Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Are Yankees asking for trouble?

I want to work for the Yankees.

I hear they pay well.

Looks like the Bombers aren’t feeling the economic pinch like the rest of us. Either that or the Rays really rattled the Yankees’ cage by winning the division title and the American League pennant last season.

So the Yankees respond by paying a king’s ransom for two front-line pitchers and a front-line first baseman. The four highest-paid players in baseball now have their mail delivered to the Bronx.

Might not be enough, though.

The Yankees are an old team and their age showed last season when they finished third in the AL East behind the Rays and the Red Sox.

Derek Jeter is getting old. Alex Rodriguez was never a difference-maker, especially in the postseason. Jorge Posada is getting old. Mariano Rivera is getting old.

There is no telling how the new toys will handle the pressure of playing in New York. History doesn’t favor a smooth transition. You can bet one of them will have a bad season. Maybe two.
Plus, the entire team has to play under the pressure of the offseason spending spree aimed at guaranteeing a World Series title.

These guys better open the season 20-0 or feel the wrath of the New York media and their fans.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Bowling at the Trop

You are looking live at Tropicana Field! Welcome to the magicJack St. Petersburg Bowl.

Last time we were inside this building was for Game 2 of the World Series. It feels a lot like that night only without the sold-out stadium, the atmosphere and the excitement.

The South Florida Bulls are having their way with the Memphis Tigers, and the crowd that is decidedly USF is loving it.

Why not? The Bulls could use a feel-good game to end a not-so-feel-good season.
The Trop looks a bit different for football.

The infield dirt has been covered with FieldTurf making for an all-FieldTurf playing field.

Tickets were sold for only three sides of the football field. Left field is completely empty.

Fans form a horseshoe around the field, and since this is a bowl game, the seating area is split.

It’s supposed to be one half South Florida, one half Memphis.

But a lot of Tiger fans stayed home, opting for the big hoops game tonight between Memphis and Syracuse.

The blue-clad Tiger fans are sitting between home plate and first base, which is behind the USF sideline.

That means the home team, the Bulls, are backed by fans of the visitors.

For those who are familiar with Rays games inside the Trop, it seems a bit odd to see visiting fans behind the Rays dugout and fans of the home team sitting behind the visitor’s dugout.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Rays interested in Giambi, Abreu

Add Jason Giambi, Bobby Abreu and Ken Griffey Jr., to the mix of free agents the Rays are interested in signing.

Vice president of baseball Andrew Friedman and manager Joe Maddon met with Giambi on Monday during baseball’s annual winter meetings in Las Vegas. The former Yankee first baseman would fill the Rays need for a fulltime slugger.

They also have plans to meet with Abreu’s agent. The former Yankee right fielder could fill the Rays void in right field or he could be used as the designated hitter.

Griffey’s agent has told several news outlets that the Rays are on his short-list of teams he would like to play for. The left-handed slugger could be used as a right field/designated hitter platoon or he could serve as primarily the Rays DH.

Cardinals outfielder Rick Ankiel is linked in rumors of a possible trade between the Cards and the Rays. The Cards need pitching. The Rays could use Ankiel in the outfield.

The rumors of Delmon Young returning to the Rays are apparently just that, rumors.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Is Delmon Young in Rays future?

One rumor making the rounds of baseball’s annual winter meetings this week in Las Vegas is the return of Delmon Young to the Rays.

The right-fielder, who had as stormy relationship with the ballclub during his stay in both the minor leagues and in St. Petersburg, is rumored to be part of a three-way deal between the Rays, Rockies and Twins.

The Rays would send either Edwin Jackson or Andy Sonnanstine to the Rockies, who would send third baseman Garrett Atkins to the Twins. The Twins would then send Young to the Rays.

Getting Young and his sour attitude out of the Rays clubhouse before last season was seen by many Rays as a good move. Getting shortstop Jason Bartlett and pitcher Matt Garza in return was a great move, one that got the Rays to the World Series.

So why would the Rays want Young back?

Because they need a right fielder.

Because they would control his contract for another four years.

Because Jackson is out of options and the Rays are tired of waiting for him to blossom into the pitcher everyone expects him to be.

Because they are not sold on Sonnanstine as a long term fit to the rotation.

Because Milton Bradley, whom manager Joe Maddon and vice president of baseball Andrew Friedman met for lunch Monday, made $5.25 million during his breakout season with the Rangers in 2008.

Because Young comes cheap.

Oh, already mentioned that.

Monday, December 8, 2008

My Maddux memory

Greg Maddux retired Monday. He was the greatest pitcher of this generation and the greatest of any generation.

His numbers are staggering: 355 wins, the second most by a right-hander; 10 plus wins for 20 straight seasons; less than 1,000 walks and more than 3,000 strikeouts.

Here is my Maddux memory:

It was July 18, 2000 at Tropicana Field. Maddux was carving up the Devil Rays on his way to another complete game for the Braves when he faced Jose Canseco in the ninth and drilled Canseco in the butt. At least it was a drilling as far as Maddux was concerned.

Canseco was stunned.

“Me?” he kept asking as he looked toward the mound.

Yes, you.

The Rays pitchers had been hitting Braves batters during the three-game series.

Maddux hit Felix Martinez earlier in the game as sort of a, “Hey. C’mon guys.”

Nope, the Rays hit Walt Weiss again, the second time in the game.

So in the ninth with the game well in hand, Maddux drilled Canseco, who, at the time, was the Rays best player.

Canseco finally walked to first base while Rays manager Larry Rothschild argued Maddux should have been kicked out for throwing at a batter.

Get real, Larry. He’s Greg Maddux.

After Rothschild was tossed, Maddux went back to work and finished off the Rays.

Just another day at the office for the hall of famer.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Rays sign three minor leaguers

The Rays made a couple of minor news Friday, signing right-handed pitcher Jason Childers, right-handed pitcher Jeremy Cummings and outfielder/first baseman Chris Richard to minor league contracts with invites to major league spring training.

Childers, 33, was an International League midseason All-Star in 2008 for Triple A Charlotte, an affiliate of the Chicago White Sox. He went 4-2 with a 1.22 ERA, converted all 17 save chances, and held opponents to a .167 average. Childers’ only major league experience came with the Rays in 2006, when he made five relief appearances.

Cummings, 32, spent the 2008 season with Durham (AAA) where he went 8-3 with a 2.87 ERA and was an IL All-Star. He won a bronze medal as part of the United States Olympic baseball team in Beijing, compiling a 1.80 ERA in 5.0 innings of relief. He pitched briefly for a professional team in Taiwan before signing with the Rays on May 12.

Richard, 34, spent the entire 2008 season with Durham, hitting .293 with 26 home runs and 88 RBI. The left-handed hitter led the Rays organization with 26 home runs (third in the IL) and led the Bulls in RBI. Richard was named an IL All-Star and was the Rays Minor League Player of the Month in May. He has compiled a .258 average with 34 homers and 122 RBI in parts of four major league seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals (2000), Baltimore Orioles (2000-‘02) and Colorado Rockies (2003).

Monday, December 1, 2008

Here's the pitch: Keep Anderson

Brian Anderson said it was like clockwork. Matt Garza would show up for a few innings. Then Scott Kazmir.

Then Andy Sonnanstine.

Then Edwin Jackson.

The Rays pitchers made their way to the clubhouse on nights when they weren’t pitching and spent a few innings watching the game with Anderson, who serves as the assistant to pitching coach Jim Hickey.

There, the pitchers would pick the brain of a pitcher who, as recently as spring training, was one of them.

Anderson arrived in St. Petersburg last February hoping his left elbow had enough life for another season. His work early in camp was along the lines of a rehab, but it was soon accelerated and Anderson found himself pitching in games.

And then the elbow gave out again and the left-hander who was a member of the 2001 World Series champion Diamondbacks, called it a career.

Rays manager Joe Maddon wanted Anderson around and offered him the job as Hickey’s assistant so Anderson could still work with the pitchers.

Judging by how well the Rays pitched this past season I’d say it was a good move.

“We just talk,” Garza said last May. “We talk about what’s going on in the game, my last outing, my next outing, things I can do better. I kind of pick his brains.”

“He was huge,” Kazmir said.

Now, the Rays are looking for a TV analyst to replace Joe Magrane, who is headed to the MLB Network, and Anderson’s name is mentioned among the candidates. Anderson filled in when Magrane left the TV booth in August to help with NBC’s coverage of the Olympic baseball games.

It might be a good idea to take a long look at Anderson.

For one, he was pretty good on the air.

Two, he can still work with the Rays pitchers. Maybe not in the middle of games. It’s unlikely anyone would want to make the climb to the TV booth.

But Anderson can chat with the pitchers before and after games as well as on long flights and over lunch on road trips.

The pitches sang Anderson’s praises last season.

The pitching is what helped carry the Rays to the World Series.

It might be a good idea to keep that combination together.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Baldelli wins Tony C. Award

Rays outfielder Rocco Baldelli was voted the winner of the 19th annual Tony Conigliaro Award, which is presented to a major league player who has overcome adversity through the attributes of spirit, determination and courage that were trademarks of Tony C.

Tony’s brothers, Billy and Richie, will make the official presentation of the award at the 70th Boston Baseball Writers’ Association of America’s annual dinner on Thursday, January 8, 2009 at the Westin Waterfront Hotel in South Boston. Tickets are now available for the dinner.

In 1990 the Red Sox began the award to perpetuate the memory of Tony C., who died that February after an eight-year struggle to come back from a massive heart attack that left him severely handicapped. Major League teams submit nominations and an independent 12-person panel does the voting.

Baldelli was first with 43 points followed by Arizona’s Doug Davis with 27 and Oakland’s Brad Zeigler with 26. Cleveland’s Cliff Lee, Cincinnati’s Mike Lincoln, and Alexei Ramirez of the Chicago White Sox also received votes.

