden’s earlier season dismantling of the Rays hitters, but he got the same kind of result. But a finite defining moment in this game was the attitude and the on-the-field adjustments by Jackson to keep himself into contention all during this game. In his past, Jackson had gotten into jams by his own hand and could not convert and close the door on the opposition. Tonight Jackson not only closed the door, but he might have bruised a few protruding toes in the process.


RRC 

So Rays fans, I think it is wise tonight to take Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s clubhouse philosophy of taking 30-minute to dwell, ache and let the pain seep out, then discard it like a used tissue and move onto the next game. Lady Luck flirted with both teams tonight, but she took a special liking to Jackson, and he was handsomely rewarded with a lifetime memory. For the Rays, it is back to basics and the sooner they forget this night the better. But I know when I see Jackson as he wanders over the Rightfield tomorrow, the prior evening hurt and pain will be relived for a few moments, but when he flashes that huge smile, I will be glad a former Rays baseball buddy got the gift of a lifetime.
 

                

 

 
 
 

Rays Have No-Hitter Pitching Options

 

 
Chris O’Meara/AP

With the Colorado Rockies on Saturday night finally being able to erase their name off the four-some of current Major League Baseball teams without a No-Hitter thrown by a pitcher on their staff, the list has now been funneled down to only a trio, with the Tampa Bay Rays being the only American League team still searching for a No-No. And sharing this distinction with National League squads the New York Mets and the San Diego Padres, it is actually only a matter of time before another name is dropped off this list.
 
Honestly with the Mets farm system not having a highly-touted prospect in the pipeline, and the Padres having some talent in the lower levels, but nothing on the immediate horizon, it seems logical that the Rays might have the best chance to be the next team to throw a huge “X” through their name and eliminate the American League from this special list. But this is not to say that a pitcher from either the Mets or Padres could not have a once-in-a-lifetime pitching performance and one-up the Rays with no notice.

In my honest baseball opinion, the Rays seem to have more viable options either close to the MLB level, or presently throwing some impressive ball for the team. So I am going to toss out three categories here today, showing who I think is the odds-on Rays pitching favorites to produce a pitching gem, and a few who might fly a bit under the radar, but with good command and some great defense behind them could shock the world.
 
The one obvious visual choice has to be Rays current uber-competitive demon Matt Garza. Everyone around baseball knows the maximum competitive fires that brew deep within him every time he hit’s the mound, and that a pitching gem is just within his reach with every start. And the reasoning for this is quite simple…. He has flirted with this gem before…twice and still is just as hungry to taste it again and again until he finally is granted within the special club just for hurlers who possess a “No-No” on their MLB pitching resume`. And with him showing these glimpses over the last two seasons, he is the odds-on favorite in deed to finally take the Rays name off that “Non No-No” list.
 

 
Chris O’Meara/AP

We first got to see that future dominating pitching ability during the 2008 MLB season when Matt Garza took the mound against the Florida Marlins in an Inter-League contest. In the contest, Garza completed his first career complete game, but more importantly, he threw a one-hitter with 10 strikeouts against the Marlins giving up one hit on the day via a solo Hanley Ramirez Home Run to lead off the seventh inning for Florida. On the day, Garza only faced 28 batters on the day tying the Rays club record for fewest batters faced in a nine inning complete game setting also held by James Shields. But this was only our first glimpse into his possible future chance to throw a no-hitter.

 
Garza also gave us a second glance early on in 2009 when on April 30th against the Boston Red Sox in Tropicana Field when Garza went 6 innings of perfect baseball before Boston’s Jacoby Ellsbury infield single to lead-off the seventh inning ruined the longest bid for a perfect game in Rays history. And in that contest Garza retired 18-straight Red Sox hitters before Ellsbury’s single. But Garza tied for the third longest no-hit bid in club history while striking out 10 batters and walking one. He combined with Rays reliever Grant Balfour for a one-hit 13-0 victory for the Rays.
 
As you can see by the above situations, Garza is my favorite to be the first Rays pitcher to ever post a No-Hit or even Perfect Game performance for the team. This is not to discount the rest of the Rays starters in the least as I truly think there are a few others who might conjure up the chance to also venture into this hallowed pitching grounds if the right situation came their way. Rays left-hander David Price has the pitching pedigree that he could also be on the mound with a chance to produce his own pitching gem, but I think he might need a bit of defensive help behind him, but with the likes of Carl Crawford, B J Upton and Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena on the corner infield spots, Price could also produce a stellar pitching performance….but not within the next several MLB seasons.

 
Duane Burleson/AP

This takes me to the guy who I truly think might be the one Rays pitcher you might not think of throwing a no-hitter, but pitchers who have the same abilities as this Rays right-hander have produced gems of their own. Some times it has noting to do with killer speeds on your fastball, or even the ability to read and adjust during the game. Some times it is just something as simple as a game rhythm you get into early as a pitcher that can set the tone and get you amazing results. That is why the one pitcher who might beat Garza to the punch and produce a no-hitter before him, or be the second Rays to perform the task might be Jeff Niemann.

 
The Rays former First Round pick has had a pretty mild-mannered career so far with the Rays, but we have all see just what kind of dominating performances he can throw out there when his breaking ball and his fastball placement both sync up and his 12-6 curveball buckles players knees at the plate. The first time I got the realization that Niemann could possibly be a hidden gem to throw a no-hitter might have been during the 2009 season when he lead the Rays in ERA and wins, becoming the first rookie to lead a team in those two categories since New York Yankees pitcher Bob Grim in 1954.

What is simply amazing was the true fact Niemann has shown an increased dominance in several areas that could help him reel in a no-hitter bid. In 2009, Neimann allowed only 0.85 Home Runs per nine innings, which was the sixth best in the American League. But he also held lead-off batter to an astonishing .240 batting average in 2009, which was the lowest in the Major Leagues, and walked only six batters in 192 opportunities, which lead the American Leagues. And all of this was only during his Rookie campaign against aggressive American League East hitting teams.

 
Brian Blanco/AP

What really pushed the thought in my mind that Niemann might be a dark horse, but a distinct no-hitter possibility might be in the fact he did not lose a home start at Tropicana Field after May 2,2009. Niemann was an impressive 6-0 in 10 starts after that date and his 3.05 ERA tied him with Seattle hurler Felix Hernandez for 1oth best in the American League….as a rookie. But what ultimately put the exclamation point on the whole debate for me was the fact he was the only rookie to EVER bet Toronto’s Roy Halladay twice in one season, and was joined later in that exclusive club by teammate David Price later in the 2009 season.


As you can see, the Rays do have the pitching firepower to be excluded from that list within a short period of time. But as we have seen as recently as the Mark Buehrle no-hit game against the Rays last season on July 23rd. You can have the ultimate command of the strike zone and get the seams of the balls itching on the black corners of the plate for strikes, but the final test might just be a single defensive play by your teammates behind you.


 
Elaine Thompson/AP

All three of the Rays trio mentioned, Garza, Price and Niemann have the tolls and the skills to post this gem any time they step on the rubber for a game. But it might take a leaping catch by Upton, Crawford, or maybe a diving play down the line by Longoria or Pena to produce the Rays first shinning pitching gem amongst the dust of the baseball diamond.

Isn’t it great to know that the Rays can effectively produce those sparkling moments on the mound and might someday soon also be celebrating late into the night a performance worthy of not just a no-hitter, but eliminating their name from that lonely list.

 
 
 

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