Since I was last here discussing the Trever Miller Cardinals signing (which has since been finalized), the Tampa Bay Rays have even further altered their landscape for the 2009 season and beyond. It has not only changed the face of the team on the field, but off of it as well.
The big move I wanted to mention first was the departure of color commentator Joe Magrane. After 11 years of making Rays TV broadcasts interesting, Magrane is leaving his longtime employers to become an analyst on the new MLB Network. It would likely be a dream team of him and the great Matt Vasgersian doing the studio show. (Can’t they work the World Series broadcasts too? They’re infinitely better than Joe
Suck Buck and Tim “Curveball, Fastball… Or a Curveball” McCarver.) The Rays TV presentation now has a huge void to fill in his absence. From the way he could analyze the pickoff moves of left handed pitchers to his becoming a “homer” for his team at just the right times, Joe entertained and informed Rays fans thoroughly during the team’s first 11 years in baseball. Good luck finding a replacement who has the same chemistry with Dewayne Staats and Todd Kalas. (Kalas himself?) Rays TV will never be the same again. Neither will FanFest meeting Joe there last February was one of the highlights of the event for me and many other Rays enthusiasts, and he was excellent in the question/answer session. Plus his daughter is a very talented singer who performed at some of their games and may also prove difficult to replace. Anyway, good luck to Joe in his next great endeavor. I’ll be watching.
Now when it comes to players, the Rays have not signed a ¢¢ $abathia type of free agent or made any blockbuster trades, but key moves have been made. Most notably and recently, just last night (December 10), the team traded starting pitcher Edwin Jackson to the Detroit Tigers for 24yearold corner outfielder Matt Joyce. I heard a lot about Joyce and his potential during last season, his first in the Major Leagues with the Tigers. Within a year or two, he can be a 2530 home run hitter with hopefully a .270 or higher batting average. A) It’s better than what they had, and B) At least this deal has good long-term potential, rather than just being a oneyear bridge to the unknown. So I can’t complain. An added bonus is that he apparently has a cannon arm in the outfield. He had a full 20 outfield assists in 2007 at AA Erie. His totals in other seasons have also been respectable. One more incentive for Joyce to play here is that he was born in Tampa and played at Armwood High School, in addition to Lakelandbased Florida Southern College. (Sidenote: Florida Southern happens to be the arch rival of my new school, The University of Tampa.) So he will now be truly playing at home. Welcome to the team.
On the other end of the deal, Edwin Jackson’s trade opens up a starting rotation spot for David Price. Even better is the fact that the Mets didn’t get him.
I’ll be back when the Rays make any more big moves. Until then, go American League Champion Rays.
“Boston Red Sox Pitchers” for $200: The guy considered by teammates to be the American League’s best pitcher. Answer: Who is Jon Lester?
“Boston Red Sox Pitchers” for $400: This left hander went 166 with a 3.21 ERA in 2008. Answer: Who is Jon Lester?
“Boston Red Sox Pitchers” for $600: This man nohit the Kansas City Royals at Fenway Park. Answer: Who is Jon Lester?
“Boston Red Sox Pitchers” for $800: Closed out the 2007 World Series with a dominating performance in hittinghappy Coors Field. Answer: Who is Jon Lester?
“Boston Red Sox Pitchers” for $1,000: The man who got lit up like a bonfire by the Rays in game three of the 2008 ALCS. Answer: Who is Jon Lester?
I’ve swept the board. For that matter, so have the Rays, at least for one glorious evening. They destroyed the Red Sox 91 in enemy territory to take a critical two games to one series lead. Matt Garza came back from his Division Series implosion to pitch incredibly well in the biggest game of his life to this point. He went 6+ innings and allowed one run on six hits and three walks with five strikeouts. The Red Sox starter looked more like Jon Arbuckle than Jon Lester as he allowed five runs, four earned, in less than six innings. This included home runs from B.J. Upton and Evan Longoria that both cleared the Green Monster. Upton’s actually went beyond the wall, beyond the seats, and almost beyond the street. Did his labrum magically heal itself last week? He’s suddenly banging out Dave Kingman home runs at a rapid rate. He has yet to fail any drug tests. Rocco Baldelli and Carlos Pena topped off a game in which every starter had a hit with their own late home runs off Paul Byrd. For Rocco, it’s yet another confidence builder in his long road to recovery. Six months ago his career as a whole was in jeopardy, and look at him now. He’ll have what B.J.’s having.