Baldelli fought his way back to the major leagues after being diagnosed with a mitochondrial disorder which causes chronic muscle fatigue. He missed 15 months with the illness and continues to battle his limitations. He played a key role for the Rays during the team’s postseason drive. The Rhode Island native contributed to Tampa Bay’s World Series berth and A.L. Championship by hitting .333 with one home run and 4 RBI in the American League Championship Series against the Boston Red Sox.

Past winners: Jim Eisenreich (1990), Dickie Thon (1991), Jim Abbott (1992), Bo Jackson (1993), Mark Leiter (1994), Scott Radinsky (1995), Curtis Pride (1996), Eric Davis (1997), Bret Saberhagen (1998), Mike Lowell (1999), Kent Mercker & Tony Saunders (2000), Graeme Lloyd & Jason Johnson (2001), Jose Rijo (2002), Jim Mecir (2003), Dewon Brazelton (2004), Aaron Cook (2005), Freddy Sanchez (2006), and Jon Lester (2007).

Tony C. became the youngest player (20) to lead a major league in home runs when he hit 32 in 1965, and the youngest in A.L. history to reach 100 homers (22 years, 197 days). His promising career was tragically shortened when he was hit in the face by a pitch at Fenway Park Aug. 18, 1967. He missed all of 1968, made a dramatic comeback in 1969 and was traded to the California Angels after the 1970 season. Tony played two years with the Angels and then made another comeback with the Red Sox in 1975, his final season in the majors.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Happy holidays Rays style

All this and a cowbell, too?

The Rays are now selling special ticket packages for the holidays that include tickets to the Rays home opener, April 10 vs. the New York Yankees.

The Rays will be raising their American League Champions banner prior to the game.

The Holiday Pack, which ranges from $45 to $75 to $99 depending on seat location, includes one ticket to Opening Day, one ticket to the fan’s choice of three regular-season games, and one Rays cowbell. The offer is good based on availability.

The cowbell should be the deal-maker.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Rays spring training schedule

The American League Champion Tampa Bay Rays today announced their 2009 Spring Training schedule as well as pricing options for the 16 home games at the newly renovated Charlotte Sports Park. In their inaugural spring in Charlotte County, Fla., the Rays will open the season at home on Wednesday, February 25 against the Cincinnati Reds.

The Rays Grapefruit League home schedule includes two games against the Boston Red Sox (February 27 and March 7) and one each against the Philadelphia Phillies (March 12) in a rematch of the 2008 World Series, and New York Yankees (March 22).

The Rays will also host the St. Louis Cardinals on March 19 in the first spring training game between these two teams since 1998 and the Puerto Rican National Team in a precursor to the World Baseball Classic on March 4.

In addition, the Rays will visit Philadelphia to play two more games in the Phillies’ annual “On-Deck Series” April 3-4 at Citizens Bank Park before opening the regular season April 6 at Boston.

Rays home games will start at 1:05 p.m. with the exception of two games which will begin at 7:05 p.m.: March 4 vs. the Puerto Rico National Team and March 25 vs. the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Individual ticket prices will range from $9 to $23, keeping Spring Training a fun and affordable way of seeing the Rays up close.

Fans interested in season tickets will enjoy discounted ticket prices from the same seat at each game. Individuals interested in placing a $50 deposit for Spring Training Season Tickets can do so by visiting All individuals who have placed a deposit will be contacted to select their seats by early December.

The opening of Rays Spring Training camp will mark the return of baseball to Charlotte County for the first time since the Texas Rangers left the site after the 2002 season. The state-of-the-art facility contains over 5,000 fixed seats and has additional berm seating along the first and third base lines, group party areas and a renovated suite level.

In addition to functioning as the Spring Training complex for Rays major and minor leaguers, the facility will operate year-round. The 5½-field complex will accommodate extended Spring Training for the Rays and will be home to the Rays new Class-A Florida State League affiliate, the Charlotte Stone Crabs.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Good to see the Rays get some MVP love

Glad to see Dustin Pedroia win the American League MVP.

I would have voted for Boston’s mighty-mite had I had an MVP vote. I voted this year for the AL Cy Young and placed Cliff Lee first, Roy Halladay second and Francisco Rodriguez third, and, I’m proud to say, that’s how the voting fell.

As glad as I was to see Pedroia receive his first MVP award, I was even happier to see the names of Carlos Peña, Evan Longoria and Jason Bartlett among those who received votes.

Hey, it was hard to ignore the Rays this summer.

Peña received 13 votes and finished ninth. One voter had Peña third on his ballot, which I won’t argue with.

Longoria, who was voted AL rookie of the year, was 11th with 12 votes. His highest was sixth. I’m guessing he would have been in the top-five had he not missed a month with a fractured right wrist.

Bartlett, who was voted team MVP by the Tampa Bay chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of American, received a fifth-place vote by a writer who values defense and finished 18th.

It’s not easy voting for the league MVPs.

Unlike rookie of the year, Cy Young and manager of the year, BBWAA voters (there are two for each award in each American League and National League city) are asked to list 10 names.

Every baseball fan in American can rattle off four or five deserving candidates. It’s the remaining five or six that makes it tricky.

Who do put on the ballot and where do you place him?

You don’t want to just write down names. You want to have some order to your ballot. So you find yourself arguing the merits of the guy you placed seventh over the guy you placed eighth and his merits over the guy you placed ninth.

The last thing you want to do is put someone 10th only to see everyone else voted the guy in the top-5.

Not as easy as it sounds.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Boy, was I wrong about Maddon

I was wrong about Joe Maddon. I think a lot of us were.

I was one of those who thought he was too positive, too nice to manage at the major league level.

I thought the Rays needed someone a little tougher, a little gruffer.


What they needed was someone who could put out the fires left by Lou Piniella, who torched the franchise on his way out of town.

What they needed was a positive face and a positive voice to attract fans chased away by the old ownership.

What they needed was someone who could see the bright spots in all the losing; a guy who noticed better at-bats and a better approach on the mound even when those better at-bats and better approaches on the mound still led to losses.

What they needed was someone who cared less about his won/loss record and more about the development of the younger players.

What they needed they got: Joe Maddon.

A different cat (his words) for sure, but the right cat for the Rays.

The players fed off his positive nature.

Too soft to handle big league egos? Ha! Ask B.J. Upton, who was benched twice last season for not hustling or Dioner Navarro, who got the old “shape up or you’re done” speech in 2007.

Maddon kept the Rays together through the mounting injuries and led them to a first-place finish in the American League East and the American League pennant.

You don’t do that by being nice. You do that by knowing the game and knowing how to manage a team.

How good was Maddon in 2008? He was the best manager in the American League; the best in all of the major leagues, too.

Great hire, that Joe Maddon.

Monday, November 10, 2008

You can make this Price right

You can make David Price become the next big thing, or at least the next big thing as far as ESPN is concerned. Here is how:

It's time to pick this year's NEXT athlete, the athlete destined to make the biggest impact on sports in the coming year (and years). ESPN The Magazine’s 2009 NEXT finalists are Joey Logano (NASCAR), David Price (Tampa Bay Rays), Ricky Rubio (Basketball/Spain) and Matt Ryan (Atlanta Falcons). Fans can vote at from November 10th – 17th. Go to now to view exclusive video and interviews with the NEXT finalists.

Here is the link to David's video:

Friday, November 7, 2008

Pena earns his gold

Now when he walks down the street, people will point to Carlos Peña and say, “There’s goes a Gold Glove first baseman.”

And that thought makes the ever-present smile on Peña’s face grow even wider.

Every ball player wants to be a complete ball player, meaning they are equally renowned for their defense as well as their offense.

Peña has really improved his defense over the last two years, cutting his errors to an incredible two this season for a .998 fielding percentage.

There’s no telling home many runs he saved this season with his ability to dig a throw out of the dirt and his skill at diving toward the first base line and turning doubles into “3 unassisted.”

Rays fans have come to count on Peña for the big home run.

His teammates have come to count on his defense.

Everyone knows what kind of power Peña brings to the lineup – 46 home runs in 2007 and 31 during an injury plagued 2008.

Now, everyone knows Peña is a first-rate fielder as well.

The best defensive first baseman in the American League.

A gold-glover.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

What a year

It’s over.

This magical summer ended on a cold Wednesday night in South Philly when the Phillies beat the Rays 4-3 in Game 5 of the World Series.

Forget the ending, it was a wonderful ride.

From the Opening Day win at Baltimore to the Game 2 victory against the Phillies at the Trop, the Rays provided us with memories we won’t soon forget.

Walk-off wins.

The victories at Fenway Park.

Game 7 of the ALCS against Boston.

This team won the American League East title and the American League pennant, incredible achievements for a team with the worst record in baseball the previous two seasons and nine last place-finishes in their first 10 years.

They won 105 games this season, more than the Phillies, more than any team in baseball.

They just came up short in the World Series.

No shame there.

None at all.

Look! Sun!

See the sun on the field? No rain in Philly today.

There are gray clouds over the city, but mostly blue skies over Citizens Bank Park as the Phillies get ready for batting practice.

Both teams are preparing as if this is a regular game with full batting practice for each squads.

The only difference is the first 5 ½ innings are in the books and the score is tied 2-2. With just 3 ½ innings left, there is a strong possibility the team that scores first wins.

It will be like a restart with five laps to go in the Daytona 500.

This should be interesting.

Rain yes, Game probably

The morning rain and snow did not happen here in Philly.

They are now calling for afternoon rain.

Scattered showers are in the forecast from about 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. After that it is suppose to be just windy and cold.

Not the best night for a baseball game, but it doesn’t seem likely commissioner Bud Selig wants to wait another day to finish Game 5 of the World Series.

The suspended game is scheduled to resume at 8:37 p.m. today with the score tied 2-2 and the Phillies batting in the bottom of the sixth inning.

According to, it will be in the high 30s and very windy with a wind chill in the low 30s.

But no rain.

The forecast for Thursday calls for sun all day with temperatures in the 40s. The evening forecast is much the same as tonight’s, only the wind chill will be in the high-30s.

