Results tagged ‘ Rocco Baldelli ’

Rays get Failing Grade against the A’s

 

                   Athletics 7,    Rays 1

          
           
Gail Burton / AP 

C C Express Still Rolling On

One of the handful of Rays players who have shown up recently with their offense is Carl Crawford. He has not dominated the base paths so far in 2009, but that just might be a matter of time before he gets that part of his game also revving up at top speed. What has been impressive is the fact he got into am early funk, and has been the only player to show signs of remotely trying to regain his form so far for the Rays. In the last 4 games Crawford has gone 8 for 16 to raise his average from .244 to .295 in that short span. He got 4 hits in on Wed in Seattle, which marks the 18th time in his career he has had 4 hits in a contest. 

He also currently leads the major leagues with 8 infield hits, and also leads the Rays with 56 stolen bases. His increase in infield hits is based on the fact that Rays Manager Joe Maddon wants to see Crawford put the ball on the ground more in 2009. This is in part to his tremendous speed and acceleration out of the left-side of the batters box. So far in 2009, that has seemed to be key for his offensive explosion.   Also on the horizon for Crawford is the Rays franchise RBI record, which is currently 449 RBIs. He is only 4 RBI’s short of Aubrey Huff’s record. Crawford already hold the Rays all time marks in hits, stolen bases, triples, at bats, games played and runs scored in his career.

Since playing in only 108 games in 2008, he is the only Rays to play every game so far in 2009. In Sundays finale in Oakland, Crawford again got two hits during the Rays 7-1 loss.  Crawford’s first hit of the day was a beautiful over Jason Giambi head at first base for the Rays third hit of the day off A’s starter Dana Eveland.  Crawford also got the last hit of the day off Eveland to lead-off the sixth inning when he hit a single to center field. Crawford has been one of the guys on this Rays squad that have tried to make a difference this season. It is that veteran presence and also his work ethic that makes him a team stand-out this year.  Crawford is also one of the Rays leader in hitting with men in scoring position, going 7 for 19 this year for a .364 average. For the roadtrip, Crawford is currently 8 for 30 with 2 stolen bases and 2 RBIs.

      
      
Ted S. Warren / AP

Sonny is Looking Kind of Cloudy

Now the first thing people are going to read into that  title is the fact I think that something is going on criminally  wrong with Sonnanstine right now.  I am not trying to drum up thoughts of wrong doing, or hidden motives here, but his stuff is letting him down right now. Our usual “Volvo” of pitching is showing some of the rust in his armor, and that is not good for him. It is criminal that he is not getting that great breaking ball to do what he wants right now. When that pitch is on, it is one of the best on the team.  But for some reason it has been absent in several of his starts this year.

And even worse, he has now lost his last 5 starts since September 5, 2008 in Toronto. But in his most recent start in Seattle earlier in this roadtrip, he worked 7 innings and got 7 strikeouts against the Mariners, but also gave up 6-hits and 4-runs to take the loss against Seattle.  But it is not for lack of effort that he has either loss those contests or even been given a no-decision in them. Take a recent 2009 start against the New York Yankees at home in which he was opposite lefite Andy Pettitte. He only worked a total of 5 innings, but left with a 4-3 lead and a possible win. But the Rays Bullpen had a bit of a meltdown and they eventually lost that game .

His first start in 2009 was in Baltimore on April 10th during the Rays first road trip of the season. He lost a 5-4 decision in that contest after going 4.2 innings ans surrendering 8-hits and 5-runs in the game.  In that game, it was the first time in his major league career he had walked more than three batters in a game.  This is not the first time he has taken the mound opposite Dana Eveland. they were both on the mound during the  May 1, 2008 game in Oakland that the A’s defeated the Rays 9-1.  But Sonnanstine did not start this game with any indication of problems. He pitched a perfect first inning, even getting Orlando Cabrerra, who was batting .400 against Sonnanstine to strikeout.


Ben Margot / AP


But in the second inning, the A’s got to him early as Matt Holliday lead-off the inning with a walk. Jack Cust then hit a single to right field just over the head of Ben Zobrist, who was in the shift for the Rays. Nomar Garciaparra then hit a ball over Jason Bartlett’s outstretched arms for a RBI single. Kurt Suzuki then came up and delivered the body blow to Sonnanstine on a breaking ball left up in the strikezone for a one-hooper to the left-center field wall. The A’s scored twice on the play.  Sonnanstine then got Travis Buck to hit a ball to Zobrist for the first out of the inning. Mark Ellis then hit a RBI single to left field past Bartlett to stake the A’s to a 4-1 lead.

Coming into today’s game ,Suzuki was hitting . 625 lifetime against Sonnastine.  The from that moment on until the sixth inning, Sonnanstine seemed to find his groove and again got help by the Rays defense to keep the A’s in check. But in the fifth inning, he gave up a lead-off double off the scoreboard in right field to Ryan Sweeney. Cabrerra then followed that with an RBI-double to the right-center field gap. Then for the second time today, an A’s batter h
it through the Rays shift as Giambi stroked a ball to right field just out of the reach of the Rays defenders. Holliday then hit a bloop single to center field just in front of a charging B J Upton. 

After that play, Rays Manager Joe Maddon came out and got Sonnanstine and his day was over. For the contest, he ended up going   4 innings and givcing up 10-hits and all seven runs. The outing boosted his ERA to 7.78 for the year as he only survived 79 pitches today. I am not sure what is going wrong with Sonnanstine. It might just be a small mechanical adjustment, or maybe he is not getting the bite on his breaking pitches in 2009 that he had in 2008. But what is known so far in 2009 is the fact that the team’s most reliable guy on the mound is having a few issues right now. Hopefully by the time we get home to Tropicana Field, Maddon and Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey can find a solution to Sonnanstine’s recent problems.


Elaine Thompson / AP

Offensive Numbers

Over the 12 losses this year for the Rays, they have scored a total of 24 runs. that is an anemic  2 runs a contest. Considering that most of the teams in the American League are scoring at least 3-4 runs a game, the Rays are sitting in the bottom their looking up right now in the American League East. But it is not for lack of effort. The team is getting their hits, but they are not coming with extended at bats or even extended rallies that could produce more runs.

Consider Sundays game as a great example. In the game the Rays got multiple base runners only twice in the game. In the second inning, Pat Burrell, who has been a walking machine in recent games got on base with a lead-off walk.  Then Willy Aybar, who has seen minimal at bats this year so far got a single to left field to put two men on base with no outs. Ben Zobrist then moved Burrell to third, but Aybar was out on a force out and second base. That put men on the corners with one out. Dioner Navarro then put down a great bunt
to score Burrell down the first baseline. Navarro put the ball in front of Jason Giambi, who had to come in and take the ball, and finally threw to Mark Ellis covering first for the out.

That produced the Rays only run of the game. But that was not for lack of effort that the Rays did not plate another un. In the third inning, Jason Bartlett battled with Eveland for nine pitches before finally singling to center field. He then moved to third on Carl Crawford’s single, but was stranded there after Evan Longoria hit into a double play to end the inning.   Then in the sixth inning, Carl Crawford singled to center to give the Rays their third man on base to lead-off an inning in the contest. 

Longoria then walked to put two men on base, but a double play by Burrell left only Crawford an third base with two outs. Aybar the hit a foul ball out to third baseman Nomar Garciaparra to end the inning. From that point on, the A’s relievers shut down the Rays. The A’s Bullpen retired the next 9 men in a row to send the Rays to their 11th loss.

         
                          www.tradewindsresort.com


 Trade Winds Resort Rays Watch Parties for 2009


The Trade Winds Island Grand, the Offical Beach Reosrt of the Tampa Bay Rays are inviting all baseball fans out for a fun-filled, family-friendly event to watch our Rays while basking in the glow of the bautiful Florida sunshine. I went out for yesterday’s event, but I did not take my camera because it was the first time I had been to the reposrt in 10 years and did not know if the hotel had accomodations to secure it while I was frolicking on the beach. I did however get my traditional first sunburn of the season, but it is not a birght red lobster color, but a mild case of me forgetting to use sunscreen on my legs and stomach again.