Edwin Jackson pitched well in relief, lighting up the radar gun as high as 99 MPH. How did the Dodgers fail to make him a good late inning stopper? He looked like he had unlimited potential in that role. With David Price likely to join the starting rotation next year and maybe a spot (Troy Percival’s?) opening up in the bullpen, it’s likely Jackson may attempt this transition for the second time in his career. And hopefully the last.
I’ve also heard a growing vocal minority clamoring for a move to the bullpen by, of all people, Scott Kazmir. The chief complaint is that he doesn’t go deep enough into games, which is a very valid point. Leading the league in pitches per inning this year at over 18, Kazmir rarely sees the seventh and eighth innings. A host on The Killer B’s on ESPN 1470/1040 compared him to Dwight Gooden: unbelievable talent, overworked, psychologically burned out, talent gone. A lot of fans would like to see him as a closer. But with the stats Kazmir puts up as a starter remember, he’s a two-time All Star who could replace him? Jeff Niemann? Wade Davis? I don’t know about this issue and what direction it should go in. I’ll be thinking about it and researching it further. If we had another Price, the decision would likely be obvious. But there can be only one, so it’s much more difficult. I’ll render my verdict sometime before next season.
But pertaining to more immediate matters, the Rays have the momentum and the lead they needed to carry on to game four, where Andy Sonnanstine goes up against onetime Tampa Bay stopper Tim Wakefield. I think with his working pace and the way he throws strikes, Sonnanstine matches up well with the Boston lineup. We’ll see if I’m right and he can bring the lead to 31 and set up Shields to bring home the pennant. Until next time, go Rays.
Yet another incredible victory for the Rays tonight to reduce their magic number to one and only one. The Red Sox won their game, but Tampa Bay is just so close to that division title that they need not care about them anymore. Getting their own business done will take care of it, and take good care it did last night. In one of the greatest comebacks of the season, just when the Rays had once again lost all hope of winning, they fought back from a 60 second inning deficit to roll over the Orioles 116. Edwin Jackson surrendered five first inning runs to send his team to what appeared to be an early defeat. However, a five run fourth inning brought them back within close range; two innings later, they took the lead on Akinori Iwamura’s two run triple and never looked back. Iwamura, B.J. Upton and Fernando Perez had stolen bases (Perez stole two) that helped eliminate double play possibilities and open up the offense. It was much the same as last night’s second doubleheader game, only the comeback took place at an earlier point in the game. Whatever was left of the bullpen Chad Bradford and Trever Miller held down the fort well enough to seal what turned out to be a surprisingly easy finish. Even though Ramon Hernandez and Iwamura collided on what might have been a double play, both injury and scoreboard damage were averted.
ESPN is finally reporting, 24 hours after the fact, that Rays playoff tickets did indeed sell out before going on sale to the general public. Thanks for catching up with the rest of the world and telling the slow ones the good news. The tarped off seats will remain closed for the Division Series, at the (asinine) discretion of Major League Baseball. No word on the ALCS if need be, but I’m sure they’ll be changing their minds after that last underestimation. The World Series has already been guaranteed to have every seat in the dome opened up if the Rays get that far.
To follow up on my total thrashing of ESPN’s Josh Elliott, I have actually come across a quote where he says he likes the Rays. And another one basically stating that he wants to stop talking about the Yankees once they are out of the playoff race, which they now are. Plus he is not northeastern, but rather from Los Angeles. Had I entered these more specific search queries in my earlier research, I would have been a little lighter on him. And like I said before, there are people there who are worse pure anchors than he is. Though he should still refresh himself on the current state of the Rays and their expanding fanbase, at which point all will be square.