Take away the afternoon rain and it doesn’t appear as if Thursday night will be much different than Wednesday night.

So, unless this afternoon rain is more than scattered showers or if it hangs around longer than predicted, or Selig decides to not mess with a potentially messy situation, the Rays and Phillies should retake the field at Citizens Bank Park tonight.

Stay tuned …

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The forecast calls for brrrrrrr

Turns out Tuesday was a nice night in Philly. Nice night if you like cold, windy nights.

But no rain.

Or snow.

Those are expected for this morning and should be finished by the afternoon, which means Game 5 might actually come to its long-awaited, much-anticipated conclusion, and, perhaps with it, the World Series.

The Phillies lead the Rays 3-1 in the best-of-seven series, which is scheduled to resume tonight (weather permitting) in the bottom of the sixth inning of Game 5 with the score tied 2-2.

Why wasn’t it finished Tuesday?

The answer depends on whom you talk to.

The early forecast called for a rainy, miserable night. That never happened. So, maybe Major League Baseball’s only error was on the side of caution.

Some think the game was never going to be played, because the Citizens Bank Field needed a day to recover from the beating it took during Monday’s rain, which rendered the field unplayable and forced the suspension of the game.

Others lean toward the conspiracy theory that FOX, which is broadcasting the series, did not want a baseball game interfering with its popular show, “House.”

Tuesday was an off day regardless of whether there was a Game 6 or not, and the network wanted it to remain an off day.

Believe what you want.

But believe this: It would have been one cold night at the ball yard had they played Tuesday.

And believe this, too: it’s going to be one cold night at the ball yard if they finish the game tonight.

Game 5 still in limbo

Major League Baseball has yet to make a decision on the status of Game 5 of the World Series, which is supposed to resume at 8 p.m. today in the bottom of the sixth inning and the score tied 2-2.

The Phillies led the Rays three games to one in the best-of-seven series. One more win and they win their first World Series championship since 1980.

It is cold, rainy and windy in Philadelphia, and while the chance for rain is supposed to diminish tonight, the temperature is expected to dip below 40, making for a cold, miserable night.

It won’t exactly be the ideal conditions to resume a World Series game, especially given the circumstances that led to suspending the game Monday.

There’s a good chance a decision will be made early this afternoon.

We’ll keep you posted.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Maddon tweaks lineup

Joe Maddon tweaked his lineup for tonight’s Game 5 of the World Series, moving Carl Crawford up to the No. 2 spot in the batting order and inserting Rocco Baldelli in right field.

By batting Crawford second, he dropped B.J. Upton, Carlos Peña and Evan Longoria down one spot.

“I just wanted to tweak it a click,” Maddon said. “See if Carl can get up there a little bit and just unfreeze Carlos and Longo a bit. They haven’t been hitting, and see if it makes a difference or not. It’s just a minor adjustment.”

Peña and Longoria are a combined 0-for-29 in this series and 1-for-43 since Longoria’s home run in Game 5 of the ALCS.

“I just wanted to do something just to clear their minds,” Maddon said. “It was more to give them a different outlook on the day. That’s all. They’re basically still hitting in their same order, one slot down. Carl has been swinging well. He’s a familiar No. 2 hole hitter. B.J., it looks like he has his RBI swing back.”

Baldelli is in right because Philly is throwing the left-handed Cole Hamels. And because Maddon has another of his hunches.

“Ben (Zobrist has) done a nice job,” Maddon said. “ just wanted to get Rocco out there. I know he’s ready to play. Rocco can do something special, I believe. Not that the other guys can’t, but Rocco’s capable of doing something extraordinary, so I wanted to get him out there.”

It's win or go home for Rays

It’s chilly and windy here at Citizens Bank Park. There is also a chance to rain tonight.

The wind is blowing to right field.

You see a lot of winter jackets and hoods on those walking around the stadium.

It’s not an ideal setting for a baseball game, but the Rays can make the weather irrelevant with a win tonight in Game 5.

If not, well, this amazing season ends in South Philly.

Scott Kazmir is on the hill for the Rays.

He’s had an up and down postseason. The Rays need him to be up tonight.

They need hits from Carlos Peña and Evan Longoria.

Defense from everyone.

These Rays have been resilient all season.

Count them out, and they bounce back.

Cole Hamels is pitching for the Phillies. The lefty is 4-0 in four postseason starts, including Game 1 of the World Series.

The Rays are already counted out.

We’ll see if they can bounce back.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Floyd out; Hinske added to roster

PHILADELPHIA – Eric Hinske was added to the Rays roster Sunday afternoon prior to Game 4 of the World Series.

He replaces Cliff Floyd, who injured his right shoulder in Game 2.

“We tried to get (Floyd) through (Saturday),” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “He was available. He isn’t (Sunday).”

Hinske, who was taken off the roster after the American League Division Series, has not appeared in a game during this postseason. He remained sharp by taking his regular spot in batting practice.

“I haven’t had an at-bat in three weeks. If I get in there I’ll swing,” Hinske said.

Floyd told Hinske on Saturday that there was a good chance he might not be able to finish the series. Maddon told Hinske to be sure to take ground balls at first and third base during batting practice, since he could be used there as well as the corner spots in the outfield.

“It’s bitter sweet,” Hinske said. “You don’t want to see a teammate get hurt, but yeah, I’m excited to be active and to help any way I can.”

Hinske’s immediate role would be as a pinch-hitter, Maddon said, adding that he doesn’t see using Hinske as the designated hitter should the series return to Tropicana Field.

Hinske said it was tough to remain sharp during the ALCS and the first three games of the World Series.

“Kind of. You know you have no chance of getting in that game that day, but you got to be professional about the situation. There’s always a chance like right now,” he said.

Great day for a Game 4

It’s a beautiful day here in Philadelphia. And busy, too.

The Eagles are playing the Falcons this afternoon across the street. The Who are in concert tonight.

There’s a lot going on here at the sports complex in South Philly.

And let’s not forget Game 4 of the World Series between the Rays and Phillies, which is scheduled for 8:29 p.m. today, and should start on time.

Question: Which is more surprising: It’s Oct. 26 and the Rays are still playing? Or, it’s 2008 and The Who are still touring?

Tough choice.

Back to baseball …

The Rays need a win to even the series or face the prospect of beating Cole Hamels in Game 5 to avoid elimination.

They lost a tough one early Sunday morning – 1:47 a.m. to be exact – when Eric Bruntlett scored from third on a dribbler by Carlos Ruiz that rolled about 40 feet up the third base line.

Rays third baseman Evan Longoria really had no play. The ball was hit that slow.

The Rays have been good at bouncing back from tough loss all season.

That trend will be put to the test tonight.

Phillies win in ninth

Carlos Ruiz’s dribbler up the third base line with the bases loaded and no out in the bottom of the ninth inning scored Eric Bruntlett and gave the Phillies a 5-4 victory over the Rays in Game 3 of the World Series.

The hit came at 1:47 a.m.

Rain delayed the start of the game 91 minutes and pushed back first pitch to 10:06 p.m., making it the latest start time in World Series history.

Game 4 is scheduled for Sunday night.

For a city that waited 15 years for the World Series to return, it was worth the wait.

The Phillies, behind 45-year-old lefty Jamie Moyer, the second-oldest pitcher to start a World Series game, built a 4-1 lead through six innings.

But the Rays chipped away with two in the seventh.

B.J. Upton set-up the ninth inning excitement when he singled to lead off the eighth inning then took it upon himself to circle the bases and score the tying run.

Upton stole second and third on consecutive pitches and scored when the throw to third by Ruiz hit him in the leg and rolled toward the Rays dugout.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Upton steals, scores. It's 4-4

The Rays, who looked well on their way to defeat after back-to-back home runs by Chase Utley and Ryan Howard in the sixth inning, have battled back and tied Game 3 of the World Series 4-4 in the eighth inning.

Trailing 4-1 after the Utley and Howard went deep off starter Matt Garza, the Rays scored twice in the seventh. Carl Crawford beat out a bunt and Dioner Navarro followed with a double down the left field line.

Crawford scored when Gabe Gross bounced out to first base, and Navarro came home on Jason Bartlett’s grounder to shortstop.

The Rays scored the tying run in the eighth when B.J. Upton leadoff with a single. Upton stole second and third on consecutive pitches and came home when the throw from Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz hit him in the leg and rolled toward the third base dugout.

So it's late, so what

Normally I’d rail about the stupidity of Major League Baseball for allowing a game to be played after a long rain delay, but I won’t now, and here’s why:

It was only a 1 hour, 31 minute rain delay.

First pitch wasn’t until 10:06 p.m., and that sounds awfully late to start a baseball game, but the game was starting late anyway, because heaven forbid they start a World Series game in the afternoon or late-afternoon.

The fans here at Citizens Bank Park didn’t seem to mind the delay. Some sat in the rain, while most stood in the concourses, drinking beer, watching the Penn State-Ohio State game on TV monitors and pretty much enjoying the fact their Phillies were in the World Series.

It’s not raining now.

A little chilly and breezy, but the fans are having a good time, waving their white towels and chanting “Eeeva, Eeeva,” every time Rays third baseman Evan Longoria comes to bat.

The playing field appears excellent.

And it’s Game 3 of the World Series.

So, play ball.

Scheduled to play ... eventually

The forecast calls for rain until the early evening, but Rays manager Joe Maddon said he believed tonight’s Game 3 of the World Series will still be played at Citizens Bank Park, though it will start late.

After meeting with the umpire crew and officials from Major League Baseball at 4:30 p.m., Maddon said the game time could be moved back at least a half hour, from 8:35 p.m. to sometime after 9 p.m.

“They’re thinking the proverbial window will show up post 9, 9:30 (p.m.) possibly,” Maddon said. “Once it does, it’s not going to be a window, it’s going to be wide-open spaces after that. Unless anything changes there’s a good chance it will start a little bit off time, but nevertheless, get the full game in.”

