September 2011

Rays Get Introduced to the “Wendelstedt Factor”

They were initially designed to be the “enforcers of the rules and regulations of baseball”. Be the facilitators of human error that was needed within the scope of the game to keep it from becoming inherently mechanical and stiff. The flaws and frailties of the human element have made baseball enjoyable to watch, banter about and discuss long before television made their mistakes more visual within seconds.

But in the end, you have to ask yourself why do some Major League Umpires find it necessary to “ jump the shark tank” at times to firmly cross that fine line and make the game their own? At what point do the Umpires have that right to step over that pre-conceived dividing chalk line of being “in the game or around it” that essence that sometimes separates fact from fiction, keeping the integrity of the game intact, or blowing it all out the window.

Most people in Boston today will say I have a case of extreme “sour grapes”, that the Tampa Bay Rays loss to the Red Sox last night was a well fought contest with hills and valleys that the team did not use to their advantage to post a win. I can agree with that, but there might have been another element that most Boston fans have thrown into the darkness of the closet, hoping someone like me will not bring it back out into the daylight. Something stunk in Boston last night, and it wasn’t low tide.

During the course of the game last night an old quote I read by former National League Umpire Bruce Froemming kept popping into my mind as a few questionable calls and strike signals were displayed on tele-illustrators and graphics pertaining to the exploits of last night’s Home Plate Umpire:

One of the really wrong theories about officiating is that a good official is one you never notice. The Umpire who made this statement was probably a poor official who tried to get his paycheck and hide behind his partners and stay out of trouble his whole life. Control of the ballgame is the difference between Umpires who show up for the players and Managers.

Usually when you think of the Rays and an Umpire controversy their top two past adversaries Umpires Joe West and Angel Hernandez come quickly to light. But last night the Rays dastardly duo were nowhere is sight with each hundreds of miles away calling other MLB games. With the above quote in mind, last night a new Rays villain in black emerged on Friday night, and his name is Hunter Wendelstedt. You would think a second generation MLB Umpire would have a more structured approach, a more defined strike zone, a definite want to be “in the game” but not an intricate part of it.

I actually enjoy an animated Home Plate Umpire who throws a little showmanship and bravado into the cool night’s air to provide a hint of excitement and twists to the game, but I have a firm distaste when I see a blatant disregard for a well defined parameter of the strike zone floating back and forth in the wind like a flag during the evening. The integrity of the strike zone is up to individual Umpire’s interpretation and will be compromised at times, but when it floats and is expanded like a balloon filling with hot Umpire air, that is where I draw the line.

I understand that sometimes Umpires make bad judgment calls in the spirit of the game that upon later review have merit for further discussions, but when their errors in judgment can be plastered upon a television matrix system and show an obvious disregard for the defined “box” of a preconceived strike zone that each hitter hopes an Umpire will structure and call with clarity, I have a problem with that.

A great example of this floating strike zone has to be Rays CF B J Upton’s 5th inning plate appearance. I agree that Upton does give a few extra words to Umpires during the game discounting their strike zones or even hoping for a reprieve on a later plate appearance, but when the zone expands to almost touching a player’s uniform and it is called a strike…..something is truly afoot.

In as much time as Upton instantly turned and began to disagree with Wendelstedt after his third strike, quick thinking members of the FSN/SunSports production crew were deciphering and dissecting the “called strike” to show that Wendelstedt did indeed put a lot of his own “English” on the strike zone and the pitch was actually way outside the usual strike zone.

Upton had a perfect right to become agitated and angry with Wendelstedt after it was shown that for that one pitch the strike zone had expanded from its usual 8.5 inches from the center of the plate to 14.5 inches. A called strike that was placed 6 inches outside the usual box led to Upton’s plate barrage. Some might say since Upton had a 3-2 count with Desmond Jennings attempting to steal second base he should have swung at anything within the zone, but 6 inches outside the zone would not have merited even such a thought, even by the usually swing aggressive Upton.

If the contest had been 6-3 or even a blow-out, there would not be this kind of banter by me to the integrity of the moving strike zone. But because it was a tightly constrictive 4-3 contest, a simple walk or even base hit could have made this game’s momentum and conclusion quickly change. Even more upsetting is the simple fact that even with an expanded and bloated strike zone, Rays starter James Shields did not seem to get the same lofty calls.

Gone will be the “Wendelstedt factor” behind the plate as he will be stationed behind Third Base this afternoon. Hopefully Wendelstedt doesn’t have an additional chance or moment to expand the chalk line down that Leftfield line in Fenway Park. I hope Wendelstedt’s father, former Umpire Harry Wendelstedt who patrolled the National Leagues from 1966-1998 has some great “fatherly advice for Hunter. Possibly  something like my own opinion that the MLB strike zone is there as a key, but to abuse it loses not only the key to the lock, but you lose yourself and your own integrity.

It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over

I think the Tampa Bay Rays have the right idea right now. This series against the Boston Red Sox is the first set of playoff atmosphere and caliber games that the Rays will have to solidly win and show their might for them to secure a second straight visit to the October promise land. The energy and electricity in the air right now is evident, the Rays are beginning to find their offensive rhythm at a time when a powerful message needs to be delivered.

