Defense Bends, but the Rays break in Loss
Ted S Warren / AP
Joe’s 500th Moment
It did not feel like a celebration, but come on, does it really feel like we have seen Rays Manager Joe Maddon out there 500 times in a Rays uniform? It feels like it was just yesterday that we were introduced to this guy who looked more like your Logic or Statistics class professor than a baseball manager. But little did we know that the “statistics” label would still seem fresh today. It is so refreshing to see him still have the same type of managerial style that he displayed on the first day. When the Rays first manager, Larry Rothschild hit his third year, you could not even recognize his style, much less his smile.
But here we have the bold glasses of Maddon still gracing the dugout steps with grace and confidence in his team and their chances. How refreshing is it to know that the guy who took the Rays reins in 2006 made his debut on April 3rd in Baltimore. It took him two more days to celebrate his first win, a 2-0 victory thrown by Mark Hendrickson. But who would have guessed this guy would still be here when he first was introduced. We have seen it before in Tampa Bay, first Larry Rothschild the mastermind behind the Florida Marlins pitching staff during their first World Series victory was hired to build the franchise in the image of the Marlins. This team has chewed up and spit out managers like a guy eating conch fritters at Frenchy’s on Clearwater Beach, Florida.
But why is it that Maddon has lasted so long? Could it be that he actually has a master plan, and has been able to implement it without stress and the front office blocking his thoughts and ideas. That is the great thing about his hiring and the team getting a new ownership at the same time. Both came in as blank pages to the Rays fans. Both had huge upside and confidence in them was sky high. I think even with the recent downward offensive woes, the energy and the chemistry on this team is high this season. You can see in the game that certain breaks have not gone our way that fell into our laps in 2008.
But I believe Maddon has the ability to steer the team’s thoughts towards recognizing these game changing moments and will turn them into positive events soon. But who would have guessed it when he got his 125th victory on September 23rd against the Boston Red Sox at home. Here he was 25 percent of the way to his 500th game and he had been pushed by defeat and success. He missed hitting the .500 mark in 2006 in his first season by one win. But even with the 61 victories, you could feel the tide changing in Tropicana Field. You knew this guy understood what was needed to hit the next level.
So here we are today at Safeco Field in Seattle with the Rays playing a late game start against the Mariners. Funny how last year these teams were headed in different directions, but now they have reverse mirror-image records, with the Rays fighting to get out of the American League East basement with a 5-9 record and the Mariners on top of the American League West division with a 9-5 mark. But there was Maddon like a proud general leaning on the rail and watching his team go to battle against the Mariners. He has currently posted 229 wins in those 500 contests. That is amazing considering this is a franchise that did not win before he stepped into the head job.
Who would remember that in his first year he finished 36 games back of the AL East winner, and in two years he would be the one on top looking down at everyone else. I was checking out some old Maddon quotes, and this one from the Tampa Tribune caught my eyes,” “The fourth manager in ( Devil ) Rays history is a book you can’t put down. A concert you rock to, a story that begins in a mining town and ends in a baseball dugout, sometimes cruising with the girlfriend to an L.A. beach, Springsteen blasting from the convertible, for a glass of red wine at sunset. Something for everyone.” Wow, that was written the day he was hired by the Rays on November 14, 2005. People forget, we could have lost him to the Boston Red Sox in 2004, but they decided to hire Terry Francona for their managers position. We need to celebrate Maddon. Not for what he has done for this franchise, but for what is going to do this year and in the future. I look forward to again celebrate his 1000th game on the 28th game of the 2012 season.
Ted S Warren / AP
Same Bat Channel, Same Bat Station
Watching the first inning of last night;s game I got excited that maybe this road trip might be the right thing to get our bats again stroking the ball and producing a few more runs than the opponent. Little did I know that the walk and those two hits in the first inning would be the highlight of the Rays night. There was excitement knowing that lead-off man Jason Bartlett was 5-8 lifetime against Seattle starter Jarrod Washburn. And when he lead off the game with a walk, you knew something was about to happen. After Carl Crawford hit a flutter ball to short for a quick out, the Rays began to flex a little muscle.