The Rays travel now to Detroit and play a day game right after traveling, still having to finish off a schedule made for the Devil Rays over a year ago. The Tigers have fallen into last place with losses to the Royals, and for our sake let’s keep it that way. Scott Kazmir has a golden opportunity to win that division title where they deserve to win it, right there on the field. Until this is finally done, go Rays.
The Tampa Bay Rays are now one victory away from a playoff berth. They could win their spot as early as today on FOX. Last night’s game was televised on ESPN, and I was proudly there live in the usual Rays gear. Section 141 in left field was absolutely hopping with Rays fans looking to celebrate the accomplishments of this amazing team. This game provided the perfect forum for this.
Edwin Jackson was flodded with early run support, but as it turns out it was just an added bonus to his incredible pitching performance, arguably the greatest of his career to this point. Given the job he did against the Twins combined with the game’s heightened magnitude, he answered the doubts of Rays fans everywhere and may have outdone his dominant shutout of the Rangers in 2007, if only because that game was lost in the shuffle of that season before it even started. Jackson only allowed one earned run, on a sacrifice fly, in 7.2 innings pitched. The standing ovation he received as he left the field spurred on by Joe Maddon’s timely removal of him from the game was long, loud and welldeserved. He got himself into only a few jams and escaped almost all of them with a zero on the scoreboard. He also made one of the defensive plays of the night when he ran out into the infield dirt to retrieve a loose chopper on the infield, then ran to first base himself to retire Justin Morneau. He showed both his athleticism from his days as a star high school outfielder and his top potential out on a Major League mound. Congratulations, Edwin even if you don’t start a playoff game, this was your night at Tropicana Field.
A historic moment took place in the fourth inning of the Rays’ eventual 111 beating of Minnesota. Carlos Pena, hitting with two runners on base, blasted a pitch from Boof Bonser up and apparently just over the right center field wall for a home run. From my outfield point of view, and those of everyone in that section of the stadium, the ball clearly traveled over the yellow line before bouncing back onto the field. As everyone in the section, and thousands throughout the dome, signaled home run, the umpires called it a double, ruling fan interference. We knew it had to go to instant replay, and Joe Maddon made that point abundantly clear. So sure enough, three of the umpires made the journey back to the video monitor to review this. After over four minutes, which felt like ten, they returned and umpire Gerry Davis made the final ruling: home run. The dome instantly exploded into another round of cheers as MLB history was made and Pena got his 31st home run. It turned out the call was right and the celebration was justified.
Delmon Young now plays left field for Minnesota… for those of you who remember the 2007 team, he was a rookie right fielder for us after having been the #1 overall Draft pick in 2003. He underperformed slightly and didn’t show the player development the team wanted out of him. More importantly, his attitude made him a locker room cancer, with a series of events culminating in Joe Maddon benching him for most of the season’s final game due to not running out a ground ball. He’s back in Tropicana Field for this series, and being situated not far behind him in row CC (about ten rows up), I had a field day with this. After he misplayed Akinori Iwamura’s leadoff triple, I reminded him that was one reason he was traded: he couldn’t catch fly balls. I also informed him that Matt Garza is better than him and cheered every out he made. At one point, Iwamura caught him off first base after a line drive and doubled him off. I just had to tell him that if he knew how to run the bases, he would still be on our side. Finally, I made some comment about picking up his medal in bat javelin. He turned his head upon hearing it, which is about the only smart move he made all night. Some others in our section also had a little fun with him. It’s always fun to see guys like him take their verbal beatings.
Today is the day the Rays can enter the playoff field with a win (or White Sox and Yankees losses, but they need a win more than anything) and celebrate a large milestone in this season of franchise firsts. It’s live on FOX and I think it’s our time. We’re on the national stage, what better timing is there? Until we join the Angels and start chasing a division title, go Rays.