The team has to go into these next three contests against Boston with the same drive, determination and zeal to hand the Red Sox a “L” on their home turf within the eye sight of the Red Sox Nation. You got to hand it to the young Rays who again found their offensive firepower and stepping over their hitting mess left in piles upon the turf in Baltimore. The Rays power explosion last night definitely showed the Boston and Red Sox Nation, that this series is not going to be a cakewalk, and at the conclusion of this 4- battle mini war, one team will clearly have an emotional edge going into the final 10-odd games.

You still have to be mindful that last night’s convincing victory was not fought against the top tier of Red Sox pitching, and the middle games of this 4-game campaign will have extreme pitching challenges where the Rays will have to out-think and out play Boston’s top two. Rays Manager Joe Maddon always says “pitching sets the tone”, well in this case the Rays want to make Boston a bit tone deaf and knock them on their heels.

That is the way this series will be won. The team that makes the opposition pitch deep every inning, use up their momentum and energy will find the crack and exploit their adversary first. The Rays dominated in that category last night, tonight it is time to again duplicate the feat.

If the Rays truly want to thrust out their chests in victory, it will come against two of the Red Sox best, and with the full Red Sox arsenal again healthy and ready to face Rays starters James Shields and Jeff Niemann over the next two days. That is really how you want this series to play out, with each team going back and forth with momentum until one cracks the dike and the flood waters spill out into Boston harbor.

This is how you want the American League Wild Card to be decided, with the best on the hill for the front runners and the team chasing them finding ways to decipher and dictate a defeat over the course of the next two games. Considering the Rays could not take advantage earlier this week when Boston stubbed their toes to make up critical 2 games worth of ground bringing this Wild Card dash within a single contest. That would have amped up the intensity level, but I have a feeling that each team already feel those tingles in their bones.

 If the first game was an indication, this Red Sox/Rays series has all the trapping and emotional feel of a full fledged Major League Baseball playoff series. It truly feels to me more like a 4-game series to decide who gets to head into the final 10 days with a chance to make the current A L East leaders a bit nervous, possibly even shaving a few games off their current lead. At the least it could help delay and prevent any champagne corks from exploding until the Yankees and Rays end the season in Tropicana Field.

Think of the deep hole both these teams faced after the first two weeks of the 2011season. Both were fighting and clawing for a chance to get out of the A L East cellar fighting and have amazingly got their seasons on track and ascended back to the top tiers of the American League East. Most teams would have considered just that journey upwards out of the cellar a seasonal success, but both these teams have a bitter taste in their mouths and need that sweet nectar of champagne to wash the troubles away for good.

If the Rays battle and take the next two, it sends a clear message that this team has its engine purring and ready for that final run with 7 matches against the AL East leading New York Yankees. This definitely feels like the first round set of series game leading up to a AL East showdown on the horizon for the Rays and Yankees, but Boston is standing in the road defiant to let the Rays pass without a fight.

Emotions are flowing into overdrive on both sides as one begins to show a sense of panic, and the other is starting to settle into a familiar seasonal groove of fighting to the last bit of energy, prevailing sometimes with the last swing.

If the Rays dispatch Beckett and Lester over the next two games, it will demoralize more than just the Red Sox players. It will send panic and emotional pleas throughout Red Sox Nation. So get ready, strap in and prepare for a fight because the Red Sox will not go down without a fight, and the Rays seem ready to counter one…Now that type of scenario feels just like a post season series to me.

I Have Great Empathy for Relievers

I want everyone in the Rays Republic to think about something for a moment, then decide for yourself if you could handle this same zany job description day in, and day out.

You start off by sitting and watching a baseball game unfold in front of you while sitting in one of the best seats in the house, down in the Tampa Bay Rays Bullpen. You are not stretched out at all, possibly having thrown the night before and have a bit of a soreness to your body. Suddenly the Bullpen phone rings.

Someone points to you and the mound and you suddenly have to escalate your velocity from an initial soft, loosing throw to full bore heat in less than 20-25 pitches before you are whisked into the emotional swirling dervish of the game, possibly thrust head-first into an inferno hoping initially in your mind you do not get burned.

One wrong placement, one slight variance from the norm and you are standing there waiting for another ball from the Home Plate Umpire. That is the Topsy-turvy always unnerving world of relief pitching. I consider it one of the worst job in baseball. In no other sport can you go as quickly from hero-to-zero faster than being an Major League Baseball reliever. No other position on a baseball team mentally asks you to omit the previous day’s events and start a-fresh immediately with confidence and swagger.

Because relievers do not get extended outings, their ERA ‘s tend to balloon faster than Kobayashi’s stomach on the 4th of July. Their pitches are subject to Talk Radio fodder even if the previous pitcher left the bases loaded with no outs, it is that “reliever’s fault” someone hit a “Texas Leaguer” into the outfield. He inherits the trouble and his pitches are analyzed by everyone no matter if it brings a strike or a Home Run

Sitting on that Bullpen bench is the ultimate emotional and mental roller coaster which has to be re-programmed nightly, forgetting the previous game’s events and finding a new individual focal point for yourself, bringing a sense of renewed clarity and vigor for that next contest. No where else is Rays Manager Joe Maddon mantra of “thinking about a game for 30 minutes then forget it” have more intense daily mental rotational pull than the Bullpen.