Speaking of stomach, the Resort did a first class job of having snacks and ample food selections for the hungry Rays fans. There was a wide array of food options from burgers and grilled chicken, to wings and bratwurst with hot sauerkraut for purchase at the event. As many of the kids went to the three-story inflatable waterslide( me too), the adults took their spots in front of the huge viewing screen to get an early spot for the Rays broadcast. 

The game was broadcast right there on the beach so you could enjoy sun, sand and the Rays all in one small area. The Rays Radio Network, including Rich Herrera did the pre game and post game shows live on WDAE 620 during the event.  The event also featured giveaways from both the Rays and the resort. One sought after prize was the gift certificate for stays at the Resort in the future. I have to say it was an awesome event, with a great turnout and will not be the last one this year for either the Rays or the Trade Winds. Here is a list of future Rays Watch parties in case you want to place them on your calendar:


Thursday, May 7 – 7:05 p.m. – vs. New York Yankees

Sunday, June 7 – 1:05 p.m. – vs. New York Yankees


Sunday, July 19 – 2:10 p.m. – vs. Kansas City Royals


Sunday, August 30 – 1:05 p.m. – vs. Detroit Tigers


Sunday, September 13 – 1:35 p.m. – vs. Boston Red Sox


These events are open to the public, and the Resort will be giving complimentary parking to Rays fans until the lots are full. I was a blast spending the day at the bach along with fellow Rays fans and employees. Hidden in the crowd were members of the Rays front office and staff enjoying this great weather outside watching their favorite team take on the Oakland A’s.   So be sure to mark those calendars to come on out and participate in future Rays Watch parties here at the Trade Winds Resort on St. Petersburg Beach. Only thing better would have been a Rays victory.


Sundays Semiconscious Thoughts

**** To illustrate the importance of Jason Bartlett since the 2008 All-Star break, he is  the highest hitting shortstop in the majors since that time hitting  for a .340 average. In 2009, Bartlett is currently hitting . 364, which includes his 1 for 3 effort Sunday. Bartlett  trailed only Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees in 2008, with a .286 average.  On Friday he had his 6th career day of gathering 4 hits when he went 4 for 5 in the Rays win over the A’s.  He is also hitting .409 this season against right handers going into Sunday game.

**** After today’s loss, the Rays are now 1-7 against left-handers in 2009. 
        They have now lost their last five series since taking 2 out of 3 in Boston to begin the season.
        The Rays are now 7-12, which equals their start in 2000 and also 2004. From 2006 to 2008, the Rays were 8-11 after 19 games. And are currently one game off of their 2008 pace. 
       

**** Evan Longoria ( .375 ) and Jason Bartlett ( .365 ) are neck and neck in their pursuit of the best April in Rays history. Longoria currently hold the top spot with former Ray Rocco Baldelli ( .366 ) holding the second spot with his great start in 2003.
          The Rays lead the majors in infield hits with 25. Carl Crawford has8 of those hits, and Bartlett has the 7 to be currently first and second in the MLB in that category.
         

Rays Blast Past Red Sox

 

 

                           Rays 7,      Red Sox 2

 

 

 
Knology Cable is a piece of _____

 
I just got off the telephone with my current cable provider, who has decided to not carry the Sunshine Networks broadcasts of the Tampa Bay Rays games this season. They said they decided that since Sunshine Network does most of the Florida Marlins games, they would not appeal to South Florida fans. First off, I do not live in South Florida, and I have been watching Tampa Bay Lightning games on the network for about 10 years. I did not get into the particulars about the cancellation of the broadcasts because this woman did not deserve my anger. But I did find it funny that Fox Sports Net, which owns Sunshine Network, is to broadcast 150 Tampa Bay Rays games this season.
 

 
So what is the real deal?  Are they going to try and extort a few extra dollars per month and put Sun Sports on a Sports package so we can watch our games. I know I am about to throw their DVR out in the road and do not give a damn about their equipment right now. So the change will effect at least 75 games this season. And guess which game was the first to be blacked out?  If you said last nights 7-2 Rays win in Fenway, you win a  stuffed animal. Not that I am screaming about having to go to the sports bars and actually watch sports, but the beer is colder and the wings cheaper in my house. So I am going to have to find suitable bar stool for the next 74 games in a lounge that caries MLB.TV.


 
I know I might be able to watch the game son MLB.TV, but at night my room mates kids use the computer between 6-8 to finish homework or do their research papers. I am a second class citizen in my home because of this cable fiasco. But this might be the last straw. Both Bright House and Verzion Fios is looking pretty attractive right now. I already called them and they confirmed that all 150 Rays games will be presented on their networks. but that is not the kicker people. Knology also has backed out of even considering adding the MLB Network to their system. Okay, I was calm until they told me that, then I am now doing the math to get them out of this house, and some respectable cable into my television.
 

 
I am past upset at this point, until I browse over both Bright House and Verzion’s websites and see not only that the games will be on their system, but way down there in the bottom of the listing is three holy words: “The MLB Network”.  I know MLB is not one word, but you can see my excitement that they are carrying the programming, and now I can enjoy it with the rest of you. I have been feeling like the guy typing on an old IBM 386 computer with AOL 3.0 since January. Now, in less than 2 days ( they are quick) I will have HD quality MLB Network, and the last 148 Rays games at my disposal. Plus if I am a good boy, I am getting $ 150 back…….someday.



 

Rays Doing it “The Rays Way”

 
When Rays Manager Joe Maddon took the Rays coaching position a few years ago he stated he wanted to change the way of thinking in the Rays clubhouse. With his years in baseball, Maddon had seen that attitude and confidence can sometime overcome the biggest obstacles. He instilled a new way of even playing on the field. And his 2009 team is so primed into that frame of mind that the unusual plays are beginning to look simple and planned out. Maddon loves to run, he is also a huge fan of “opportunity hitting.”  Basically, he is a huge fan of the way most National League teams win in the major leagues.
 

 
The acts of bunting, pressuring the opponents defense, and also  taking advantage of what they give you are key components to the Maddon machine. Let’s take a look at a few pays in last night’s game to illustrate that fact.  In the third inning, Carl Crawford hit a ball down the first base line that might have been a sure fire double play a few years ago. But running  towards second base at that time was Jason Bartlett, who got a good jump on the ball and forced Kevin Youkilis to throw above him as he was sliding into second base. The ball ended up rolling into center field and both Crawford and Bartlett were safe on base with no outs.
 
 

 
That ended up being a key moment in the game for two reasons. It gave the Rays a bases loaded situation with young slugger Evan Longoria coming up, plus it opened the Red Sox eyes to the fact the Rays are going to play aggressive baseball this year.  That style of run-and-gun actually fits the young team. they have very speedy guys who can contribute amazingly on base, and even some of the veterans have been known to throw their body into steals and even bunting so far this year. The second big thing about this play was the fact they got into Youkilis’s head. He committed a rare error on the play, and it stayed with him the entire game. 


 
 

But the best example of this new style inaction came in the Rays big fifth inning. With Gabe Kapler on third base after Akinora Iwamura completed a perfect hit-and-run to put both men on the corners with no outs. Jason Bartlett, who was hitting in the lead-off spot tonight, then put down a perfect suicide squeeze bunt to score Kapler. Bartlett put the ball down towa
rds the first base side of the plate, and Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester picked the ball up and hesitated for a moment before tossing it to Jason Varitek, who was upright in front of the plate. The play was doomed from the start for Boston. It was a perfect bunt on a situational hitting style that is very popular in that “other’ League.

 

 
But that is the way Maddon wants his Rays to play in 2009. Aggressive play will be tolerated and encouraged. Take last night’s double steal by Bartlett and Gabe Gross, that is the style of play that puts huge pressure on the opponent’s defense to then make plays. It is also the style the team played in 2008, but this year they seem more at ease and more determined to make the system work for them this year. The Rays have the potential on their roster to again lead the major leagues in steals. But I know there has to be a statistic out there somewhere to show the effectiveness of using this style of play both in 2008 and this year. Somewhere there is a fact and figure that will tell you that the Rays also lead the MLB in those situational plays. And if there is not, they might as well invent it…….this type of play is not going away in the Rays games.