To quote Howard Wolowitz of CBS’ Big Bang Theory, “That’s a negatory.” The Rays didn’t even look like they came in looking for a sweep, and the Marlins came away with a 93 victory. The game ended when Jason Bartlett, who had the big tworun single last night, popped out with the bases loaded after one run had already scored. On the plus side, Akinori Iwamura stole his fourth base of the season, something we need to see more of out of the leadoff spot. Eric Hinske took over the team lead with his 12th home run. Other than that, not a game to write home about. (Yet I’m writing about it anyway. Somebody please give me directions to a social life.) B.J. Upton was 0for4 with three strikeouts, and the team struck out 12 times with only one walk. So much for that patience and getting on base idea. Ricky Nolasco picked up the win for Florida, throwing his curveball as well as he has ever done it and throwing off the timing of the young Rays lineup.
In terms of pitching, Edwin Jackson noticeably lacked command early. Though he picked off Jeremy Hermida in the first inning, the second inning turned against him. He allowed backtoback walks before serving up a home run to spot starter Wes Helms. Five innings, six earned runs, one strikeout. Those are 2007 Jackson totals. He just needs to find good consistency and show that he can win a few starts consecutively. The bullpen was below its season averages except for Grant Balfour, who struck out four Marlins with one walk and no hits in two innings of work. This game was meant to be lost. It happens sometimes in a league where 162 games are played every season.
The Red Sox torched the Reds and the Yankees killed off the Astros, but at least Pittsburgh finally beat Baltimore and the Cubs took their series with Toronto. Now it’s time for those same Cubs to bring their beastly lineup and phenomenal bullpen to Tropicana Field. Get the bats ready, this could be a home run derby. And if the Cubs happen to beat us once or twice, there’s always next weekend’s Astros series to get the wins back. They just got bulldozed at home in three straight games by the Yankees. Hopefully this isn’t yet another Yankee renaissance. I can see it now: “The Rays win their fifth straight game at home… in other news, Joba Chamberlain just had dinner with Hank Steinbrenner. For more on this shocking development, here’s Buster Olney.” Until next time, go Rays.
The series opener against the Angels was a great one to watch, regardless of how late it was in Florida. In the second inning, the Rays made team history when Evan Longoria, Willy Aybar and Dioner Navarro became the first Rays to ever hit backtobacktoback home runs in a regular season game, doing so against Joe Saunders. Edwin Jackson let the lead get away to 43 in the fourth inning, but the Rays responded with a fiverun inning their next time up and they never turned back. Jackson picked up the victory as the Rays beat the Angels 134 to give Joe Maddon, who worked in the Angels organization for 31 years, his first road win at Angels Stadium. Saunders is now 93, and 02 against the Rays. There are just some pitchers that this team owns. Jackson is 45 after overcoming a few winless starts. Longoria hit two home runs in the presence of friends and family in his native California. Speaking of Californians, the pride of Newhall, James Shields, goes up against Jered Weaver in a battle of young aces tonight. Shields already has a onehit shutout of the Angels on his record this season.
As the Rays continue to wage battles with a very good team in their house, I'll briefly pause to thank Stephanie of the Marmolade Cubs blog for giving me my first plug from another MLBlogger. Well, I plugged hers first, but it was nice of her to return the favor. So thank you again. I am now a Cubs fan. Well, after the Braves and Rays are finished with them next week, then we'll talk. It would make my mom's family proud it is my grandma’s birthday today and she does need a gift. So where are everyone else’s plugs? I’ll get another one about a year from now.
I am giving a speech, the “final project,” in my Principles of Communication class tomorrow night. I have decided to make it about the Rays' new Waterfront Stadium, which is on its way onto the St. Petersburg ballots. I'll be telling people what benefits the stadium brings to the team and the city, where the money is coming from, and that they're fascists if they vote against it. Maybe not the last part, but I could give that message a bit more indirectly.
You know what I haven't had in a while? Big League Chew.