Talk about stress. A reliever is usually not granted a 3 or even 5 run lead on most nights when he hit the pitching rubber. He is more apt to be glaring down a pair of runners in scoring position with a single out than have the luxury to pin-point three nice breaking balls, then take a comfy seat on the dugout bench.

People wonder why relievers have more meltdowns than field players, consider that a game usually hinges on their skills and when the bad things happen, they can not hide, they are bare to the catcalls and fodder of the fans as they walk to the dugout either after a pitching change or in the middle of an inning. It doesn’t carry the glamor or the prestige of being a starter, the reliever is the “housekeepers of baseball”, coming on to clean up a mess more than to accent a great pitching performance.

It almost seems like if you were an MLB reliever you would have a sports psychologist on your speed dial, possibly on-call 24/7 to vent, speak or exorcise the potential nightly hazards of a meltdown of epic proportions, or the annihilation of an opponent with a 9-pitch half inning. Relief pitching is where extreme opposites in game action tend attract. Every action has a reaction, even some that are not pleasant.

Think about this for a moment, as you walk, strut or sprint in from the Bullpen, every eye in the stadium is on you trying to dictate on an insane celestial plane if game day magic or horror awaits the masses during your performance. In one throw, one swing, one moment stamped in time, you can go from the penthouse to the basement, and then you have to throw another pitch.

Maybe that is why I never try and purposely throw relievers “under the bus” when something bad happens. Considering most of the time they are summoned because a bad thing is about to happen, how can you thrust all that guilt and judgment for an impending loss upon a pitcher who is just trying to produce an easy way out, get the perfect pitch to ruin a rally, who’s every pitch can potentially swing the momentum back and forth like a pendulum towards his squad and away from their adversary.

Relievers do seem to hold the balance of a game in the palm of their hand. One false move can change the course of a game,can provide a key moment of clarity for either side, and leave at least one person shaking their head in disbelief. Maybe that is why I vent, release but never blame or condemn a reliever.

Some have mocked this breed of pitcher for his zany actions, bi-polar like transformations from being so friendly and sweet before a game and then turn into a classic son-of-a-boitch when he needs to pull from his dark side on the mound. Acting like another person, possibly even cursing at the ball like former Rays RP Grant Balfour is his unique way to cope with the impending doom or glory.

For it is an extreme slippery slope from great outing to implosion, and as a reliever stands on that mound, he is alone. That is why I do not speak in anger ever to theses guys, not for fear of backlash, but because I know they do a job more difficult than hitting a round sphere going almost 100 mph. Take a special breed of player to let a game wash off their backs like a duck.

Maybe that is why I like relievers, maybe that is why I hold them in high esteem even when thing go terribly South for they are their own sculptors of the flotsam and jetsam surrounding this game. Without relievers this game would take on such a different dimension. That and they chew the best bubble gum. 

Rays Season is Over for Sugar Bear

It just will not have the same vibe or be the same without him down in the Tampa Bay Rays Bullpen. Something just seems so wrong about Rays Bullpen Coach Bobby Ramos not sitting right in front of the Bullpen enforcer Scott Cursi telling tales to Cursi and Rays Security Guard Grady. The Bullpen has lost its special mojo, it’s worldly moving and grooving to it’s own invisible beat.

I am truly going to miss seeing my baseball buddy Ramos when the Rays come home for their last regular season home stand. It just seems like forever that Ramos again came back into the Rays fold and has stood and talked to me and other Rays fans, but Ramo’s health should be our first concern. For a healthy Ramos is a dancing Ramos, and the “Sugar Bear” has that special Salsa groove going on down there.

Some of the Rays Republic might not have been in tune with the upper respiratory infections and ailments Ramos has been battling for most of the 2011 season. The degree of their severity has made Ramos miss multiple games, and taken him away from the Rays sidelines a few times this season. His ailments have taken Ramos away from the guys he loves hanging around nightly down in the Bullpen, and away from adoring fans who shout out his name at all points in the game.

Gone will be that special impromptu dancing of “the Motorcycle”, vacant from our eyes will be the playful joy and excitement Ramos expelled nightly in his role as the Rays Bullpen Coach. When there was not a Rays reliever warming up on the mound, Ramos held court like no one else. His overly aggressive mannerisms huge laugh and spontaneous motions made every Rays game worth the price of admission for me. I enjoyed every moment of watching, listening and knowing another side of the Sugar Bear.

When the Rays held their recent “Tweet In”, Ramos had just come back off another bit of rest and relaxation for an upper respiratory situation and was feeling not 100%, but more than excited to again patrol the Bullpen Mound. He was anxious to again hold court with Rays fans who always make a pilgrimage to the Rays Bullpen to see him and just chat for a moment. I have come to realize over the last several seasons, Ramos has always been more than just a Coach in the Bullpen, Ramos is that glue that binded this motley crew together.

During the “Tweet In” I sat right between Ramos and Cursi and we talked a bit about the medication mix-up, the nasty bouts of coughing and how Ramos felt an absolute discomfort like one of his players was sitting upon his chest when he laying down at night. Every tales and story told made me want to just put my hand upon Ramo’s barrel chest and purge the demon seed out of him forever.