 


 

Kazmir is Grounded

 
Scott Kazmir ( 1-0 ) seems to be having fun on the mound again. And that is not a good sign for the rest of the American League.  But he did have a few unusual thing happen to him last night. First thing is that he actually got through more than 5 innings of work by actually throwing his unusal 111 pitches in 6.0 innings.  But that is where the similarities ended for a usual Kazmir night. Last night also had a weird twist of its own, he posted  4 strikeouts on the night. Two of those strikeouts cam early in the first inning. He got Kevin Youkilis on a nice change-up for his first strikeout of the night, then took out former Rays Rocco Baldelli for the second strikeout to end the Red Sox rally with two men stranded on base.
 

 
He peppered two more strikeouts throughout the appearance, while also not having a ground ball out recorded until the fifth inning. And that out was a nice grounder to Evan Longoria at third base that he easily converted for the third out of the inning. you heard me right here, he did not record a defensive putout on the ground until the Red Sox’s 15th out of the game. This is a new wrinkle in the Kazmir arsenal, but it might not happen every night. His fastball and cheange-up are still his primary pitches, but his slider is coming along great and will add to him becoming a more complete pitcher.  No longer does Kazmir have to throw total heat to get outs. His strikeout totals might suffer, but his win totals might balance that out for him.
 

Wild Facts That Made Me Go Hummmmmmmmm

 
Before last night’s 2-run homer to true center field in Fenway Park, Carlos Pena has connected on 77 homers in the last two full Rays seasons. It might have been his first hit of the season, but it is also his statement that he has found his swing again, which is trouble for everyone else in the AL. 
 

 
Also on the Home Run front was Evan Longoria poking a ball over the Green Monster and reminding the Boston faithful that he is also ready to go this year for the Rays. Longoria, who went 2-5 last night is feeling more comfortable in his three slot in the lineup. Longoria could have increased his RBI total last night, but instead hit into a double play in the third inning. Iwamura scored on the play to give the Rays a 1-0 lead.
 

 
The Rays will have to become early Road Warriors this season as they will play 22 of their first 35 games on the road.  Also a little known fact is that the Rays have now started the season on the road consistently since 2005. the Rays have petitioned MLB to start their season at home in 2010.  In the past the team has requested the road first and gotten it without a hitch. But in 2008 they originally asked to start 2009 at home and the request was not granted to them.
 

 
It is sometime hard to believe that Rays starting pitcher Scott Kazmir, who already owns several Rays lifetime pitching records is only 25 years old. He is still the youngest member of the Rays starting rotation, even though he now has 47 major league wins.  It is still amazing that we consider him the old veteran on the rotation, and he is the youngest one of them all.  When David Price come up this season, depending on the date, he will be the youngest on the rotation, but will be either 23-24 years old depending on the date ( August 26th birthday).
 

 
Dunkin’ Donuts

 
The Rays have again partnered with the Boston-based  pastry power for 2009. “When the Rays win, You Win” promotion will again be held in 2009, but there will be a catch. Unlike 2008, when you could go into any Dunkin’ Donuts and tell the cashier, “The Rays Win” to get a free sugary donut. This season the franchise has added that you must purchase a beverage to get your free doughnut. The added beverage addition probably will not stop most Rays faithful from getting a free sugary snack in the morning. Maybe it was those 280,000 plus free doughnuts in 2008 that paced this change in the policy.  Yummmmmmm.
 
 
 
Photo Credits:  All Photos were taken by the Associated Press by photographer Elsie Amendola
 
 

Hot Pitcher + Cold Weather = Rays Loss

 

 

 

Hot! Hot! Hot!

 
The worst thing you can do as a team is come up against a hot pitcher in the beginning of  a series. It was the kind of performance the Rays might have feared, even with a game time temperature of 46 degrees. Well yesterday, the Tampa Bay Rays came upon a pitcher that was as hot as the surface of the Sun. I mean, do not take into consideration that he only struck out Carlos Pena, who tried to bunt a ball down the third baseline in the top of the second inning,  three time himself in the contest.  I mean, the guy was just so hot that he got 5 one-two-three innings, including the first two innings before running into a buzzsaw inning where he threw 23 pitches and only one run. I mean he threw only 93 pitches in seven innings, but shut down the Rays offense totally.  It seemed like only yesterday these two teams met on October 19th, down in St. Petersburg to decide who would face the Phillies in the World Series.
 
 

In this start, he only gave up 2 hits, and struck out 10 batters. And some of his pitching just fooled and perplexed the Rays hitters. Consider in the second inning, He struck out Pena to begin the inning on 3 pitches, then he got Pat Burrell to fly out to Jason Bay in left field on the first pitch he saw from Beckett. Then, Beckett got Matt Joyce, who was making his Opening Day debut, to take the first pitch and hit a wobbly fly to Dustin Pedroia for the third out. He had Joyce so ahead of the swing that his bat ended up in the stands behind the Rays dugout.  It was a beautiful massacre at the plate for the Rays as they combined all day for only 3 hits.  In his seven innings, Beckett only surrendered one solo run to the Rays.
 
 

And the top three men in the batting order were the only one to hit off Beckett and the Red Sox Bullpen.  Akinora Iwamura got the first hit in the second inning when he slapped a single to left field to move up Gabe Gross and Jason Bartlett. But the Rays had to wait until the sixth inning, when Carl Crawford hit a double into the left-center field gap for their next hit. But that would be all that Beckett would give the Rays. But that is what many people feel is the true Boston strong point this year is their starting pitching. Beckett proved that with this outstanding outing. Considering that the Rays hit only .209 against him in 2008,but they did hit a robust .342 against him in the 2008 post season. But even with that playoff blurp on his record,  it seems that Beckett has been coming up big for the Red Sox against the Rays for several seasons. And him posting a opponents batting average of .091 to begin 2009, might spell a long year for hitting in the American League.
 



 
Opening Day
 


It was a fitting Opening Day. It had all the splendor and frills you hope to see on the first real day of baseball for either team. I was especially taken back by the Boston Red Sox players coming through the crowds,down to the field during their introductions. That was a very classy move, and looked even better than the one done by Philadelphia a few days earlier. This one actually looked more “fan friendly”, and the ladder was not taken away before Red Sox Manager Terry Francona reached the turf. I still do not know why Phillies Manager Charlie Manuel did not smack someone in the head over that blunder on Sunday night. 
 

 
But Fenway Park looked great decked out in all the colors and ribbons fit for a king. And the crowd was very supportive of former Red Sox Gabe Kapler during his introduction. I believe that it was the first time he has been back in the old yard since he left. Between him and Rocco Baldelli, it seemed to be a tie in the vocal cheers and jeers. But how fitting that the Rays seem to be playing their playoff roles in 2008 in reverse the last three games. First two in Philly, now three in Boston. That is a pretty ironic setting considering that the MLB schedule was made up last summer, and the league had no idea the Rays would rise to the top.

 


 
 
I mean we got to hear the Boston Pops perform the National Anthem in a small assembly of members. I was taken aback by the fact that the Boston Pops had released a baseball-themed CD the day before. I never knew they did that kind of music, but they are in Boston. I might have to wander on over to ITunes later and check it out.  Opening Days are special to everyone. the Rays had three of their five Opening Day “rookies” make players their debuts on the opening Day rosters yesterday. Among them was Evan Longoria, who came up after 11 games in 2008, and then rolled on to win the AL Rookie of the Year Award. 
 
 

But then you have guys like new Rays Matt Joyce and Joe Nelson, who were making their first Opening Day rosters, and appearances. Joyce, who was acquired in the Edwin Jackson trade this off season fought to get to this point by changing the minds of the Rays coaching staff and front office to get a shot at playing center field for the Rays while B J Upton rehabs back in Florida. This was the first time Joyce had ever been to Fenway Park, and he certainly did not know the nuances of playing the outfield here. So he went to the Rays resident expert on Fenway Park, Gabe Kapler and got some valuable knowledge and insight to the corners and odd angles out in center field.
 