Maddon said a definitive cut-off time to call the game if the rain lingers longer than anticipate was not discussed.

“There’s no definitive (time),” Maddon said. “When you’re talking 10 o’clock you’re getting a little bit crazy, but there wasn’t a definitive, ‘If we get to 10 o’clock and we’re still not playing we’re not playing.’ There was nothing like that.”

Maddon said he had not thought of how a rainout would affect his pitching rotation since the Series would loss the off day Tuesday and the teams would play five straight days should the Series go seven games.

“I think we’re going to play,” he said. “From what I’ve heard and what I’ve seen, I think we’re going to play, so I’m not there yet. We’re going to play. It’s just going to be late.”

Forecast isn't good for Game 3

It’s raining on and off here at Citizens Bank Park.

The tarp covers the infield.

The forecast doesn’t look good for tonight’s Game 3 of the World Series, according to, which is calling for 100 percent chance of rain at 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. and 90 percent at 9 p.m.

That’s not good.

No word from Major League Baseball on the possibility of playing tonight.

Again, none of this would be a factor if there was a roof over this stadium.

Rain coming, no word on Game 3

It is a wet, windy, nasty day here in Philly.

And it’s a bit chilly for those of us from Florida. The temperature is in the mid-50s and expected to not get much warmer.

But that is not the story.

The story is the rain.

It is not raining now (12:30 p.m.), but it is expected to later this afternoon.

Heavy rains are still in the forecast, but they are supposed to be over by early evening.

How that will affect Game 3 is still anyone’s guess since this is being posted more than 8 hours before the scheduled first pitch.

Major League Baseball does not like rainouts, especially during the World Series.

A lot will depend on the field conditions.

We’ll keep you posted.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Maddon said there will be baseball

The temperature is dipping through the 50s here at Citizens Bank Park as the Rays finish their workout Friday night.

It will get colder, too.

Game time temps could be in the 40s for these next three games.

Oh, and it could rain Saturday, which could force the postponement of Game 3 to Sunday and push the three games in Philly back a night, meaning the Series would lose Tuesday’s off day and create a situation where the Rays could face Cole Hamels two more times if the series goes seven games.

Rays manager Joe Maddon said he was told the rain will stop about 8 p.m. Saturday, and he expects to play Game 3 as scheduled.

Maddon has been right a lot this year.

We’ll see if he’s right on this one.

Of rain and age

It’s chilly here in Philly.

And it could rain, too.

Where’s a roof when you need one?

There’s talk Saturday’s game can be postponed because of rain. We’ll see, and we say that because there’s talk Saturday’s rain might not get here until Sunday.

Anyway …

The Phillies are about to start their work out here at Citizens Bank Park, a gem of a ball yard.
Jamie Moyer, 45, who will be the second oldest pitcher to start a World Series game should he make it to the mound for Game 3 on Saturday night, is at the podium in the press conference room.

We’re not saying he’s old, but he was once All-Colony.

Back in Philly

Flew through Philly a week ago on the way back from Boston, and I looked down on Citizens Bank Park as we landed.

My buddy, Whitney Johnson of WDAE fame, was also on the flight, and we wondered while eating breakfast during the layover if that was as close as we would get to the home of the Phillies this October.

The Phillies had won the National League pennant two days earlier.

The Rays almost clinched the American League crown the night before in Game of the ALCS but couldn’t hold a 7-0 lead in the seventh.

Was it a blip in their wonderful postseason run or the start of a historic meltdown?

Ah, but I am back here in Philly, because the Don’t Doubt Us Rays held off the Red Sox in seven games and have played the Phillies even through two games of this World Series.

I landed a few hours ago, but didn’t see the ballpark. We came in on a different runway.

I’ll see the stadium later today, though. The Rays are scheduled for a late afternoon workout.
And I’ll see it for the next three nights, too, for Games 3, 4, 5 of the Series.

Great stadium, by the way.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Price could be the difference

Now we know why the Rays didn’t bring David Price up earlier. Why tip your hand?

The Red Sox didn’t know what they were dealing with when Price closed out Game 7 of the American League Championship Series.

The Phillies didn’t look any more clued in Thursday when Price got the final seven outs of the Rays 4-2 victory in game 2 of the World Series, a win that evened the Series at 1-1.

The hard-throwing left-hander joined the Rays in mid-September and was used sparingly during the final weeks of the season. Rays manager Joe Maddon didn’t really use him at all in the American League playoffs until the eighth inning of Game 7 against the Red Sox.

It’s tough to formulate a scouting report on a pitcher you seldom see, though with Price, you’re going to see a high-90s fastball and a well-located slider.

Still, baseball people are only really comfortable when they think they know what’s coming.

Chase Utley and Ryan Howard both batted twice against Price on Thursday, so that might prove large in the next few games.

Yet, neither seemed to have a clue against Price.

The element of surprise, the ability to work more than one inning, the ability to dominate a pretty good lineup could be the difference in this World Series.

The Rays wouldn’t have had that advantage had they brought Price up in August or used him more in September.

Way to go, Joe!

The Rays’ Joe Maddon and Marlins’ Fredi Gonzalez, a pair of Sunshine State skippers who did more with less payroll, are Sporting News’ 2008 Managers of the Year, as selected by a panel of 18 major league managers.

Maddon, despite a payroll that ranks 29th out of 30 major league teams, has his team in the World Series as he presides over one of baseball’s most remarkable turnarounds.

He managed Tampa Bay to a 97-65 regular-season record, good for first place in the American League East, a division in which the Rays had finished out of last place only once in their 10 previous seasons of existence and never won more games than they lost in a season.

Maddon, 54, attributed the turnaround primarily to a pitching staff that matured, especially in one particular area: “Command of the fastball. Simplistic,” he told Sporting News. “Also, the bullpen in general — you can’t play this time of year without the bullpen we have.”

Gonzalez, meanwhile, had the Marlins — whose payroll ranked 30th out of 30 teams — in thick of the National League East race for much of the season, before Florida finished 84-77, in third place behind the N.L. champion Phillies and the Mets.

He credited his team’s approach to its success: “The guys believed in themselves,” Gonzalez, 44, told Sporting News. “They had confidence and came to the park every day ready to battle, and we always felt like we were in every game until the final out.”

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

What's up with the pole?

Been covering the Rays for 11 years. They make it to the World Series and here is my view from the auxiliary press box.

Great, two poles in the building and I’m behind one of them.

That would be the foul pole in left field. High up the foul pole, since the aux box is in the land that used to be known as The Beach and is now known as the tbt Party Deck.

The amount of media covering the series meant some of us had to give up our seats in the main press box to writers from some of the bigger papers around the country.

Actually, it’s not a bad view of the game. I mean, Carl Crawford is playing right in front of me, so how bad can that be? And I no longer have to worry about a foul ball crashing in to my laptop, which is a big worry when you sit behind home plate. No one has ever hit a ball this far at the Trop.

Besides, I’ve learned long ago that it is not important where you sit as long as you have a seat somewhere in the building.

I'll take the Series over the Stadium

I never made it to Yankee Stadium this summer. I wanted to.

I spent many days and nights inside the old ballpark and many dollars in the souvenir shops across the street buying those cool old black and white photos of Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris and Elston Howard.

I wanted to go back one last time and say good-bye to an old friend.

Never made it, though just about everyone I know did.

But, I’m going to the World Series.

At Tropicana Field.

Something I never thought I would ever cover, the World Series and a World Series game at the Trop.

Yankee Stadium was basically October’s stage, the scene of plenty of great World Series baseball.

Now it is the Trop’s turn.

Here we are on the afternoon of Game 1 and we can only wonder what memories await us during this Fall Classic.

I would have liked to have said farewell to Yankee Stadium; taken one last walk around the ballpark. But I have my memories and a few of those old photos.

Instead, I’m saying hello to the World Series.

You know what? I’ll take that trade.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Baldelli gives Rays 2-1 lead

Had a good feeling about Rocco Baldelli all day.

Something about Baldelli getting the hit that delivers the pennant.

That could be true if this 2-1 lead holds up.

Baldelli singled home Willy Aybar to give the Rays a 2-1 lead in the fifth.

Aybar opened the inning with a double to left field off Jon Lester.

The Rays could have had more runs, though. B.J. Upton lined out to short with runners on second and third to end the inning.

Will that haunt the Rays?

We’ll see.

Game 7 even at 1-1 after four

There is life in this building.

And some Rays offense.

Evan Longoria lined an opposite field double down the right field line with two outs in the fourth inning, scoring Carlos Peña all the way from first base with the Rays first run of the game.

Peña slid home ahead of the tag by Jason Varitek, sending the sellout crowd into a frenzy and tying this Game 7 of the ALCS at 1-1.

The Red Sox took a 1-0 lead six pitches into the game on a home run by Dustin Pedroia.

That was the only hit allowed by Rays starter Matt Garza, who has six strikeouts through four innings.

Red Sox starter Jon Lester was perfect through three innings.

Akinori Iwamura reached him for a leadoff single in the fourth but was erased on a force-out by Peña.

Longoria saved the inning with another clutch hit.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Unlikely sources of power

It’s turning into a power game, and the power is coming from a pair of unlikely sources.

Jason Bartlett, who homered once during the regular season, drove a line drive into the left field seats in the bottom of the fifth to tie the score at 2-2.

The Red Sox went back on top in the top of the sixth when Jason Varitek homered to right-center field.

It was the 11th career postseason home run for Varitek, but his first of this postseason. What’s more, it snapped an 0-for-15 slide.

That hurts.

James Shields allowed a single to Coco Crisp, who turned out to be the last batter he faced.

Shields threw 109 pitches, 65 for strikes.

New home plate ump

Home plate umpire Derryl Cousins left the game after the third inning because of an injury suffered when he was hit in the chest with a foul ball.

Tim McClelland moved from first to behind the plate.

This might be nothing or it might be everything.

Cousins has a notoriously small strike zone, one that bothered Scott Kazmir in a game in Anaheim earlier this season.