Over the last few seasons my baseball friends list has dwindled down to a handful, with Ramos and Cursi on the top tier of that list. To me Ramos is the Rays Bullpen. His comedic routines and even his playful catcher’s stances made me smile and chuckle even in the most intense Rays game moments. When the Rays clinched their 2010 American League East title, Ramo came down to the corner with champagne in hand to celebrate with his “other” baseball family. That to me left an impression that will never fade

In the end my baseball friend is one of a small handful of people I have the utmost respect for within this Rays organization. Bright side is that Ramos is getting healthier. I have heard more than once over the past few years that Ramos will be calling it a day and hang up his uniform for good possibly within the next couple of years. I truly hope and pray to every deity in this universe that Ramos come back again, for at least a “Sugar Bear Farewell Tour” in 2012.

Heck, some of the short discussions I had with Ramos down by my seat before games were some of the best in my professional and personal life. So hearing that he is not going to be at the Trop for the season finale, but lounging back in Miami with his family relaxing and resting getting fit and healthy again. I am glad Ramos is recovering. So happy someone finally has pinpointed that dastardly bug or virus that has plagued Ramos for many a Rays road trip, especially when they ventured into cooler climates.

I am saddened that Ramos is miss all this great drama and watching this post season magic unfold from usual Bullpen throne. That text messages, phone calls and a big television screen will be as close as he can get to watching this magical run come to fruition. If the Rays do make the post season it will still hold untold magic for me, but I will miss enjoying it with a friend who has always made sure I was doing fine, and life was treating me right.

I know  right now you are probably relaxing down in Miami, talking with old friends, surrounded by loved ones and just feeling groovy. You know I wish you the best old friend, but the games do not seem the same without your special touches. Get well my baseball friend, the Rays Republic seems smaller without you.

We Want Moore Cowbell!

Hmmmmm, I think this scene feels vaguely familiar to me. Southpaw is promoted to “The Show” for the first time in his career just as his new team is beginning to encircle a post season bid. Energy around his promotion is high as he meets the club on a road trip, destined to be a part of a struggling Bullpen unit. Man, I swear I have heard and seen this same set of parameters played out before and I guess Yogi Berra was right….”It’s Deja Vu all over again”…Rays style.

The atmosphere within Tropicana Field after the completion of the sweep of the Boston Red Sox was simply electric and definitely had that same intensity and vibration of that “Magical Season of Baseball” back in 2008. So maybe it was a bit apropos that the Tampa Bay Rays front office nod their heads like the “Butabi brothers” in approval to bringing up uber prospect pitcher Matt Moore.

It is eerily reminiscent to a similar move the Rays made back in 2008 when they brought up another really talented and confident southpaw who also had 3 MLB quality pitches in his arsenal. You might remember this young phenom better now as @DAVIDprice14 via his ever expanding Twitterverse following. Seems like the right time to give Moore a taste of the MLB lifestyle with a side order of adrenaline and excitement of a post season run that is about to kick into overdrive.

Price will be the first person to respond that his time in the Rays Bullpen during the post season adventures of the Rays solidified his drive and determination to become a front line administrator of Rays karma to teams wanting to pop the Rays off their path to a potential post season journey. Even better for Moore right now is the fact the always friendly and open Price is there for Moore to pick his brain, help him adjust and secure his name in Rays lore just as Price did 3 years earlier.

Back in 2008 Price came up and solidified a Rays Bullpen that was not in total crisis, but had more than a few people worried about their back-end potential. With the recent injury concerns and temporary shutdown of de-facto closer Kyle Farnsworth, Moore could help seal the expanding gaping wound a bit, possibly even getting a chance to duplicate Price’s own historic moments in the future.

Right now though the key will be to get Moore acclimated to the pace of the MLB game that is extremely elevated from his previous Double-A and Triple-A outings. Guys at this level expect to see knee-bending breaking stuff being tossed around daily, and may try and feast upon the young Rays pitcher. But Moore has shown a great aptitude for changing his game plan and modifying his arsenal in the past, it will just have to be done on-the-fly right now.

I truly expect to see Moore tested in the MLB fires in this Baltimore series as a member of the Rays Bullpen. Possibly in a early 7th inning outing to give him a taste of what will be in store for him soon in the hostile Boston surroundings, or as the Rays move towards the end of their season with their usual last romp through the AL East foes jungle.

Moore will be pushed, he will be mentally challenged and maybe even find early success if he keeps his emotions and mind in check. Reminds you of another southpaw who not only found success, but gained a reputation for toughness, reliability and eventually became the ace of a young and budding staff. Moore might not be Price, but isn’t it great he has the “example” sitting right next to him cheering his name in support all the way. I can see the signs now adorning the Trop on the last home stand, “WE Want Moore Cowbell !”.

Remembering and Embracing September 11th

Photos obtained via @RaysRepublic


Every American living at the moments between 8:46 am to 10:28 am EST have a different insight and prospective on the horrific events of September 11th 2001. Anyone over the age of 10 will always have a memory of those twin towers smoking like chimney stacks and the unearthly sound that resonated throughout our televisions as the tons of steel and concrete began their ascent, falling to rest at the base of those once majestic towers.