I'll be back soon as the Rays hopefully continue to average 13 runs per game. They really do need to win by a little more than nine every game, the bullpen without Percival scares me just a bit. [/sarcasm] I write early in the morning and end up publishing random comedy. Maybe I should do it more often. Let's just say, until next time, go Rays.
I guess the answer to the above question, at least at this point in the season, is a surprisingly resounding “yes.” The Rays, coming off an embarrassing sweep by the Red Sox at Fenway Park that not even James Shields and the returning Scott Kazmir could prevent, have now won two out of three games at Toronto’s Rogers Centre. Last night’s win was one they deserved, then didn’t deserve, then pulled out rather easily.
Edwin Jackson pitched eight shutout innings in the rubber match and, thanks to home runs from Gabe Gross and Carlos Pena, went into the ninth inning with a 3-0 lead. Now here’s Troy Percival with the save. But wait–Vernon Wells hit a two-run home run before Aaron Hill drove in Lyle Overbay with the tying run. More like a blown save. Not to mention totally cheating Edwin Jackson out of an easy win. So much for Percival’s 0.00 ERA. So the game moves on past a 10th inning Blue Jays threat against Dan Wheeler, and all the way into the 13th inning. In comes Toronto’s own 0.00 ERA reliever, and it’s quite the surprise–former Tampa Bay pitcher Shawn Camp, whose ERA was about two gallons of gas last year when he played here. I once again figured out why the Rays let him go. After surrendering a sacrifice fly to Carl Crawford that scored Jason Bartlett, Dioner Navarro came up with two outs and the bases loaded following an Evan Longoria fly out. On 3-2 against Camp, Navarro pulled a sinkerball that didn’t really drop deep into right center field for a surprising grand slam, the second of his career, to nail the coffin on an unconventional 8-3 victory. They win yet another series to go home on a high note and stay above .500 at second place in the division.
Tonight, the Rays face the Angels in the first of a three-game series. James Shields pitches against Jon Garland as Shields looks to regain the dominance he saw against the Red Sox two weekends ago in his last home start. As long as Kazmir can go longer than four innings this weekend, it’s all good for him. I would like to briefly point out that the Atlanta Braves, who I don’t see too much anymore thanks to lack of TV coverage, have now won six games in a row and are finally turning around their early underachievement. Meanwhile, the San Diego Padres of all teams lead the league at 23 losses. The Rays need to make sure they don’t fall into that trap for yet another season, and so far they haven’t. Let’s keep it that way by showing the West Coast that the Rays are a legitimate force to be taken at the value of the hype. So until next time, go Rays.
The Rays lost last night, 8-7 to the Yankees. They had once been down 7-2, so there were some positives in this defeat. Not that they can or should keep losing, but there should at least be something good coming out of what they do lose. Evan Longoria hit his first Major League home run, Carl Crawford got his first of the season, and B.J. Upton hit his second in as many days. The Rays are among the very top of American League teams in home runs, RBI, and runs scored. They’re doing a great job offensively, so now it’s time for some pitching consistency. We’re getting it from some guys, but we need at least one or two more (Andy Sonnanstine?) to catch up.
Speaking of pitchers, the Rays staff took batting practice today, with Edwin Jackson (high school outfielder) and James Shields (excellent high school hitter) actually hitting home runs. Jim Hickey, the Rays pitching coach, has started batting practice a few weeks in advance of interleague play to get ready and have a little fun at the same time. The pitchers practiced situational hitting and making opposing pitchers work against them, then took some home run swings. I really like this idea for a myriad of reasons, many of which are located in the MLB.com article. I think they should keep doing it, and maybe practice more bunting as well. But from what I’ve seen, Jackson, Shields and Sonnanstine can hit well enough for pitchers.
In case I didn’t hammer it home yet, I’ll be there Friday night at Tropicana Field (Akinori Iwamura Poster Night) when the Rays take on Javier Vazquez and the White Sox. The Rays currently project to start Jeff Niemann for the second time, and we can sincerely hope the results are equal to those of his first outing. Until next time, go Rays and dethrone the Yankees.