Kazmir felt he was squeezed by Cousins, and Rays manager Joe Maddon was tossed in the seventh inning for arguing on Kazmir’s behalf.

Rays starter James Shields has been in and out of the strike zone for the first three innings. He walked three batters in the third inning as the Red Sox scored once to take the lead.

After a 15-minute delay, the umpires returned to the field. Shields took the mound and looked much sharper.

Was it the rest?

Or the new home plate umpire?


Upton for MVP

B.J. Upton is my vote for ALCS MVP.
Who else could it be?

The Rays center fie lder just hit an another bomb, this one hit the C-ring catwalk in left-center field to give the Rays a 1-0 lead in the first inning of Game 6.

That’s his fourth home run of the ALCS and his 15th RBI.

He is now tied with Troy Glaus for the most home runs in an ALCS and one shy of trying Barry Bonds and Carlos Beltran for the most home runs in a single postseason.

Upton’s seven homers has tied Boston’s David Ortiz’s American League record for the most home runs in a single postseason.

The Rays win this thing, and Upton is the MVP.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Crisp batting first for BoSox

Red Sox manager Terry Francona tweaked his lineup again for tonight’s Game 5 of the American League Championship Series, moving Coco Crisp to the leadoff spot and dropping J.D. Drew to sixth, where he will hit behind Jason Bay.

Jacoby Ellsbury is not in the lineup again, despite a career average of .286 against Rays starter Scott Kazmir.

Ellsbury, hitless in 14 ALCS at-bats, was benched for Game 4. Drew was moved to the leadoff spot, where he was 0-for-4.

Crisp is batting .300 against Kazmir. He was 1-for-2 with a double against Kazmir in Game 2.

Something to keep in mind tonight: starting the left-handed Kazmir will mean Jason Varitek and Jed Lowrie, a pair of switch-hitters, will bat right-handed. Varitek is hitting .284 right-handed as opposed to .201 left-handed. Lowrie is batting .338 right-handed and only .222 left-handed.

Zim says no rain

Don Zimmer, sitting in the visiting dugout at Fenway Park, looked at the sky and said there will be baseball tonight.

You could actually see some blue behind the clouds.

Zim would know. He’s only been in this stadium for about a billion games.

The tarp is off, and the Red Sox are taking batting practice.

A wet afternoon in Beantown

There are few sights in all of sports sadder than tarp covering an infield, especially when it is before Game 5 of the American League Championship Series. But that’s how it is here at Fenway Park in Boston as the clock approaches 4:30.

A steady drizzle falls on this jewel of a ballpark.

All reports indicate rain won’t be a factor tonight, and the game is still scheduled to begin at 8:07 p.m.

We’ll keep you updated.

Kaz pitching tonight for Rays

The Rays will try to close out the American League Championship Series tonight with their least effective pitcher.

Manager Joe Maddon tweaked his rotation, skipping James Shields for Game 5 in favor of Scott Kazmir.

Kazmir, who has struggled in two postseason starts, has the better career numbers against the Red Sox at Fenway Park.

“We felt it was the right thing to do right now,” Maddon said. “We like that. We like the fact that he’s pitching with an open day following, the ability to utilize the entire bullpen. We also like the idea of him pitching here, and we like the idea of Shields being able to pitch at home, if necessary.”

Shields will start Game 6 on Saturday night at Tropicana Field should the Red Sox win Thursday.

If the series were tied 2-2, then Shields would have started tonight. But with the Rays leading 3-1, Maddon decided to have Kazmir start on his normal fifth day.

-- Roger Mooney

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


The tarps will come off the seats near the top of Tropicana Field when the Rays return for a possible Game 6 of the American League Championship Series and/or for the World Series should they advance that far.

Tickets for Game 6 of the ALCS go on sale today to those who won the chance to purchase in the Postseason Ticket Opportunity through Winners will be notified by email this morning, and the special internet pre-sale will begin at 5:00 p.m. Any remaining tickets will go on-sale at, at 9 a.m. Thursday.

Now, for this stat, DUCK!

The Rays and Red Sox combined to hit 11 home runs through the first three games of this ALCS. It is the 16th time in 39 ALCS that the two teams combined to hit 10 or more home runs. The Red Sox have been involved in six of those series, including the 2003 ALCS against the Yankees when the two teams combined to hit 20 home runs in the seven-game series, which, fittingly, ended with a home run.

This is the third straight ALCS to produce at least 10 home runs and the 12th in the past 14 Octobers.

— Herald Staff

Friday, October 10, 2008

Game Tonight

It is October 10.

The Bucs have changed quarterbacks again.

High school football season, for some teams, reaches the halfway point tonight.

Florida plays LSU this weekend in a game that could have national title implications.

They’ve already dropped the puck on the hockey season.

And the Rays have a home game.

Against the Red Sox.

In the American League Championship Series.

First to four wins heads to the World Series.

The Rays.


Rays vs. Red Sox: A history of run-ins

Aug. 29, 2000. Perdro Martinez, perhaps tired of losing twice to the Tampa Bay Rays in two of his last three starts against them, drills Gerald Williams, and Williams responds by charging the mound. The Rays retaliate as Dave Eiland and a parade of relievers continue to throw at Brian Daubach. The benches clear again later in the game. A total of eight players are ejected, though Martinez is not one of them. He retires the next 24 batters and takes a no-hitter into the ninth inning where it is broken up John Flaherty.

Sept. 29, 2000. The Rays eliminate the Red Sox from playoff contention one month later, and Roberto Hernandez waves "bye-bye" after recording the final out. One night later, Morgan Burkhardt hits a two-run homer of Hernandez to erase a 2-1 deficit and start a three-run rally in the ninth for a 4-2 victory. The Red Sox are seen waving to Hernandez, though most use only one finger.

May 5, 2002. Ryan Rupe begins the game by hitting Nomar Garciaparra and Shea Hillenbrand in the first inning. Trot Nixon swings and misses at a pitch, and the bat flies out of his hand toward Rupe. Randy Winn gets plunked later in the game.

July 18, 2002. Esteban Yan and manager Hal McRae are ejected as Manny Ramirez and Brent Abernathy are both hit twice.

Sept. 9, 2002. Warned by the commissioner's office to knock it off, Derek Lowe nevertheless hits Felix Escalona twice.

Sept. 10, 2002. The Rays respond, drilling Doug Mirabelli, Garciaparra and Lou Merloni. Lowe and Rays pitcher Lee Gardner earn suspensions.

Sept. 27, 2004. Scott Kazmir empties the dugouts when he hits Manny Ramirez and Kevin Millar during consecutive at-bats. Kazmir was retaliating because Bronson Arroyo had already plunked Aubrey Huff and Tino Martinez. Kazmir and Lou Piniella are ejected.

April 24, 2005. Bradenton's Lance Carter gets into the act when he throws behind Ramirez, who responds with a home run, and David Ortiz, who responds by making a move toward Carter. The ejections total six, and eight players are either fined or suspended. Two days later Curt Schilling calls out Piniella on his radio show. Schilling calls out Rays announcer Joe Magrane after Magrane criticizes Schilling during the Rays next telecast.

March 27, 2006. The volatile Julian Tavarez kicks Joey Gathright as Gathright scores on a wild pitch during a spring training game in Fort Myers. Tavarez slaps, then punches Gathright as the benches empty. Ty Wigginton breaks a bone in his right hand, and Taverez gets slapped with a 10-game suspension.

June 5, 2008. Boston fans finally get to witness a dustup of their own after Shields drills Crisp and bedlam ensues. Shields was responding to a hard slide into second baseman Akinori Iwamura by Crisp the night before. Three players are ejected, and eight are suspended, including Crisp and Iwamura.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

B.J. loafs; B.J. sits

Cleveland pitcher Edward Mujica fell to his knees and almost flopped in front of the mound as he tried to field a come-backer from B.J. Upton in the eighth inning Tuesday night.

And Upton lollygagged to first base.

You know that makes him?

A lollygagger.

And you know what happens to lollygagger’s on Joe Maddon’s watch? They sit.

Upton was benched Wednesday against Celveland, his punishment for not running out a grounder to the pitcher. With a little hustle he might have actually beaten Mujica’s throw. After all, the pitcher was throwing from his knees.

It was a bold statement from Maddon, who really needed Upton in a lineup Wednesday that was more JV than varsity.

Ben Zobrist made his major league debut in center field. Willy Aybar, cramps and all, was back at shortstop. The corner outfield was manned by Eric Hinske in left and Gabe Gross in right.

This isn’t the time to be playing games with the lineup Rays three-games up on second-place Boston, but Maddon felt he needed to make a point.

Personally, I think Upton takes plays off, both in the outfield and at the plate.

I don’t think I’m alone.

What bothered Maddon more than Upton dogging it was Maddon ripped into the team after a win in Kansas City on July 26 because he felt saw a little too much dogging going on.

And less than two weeks later Upton lollygags to first?

We’re in the thick of the pennant race now. No time to be playing games.

And that’s why Maddon had to bench Upton.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Postseason history favors Rays

Despite what happens before Thursday’s 4 p.m. trade deadline, the Rays appear in great shape to make the postseason.

Why? Because during the Wild Card Era, 73 percent of the teams that were in first place at the trade deadline reached the postseason, and the Rays have a three-game lead over the second-place Boston Red Sox.

The legwork was done by Sam Mellinger of the Kansas City Star.

Read it here:

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Rays interested in Pittsburgh's Bay

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is reporting the Rays and Pirates are involved in trade talks for outfielder Jason Bay, who would give the Rays the right-handed, power-hitting right fielder they seek.

The trade deadline is 4 p.m. Thursday.

Bay is batting .284 with 22 home runs and 62 RBIs. He is in the third year of a four-year contract that will pay him $7.5 million next season, which means the Rays should be able to afford him next season, as well.

Bay is a two-time All-Star and former rookie of the year.