 
Joyce did not make the greatest debut at the plate, going 0-4, with two strikeouts. But he did make a basket catch running towards the wall in the fourth inning off the bat of David Ortiz. He also made a second catch with his back towards the infield in the seventh inning off a blast by Jason Bay for the third out of the inning. But Joe Nelson might not be the guy you would pick to not ever being on a Opening Day roster. The 34-year old reliever has been around for a while. He has played  with the Florida Marlins, Atlanta Braves, Kansas City Royals, and a short stint in 2004, with the Boston Red Sox. At no point in his previous appearances has he been on the roster this early in the season. Two other Rays players were making their first Opening Day rosters. Both pitchers Grant Balfour and Jeff Niemann were with the Rays Triple-A affiliate, the Durham Bulls to begin the season in 2008. Both were in attendance at Fenway Park yesterday, but neither got a chance to appear in the game.
 

 

Rays Moments of Light 

 
There were not a huge amount of great moments for the Rays in their season opener against the Red Sox. But there were a few hints that the team is not going to sit back and relax either in 2009. The rays again began their quest to be the best running team in the league by stealing three bases on the day off of Boston pitching.  Gross got it started after walking in the third inning by stealing second off of Varitek and Beckett.  Then in the eighth inning, Bartlett, who was hit by a pitch, and Iwamura, got got walked by Hidecki Okajima, converted a double steal on the Red Sox to both get into scoring position.  It is a positive sign to see the Rays running early in the counts, and trying to take pressure off the Rays hitters.
 

 
The Rays did have limited scoring chances in the game, but they also stranded 5 runners, including 3 who were in scoring position with two outs. But they did come through in the clutch in the third inning when Crawford came up with the bases loaded and hit a sacrifice fly to Jacoby Ellsbury in center field for the first Rays run of the year. Gross came in to score that first run of the game for the Rays.  The Rays did try and make another scoring opportunity in the sixth inning when Iwamura walked to start off the inning and Crawford hit his ball into the left-center field gap. But the Rays went  down 1-2-3 after those plays to strand both men on base.
 
 
The Rays did convert against the weakest point of the Boston pitching staff, their Bullpen in the eighth inning. With Okajima on the mound, the Rays lead off the inning with Bartlett getting hit with a curveball. Then Aki walked to put two men on base for the Rays. After Crawford struck out, Red Sox Manager Terry Francona brought in reliever Justin Masterson to face Longoria. He ended up hitting a 2-run RBI single through the gap in center field to bring the Rays within 2 runs at 5-3. Masterson then shutdown Pena and Burrell to get out of the inning with no more runs.  That was the Rays last great chance at scoring in the game as Jonathan Papelbon came on in the ninth inning and got Joyce to pop out to Pedroia before striking out both Dioner Navarro and Gross to end the game.

 


 
 
Broken Shields

 
Shields looked better than the score in the game yesterday. His command was just a bit off at times, but he also made some incredible pitches for outs during the game.  He did start the game off great by getting Ellsbury to strike out looking with a great pitch on the corner of the late. But he also got into trouble early in the game giving up a solo shot to Pedroia off the Sports Authority sign above the Green Monster for an early 1-0 Boston lead.   Ortiz, got a single off the first pitch he saw today, and J D Drew hit a beautiful shot off the Monster for a double. Shields walked Bay before getting himself together and got Mike Lowell to pop out in front of the plate to Navarro to end the inning with the bases loaded.
 

 
Shields then seemd to be gaining control by putting the Red Sox down 1-2-3 in the second inning. But in the third, he gave up a lead-off walk to Pedroia. Keven Youkilis then got his first hit ever off Shields to left field. Shields then seemed to have a bit of concentration problems as he went to his mouth on the mound, and Home Plate Umpire Tim Tschida issued a “ball” to Drew.  He then hit a  sharp ball down the first base line that Pena had to dive to save extra bases and runs. Drew did get an RBI on the play. Bay then hit another ball right through the same hole down the first base line to drive in another Red Sox run.  Lowell then hit a ball high off the Monster for an RBI double. Then Jed Lowrie hit a short looper between Bartlett and Crawford that neither could get to in time. Varitek then hit a hard ball to Gross in right to stop the bleeding at 4-1 Boston at that time.
 
 
After a 1-2-3 inning in the fourth, Shields got a great bit of defensive help after giving up a lead-off double to Youkilis in the fifth inning. Drew then walked and gave the Red Sox two early base runners. Bay then hit a sinking liner towards Crawford, that he tried to grab, but it went off his glove. But Crawford’s quick thinking had him fire the ball to third base, and Longoria applied the tag to get Youkilis out at third base. Lowell then hit a grounder to Longoria that he simply stepped on the bag for the force play on Drew, then fired the ball to first to complete a 5-3 putout and end the inning. Shields last hit given up was a solo shot by Varitek around the right field foul pole. 
 
 
Something to take into consideration here is the fact that as the weather does get a bit colder, a pitcher can lose his feel for his breaking pitches. I am not trying to make excuses for Shields today, but his fastball and slider did seem to pop on the corners at times, and his change-up did have a bit of a lack of bite at times in the outing. I would be curious to hear from Shields if the weather did have a bit of a factor in his control problems with his breaking balls at time during the game. 

 


 
 
Wild Sights 
 

Every stadium in baseball has those revolving signs behind home plate that seem to turn every innings or two to show sponsors and events coming up. I had to chuckle a few times during the game yesterday as the Red Sox has an ad for Wise potato chip products up there for most of the first three innings. What is wild about this is the fact that is is a logo of a owl’s eye. When batters are in the box, the eye seems to glare out at you on the mound just beyond the back-side of a left-handed batter. I am not saying it might be a bit confusing, or even a distraction on the mound, but it did give me a few chuckles during the game.
 
 

 
We should see Rocco Baldelli make his Red Sox debut today to face left-hander Scott Kazmir. How wild will it be for Baldelli to actually take an at bat in the field that he fantasized about as a kid playing for the Red Sox. We all know he has played here before with the Rays, but this will be his first time in the batter’s box wearing the Red Sox colors in Fenway Park. Also, a wild fact. Rocco Baldelli’s picture is actually on screen during the movie “Fever Pitch”. He became friends with a few of the people on the movie’s production crew, and there is suppose to be an audible mention of him coming up to bat in the movie, and his photo on the screen above center field.
 
 
 
Photo Credits:      1) AP ( Charles Krupa )
                            2) AP ( Elise Ameadola )
                            3) AP ( Elise Ameadola )
                            4) AP ( Charles Krupa )
                            5) AP ( Lisa Poole )
 

Rays Cancel the Gabe and Gabe Show

 

 

 
 

During their daily pre-game news conference in the Rays dugout, the Tampa Bay Rays have just announced that they are going to release both Gabe Kapler and Gabe Gross this afternoon to make room on their roster for two additions to be announced later today.  This is a huge departure from the scenario that was evident a few days ago where the duo would be a platoon action in right field for the Rays. It seems that their Spring Training averages, and their scaled back defensive play might have been a factor in the decision. ” I was extremely shocked, ” Gross told the Clearwater Sun. ” I thought after I signed my one-year contract, this would be my home for the year, defensing right field for the Rays.” 
 

 
One main factor in the decision might be the lack of power this spring by both Kapler and Gross. Gross currently has a single home run and only 8 RBIs, which pale in comparison to fellow Ray Jon Weber’s 3 homers and 14 RBI’s in the same time period. Even non-roster invitee Rays Sadler , who has 4 homers and 8 RBI’s has shown more power and ability this Spring than Gross. But it might be the .164 batting average posted by Kapler that might have sealed his fate this spring.  Kapler has gone 9-55, which is a masked improvement over going 0-14 to start the spring.
 

 

Even thought the announcement goes against the Rays previous defensive movements, it is said that the team might be making a roster spot for Gary Sheffield, who will clear waiver this week after being released from the Detroit Tigers. In a vertical move, it seems that former Tiger, Matt Joyce might have done enough to secure not only a 25-man roster spot, but also a change to platoon with Sheffield in right field for the team. “We consider Joyce a kid who just might have lightning in a bottle right now” Rays scouting director Syd Finch told the media. ” With him growing and Sheffield tutoring the young guy, we have a current win-win situation on our hands.”

 



 

 
Gabe Kapler, who gave up a chance to again manage in the minor league system has been given the same option in the Rays minor league system if he so desires. “I was told I could manage the Tampa Bay Rays rookie league team if I desire until they can find a suitable position for me.” Kapler told the Evening Independent. ” I actually think this might be a great start to a long and prosperous managing career and I want to thank the Rays fans for not being an ex-Red Sox this Spring.” Kapler also will be still conducting his daily pose-offs with Rays designated Hitter Pat Burrell while he is in the Tampa Bay area. 
 