We can not ever change the fate of those who perished, or commemorate those who participated in the largest rescue mission in this world’s history and those who paid the ultimate sacrifice on that day trying to save people they had never met.

We also can not forget about the swirling emotions of pain and confusion that entangled our minds watching this horror unfold as we all collectively wondered aloud and to ourselves, what the world was going to be on September 12th for us as a Nation.

I just want to state for the record that I am proud of the way this entire country, from sea to shining sea pulled together not only for the citizens of New York City, but how we rebounded as a Nation. I still feel remorse here 10 years later over the loss of those two great symbols of our American way of life.

I remember I was working on a Pepsi full-serve vending route that morning and was just coming out of the Raymond James building in Carillion Parkway when the sky seemed eerily silent. I was within a 5 miles of Tampa airport, and about 2 miles from the small St. Pete/Clearwater Airport. As I put my lay-down back on the truck and started to head towards my next stop, I was unaware that the first tower had been struck by an American Airlines plane out of Boston destined for Los Angeles.

I pulled into the main parking area of a financial services company just down Ulmerton Road and entered to find the receptionist and Security staff huddled around a bank of televisions watching the events unfold in front of them. My pager suddenly went nuts with 5 straight pagers from my St. Petersburg warehouse and supervisors imploring all trucks to finish their current stop and proceed back to the warehouse immediately.

Considering Tampa Bay had the United States military’s Central Command at nearby MacDill Air Force Base, my Unit Manager wanted to get all of our people off the roads in case this was a simultaneous targeting of military and because President George Bush was in this region visiting a Elementary School in Sarasota at the time. I proceeded immediately back to the St. Petersburg warehouse and sat with most of my fellow Pepsi employees watching the horrific events.

I could only think about how as a young teen, my Uncle George took my father and myself towards the top of one of the towers while it was still under construction and showed us both the sights of New York from a truly unique prospective. The pride shown to us that day by my uncle moved me even then, and as I watched those towers begin to self destruct, I knew in my mind and soul a bit of him also crumbled to the ground that day.

During that low point in American history, the Tampa Bay Rays were in a hotel in Manhattan preparing for a night game against the New York Yankees. With the evolving dangers of the day still unfolding around New York City, that night’s contest was quickly canceled and players and Rays staff were advised to stay in the hotel as a security measure.

When the Rays finally did get to play their contests against the Yankees, it was the first visual moment that this city got to display its perseverance, its unique toughness and the game signaled the first emotional volley to the world that the healing had begun. It was a game surrounded by intense emotional episodes and truly patriotic gestures by fans and players. As a measure of remembrance, all the players uniforms had a American flag patch over the MLB label in the rear of the uniform. The players caps also had a stitched United States flag on the left side of the cap, closest to their hearts.

It was a game that was not played for competition as both teams seemed to be still a bit numb, and it showed on the field. It was a symbolic moment of gathering by the citizens of this Metro region, a first step towards healing emotionally and spiritually for baseball fans and citizens of this great town. It was a visual congregation of a city and its people trying to get back to normal, or trying to again figure out what normal was anymore. It was a game where the final score really did not matter. It was their time to grieve, celebrate, and honor collectively.

The Rays considered it an honor that they could be there that series to help this healing process along for the city. Everyone knows the outpouring of the entire country for the citizens of New York City, but the action of the Rays and Yankees playing a simple ballgame brought a sense of getting back to life, starting to rebuild from block one. I still have the cap Rays pitcher Brian Rekar gave me a few weeks later that had his number 35, and the “FDNY”, and “NYPD” emblazoned under it’s brow in black Sharpie. He gave me this symbolic cap after the last home game in 2001, and I have displayed it in a case ever since that day.

It was a day that this Nation as a whole will never forget, or can forget. But isn’t it a great thing to know that baseball helped the healing process in that time of grief and suffering. And for that reason, I still think about the members of the Port Authority, NYPD and FDNY who rushed into that building as so many ran out. So many heroes on that day both professional and causal citizens just trying to help their fellow man. It has been heralded as the greatest rescue effort in this nation’s history with that day’s emotional effect still haunting some of us today.

The city has healed, the site of the World Trade Center complex has been excavated and is still evolving and undergoing change, but the memory and the emotional pull of Ground Zero will always grow heavy on this nations heart ans mine. That day changed all of our lives from sea to shining sea. This date will always reminds us of this event, but also illustrated the strength compassion and resolve of this Nation. WE CAN NEVER FORGET…period!  

Do We Need to Worry About Farnsworth?

Some have blurted out the notion lately that the Tampa Bay Rays will exercise Kyle Farnsworth’s club option at the end of the season without delay. For some reason, I am smelling a bit of lingering Troy Percival aroma right now on someone’s shoes. Sure Farnsworth has a really “Rays friendly” $ 3.3 million dollar salary for 2012, but if his elbow flares up and he needs any surgery or down time, it could be a huge kink in the Rays late inning armor.