After slumping last season, Bay is putting up pretty good numbers this year, and those numbers are even better when compared with the numbers generated by any Ray not named Evan Longoria.

Rays manager Joe Maddon told reporters in Toronto before Wednesday's game there is a "50-50" chance the Rays could swing a trade by Thursday's deadline.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

A pair of all-stars: Navarro and Kaz

So it’s Navie and Kaz going to the All-Star Game. Congrats. Both are deserving.

Dioner Navarro turned his career around during the second half of last season and is now the best defensive catcher and the second-best offensive catcher in the American League.

Scott Kazmir shrugged off a strained left elbow suffered in spring training, joined the team one month into the season and has been pretty solid.

Andy Sonnanstine has more wins and James Shields has been more consistent, but the way Kazmir pitched in May started the Rays climb to the best record in baseball.

We can whine all we want about having just two players from the best team in baseball on the American League All-Star team, but with the way the Rays win, having two is almost enough.

Personally, I would have liked to have seen J.P. Howell land on the team. Take him out of the bullpen and who knows what happens to this team.

But, as manager Joe Maddon said, it’s a different bus driver every night, a fact that bodes well for the second half of the season. The Rays aren’t relying on two or three players who are having career-years.

Navarro helps drive bus every night when he catches with the way he handles the pitching staff and the way he know handles himself at the plate.

There are few pitchers better than Kazmir during those nights when his fastball is blazing and his command is sharp.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Ripken and Eck dig Longo

The guys who cover baseball for TBS have noticed the Rays.

Harold Reynolds, Cal Ripken and Dennis Eckersley voted Evan Longoria their first half American League rookie of the year. Chip Carey split his vote between Longo and Jacoby Ellsbury.

Buck Martinez and Eckersley voted Joe Maddon the top AL manager through the first half of the season.

Can’t say I disagree with their picks.

Monday, June 30, 2008

A view of the Rays from the Boston press

The Rays ended the first half of the season Sunday with the best record in baseball, not to mention the best record in team history after 81 games. They have certainly gotten everyone’s attention, including the second place Boston Red Sox, who begin a three-game series tonight at Tropicana Field.

Here’s what they’re saying in the Boston papers

From Gordon Edes of the Boston Globe:

The assumption, from the time the MLB computers spat out the 2008 schedule last summer, was that the Red Sox would be playing a meaningful series this week.

But no one, outside of Joe Maddon's immediate family and closest friends, dreamed it would come at the Trop. That visit to the Bronx over the Fourth? Hey, the fireworks begin tonight in St. Pete, where the Sox try to wrest first place away from the Tampa Bay Rays, young, gifted, and still amped from the last time they played - and fought - the Sox.

With Boston falling, 3-2, to the Astros yesterday afternoon, a tie-breaking pinch single by former Sox second baseman Mark Loretta the latest blow to Hideki Okajima's increasingly fragile psyche, the Sox find themselves a half-game in arrears of the Rays, 4-3 winners in Pittsburgh.

The Rays, of course, never have been in first place this deep into any of their previous 10 seasons. No team in the American League East other than the Yankees or Red Sox have been in first as late as July since the 2000 season, when the Blue Jays still held the top spot on July 14 before fading to third.

Sox third baseman Mike Lowell, mindful that the Rays swept the Sox on their last visit to the Trop in April, professed not to be surprised that the Rays are where they are.

"They've played damn good baseball for three months," said Lowell, who came to the plate against Astros closer Jose Valverde with a chance to duplicate his ninth-inning home run from Saturday night, but instead tapped into a force play, Kevin Youkilis then lining out to leave the Sox with a total of 13 stranded runners yesterday. "I think that's a pretty good track record. This is a big series for us. We want to play well. But I don't think it's a be-all or end-all."

But will it be that for the Rays?

"It's a big series," Lowell reiterated. "The media are going to want to hype it up. It's a series that whoever wins will be in first place at the end of it, and that's important to us."

From Jeff Horrigan of the Boston Herald:

For most of their first 10 major league seasons, the Tampa Bay Rays basically played the role of the hapless Washington Generals to the Red Sox vastly-superior Harlem Globetrotters.

When they head to Tropicana Field tonight to open a three-game series, however, it will be the Sox looking up in the standings, attempting to avoid having a figurative bucket of confetti thrown in their face by the American League’s top team.

Hideki Okajima surrendered a run-scoring, pinch-hit single to Mark Loretta with two outs in the eighth inning yesterday at Minute Maid Park, resulting in a 3-2 loss to the Houston Astros. That knocked the Sox into second place in the AL East, a half-game behind Tampa Bay, which downed Pittsburgh, 4-3.

The sagging Sox, who dropped the last two games of the season’s final interleague series in the Astros’ final at-bat, fell out of first place for the first time since June 3, when they also trailed the Rays by a half-game.

“This series right now is the biggest series for that franchise,” Julio Lugo, a former Ray, said.

From Rob Bradford of the Boston Herald:

The fight of the Red Sox young 2008 lives begins today, and it has nothing to do about bench-clearing brawls, retaliation or fiery salvos thrown from one clubhouse to another.
As much as it might hurt, you might want to avert your attention from donnybrook-related matters for the moment.

The starting gun for the race for first place in the American League East is being fired at Tropicana Field tonight and, despite the perception of many New Englanders on their way to St. Petersburg, Fla., nobody will be living the life of the longshot this time around.

Flash-in-the-pan status has left the Rays’ anything-but-morbid building. Look at today’s standings for further proof.

“I think it will be about two teams that are in first place that are battling, and that’s what it needs to be about,” Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to play the game and move on. I think the media will take it as that, two teams that are battling for first-place once the games start going. . . . Whatever happens, happens. It will all play out.”

The final words of Papelbon’s analysis suggest he hasn’t totally let go of the tension between the Rays and the Sox that has continued to linger since June 5. But the owner of the most pointed comments of the past few weeks also has come to understand the task at hand.

“What I’ve said has been said, whoop-dee-do,” he said. “What I’ve said has been said. We’ve got to move on and play the games.” …

The Red Sox’ tact has been, and will continue to be, that of a team with permanent membership into the “been there, done that” club. When you live with at least 18 of these must-win scenarios built into the schedule thanks to the presence of those Yankees, pre-Fourth of July showdowns don’t elicit extra hours of advance scouting meetings.

“To be totally honest, and I know it sounds cliche, but it’s just another series,” Papelbon said. “Yeah, we have extracurricular stuff going on, but it is just another series.”

If the Red Sox approached it any other way, that would truly be news. (See Papelbon’s post-fight comments.)

Yet, while the Sox can afford to worry about themselves, their fans might want to pay close attention to the baseball players dressed in blue and white who aren’t punching, yelling or poking. It might just be the one pinstripe-free team worth following.

“It will definitely be strange for me to see it,” said Red Sox catcher Kevin Cash, a former Ray. “For the people there, it will be second to none. When I was there we had lost around 11 in a row at this time of year. It was a grind in June when it’s supposed to be a grind in August and September. I guess things have changed.”

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Do they still play the blues in Chicago?

Songwriter Steve Goodman died two weeks before the Cubs won the division title in 1984, denying him the chance to see his beloved team win a title and also preventing him from witnessing another of their legendary choke jobs.

Though he left this earth too soon, he was 36 when he died of leukemia, Goodman left us with the “City of New Orleans” and “Go, Cubs, Go.” He also wrote “A Dying Cub Fan’s last Request,” which is, for my money, the best song written about a major league baseball team.

With the Cubs at the Trop for three games with the Rays this week, I’ve found myself listening to Goodman’s ode to the long and suffering Cubs fans a few times this week on a CD I have of baseball songs.

Here’s a link to a YouTube video of Goodman playing the song with Wrigley Field as the backdrop. Here are also the lyrics.

“A Dying Cub Fan's Last Request”

By the shore's of old Lake Michigan
Where the "hawk wind" blows so cold
An old Cub fan lay dying
In his midnight hour that tolled
Round his bed, his friends had all gathered
They knew his time was short
And on his head they put this bright blue cap
From his all-time favorite sport

He told them, "Its late and its getting dark in here"
And I know its time to go
But before I leave the line-upBoys,
there's just one thing I'd like to know

Do they still play the blues in Chicago
When baseball season rolls around
When the snow melts away,
Do the Cubbies still play
In their ivy-covered burial ground
When I was a boy they were my pride and joy
But now they only bring fatigue
To the home of the brave
The land of the free
And the doormat of the National League

Told his friends "You know the law of averages says:
Anything will happen that can
"That's what it says"
But the last time the Cubs won a National League pennant
Was the year we dropped the bomb on Japan"

The Cubs made me a criminal
Sent me down a wayward path
They stole my youth from me(that's the truth)
I'd forsake my teachers
To go sit in the bleachers
In flagrant truancy
and then one thing led to another
and soon I'd discovered alcohol, gambling, dope
football, hockey, lacrosse, tennis
But what do you expect,
When you raise up a young boy's hopes
And then just crush 'em like so many paper beer cups.
Year after year after year
after year, after year, after year, after year, after year
'Til those hopes are just so much popcorn
for the pigeons beneath the 'L' tracks to eat

He said, "You know I'll never see Wrigley Field, anymore before my eternal rest
So if you have your pencils and your score cards ready,
and I'll read you my last request

He said, "Give me a double header funeral in Wrigley Field
On some sunny weekend day (no lights)
Have the organ play the "National Anthem"
and then a little 'na, na, na, na, hey hey, hey, Goodbye'

Make six bullpen pitchers, carry my coffin
and six ground keepers clear my path
Have the umpires bark me out at every baseI
n all their holy wrath

Its a beautiful day for a funeral,
Hey Ernie lets play two!
Somebody go get Jack Brickhouse to come back,
and conduct just one more interview

Have the Cubbies run right out into the middle of the field,
Have Keith Moreland drop a routine fly
Give everybody two bags of peanuts and a frosty malt
And I'll be ready to die

Build a big fire on home plate out of your Louisville Sluggers baseball bats,
And toss my coffin in
Let my ashes blow in a beautiful snow
From the prevailing 30 mile an hour southwest wind
When my last remains go flying over the left-field wall
Will bid the bleacher bums ad?eu
And I will come to my final resting place,
out on Waveland Avenue

The dying man's friends told him to cut it out
They said stop it that's an awful shame
He whispered, "Don't Cry, we'll meet by and by
near the Heavenly Hall of Fame

He said, "I've got season's tickets to watch the Angels now,
So its just what I'm going to do
He said, "but you the living, you're stuck here with the Cubs,
So its me that feels sorry for you!"