 

” The reason that the Gary Sheffield situation is so enticing is the PR potential of this move,” Gary Kroger, Fan Excitement Manager of the Rays said before the packed media house in Port Charlotte today. ” Think about this for a moment, here we have a guy who is about to hit his 500th home run, not even our fan favorite Fred McGriff was able to do that in his career. That means PR money in the bank.”  Even though the move might be considered dramatic by most Rays standards the team decided to go “outside the box” on this one because of the demands on the Rays showing their true potential this season.  

 
 

 

 

“For us to defend our American League East pennant, we have to get out of the gate early to exhibit the passion and confidence in obtaining our second trophy.” Finch added. But what is more amazing, is that this is also the day, a year ago when the Rays declined their 2009 option on Rocco Baldelli.  A decision will also be announced later today on the 2010 $ 11.5 million option for Carl Crawford.  Is there some sort of romantic significance to this date in Rays history for contracts and major announcements to be made by the franchise. ” There really is not set goal or objective on this date, ” said Kroger. ” What is amazing is that the Rays and the world take such pride in the date, and truly feel that April 1st is a magical date both in history and in practical jokes.”  I am not sure what to make of that statement when Adam Friedman runs into the room and proclaims loud and clear, “April Fools!, you really did not think we would dissolve the two Gabes’ did you?”
 


Photo credits:   1)-3) www.stpetersburgtimes.com
 
 
 

 
 

Checking in on some Ex-Rays this Spring

 

 

 
 
 
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 )
                            3) www.tbo.com.sports
                            4) www.sarasota.com
 
 

Rays Handle Red Sox for First Spring Win

 

 
I remember a line that Rich Herrera, the Rays Radio pre-game and post-game host used to say about winning. “Your wife looks better, the kids are smarter, and life just feels great.” After watching today’s game I have a few more to add to that list. When you are winning, the cocoa butter smells like ambrosia and the long drive home flies by and you seem to be driving on air.  Okay, I might be embellishing it all a bit, but the first win the the spring can make you believe again. It is not like I have been down in the dumps or sitting with the local winos complaining about lack of hitting and spotty pitching. Okay, I have been sitting with the winos, only because they are friends of Rays Manager Joe Maddon from his “Thanks-mas” celebrations.

 
But the real key to today’s game was the change in traffic priorities that saw almost everyone into the parking lots and at least going towards the gates by the first pitch. The Rays did some fast work to upgrade and facilitate the need for a speedy coming and going to the ballpark. Me, I have not left yet. I am sitting in the shade here at the Charlotte Sports Park trying to decide if I want to eat dinner down here before taking the drive back to reality. Because it is Friday, and nearing beer-thirty, I am hesitant to hit the lonesome highway yet. I might just wait for a few of the Rays players and ask them what is their choice for fine dinning aka bar food with a gorgeous server in the Port Charlotte area. That is right people, I am not in the mood for the dollar value menu today, I want some hot wings and I want them now!

 
But let’s forget about my stomach and talked a bit about the game today against the Boston Red Sox. It is the first time since Game 7 of the ALCS that these two teams have squared off. Missing were most of the Red Sox starting staff, who were back at their training complex doing workouts and maybe a little shopping. But it was the first time for all of us in the Rays Republic to try and get used to the fact that Rocco Baldelli was wearing the Red jersey today. I guess I will be used to it about the time they also use the green jersey for St. Patrick’s Day. Rocco did come on over and was very cordial to the Rays faithful and chatted with former manager Joe Maddon during Batting Practice today. He looks rested, cheery and ready to rumble this season.

 

 

 

The Rays sent big right-hander Jeff Niemann to the mound today as he tries to win a spot on the Rays 25-man roster. He has the odd choices of either making the roster as a starter, a reliever, or even being in another uniform on Opening Day.  Niemann did show his nerves as he gave up a single to Red Sox lead-off hitter Jacoby Ellsbury to start the game.  Ellsbury moved over to third base, but Niemann then began to settle down and got out of the first inning with no real damage.  The Rays were facing Michael Bowden today who actually wore three different jerseys last season in the Red Sox organization. He did finally make it to the majors for one start in 2008 against the Los Angeles Angels.
 

But Bowden did have  bad case of the nerves also and Rays lead-off hitter Fernando Perez took his pitch up the middle to also give the Rays a baserunner to lead off the ballgame.  Perez then stole second base on Bowden and after an apparent off throw to try and pick Perez off second, he advanced to third base on the bad throw. All this time Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett was standing at the plate, and he eventually hit a nice flutter ball towards Angel Chavez and third who had no play at the plate and threw to first to record the first out of the inning. Evan Longoria got the second out of the inning and  D H Pat Burrell came up  and hit a sharp grounder towards Chavez that he knocked down, but could not control in time to get Burrell. Willy Aybar the  came up and stroked a single to right field to put men on first and second for the Rays. Dioner Navarro then came up and hit a sharp ball to second that was handled and quickly thrown to first to end the inning with the Rays up 1-0.
 

Niemann came out again for the second inning and got the Red Sox to go down 1-2-3, with two strikeouts in the inning. The Rays quickly got going again as Ben Zobrist  lead off the second inning with a walk. He was quickly erased from the basepaths on a 6-4-3 double play ball hit off the bat of Gabe Gross. With two outs in the inning, it looked like Bowden might have survived and would leave the game with a nice line for the day. But Elliott Johnson had other plans as he  Hit a double into left field that seemed to confuse Jason Bay. The Red Sox outfielder seemed to have lost the ball in the sun and it one-hopped to the left field wall.  Perez then came up and walked to give the Rays two men on base with two outs in the inning. Bartlett again came up and hit another nice looper over Bay’s head to score both Johnson and Perez and put the Rays up 3-0. Boston then made a pitching change and Bowden was done for the day.
 

Enrique Gonzalez came on for the Red Sox and still needed only one out to get out of the inning. He did not fair any better than Bowden as he left up a breaking ball and Longoria smacked the ball into the boardwalk area above left field for a 5-0 Rays lead. Gonzalez finally got Burrell to fly out to Ellsbury to end the inning.  The Rays sent Brian Shouse out to face Boston in the top of the third inning. In the inning, Shouse gave up only one hit, to former Rays player Nick Green before settling down and getting out of the inning with no other problems. Quickly Navarro and Zobrist got on base for the Rays Gross then hit a single to center field to load the bases for the team. Johnson then came up and hit a hard grounder to center that scored both Navarro and Zobrist.  Johnson ended up on second base advancing on the throw home and was in scoring position for Perez.  He then hit a nice ball to the left field wall and tried to advance for a triple, but Bay got the ball into Green who gunned him down at third for the first out of the inning. Bartlett then came up and hit a single to left, but was stranded on base after Longoria and Burrell got quick outs.
 

At that point, the Rays were up 10-0 on the Red Sox. Jason Childers came on in relief for the Rays and got Youkilis to strikeout before giving up a towering foul ball down the right field line to Baldelli. He ended up walking Rocco and gave Boston a baserunner. But Bay hit a ball to Bartlett, who scooped it over to Johnson to start a 6-4-3 double play and get out of the inning. The Red Sox brought on Devern Hansack to face the Rays and the team went down 1-2-3 for the first time today. Hansack got two strikeouts in the inning.

 

 

The top of the fifth inning saw Rays 2008 Rule-5 draft pick Derek Rodriguez come on to pitch. Rodriguez did not have a lot of major league experience, and it showed as the Boston hitters took advantage of him quickly. Non-roster invitees Brad Wilkerson and Dusty Brown got on base quickly, with Brown putting ball over right fielder Gross’s head. Then Green came up and hit a soft fly ball to center field that Perez could not get to before it fell to the grass . That scored Wilkerson and put the Red Sox finally on the board in the game.  Chavez then got on base and Ellsbury hit a ball to rookie Tim Beckham at short that he could not handle to start a double play.
 