Evan Longoria kept his bat going by stroking a nice RBI-double into the left field corner that Endy Chavez had trouble with as it bounced oddly off the wall. Pat Burrell, who had been hitting at a .357 clip in his last 4 starts, hit a ball up the middle to score Longoria and put the Rays up early 2-0. But after that, the Rays again fell into their recent funk of going down 1-2-3 both in the second and third innings. Burrell did again try and get something started in the fourth inning when he hit another ball up the middle for a single, but after a Ben Zobrist hard blast that landed just at the bottom of the left field wall, both men ended up stranded on base for the Rays.
It is not frustrating that Zobrist hit that laser beam to left, but it did get there too fast, or the Rays might have had a chance to get Burrell home. It was one of those moments where a great hit hindered the end result. And that has been one of the foundation points to the Rays not getting some of their needed runs this year. Either we are popping the ball with mustard, or we are not stringing them along to make a sustainable rally to win. Scattered hits and walks will not win games, but they are showing that the ability is there and the formula can work. That is what is so unnerving about the slow start to the 2009 season. The team is doing the right things and getting hits, but not in a consistent manner by stringing them together and posting rallies of any duration.
Feast or fathom is the word for their offense so far in 2009. And Maddon is confident that the team will shake this and be fine this year. It is early, and we know this is a better team in 2009 than the AL Pennant-winning club of 2008, but getting into the AL East cellar early might not play well in the long run. From that fourth inning on, the Rays had 4 base runners the rest of the night. Longoria walked in the fifth inning, Gabe Kapler hit a awesome double, his fourth of the year in the seventh inning, and Carlos Pena finally got on base with a walk after three straight strikeouts. And in a last ditch effort to get a victory, Dioner Navarro lead-off the ninth inning with a single to center field, but was left stranded after two quick fly outs and Bartlett being called out on strikes to end the game.
Ted S. Warren / AP
The Best Offense is a Good Defense
You know that quote had to come from a military leader, because a baseball manager would love the essence of that quote, but hate the result. But the Rays again showed some tremendous defensive effort, which included some nifty and classic Longoria moments. At least three times in the game, the Mariners were testing the Rays third baseman. This included two times just by Ichiro, but he completed the outs all three times gunning down even the speedy Ichiro.
But one bunt did go a bit wrong in the first inning. Ken Griffey Jr., who has been known for knee problems put a ball down in front of the mound and was speeding to first as Rays starter Andy Sonnanstine picked the ball up and threw off line a bit to give the Mariner’s their second base runner of the game. Sonnanstine did get an error on the throw, but the play did not end up coming back to haunt him tonight. But in the third inning, Akinora Iwamura made one of the best plays of the night when he took a ball hit by Adrian Beltre up the middle and went deep into the hole just on the outfield grass and gloved the ball and threw blindly to first to just get Beltre and retired the Mariners 1-2-3 for the first time tonight.
But the play of the night came from the outfield. Gabe Kapler got the start tonight in place of B J Upton, who is still rehabbing a slight quad pull. Kapler did not begin his fourth inning in a great way, but he did end it in classic style. After Mike Sweeney started off the inning on base after Sonny got him with a breaking pitch in the back hand, Jose Lopez hit a single to left to give the Mariners two quick base runners. But Seattle catcher Rob Johnson had a surprise for Kapler as he hit a long fly ball over Kapler’s head and to the wall for a RBI-triple.
But a testament to the Rays defense was shown when Johnson did not try and score off of Franklin Guttierrez’s fly ball to right field. Seattle Third Base Coach Bruce Hines held up Johnson not wanting to test Zobrist’s arm. Zobrist did end up throwing the ball into the plate with a strong straight throw that surely would have pegged Johnson. Yuniesky Bentancourt then hit another drive over Kapler’s head that one-hopped to the wall and gave the Mariners a 4-2 lead in the game. After Ichiro tried to again test Longoria for the second time tonight, Endy Chavez hit a long and curving ball to left-center field. On the play, Kapler had a great read on the ball and got to it just as it was about to dip away from him. Leaving his feet he caught the ball in stride going horizontal for the final out of the inning. The play ended up being the number 1 Web Gems last night on ESPN’s Baseball Tonight.