And he said, "Ahh Play, play that lonesome losers tune,
That's the one I like the best"
And he closed his eyes, and slipped away
What we got is the Dying Cub Fan's Last Request
And here it is

Do they still play the blues in Chicago
When baseball season rolls around
When the snow melts away,
Do the Cubbies still play
In their ivy-covered burial ground
When I was a boy they were my pride and joy
But now they only bring fatigue
To the home of the brave
The land of the free
And the doormat of the National League

Friday, June 13, 2008

They used to be giants

Frank Robinson was at Tropicana Field on Friday night.

The hall of famer popped into the Rays clubhouse before the game. His surprise appearance stopped a conversation by Carl Crawford and Cliff Floyd in the far corner.

It is good to see today’s players show signs of respect like that to the old-timers, especially when this old-timer is a two-time MVP and took his 586 home runs to Cooperstown.

But what struck me more was Robinson’s size, or lack of size.

He was listed as 6-foot-1, 195 pounds during his playing days. Somehow I expected him Robby to be bigger.

For some reason I usually do when I run across a player who was a star during my childhood.
It was the same with Reggie Jackson.

I remember sitting in the right field seats at Yankee Stadium during 1980 and watching a ball hit by Jackson sail over my head and into the upper deck. I couldn’t believe someone standing that far from me could hit a baseball that was still climbing as it soared by.

I was at Legends Field before a spring training game a few years ago when this man who looked like Reggie Jackson walked by. Couldn’t be Reggie, I thought. Too small.


Jackson was listed at 6-0, 200 during his playing days. That body generated 563 home runs?

Believe it.

I guess when you are a kid you think all the sluggers are 6-5, 250 pounds.

Some where but not all.

Still, they were giants in my eyes.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Pena to DL, OK. If it was CC? Yikes!

Seeing Carlos Pena headed to the disabled list with a broken index finger should not alarm Rays fan.

What should have scared them to death was the news Carl Crawford’s trip to Boston detoured through Alabama where he was examined by Dr. James Andrews.

The problem is a balky right knee and right hamstring that Crawford injured during Thursday's game with Chicago.

Having Pena out of the lineup for a couple of weeks won’t hurt the Rays too much. He’s not hitting, so it’s not like the offense will take much of a hit. They will miss his glove, though. I thought Pena was having a Gold Glove-caliber season. Eric Hinske is a capable replacement but not on par with Pena when it comes to defense.

Also, the rest might help Pena shake this slump that’s now entering its third month.

But Crawford?

His absence from the lineup for an extended time would really hurt.

While Crawford is not having his typical Carl Crawford season at the plate, he can still get on base and make things happen.

And his defense? Crawford is the best defensive left fielder in the American League. Take him away from the Rays lineup and that is one hole they can not plug.

Thankfully, Crawford’s MRI was negative.

Let’s hope it is not an injury that lingers through the summer, because the Rays need Carl Crawford to be Carl Crawford if they hope to continue playing like a playoff contender.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Milledge gets his page in Sports Illustrated

Not to be overshadowed by the Rays first-ever appearance on the cover of Sports Illustrated is a full-page spread on Lastings Milledge, the Palmetto product who roams center field for the Washington Nationals.

A dapper Milledge appears in the “First Person” section of this week’s issue. You know, the one with Rays leftfielder Carl Crawford in all his cartoon glory on the cover.

Milledge answers six questions. The topics range from the negative reaction he received from his former teammates on the New York Mets to his ability to play the tuba, which he learned in the seventh grade.

“I miss it,” Milledge is quoted as saying.

Who knew?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Rays get SI cover

Here it is.

Not sure what to make of it. Would have been nice to have an action shot of Carl Crawford or James Shields or something a little more traditional, but, hey, the Rays made it to first place so I guess we live in a different world now.

Not sure if a cartoon will count toward the Sports Illustrated cover jinx. I guess only time will tell.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The first-place Rays: Believe it

I wrote this sentence Wednesday night for the Rays on-line notebook:

“The Yankees responded with a 2-1 victory, their third in their last eight games, and moved within 3 ½ games of the first place Rays.”

I’ve been covering the Rays since their inaugural season in 1998, fulltime with the Bradenton Herald since 1999, and I’ve always wondered if there would ever come a day when the Rays would be among the best teams in baseball.

The answer? Yes.

I don’t know if I will be writing sentences like that in September or a month from now or a week from now. But the season is old enough to know what a team has, and the Rays have the goods to hang with the top teams in the American League this season.

The pitching is not a fluke.

The bullpen is the envy of most teams.

The defense makes everything work.

Now, if they can start hitting, they will remain a force.

There were some pretty dark days at the Trop in years past. I remember many nights walked to the parking lot with Dick Scanlon of the Lakeland Ledger after another miserable loss and we would talk about how it couldn’t possible get any worse, and, of course, it would.

The other night I walked to the parking lot with Scan, and we wondered if it could get better.

Yes, if the hitting comes around, it can get much better.

I think we’re looking at a fun summer of baseball in Tampa Bay.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Florida: A baseball state

It is Monday, May 12, and here are some win/loss records of interest …

Florida Marlins 23-14 .622
Tampa Bay Rays 21-16 .568
New York Mets 19-16 .543
New York Yankees 19-19 .500

The Marlins have the best record in baseball. THE BEST RECORD IN BASEBALL!

The Marlins and Rays have better records than the Mets and the Yankees.

It’s early in the season, but still the Rays and Marlins?

If I told you six weeks ago the Florida teams would have a better record than the New York teams, what would you have said? Yeah, me too.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

20 wins for Sonny? Don't laugh

I was talking Tuesday with a buddy of mine who used to cover the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, and they were Devil Rays when he was on the beat before he fled for all the color and pageantry college football has to offer.

“Who is Andy Sonnanstine?” he asked.

Good question.

Sonnanstine was a 13th round draft pick in 2004. The Rays took Jeff Niemann with the fourth pick in that draft, so you can see why Sonnanstine would be an afterthought.

Still, the right-hander with a fastball that doesn’t scare anyone learned how to pitch in the minor leagues. He learned to throw strikes, work ahead, pitch to contact, avoid big innings and give his team a chance to win.

It was about this time last season, with the Rays rotation that included Jae Seo and Casey Fossum imploding on a nightly basis, when we began to hear Sonnanstine’s name. A lot.

Sonnanstine had been in big league camp that spring, but I couldn’t for the life of me place a face to his name.

Sonny quietly sailed under the radar, which is probably the best thing to happen to him.

When my buddy was still covering the Rays for another newspaper, pitchers like Chris Seddon and, to an extent, Jason Hammel, represented the next wave of arms that would save the day in Tampa Bay.

Sonnanstine never had those expectations. He just arrived last June and began producing.

On Tuesday at Toronto Sonnanstine stopped the Rays losing streak and won his fifth game of the season to take over the team-lead in victories. His five wins in 32 games represented the fastest start by a Rays pitcher in team history.

His 10 wins since Aug. 15 are the third-most of any major league pitcher. Sonnanstine doesn't create the buzz like James Shields and Scott Kazmir. Not yet, anyway.

It was suggested during spring training by another writer on the beat that Sonny would win 20 games in a season.

I laughed then.

I’m not laughing so much now.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Who wants to mess with this pitching staff?

This whole Scott Kazmir-coming-off-the-DL-and-someone-has-to-leave-the-rotation thing kind of had me worried, because, and I know this sounds very weird when talking about Tampa Bay’s pitching, but here goes: Do you really want to mess with this pitching staff?

The bullpen is the best in baseball and the starting rotation is among the best in the American League, and yes, we are still talking about the Rays.

Kazmir’s return for Sunday’s start in Boston means someone has to leave the rotation and the likely candidate is Jason Hammel, but he is out of minor league options, meaning he would have to clear waivers before the Rays could send him to Triple A Durham, and they wouldn’t want to risk that, so they would shift Hammel to the bullpen.

The odd-man out there would be J.P. Howell, since Hammel would fill Howell’s role of long-man. But one reason why the bullpen has been this good has been Howell’s ability to eat innings on those rare occasions when a starter falters, like Hammel did Tuesday in Baltimore.

Knowing this, the Rays might have looked for another starter to send to Durham, and that would have been Andy Sonnanstine, because he still has options.

But Sonnanstine has been more than solid, following his one bad outing with three great outings, including a complete-game shutout.

So moving Sonnanstine would not only have been unfair to Sonnanstine, it would have been unfair to the team.

But, and maybe this is a sign the Rays are finally catching some breaks, reliever Gary Glover has a sore shoulder, which means he will be placed on the disabled list in a move that will open a spot on the pitching staff for Kazmir and one in the bullpen for Hammel.

Isn’t it amazing how things are falling in place for this team?

Friday, April 25, 2008

I could get used to the moon over the outfield

I glance skyward from my seat in the Tropicana Field press box and I see wires and catwalks and a roof.

Last night I saw blue skies with some clouds.

Last night I saw the moon rise behind left field at Champion Stadium at Disney’s Wide World of Sports.

On Wednesday I saw mist falling. A little weather OK, it happens when there is not a roof to protect us from the elements.

Now I like the Trop.

It lacks charm and, on most nights, fans. But it never rains and it’s never hot and sticky during the summer months and when the crowd nears 20,000 or better and the Rays are playing well it has as much excitement as any other big-league ballpark.