 

Beckham was given his first error as a Rays even before he took his first at bat for the team.   Jed Lowrie then hit a sacrifice fly to center that scored Brown and tacked another run on the board for the Red Sox.  Youkilis then came up and hit a hard fly ball to center, but the runners did not advance on the play.  Baldelli then came up and stroked a single and was replaced by pinch-runner Lars Anderson. Baldelli ended up scoring Green on the play and picked up his first RBI as a Red Sox. Bay then came out and got a quick out for the Red Sox before James Houser came on to pitch for the Rays. Houser got Wilkerson to commit on a bad pitch and the inning ended with the score Rays 10-4. In the bottom of the fifth inning, the Red Sox got the Rays to go down 1-2-3 for the second consecutive inning.
 

The sixth inning saw Mark Wagner get on base with a lead-off walk, but the Red Sox did not take advantage of the situation as Houser closed down the team on three straight batters. Boston sent non-roster invitee Charlie Zink to the mound for the bottom of the sixth inning. Zink, a knuckleballer had the Rays guessing and quickly outs from Justin Ruggiano, Reid Brignac and Morgan Ensberg to again post a 1-2-3 inning against the Rays. The Rays sent Lance Cormier to the hill in the seventh inning and he got a quick strikeout from  Zack Daeges.  Then he got Chris Carter to hit a pop up to Ray Olmedo at third base.  Anderson then came up and quickly was deposed of to end the inning.

 


 

In the bottom of the seventh inning, the Rays took advantage of Zink to get a walk by Rays catcher John Jaso. Then Chris Richards came up and hit a towering homer out to right field that struck the murals on the side of the Rays offices for a two-run home run. Tim Beckham then came up and got an infield single in his first at bat as a Ray. Jon Weber then struck out, and Ray Sadler got the honor of getting plucked by Zink with a pitch. If you are ever going to be hit by a pitch, being hit by a knuckleballer might be the best gig in baseball. But the Rays could not capitalize with two men on base as Olmedo and Ruggiano both flied out to center to end the inning.
 

Jason Comier then came on to face Boston in the eighth inning and Got Daeges to strikeout before also getting Chris Ambres to commit to an out. With two outs in the inning, Wagner hit a nice ball into the center field gap over Ruggiano’s head for a double.  But he ended up stranded on second after a strikeout by Ivan Ochoa ended the inning.  Boston sent  a reliever named Green to the mound to start the bottom of the eight. You can tell this is Spring Training when a player is not even listed on the traveling roster and he gets to pitch in a game. Green got the Rays out quickly in the inning to again post a 1-2-3 inning for Boston pitching. With Neal Frontz now on the mound for the Rays, he got  Ochoa, Gil Velazquez and minor league player Johnathan Van Every to go down to end the game for the Red Sox.
 

All in all it was a great day for baseball in Florida as the sun was extremely hot, around 79 degrees at first pitch, and a breeze did not hit the stadium until the fourth inning. It would have been a great day to come out to the ballpark and sit in the grass berm and suntan, or just relax ans watch some baseball.   In the game, the Rays aw that Niemann is not going to make their decision easy as to what to do with the tall former pitcher from Rice University.  Niemann was not perfect, but he did bounce back and showed some great off-speed pitches today to get some critical strikes on batters.
 

Johnson and Perez got long looks by the Rays coaching staff today. Both players also made their decisions a bit more difficult by going an identical 2-3, with 2 runs and 2 RBI for the Rays. The only difference in their box scores is a walk in the second inning by Perez. Johnson is hitting a robust .429 in the first three games of spring and might be making a name for himself this time around for a roster spot. The Rays also had another pair who went 2-3 on the Day. Willy Aybar and Jason Bartlett also  were busy on the basepaths today, with Bartlett also getting 3 early RBI’s in the game.

The only real disappointment for the Rays might be in the performance of Derek Rodriguez. But considering that this was his first real exposure to major league hitting, his one innings might not be as bad as the line score shows for him today. He did give up 3 hits and 4 runs, to post a 13.50 ERA this spring, but he got great experience today by facing a great hitting team that will help him in his pitching development. During the day, Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations, Andrew Friedman spoke about Rodriguez and basically said that he cost the team only $50,000, and to get a look at a guy for six weeks and maybe hold onto him all year, that is a small price to pay.
 


Tomorrow’s game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Bright House Networks field in Clearwater, Florida will be shown on MLB.TV. If you have purchased the MLB.TV package, come on over and see one of the best looking ballparks in the minor leagues. I love the way this ballpark is set up, and I always have a great time when I come out here for a game. 
 

I will be in left field at the game tomorrow, and hope I can make some type of catch in the game. But you can never expect things in baseball so here are the tentative pitching match ups for both teams: Starting for the Phillies tomorrow will be Kyle Kendricks ( RH ), who will be followed by Drew Taylor ( RH ), Clay Condrey ( RH ), Scott Eyre ( LH ) and then Brad Lidge ( RH ). The Rays will counter with Mitch Talbot ( RH ), J P Howell ( LH ), Dewon Day ( RH ), Jason Hammel ( RH ), Randy Choate ( LH ).
 

Photo credits for today’s blog go to: www.stpetersburgtimes.com, RRCollections.
 
 
 

 

My Review of the 2009 Boston Red Sox

 
 


Okay, now that we are getting near the end of my review of the American League East teams for 2009, you do not have to fret. I am not doing any other division in baseball this spring. The Boston Red Sox and the Tampa Bay Rays area the only two left on my list to ponder for 2009. I will not have my Rays blog review up until maybe Sunday afternoon or evening. It will depend on how good a time I have at the game on Saturday, so be sure to peek real hard at the seat to the left of the Bullpen gate and you just might see me on that little screen of yours.

 

With that said, it is time now for me to review the team that I truly think will be the top squad in the American League East this season. I am not trying to divert or even blow any smoke here, but I truly think that if the Boston Red Sox can maintain their rotation and do not have a few odd injuries during the season to a few of their bats, it will be a long 2009 for everyone in baseball. The Red Sox have been the top dog for the last few seasons in the American League East before the Rays had to force them out of the playoffs in 2008 in seven games. I have to admit that the Red Sox did show a mountain of determination after the Rays took it to them in Fenway Park in Games 3 and 4 of the American League Championship Series.
 

The fact that it came down to the last few innings in St. Petersburg, Florida to even crown the divisional champs is a testament to the fortitude and the tenacity of the Red Sox last year. They did try and go out and improve parts of the club that they deemed weak to their divisional foes in 2008. But some of the planned additions did not sign with them and put a crimp in their off season plans. But the team did finally find a few odd pieces to fill those question makers and those players could be the play makers they will need to again succeed in 2009.
 

So without further ado, lets get into the Red Sox starting rotation for 2009. The Red Sox will again give the ball to Josh Beckett on Opening Day against the Rays in Fenway Park on April 6, 2009.  He will try and improve on his 12-10 record. Beckett did have bouts during 2008 of a bit of control issues because of an arm injury. Reports have said that he is feeling great this spring and should be ready to again be the ace of the Red Sox staff.  On top of his off season last year Beckett only tossed 174 innings, which is his lowest totals since his Florida Marlin days.  But he is still one of the guys that Boston will count on in the clutch, and that is just the way he likes it. Beckett is also one of those pitchers who can mix up his pitches from a variety of delivery points and types. At last count, he had one of the best 12-6 breaking curves in the league.

 


 

Manning the second slot in the rotation will be leftie Jon Lester, who posted a 16-6 record and 210 innings in 2008. Lester, a survivor both on and off the field, is also know to throw about four different pitches in a game.  His fastball gets some amazing tailing action, with a last second  sinking at the plate.  His cutter is very tight and can bend the knees of right-handers watching it at the plate. But his curveball is the mystery pitch that can beat you on the corners.  Lester will be counted on more in 2009 to get some of those hard victories against divisional foes that used to  escape the Red Sox.
 
Japanese  pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka , who posted a 18-3 record with a 2.93 ERA has made a name for himself since coming over from Japan.  It has been confirmed that he throws a total of six different pitches during games. Besides the usual fastball and curveball, he has been known to include a splitter, cutter, changeup and slider to hitters.  His cutter usually comes in around 88 mph and he will use it to either side of the plate.  His splitter makes a very unusual shift as it nears the plate and can fool hitters. But he is also got great movement on his fastball, which is thrown in the 90-95 mph range.
 