Ted S. Warren / AP
I found it kind of interesting that the Mariner’s adjusted their rotation to get Rays-killer Jerrod Washburn on the mound last night. For his career, he was 11-3 against the Rays, with a 2.60 ERA coming into the game. It was a bold move by the Seattle coaching staff, but it did work out for them as they got their 9th win of the year. Washburn was in control of the game from the second inning on, and posted 9 strikeouts on the night. He mixed his fastball and his breaking pitches well last night. The victory put him at 3-0 on the season. The loss was only the second in the last 8 games against Seattle at Safeco Field.
Todd Kalas is the Man
I have always had a lot of respect for Todd Kalas and his broadcasting abilities. Last night was the first time we have seen the strapping-young lad since his father passed away last week. Todd came on before the game and thanked the many fans, players and broadcasters who have expressed their feeling to him in the previous week. He spoke of the great memories of working with his dad in the past, made sure everyone know how sincere he firmly felt their notes and messages to him and his family. But, the last comment by him really got to me. In his last words he expressed, ” Dad, pop the top on a cold one, it is time for the game!” Classic moment from a classy guy.
Happy Early B’day Safeco Field
We already know how I feel about this monument to baseball in the Pacific Northwest, but I forgot that it was entering it tenth year this season. I might have to go out for a series this year because I remember being at Jacob’s Field during their tenth year also and it was quite a environment. It doesn’t seem like July 15,1999 when they played the first game in this stadium. From its ground-breaking in March 1994, to the first pitch by former Mariner Jamie Moyer at 7:15 pm ( called strike), this stadium has been a centerpiece of the Seattle skyline.
From the time in September 1996, when they decided on this location just south of the old Kingdome, this stadium had been on the forefront to be a regional landmark. The first plans for the stadium did not include the retractable roof. But after a study showed that over 50 percent of the ballpark visitors came from beyond local King county, the commission formed to watch over and also manage the project asked local architect’s NBBJ about the roof options. More than 30,000 fans came out on March 8, 1997 as fan favorite Ken Griffey Jr. shoveled out the first dirt on the stadium project. Then on July 15, 1999 over 47,000 fans greeted the new digs during the Inaugural game against the San Diego Padres.
Bites and Nibbles
Carlos Pena ended his 12-game hitting steak just two shy of his personal best 14 games by going 0-3, with three strikeouts. Pena is currently tied for second in the AL in strikeouts with the Indians Grady Sizemore with 17 for the season. Dioner Navarro and Akinora Iwamura are tied for 13th with 13 strikeouts each so far in 2009.
Evan Longoria slipped to 11th in hits in the American League. He has 19 so far this year. He is however still tied for the second spot with 6 other AL batters in doubles with 6 this year. Longoria is also in a 5-way tie with 5 homers this season, and is in a 4-way tie with 13 RBI’s so far this year for the Rays. He is also second in Slugging Percentage hitting for a .816 average, only .090 below the Ranger’s Ian Kinsler who leads the AL. So far in 2009, a sophomore slump has not been bothering the young third baseman.
Jason Bartlett is currently rocking to fifth spot in overall AL batting average with a .391 this season. He is also currently 20th in the AL in runs with 20 for the Rays. He is also tied with Boston’s Jacoby Ellsbury for fourth place in stolen bases in the AL with 5 so far in 2009. Carl Crawford also is tied for second in triples with twenty-seven other hitters in the AL right now.
David Price had his best performance of 2009 in his latest game for the Durham Bulls. Last night Price threw 71 pitches and gave up 2 hits and two earned runs in the 7-3 Bulls win. Two of those runs were given up on a homer by the Gwinnett Brave’s Reid Gorecki in the third inning. After Gorecki’s homer, Price did not give up another hit in his five innings. It was his first victory in 2009. The Rays still have the future star on a 75-pitch count at Triple-A to conserve his arm.