On Saturday night, from the moment Farnsworth got up to begin throwing in the Rays Bullpen, his mannerisms and delivery just seemed a bit off from my seat right behind the Rays Bullpen mound. His pitches before he entered the game in the top of the ninth inning just didn’t seem to have their usual crisp bite to them. His new found friend, the cutter, simply seemed to a bit flat, almost hovering in the zone a little too long.

Of course I am not a Pitching Coach, but if I saw a cutter that was not spinning crispy and not starting to dive bomb out of the zone for the corner, I would be wetting my lips that I was about to have a good plate appearance. Sure Farnsworth threw 14 of his 22 pitches for strikes last night, but two of them unfortunately struck spectators gloves in the Rightfield stands. This is not the usual intimidating Farnsworth, this is more like a wounded deceptive Percival.

In a span of 6 pitches, the Rays went from leading 5-3 to seeing the Red Sox tie the game 5-all. Farnsworth only productive out of his appearance came courtesy of his first batter Boston SS Marco Scutaro who hit a grounder to Farnsworth, who completed a simple 1-3 put out before the fireworks began. After that first out, Boston’s explosion quickly turned into a possible Rays implosion. And this is not the first time this week the Rays Republic has seen Farnsworth look more unsure of his stuff right now than his usual intimidating himself.

I am not trying to insulting Farnsworth right now with the Percival reference, but the way Farnsworth is throwing the ball is eerily reminiscent of the same thing activities that preceded Percival’s two Rays injuries that ultimately turned out to be lingering injuries that Percival was hiding from the team.

You only have to go back in time to 4 days ago (September 7th) in a closely contested game against the Texas Rangers to see there is a weird pattern starting to develop within Farnsworth’s late inning success that is beginning to become a bit concerning to me, especially with this Rays squad starting to breathe life back into their post season goal.

During that September 7th contest, Farnsworth gave aup a monster shot to Rangers INF Ian Kinsler and that homer helped Farnsworth record only his second blown save since a road contest back in Kansas City back on July 23, 2011. Suddenly Farnsworth has materialized into someone less reliable, less dependable than the guy who’s 2.00 ERA was ranked # 1 among American League closers before Saturday night’s 2 Red Sox rocket shots destroyed his chance for save # 24. Uncharacteristically Farnsworth as of late has looked more like“Wild Thing” than “Sure Thing”.

The main conclusion you have to summarize is that Farnsworth might not be completely healed, or might be shunning off the intense pain factor in his right elbow to instead try and be a veteran presence and defensive stalwart because of the Rays fragile situation in the Bullpen. Farnsworth might be hiding a simple truth. He is hurt, but does not want to be a cause or reason for the Rays stumble even for a simple hiccup in their playoff chase.

But “taking one for the team” is a noble and respectful thing usually within baseball, but not a great attribute when you are counted on and you do not have your stuff at the A+ level Farnsworth possessed before his recent “late season vacation” due to elbow soreness. Considering Farnsworth has surrendered 1 Home Run allowed for every 63 batters faced (10-HR, 633-BF) since 2009, this latest plunge into the darkness has merit for Rays Republic worry.

Hopefully it is just another fluke blown save appearance, one that is now out of Farnsworth’s system, but the recent home blown save string has to begin to worry more than Farnsworth, it has to worry Rays Manager Joe Maddon and the Rays Republic. If Farnsworth were to go down with an injury at this juncture in the post season run, it could cripple a vital cog in the Rays late inning machine.

I’m not trying to say the Rays need to investigate for themselves, do medical tests on Farnsworth’s elbow, maybe it is just simply time for the Rays to let someone else take the 9th inning reins for a few games. Let Farnsworth get himself has his glorious out pitch, the cutter, back into that defined groove that moves us so well after Rays victories.

I hope it is just simple fatigue or that his pitches right now are just missing their marks, but the only one who knows the truth is Farnsworth and Rays catcher Kelly Shoppach who came on in the 9th to go behind the plate. I have a feeling neither of them will be speaking about it anytime soon. But we need full disclosure right now, hurt or not, something is just not in sync right now with Farnsworth, and it needs to be fixed fast, or catching Boston will be the least of the Rays worries.

Rays Wives to Host Mystery Ball Event on Saturday

I am a sucker for wrapped mystery gifts.  I love them because you never have a clear indication or ryhyme or reason of its enclosed contents but just pure imagination sprinkled with unadulterated speculation and kid-like wonder. Well this Saturday before the Tampa Bay Rays and the Boston Red Sox take the field, the Rays Wives will try and emulate that sense of joyous euphoria again on Saturday.

The Rays Wive’s “Mystery Ball” event will give Rays fan a chance at that rush of wonder and amazement as they offer $ 30 mystery bags filled with an autographed baseball. Who knows if it is a team signed ball, one with the awesome “Garfoose” illustration by former Ray Dirk Hayhurst, or a cherished David Price or Johnny Damon autograph. It will be just like opening your presents on Christmas morning, but in 72 degree comfort.

The event is being held to benefit St. Petersburg’s All Children’s Hospital. The plucking of your bag will be similar to the bag selection process the Rays have held during previous Fan Fest events as fans who pluck down $ 30 could receive a cherished new baseball heirloom signed by one or several Rays players.