The fourth member of this rotation should be recent signee Brad Penny. He signed with the Red Sox in the off season, and should provide some additional experience and  leadership to this squad. Penny did not pitch much in 2008 after injuries, and his spot might be based on his development back into shape and form for the Red Sox.  He was a All-Star in both 2006 and 2007, and if he can regain his pitching form, he will be a great addition to this staff. Penny is a big, ugly dude on the mound, and I mean that in a good way.  One of his signature pitches is his 12-6 curveball. Also a weapon in his arsenal is his mouth. Penny has been known to smack talk a bit with opponents, which is accompanied by his nice off-speed splitter.
 

I think the fifth slot in this rotation might come down to what Red Sox Manager Terry Francona wants to do this year. He will again have the services of knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, but at what extent will he use him since he doesn’t have a great knuckleball catcher anymore. Current starter Jason Varitek has been vocal about not wanting to catch Wakefield, and back-up catcher Josh Bard might again get this duty in his second tour with the Red Sox. Wakefield, who went 10-11 in 31 starts last season could be put in the Bullpen, but with his 56-67 mph flutterball he can mess with hitter’s rhythms like no other pitcher in the American League at times.

 
       
 

Another option for the Red Sox will not be available until maybe the middle of the season. When the Red Sox signed former Brave John Smoltz, they knew he would not be available for Opening Day in 2009. But with the recent pitching woes about the middle to the
end of the season, it will give the team another option to use instead of bringing up someone from Pawtucket. Smoltz still has some gas in his tank, and with his experience and off speed pitches, he could be one of the best pickups by the Red Sox by playoff time.  Smoltz uses a sweeping action on his slider that seems to miss bats, and has always been know to have a dominating 95 mph heater in reserve.  Smoltz may of had some health and injury troubles, but he can be counted on for great outings almost every time.

 

Another player who might even make the Red Sox team as a long reliever is Clay Bucholz. How many teams can boast that they have a guy in their system who came up and threw a no-hitter while basically a minor leaguer. Bucholz did that in 2007, and still is highly regarded in the Red Sox system. This might be his year to make a move and finally  get a set spot in the roster in April. This starting lineup is on paper the best in the American League East, but its health will be the tell tale sign of what it can accomplish in 2009. If they do not have multiple injuries like the New York Yankees did in 2008, they could be the cream of the crop in 2009.
 

And even when the starter leave the game, the Red Sox Bullpen actually got better in 2009. They added a few extra pieces to further cement a lineup that would be the envy of any team in the league. Hideki Okajima will again be in the Bullpen for the Red Sox. He will again bring his deceptive splitter that seems to drop right out of sight before hitting the plate.  His fastball became more recognizable in 2008, and he might have to adjust or go to a four-seam fastball to again fool hitters. Also in the Bullpen again in 2009 will be Manny Delcarmen. He  throws a 95 mph fastball that also seems to dip and miss bats in the zone.  Delcarmen also throws an overhand curveball that can fall like a classic  “drop” ball that was popular over 40 years ago.
 

Justin Masterson might be another guy who could push Bucholz out of a roster spot because of his ability to either start or work out of the Bullpen. He basically throws two pitches, a fastball and a slider, which both tend to dip a lot. Combine that with his funky delivery and you got the making of a pitcher who can sweep the plate from both side with both pitches. Also coming out of the Bullpen in 2009 will be Javier Lopez. He is a sidearming leftie who can fool hitters with his gimmick delivery. He basically throws a fastball and curve, but mixes in a changeup for good measures.

 
      
 

 
Someone who might come in and make the roster as a reliever in 2009 is Japanese import Junici Tazawa. I am currently not sure where the Red Sox will use him in 2009, but he will be on the 40-man roster for sure. Tazawa set off an Japanese frenzy earlier in the year when he decided to bypass a career in the Japanese League and came straight to the United States to play for the Red Sox.  He is only 22 years old, and signed a 3-year deal worth $ 6 million. He throws a  95 mph fastball, 12-6 curveball, a slider and a forkball. Before he signed with Boston, he   had won the MVP award at the National Corporate Baseball Tournament for Nippon Oil. It was their first title in 13 years . Not to be outdone was the addition of former L A Dodger closer Takashi Saito. He will be mostly used as a setup man for the Red Sox. He is mostly a breaking ball pitcher.  He constantly throws curves and  sliders with amazing control and command. Saito uses these pitches either on the plate, or just off it to tease hitters. He could be a great tool to bring in before the ninth inning to get hitters off balance before Jonathan Papelbon comes into the game. Papelbon is finding a great niche for himself as a closer in this league. Combine his explosive fastball with his sweeping slider and you get a guy who can give you multiple looks coming out of the Bullpen to win the game.  He has even named his own pitch, a slutter, which is a variation of the slider and cutter. But combine that with his antics while warming up and you get a guy who loves the pressure and can perform in the clutch with the best of them. That now gives the Red sox three Japanese pitchers on their staff.
 

That will bring us to the guy who will catch this pitching staff. After a long off season hiatus, Jason Varitek finally signed with the Red Sox and will again be the main guy behind the plate. He calls an excellent game behind the dish, but can be a liability at the plate. His hitting needs to improve for the Red Sox to have a dominant bat near the bottom of the lineup. As stated above Josh Bard will probably get the honor to try and catch and block Wakefield in 2009. Bard is also a good signal caller, but he is also a bit weak with his bat. This might be one of the weakest position from an offensive standpoint, but defensively it is on par with the league.

 
 
           
 


Starting in the middle of the infield we will have 2008 American League Most Valuable Player Dustin Pedroia again back manning second base. The third year player made a name for himself in 2008 by being the clutch hitter and offensive dynamo the Red Sox needed to keep pace with the Rays in the A L East race.  One of the biggest question marks of the spring will be who mans the shortstop position on Opening Day. Last season Julio Lugo fell into slumps ( .268 average ) and  an injury situation that made him basically a non factor at the position. He has come out and said he wants the position and will be given an opportunity to again win it in Spring Training.  But because of the size of his contract, you have to believe that the Red Sox will give him multiple chances until a change has to be made. If he fails, the Red Sox have a experienced fielder in Jed Lowrie who took over for Lugo in 2008. Lowrie posted a .258 average, but was a better defensive player for the Red Sox last season.

 

On the corners the Red Sox will have Kevin Youkilis manning first base. Youkilis became a offensive threat in 2008 and will again try and improve on his .312 average with 29 homers ans 115 RBI’s.  But he is just as good at the defensive front at first base and is con
sidered one of the American League’s best at the position. In 2008 he had only 4 errors in 923 chances. Only Carlos Pena of the Rays had a better mark in 2008. On the other side of the diamond will be Mike Lowell, who will be trying to come back off a serious hip injury in 2009. Lowell has been one of the offensive leaders in recent years for Boston, but in 2008, his injuries took a toll with a slight decrease at the plate. He only hit .274 last season with 17 homers ans 73 RBI’s, but is looking to increase those numbers. Along with Youkilis and Pedroia, Lowell makes one of the better hitting infields in the American League.

 

 


In the outfield things should be pretty set both in left field and center for the Red Sox. After sending Manny Ramirez to the Dodgers at last season’s trade deadline, the Red Sox acquired a great fielder and hitter in former Pirate Jason Bay. He will begin his first full season in Fenway Park , but already has a good read on the Green Monster and should improve even more in 2009. His .286, with 31homers and 101 RBI’s should again be an offensive weapon for the team.  Patrolling center field will be Jacoby Ellsbury.  Again in 2009, he should be the Red Sox lead-off hitter and continue his climb to become one of the best lead-off men in Red Sox history. His .280 average with 50 stolen bases shows that he can be a menace on the base paths as well as hit.

 
In right field, J D Drew might be the man to beat, but injury situations in the past might prove to be his downfall. Even though he hit .280, with 19 homers and 64 RBI’s, his hitting was streaky during 2008. When healthy is is a monster force out in right field, but is only average with arm strength and speed to the ball. With the short porch in right field, he can sometimes be a liability for short pop ups and shots down the line. Former Ray, Rocco Baldelli might provide the needed back-up because of his speed and hitting. Baldelli can also play center field and is quick to the ball and has a cannon arm. He is feeling fantastic after finding out his illness has changed and his fatigue and stamina will be a big question this spring. If he is truly healthy, he will be a great addition to the Red Sox roster. 