The Rays want a new stadium, a state-of-the-art, open-air 34,000-seat park on the St. Petersburg waterfront that will include a funky sail-like retractable roof.

Will it happen? Too early to tell.

Will it work? It’s ambitious, I’ll say that much.

Will I miss the comforts of the Trop? Absolutely.

But the sight of that orange moon and those light towers exploding out of the black night and the way the grass always seems to glow during a night baseball game, man, I can get use to all of that.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

So long Dan, we hardly knew ye

The locker that included a No. 26 jersey with the name “D. Johnson” on the back Tuesday afternoon, included a No. 26 jersey with the name “Gross” on the back Wednesday afternoon.

Elliot Johnson’s jersey contained his first initial Tuesday. It didn’t Wednesday.

Dan Johnson, we hardly knew ye.

If the Tampa Bay Rays ever hold an old timers day, will Dan Johnson be invited back? And if so, will be allowed to stay for the whole day or just the first hour?

Say this about the Dan Johnson Era, it was short, but it was successful.

The Rays never lost a game with Dan Johnson on the roster, making him the most successful player in team history.

Claimed off waivers last Friday, Johnson made it to Tropicana Field on Monday only to find the locker room empty and the batting cages locked. The team had already moved their operations to the Disney’s Wide World of Sports for their three-game, let’s find some fans in Central Florida series with Toronto.

Johnson, his wife and two kids headed to Lake Buena Vista and checked into the team hotel. He officially joined the Rays on Tuesday, met his new teammates and charmed the press with his story of paying for a time in an Oakland-area indoor batting cage while he waited to get picked up by a team after the Athletics designated him for assignment two weeks ago.

A left-handed hitting first baseman with some pop in his bat, Johnson watched the Rays beat the Jays from the bench.

On Wednesday, he was gone, designated for assignment to make room for Gabe Gross, whom the Rays acquired from Milwaukee in a trade Tuesday afternoon.

Johnson was insurance if Carlos Pena’s right hamstring injury was sever enough to land the first baseman on the disabled list. It was not.

And Gross was a player the Rays were trying to acquire since it was obvious Rocco Baldelli and Cliff Floyd were never going to fit into their plans for right field.
So, bye-bye D. Johnson.

Will he even put his time with the Rays on his resume?

Seems like a waste of a line on the back of a baseball card.

We do know this: D. Johnson will certainly not be wearing a Rays cap on his plaque should his career take off and he find himself elected to the hall of fame.

The Rays were good sports and allowed Johnson and his family to remain in Disney for a few days. That the least they can do after making him drag his family cross country for a job that didn’t exist.

So the Rays took on the Blue Jays on Wednesday night without D. Johnson on the bench and still won. And D. Johnson presumably took the family to the theme parks on the Rays dime where he surely learned that the wait to ride Pirates of the Caribbean lasted longer than his career with the Rays.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Longoria: 9 years, $44 million

Name a baseball player who has had a better week than Evan Longoria?

Major league debut.

First career home run.

Long-term mega contract.

Longoria concluded his first week in the big leagues by signing a nine-year contract that could be worth more than $44 million.

The first six years are guaranteed at $17.5 million.

The Rays hold a one-year option for 2014 and a two-year option for 2015 and 2016.

Not bad for a 22-year-old.
The Rays began talks with Longoria’s agent in spring training and agreed in principal April 11, which was the day Longoria received a text from one of the Rays informing him that Willy Aybar’s hamstring was becoming a problem.

Longoria was on a plane to Tampa that night and started Saturday night against Seattle.

One week later he's set financially for life.

Folks, that's your rookie of the month.

Rays to make "major announcement" today

The Tampa Bay Rays have a press conference scheduled for 1 p.m. Friday when vice president of baseball Andrew Friedman will make a “major announcement.”

The club is mum on the details, but they haven’t signed Barry Bonds. That I know.

It’s more likely they’ve signed someone to a long-term deal. Scott Kazmir, B.J. Upton and Evan Longoria are the likely candidates.

I’m guessing it’s Upton.

Stay tuned.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Who planted a curse at the Trop? Everyone.

You’ve heard about the Red Sox jersey buried in the cement at the new Yankee Stadium that is currently under construction to put a hex on the Bombers and how the Yankees dug it up, because, even though they don’t believe in such things, why bother, right?


Well, on Monday night Raymond, the Rays lovable blue mascot, walked past the visiting dugout at Tropicana Field, which was occupied by the Yankees. Raymond was dressed like a construction worker. It wore an orange vest and hardhat.

Raymond carried a shovel and pretended to burry a Carlos Pena jersey in front of the Yankees.

Oh, that Raymond.

Funny stuff.

Given the Rays sorry record at home (they entered Monday’s game 367-447 under the doom) it kind of makes you wonder if there are any jerseys buried under the visiting clubhouse under the Trop?

My guess … the Red Sox and Yankees and Mariners and Athletics and Angels and Indians and White Sox and Blue Jays and Reds and Braves and Cardinals and Pirates and Padres.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Remembering a guy who remembered Babe Ruth

Frank Walsh was a quiet man who covered the Tampa Bay Rays from a seat in the back row of the Tropicana Field press box for the Northeast Neighborhood News of St. Petersburg.

Rays manager Joe Maddon wouldn’t start of a post-game press conference until Frank made it down the two flights of stairs to the clubhouse. They two had a unique relationship, talking more about literature than pitch counts.

Frank loved baseball. His columns centered more on the quirks and poetry of the game than the wins and loses. Frank had a knack for seeing things that weren’t always on the surface.

His absence at the beginning of spring training didn’t go unnoticed and word soon made its way around Al Lang Field that Frank had cancer. The cancer took him March 27, and he has been missed ever since.

Frank lived to be 79 and was a link to St. Pete’s great baseball tradition.

He used to visit the area when he was a child and stayed at the same hotel as the New York Yankees. Frank remembered riding an elevator with Lou Gehrig and was surprised by Gehrig’s choice of clothes – a green shirt and blue slacks.

An unusual color pattern for the 1930s, Frank said.

He also told he best Babe Ruth story I ever heard.

Frank was sitting with some friends in a St. Pete bar a few years ago when one of his friends commented about a photo hanging on the wall of Ruth and a little boy.

“I wonder what ever happened to that kid,” Frank’s friend said.

“You’re drinking with him,” Frank replied.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Whoa and seven in Detroit

At this point I think the question is: How tall is the tallest building in Detroit and how long is the line of Tigers fans waiting to jump?

A lineup of all-stars, a $138 million payroll and an 0-7 start.

What’s wrong here?


The Tigers offseason spending spree had many predicting big things for the 2007 American League champs. Another trip to the World Series? The team’s first championship since 1984?

The lineup loaded with sluggers was thought to have enough power to produce 1,000 runs this season. Yet, the Tigers have scored just 15 through their first seven games. At this rate, they would have to extend the season to 477 games to reach that lofty goal.

The bullpen is a major problem. So is starter Dontrelle Willis, who walked seven and struck out none in his first start.

The key to winning, as we know, is pitching. Did the Tigers forget that when they beefed up the lineup but not the pen?

It’s early, yes. Way too early to write off any team, especially one loaded with talent.

But consider this: Only two teams that began the season 0-6 reached the playoffs – the 1974 Pirates and the 1995 Reds.

No team that opened 0-7 reached the postseason.

That doesn’t bode well for Detroit.

“We’re not playing good baseball, but we need to start,” Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski told USA Today. “We didn't look like this all spring. We never anticipated starting like this. There were no indications.”

Manager Jim Leyland said he won’t tinker with the lineup or press the old panic button, and those are wise moves by a wise, old manager. It’s best to let this team play its way out of the slump and see how the next 155 games play out.

The 2003 Tigers lost their first nine games and an American League record 119.

This team won’t be that bad. It can’t.


Monday, April 7, 2008

Rays home opener a sellout

I think Tuesday’s home opener is the second-most anticipated in the Tampa Bay Rays 11-year history.

The first-ever game would be tops, but only because it was the first game in team history.

But Tuesday’s game against Seattle is anticipated because Rays fans and those who cover the team think the Rays actually have a chance to be competitive this year. I won’t say the team has turned the corner – they still need more pitching – but at least they are in the intersection with their turn signal on.

Anyway, Tuesday’s game sold out more than 24 hours before first pitch – something like 27 hours – which makes it the earliest a game has sold out since that first one back on March 31, 1998.

The crowd should be around 36,000 for the 7:10 p.m. start, which is what the Rays call a sellout these days since they’ve stopped selling a portion of seats near the top of the Tropicana Field.

Actually, there are a limited number of restricted view, handicap and single seats available that don’t count against a sellout.

Go to or call Ticketmaster at (727) 898-7297 if you want in.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Keep Crawford a part of the Rays future

How do you build a championship team? With all-stars like the ones the Rays have in left fielder Carl Crawford.

The team picked up his $8.25 option for 2009 on Tuesday.

In a statement released by the team Tuesday, Crawford said he wanted to stay in Tampa Bay for a long time.

During a conference call later that day, Rays vice president of baseball Andrew Friedman said the team wanted to keep Crawford around.

The team holds a $10 million option on C.C. for 2010 and here’s hoping they act on that, too.

Crawford spoke to reporters in Baltimore before Wednesday’s game and said what he’s been saying all along – that he sees the tide turning and he wants to be a Ray during the good times.

“I'd hate to leave right when the getting is good,” Crawford said. “You've been around for all the bad stuff you want to be around for the good part, too. And it looks like the good part is coming ahead, and you definitely want to be a part of that. So I hate to be out right when the team starts to win more games.''

That’s great to hear, because you know Crawford hears it when he plays at Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park.

“Hey, C.C. When are you going to come and play here?”

That would seem tempting to a guy tired of playing in front of empty seats and finishing last every year. But the perception is the Rays have assembled their best team ever this season and they are about to make a break from their dismal past.

Time will tell.

Keeping C.C. in Rays blue is a good start.