As an added bonus, Allison Shelton, wife of Rays Hitting Coach Derek Shelton have worked diligently this season getting autographs not only from the Rays players, but also secured the penmanship markings from players who have visited Tropicana Field this season. A grand total of 600 signed balls will be available on Saturday, including autographs by the entire 2008 Rays team that went to the World Series.

Number 1 with our guys, they’re always willing to get behind a charity,” Derek said. “But particularly this one since it’s All Children’s Hospital, a place many of us have taken our kids, and a place so close to where we work. They made getting the items easy. And all the players were gracious while doing so.”

The Rays Wives will be stationed at Gate 1 and Gate 5 starting when the doors open at 5:10 pm. A silent auction will also be held just outside the Whitney Bank Club where many unique treasures like a Johnny Damon signed bat, a glove signed by the “Legend” Sam Fuld and a authentic MLB base signed by B J Upton.

This event is another great opportunity for not only the Rays Republic to commandeer some authentic autograph and share in that gift of giving, it can be a nice and exciting way to help support one of the near and dear charities that is close to the Rays hearts. Who knows, you might be the lucky one to pick the mystery bag that contains an entire rawhide ball encrusted with the signature of every member of the Rays 2008 World Series team…….I know I am raiding the ATM tonight.

Time to Gear Up for the Red Sox Nation Invasion

I saw it in a dream last night, a Tampa Bay Rays broadcaster is seen galloping on horseback across the Howard Franklin Bridge with an over-sized cowbell in his hand and a Rays jersey upon his back bellowing and calling for the residents to arm themselves for the weekend onslaught of accents and attitudes being funneled towards the hamlet of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Many have already thrown out epic vernaculars about this weekend Tampa Bay Rays versus Boston Red Sox series. About how the traveling brigade of Red Sox Nation faithful will over run this region like Sherman did ATL back in the mid-1860’s. That this trip is going to end with champagne being popped in hotel rooms and on the beaches as members wearing that dreaded “B” upon their bonnet will laugh at this young franchise trying to take what is their destiny.

This is the same bunch of faithful fans that throughly clogged websites and comment boards spewing tales of a impending 100+ victory 2011 campaign, a return to Major League Baseball post season dominance, and the hammer coming firmly down with authority upon the hearts of the Rays Republic. This is the same franchise that adamantly believes they are coming down to Florida for a late season off day and vacation, not an epic weekend series of battle that could tarnish their end goal, possibly finally eliminating that fantasy of 100 wins.

Posts and blogs have deemed this series the ultimate “beginning of the end” of the Rays chance at firmly grasping meaningful October games, but is it really that clear cut? If this Red Sox team was so superior in talent then why is their so much banter crossing each team’s bow by fans right now?

Some military historians will tell you that barrages upon the siege site you want to occupy weaken the resolve and confidence of those within the shelled area. Is that why more than a bucketful of Red Sox blogs and fan-based websites have begun to use their written and vocal weapons, to try and beat back the Rays Republic’s resolve and hope for a Tropicana Field filled with jaws on their knees and impending doom over the Trop’s dome.

Little do the pundits of Red Sox Nation know that this level of Rays confidence breeds a silent willpower while maybe a few compounded Red Sox insecurities and rolling thoughts of doubt or implosion are forcing out a larger number of sporadic attacks upon the Rays Republic. Maybe after this weekend the Red Sox Nation will see that this beach side oasis called St. Petersburg is more major league than they imagined.

I’m am not trying to delusional here. I know the Rays chances of even posting up for a chance to get an invite to the extended October party currently rests at less than a 10% possibility, but those are better odds than 21 other Major League Baseball teams that will be playing out the month as an experiment into their formulation of their 2012 squads.

Some Boston blogs have stated that the Red Sox 7 game cushion would be a insurmountable wall for this young Rays squad to attempt to scale, but with 7 dates between these two teams in their next 10 games, the Rays could firmly stick a poisonous barb in the Red Sox celebration plans with a string of impressive victories. There has been chatter that if the Rays have to muster a sweep of these 7 games, if that were to happen then destiny and faith are the real sweethearts of the Rays trek.

If the Rays take care of business at home and get a minimum of 2 out of 3 games, then the Rays Republic have to become “bird watchers” on the out-of-town scoreboards over the next few weeks as the Red Sox have 3-games series on the books upcoming with both Toronto (9/13-15) and Baltimore (9/19-21).

Those games will be conveniently sandwiched between this 3-game home visit and the Rays last possible visit to Fenway. These pesky feather friends of the Rays could peck away series victories against Boston to make the Rays final 19 contests more interesting. Considering the Red Sox lost 2 out of 3 in Toronto on their current road trip, post season plans are definitely not in stone for Boston, but winning becomes paramount right now if the Rays want to pop those champagne corks again.

Right now the combined efforts of Rays starters Wade Davis, James Shields and Jeremy Hellickson will be amped to their highest levels as anything less than success will let the Red Sox Nation’s words and comments drive another verbal or written nail in the Rays coffin. But if this team does what they have done over the last 20 games, providing 6 walk-off victories, it might be the Red Sox Nation who might end up clutching their treasured “B” across their hearts in disbelief and wonder.