Rounding out the roster will be Designated hitter David Ortiz. He will be late getting back to Spring Training after appearing for the Dominican Republic team during the World Baseball classic.  Ortiz when healthy can be one of the best power hitter in the game. But questions will rise fast about his wrist again in 2009 if he gets off to a slow start.  As Ortiz goes, so does the Boston offense. When he is playing great, they team has the ability to beat anyone, but when he is missing from the lineup it is a huge spot to fill. His 2009 season should be better than his sub par 2008, but only if he remains healthy.
 

So there you have the review of the Boston Red Sox. the team will again have a forceful starting rotation and a Bullpen that is considered one of the strongest top to bottom in the majors. For the Red Sox to drive towards the American League East title, they will have to maintain a great level of health and prevent injuries in 2009. As I stated before, if Boston has an injury situation like the 2008 Yankees, they might be fighting for third place in September. But all indications are that they will be fighting deep into September to try and regain the top spot in the A L East.
 

 

For them to again get to that top spot, they will have to win the yearly series against two team that have owned them late in the year in 2008. The will again have to be dominant against the Rays and the Blue Jays to try and post at least 95 wins in 2009. I think that total is achievable, but only if the injury bug and the Bullpen stays focused and strong. 2009 will be a fight for another A L East title. No one is guaranteed that even if they finish second in this division they will get a playoff spot . For that reason, the Red Sox will want to secure the top spot and guarantee their post season goals for 2009.
 
 
  

photo credits foir today’s blog go to: wwwsawxblog.com, rnolan1087@Flickr.com, sdowen@Flickr.com, keithallison@Flickr.com, news.yahoo.com, dubjo@Flickr.com, dbadair@Flickr.com.

Do You Still Cheer for your Ex-Players?

 
 



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.

 



Everyone
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
field.

 



But that
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
roster.

 



I am
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 .”

 



And I
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
time.



 


 


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
my seat.

 



It was
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
what?

 



Everyone
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
their times.



 

 

 



I am
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
now.

 



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
team?

 
I choose
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.




 
But my
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.

 
 


 



I was
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
rival?



All pictures used in this blog were obtained from the RRCollections.





 
 

MLB Network Shows 2008 World Series Game 2 Classic

 

 


Okay, I promise to really abandon and resign to the fact that 2009 is right around the corner here, and 2008 is just a past memory. But here we go on a crisp, cool night in January sitting there watching the second game of the World Series on the newly launched  MLB Network. I almost for got how huge the crowd was in the stands, and could still smell my loaded nachos and the sugary goodness of my cinnamon almonds.

 


It seemed like so long ago now that this game even was played. But then again, if you are a Rays fan, you have waited for this moment for 11 years. The aspect that this team could get to the playoffs was a distant memory until maybe July after the second half of the season started with a Rays victory via a Ben Zobrist home run. Not until the last out in a game on September 24th, did the team realize a long time dream by both those in the stands and in the dugout.

 


There were a handful of Rays employees who have been here the entire time. People from Bill Wiener and Mike Yodis, who have been driving forces in the procurement department of the team.  Executive Assistant Diane Villanova, who was once Vince Namoli’s executive secretary and has seen the entire evolution of this franchise. Then you have someone like Barry Jones or Kristy Capone, who sat in the sales department cubicles and might have wondered at time how long it would take to finally get here.

 

 


The re-broadcast of that game brought about a lot of emotion. A lot of sweat equity that so many have given for the Rays cause. But it did not match the joy and the total abandonment of logic as we celebrated the teams first win in a World Series contest. To say it was a typical Rays win would be pretty accurate. It showed the heart and the character of this team to the nation. Before that first win, people knew we had won over 97 games during the season, but had not seen the formula used to win a majority of those games.

 


Tonight the nation got to see how “Raysball” was played, and also saw the emotional and physical toll it had on fans and players. Baseball is truly a fickle game. A short blast that fall in between two out fielders can make or break a game. A single throw into the plate can make or break a game. And a single pitch, left over the plate can be rocketed to the outfield walls and beyond.

 


Watching this game can also make you yearn for more……….More Wins, more times like these again in 2009. To even imagine another run into the World Series right now would be  a little premature and crazy. But the pieces are in place to make a run  at it all. Several pieces will be replaced in 2009 from the 2008 crew, but these will be upgrades and not just fill in the blanks players as in the years past. The new winning tradition is now set in stone, and the clay and mortar are still wet on the basis of the 2009 roster.

 

 


In the next few weeks there will be optimism and renewed vigor about the 2009 season, but this small look into the past was just what I needed last night. I needed to remember the feelings and the emotions that gripped me on that night.  I as a fan, needed to remember where I was, what I was doing, and who I first slapped high fives to after the win.

 


It is a emotional and physical high I would hope on all the fans of baseball at least once in your life.  To say that night changed my life would be an understatement. I have attended 3 World Series games before this season, and got into the mood with the crowd, but did not have a center to grab a hold of and attack the event with gusto. This series had all my past feelings and tears in ti’s framework from the first pitch.

 


So it was pretty emotional to sit there and see again the high  sacrifice bunt by Jason Bartlett that scored Cliff Floyd from third base and Rays starter James ” Big Game” Shields reminded people that he strives under pressure shutting out the Phillies for 5 2/3rds innings, scattering 7 hits on the night. That was a lot of excitement for a Thursday night in St. Petersburg.

 

 


But from the beginning of this contest, you could tell it was all Rays tonight. Akinora Iwamura got on with a lead off walk, and moved to third on B J Upton’s drive to right field that was misplayed by Jason Werth to put both guys into scoring position with no outs in the game.  Then two straight ground outs by Carlos Pena and Evan Longoria put the Rays up first 2-0.

 


The Rays again got to business fast in the second inning as Upton drove in Dioner Navarro and Baldelli was thrown out in the most photographed picture of the World Series at that point. His slide into Phillies’ catcher Carlos Ruiz would be plastered all over the Internet and the newspapers and finally made it to the cover of Sports Illustrated . It was one of those World Series moments etched in stone that will be remembered for decades. It might have been an out, but it showed the determination and the spirit of this franchise.

 

 


Then came the moment of truth with Floyd and third when Bartlett put down that safety squeeze and the Rays went up 4-0. Baldelli also helped out in the field on that night going a long way for a Chase Utley drive that looked more destined for the hole than into Baldelli’s glove. The action produced a double play as Baldelli was able to fire the ball to first base and he doubled up Jayson Werth on one of the best defensive plays of the entire World Series.

 


But what was remarkable about the night was the cool and calm demeanor of Rays rookie David Price when he came in to pitch in this contest. He came out there with 2 outs in the 7th inning and he walked Utley before going after Ryan Howard and striking him out to end the inning. In the 8th,  Price got started quickly getting two quick outs before leaving up a slider and watching Eric Bruntlett stroll around the bases for a solo shot and take away the shutout from the Rays.


 

 


But even after all of that, Price looked determined and strong on the mound and got Pedro Feliz to ground out to only surrender 1 run to the Phillies. In the 9th inning,  Carlos Ruiz got a quick double and scored on an error to put the Phillies within 2 runs of the lead.  That brought up Utley and Howard for a second time in his brief relief appearance for Price. He got Utley to strikeout, and induced a ground out from Howard.

 


It was a night of lost chances for both teams, but after the last out in the game, you could see the excitement and the emotion in Price’s face as he was leaving the mound. This put the series back at 1  win each and put the pressure on the Phillies gong back home for the next 3 games. We all know how it turned out by now, but at that moment you had to believe if you were a Rays fan.


 

 


The energy and the excitement in the stadium could not be bottled up and released again in Citizen Bank Ballpark, but you wish it could. It was a night when you saw the Rays mature right in front of you. No longer did you see a team that could blow a 5 run lead, or even strike out three times in the bottom of the 9th to preserve another team’s win. You saw a squad that was on a mission and a fan base that believed in them more than any other time in their short existence. It was a great time to be a Ray.

 

 

Top Rays Memory of 2008………………..Playoffs Baby!!!

 

 

 

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.

 

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