This series needs no extra drama. It doesn’t facilitate any measures of “up-and-in chin music”. This series will display who has the right blend of tools in their woodshed, and who in the end on Sunday afternoon will get taken to said shed beaten and battered. Battlelines have been clearly drawn, and the day of rest today will be needed both mentally and physically as this could be the start of a series of hard fought battles to ultimately not only decide the Rays/Red Sox 2011 war, but their ultimate surrounding in October.

Young guns like Brandon Guyer, Desmond Jennings and Hellickson should have significant parts to play in this series, and if they rise to the top, the Rays will follow. Boston and Tampa Bay playing each other with consistent fever and fury is an rivalry in it’s infancy, with a series win this weekend, the Rays could move it swiftly to it’s “teen years”. There will be backward moments lined with pitfalls and human error, but a team united will always beat a team divided.

Some have commented that failure in any aspect during these critical 7 games will doom the Rays post season streak, but the smart money is on the underdog. For the underdog Rays are the team that has risen from the dead early this season, scraped and fought for this late season surge with the prize still within their sights.

During Spring Training I still remember Red Sox fans accosting me for telling them they will not reach the 100-win plateau……With calculated wins over these 7 games, that mark will forever perish. Today is a day of calm in Tampa Bay, a day of refocusing, revitalizing and re-stoking the impending fires before Boston tries to come into Tropicana Field trying to stake their claim to a post season prize.

Maybe those epic witty vernaculars work in the jargon and accents permeating Southward from Boston, but here in blue-collar Tampa Bay the simple act of winning can silence those lips and maybe make a few Nation followers doubt themselves. That would be a silent but deadly attack in this showdown worth the price of admission. Gear up Tampa Bay, the Red Sox are Coming! The Red Sox are Coming! Still I wonder, can Rays broadcaster Brian Anderson ride a horse?

Jennings Serves Up Tater Dessert for 1,000 Rays Victory

From the moment the ball met the bat, you knew it sounded different. The magnitude of the event was not lost on the 11,190 Rays fans as Tropicana Field possibly erupted into a bellow of sound that rivaled a jet engine. Rays rookie Desmond Jennings not only gave the Rays a win with his 10th inning walk-off homer, he firmly planted that baby into the record books with authority.

It was the way Hollywood would have scripted this event. Futility in the 9th inning by a reliable closer, then one of the Rays youngest members thrusting his will and power to ultimately decide the game. A milestone moment like a 1,000th franchise career “W” had to have a plethora of dramatic effect. This moment seem to call for a climatic thunderous sound of wood meeting rawhide. Simply put, this moment needed that certain exclamation point.

Simply posting an easy victory with no dramatic effect has not been the Rays way this season at home. The Trop used to be a budding loss factory for any visiting teams used to venture into its hallowed hallways, defeats accumulated often in this dome of doom. In 2011, the cowbells and the Rays offense fell mute and useless as this team struggled to find another way to even win.

Today’s blast in the bottom of the 10th inning made a visual farewell to the pesky Rangers and hello to history. This walk-off was the 11th of it’s kind in 2011, equaling the previous Rays seasonal walk-off totals achieved in both the 2000 and 2008 seasons, and we still have 9 home contests left.

But this is becoming a bit of a routine thing for this young Rays squad that has now produced 6 walk-off victories in their last 20 home games. But this one was special. 1,000 of anything is a classic achievement and the way Jennings put his power on show to secure this once fledging franchise’s 1,000th win definitely merited not only a historic benchmark, but a purely “Hollywood” moment.

Spontaneous and climatic team meetings around Home Plate have become more of a norm lately during Rays home games, but this unrehearsed moment in time will be remembered by more than just those assembled within the Trop. During this “getaway” game karma moment.

Rays Republic members who might have begun to doubt this team, who might have lost a bit of the enthusiastic zeal this September will revel in the persistence of this young club to not lay down, not give up, not want to send the home crowd home with their heads down.

And during all of the Rays on field commotion, out in the Rightfield stands, a great display of good sportsmanship was evolving as the Rays players and fans celebrated. The Ranger fan who caught Jennings Home Run ball wanted to give it back to him and the team because of the importance of the 1,000 franchise win. I hope the fan got a chance to come to the Rays Clubhouse and give the ball either to Jennings or Rays Manager Joe Maddon.

On a day when Rays starter David Price joined teammate James Shields in the 200-strikeout club you knew something special was waiting in the wings. The moment was almost for naught as usually reliable Kyle Farnsworth served up a Home Run ball to Ian Kinsler in the top of the 9th inning to send this game into an extra frame.

Climatic as that blown save was, it was nothing compared to the first pitch seen by Jennings that ended up nestled in the palm of that Rangers fan. Some moments define a player, a team, a franchise. This 2011 Rays squad has been all about the meats and potatoes of the game all season long. Figured their 1,00th would not only be a walk-off, it would be a classic “meatloaf” victory served up with Jennings smashed taters…and a towel of Vanilla pudding especially for Jennings.  Yummmmm, makes me hungry just thinking about it.



Here are a few photos of the Rays keepsake given out to fans as they exited Tropicana Field to celebrate this tremendous milestone in Rays franchise history: