Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Hall considering these managers,umps and execs

Here is the release from the Baseball Hall of Fame concerning the candidates eligible to be voted on by the Veterans Committees ...

Twenty former major league managers, umpires and executives will be considered for election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame for induction in 2010 by two Veterans Committees, with results of a Dec. 6 vote to be announced Dec. 7 at baseball’s Winter Meetings, it was announced today.

Two ballots, each consisting of 10 candidates, will be considered by two separate voting committees. Eight managers and two umpires encompass the managers/umpires ballot and will be considered by the 16-member Veterans Committee for Managers and Umpires, comprised of Hall of Fame members, current and former executives and veteran media members. Ten executives/pioneers comprise a separate ballot to be considered by the 12-member Veterans Committee for Executives and Pioneers, which consists of Hall of Famers, current and former executives and veteran media members.

Any candidate receiving votes on 75 percent of all ballots cast will earn election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and will be inducted as part of the 2010 Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, to be held July 25, 2010 in Cooperstown. Electors will be asked to vote for zero to four candidates on each ballot.

The 10 managers and umpires eligible for election consideration to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2010: managers Charlie Grimm, Whitey Herzog, Davey Johnson, Tom Kelly, Billy Martin, Gene Mauch, Danny Murtaugh and Steve O’Neill; umpires Doug Harvey and Hank O’Day.

The 10 executives eligible for election consideration to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2010: Gene Autry, Sam Breadon, John Fetzer, Bob Howsam, Ewing Kauffman, John McHale, Marvin Miller, Gabe Paul, Jacob Ruppert and Bill White.

The two Veterans Committees will meet on Sunday, Dec. 6 during baseball’s Winter Meetings in Indianapolis to discuss the candidates and cast their ballots. Results will be announced on Monday, Dec. 7.

The 10 finalists for the managers/umpires ballot:

Charlie Grimm managed the Cubs and Braves for 19 seasons, taking the Cubs to three World Series. Grimm posted a career record of 1,287-1,067 (.547), which ranks as the 24th-best winning percentage of all-time among managers with at least 1,000 games. Two of his NL pennants came as a player/manager, in which capacity he served from 1932-36. In 10 of his 12 full seasons as a manager, Grimm’s teams had winning records. As a player in 20 seasons, Grimm had 2,299 hits and a .290 batting average.

Doug Harvey spent 31 seasons as a National League umpire, working six All-Star Games, five World Series and seven Championship Series. Umpired 4,670 big league games. Pioneered the process of waiting a full second before making a call behind the plate, something he did to allow himself to replay the pitch in his mind.

Whitey Herzog was a manager with the Rangers, Angels, Royals and Cardinals from 1973-90. He was 1,279-1,143 for a .532 winning percentage, winning six division titles, three National League pennants and one World Series in 1982 with the Cardinals. Named 1985 NL Manager of the Year by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America and named 1980s Manager of the Decade by Sports Illustrated.

Davey Johnson managed the Mets, Reds, Orioles and Dodgers from 1984-90, 1993-97 and 1999-2000. Compiled a 1,148-888 (.564) record. Over 12 full seasons, his teams finished first five times and second six times. Teams qualified for postseason six times, winning one NL pennant and one World Series with 1986 Mets. Won 1997 AL Manager of the Year Award with Orioles, and his .564 winning percentage ranks 13th among managers with at least 1,000 games.

Tom Kelly served as the manager of the Minnesota Twins for 16 seasons from 1986-2001, posting a career record of 1,140-1,244 (.478). Won two World Series in five years (1987, 1991) with the Twins and has the longest tenure of any manager in Twins history. In first six full seasons, averaged almost 86 victories per year. Posted a record of 16-8 (.667) in the postseason and was named the 1991 American League Manager of the Year.

Billy Martin spent 16 seasons 1969, 1971-83, 1985, 1988) managing Twins, Tigers, Rangers, Yankees (five different stints) and A’s, compiling a 1,253-1015 record (.552). Teams finished in first place five times, winning two American League pennants and one World Series with 1977 Yankees.

Gene Mauch managed Phillies, Expos, Twins and Angels for 26 seasons (1960-82, 1985-87). Teams posted record of 1,902-2,037 (.483), good for the 12-best win total of all-time and the most wins of any non-active manager not currently in the Hall of Fame. His teams won two division titles, finished second twice and third twice.

Danny Murtaugh managed the Pittsburgh Pirates in four separate stints (1957-64, 1967, 1970-71, 1973-76) over 15 seasons. His teams won 1,115 games against 950 losses (.540) and finished first five times, including four National League East Division titles, NL two pennants and World Series wins in 1960 and 1971. Named National League Manager of the Year in 1958, 1960 and 1970.

Hank O’Day spent 34 seasons (1888-89, 1893, 1895-1911, 1913, 1915-27) as a National League umpire, called the action in 10 World Series, second-most all time, and umpired in the first World Series in 1903. O’Day gained fame after calling out Fred Merkle of the Giants in their famous game against the Chicago Cubs on Sept. 23, 1908, when Merkle failed to touch second base following an apparent walk-off hit.

Steve O’Neill managed the Indians, Tigers, Red Sox and Phillies for 14 seasons (1935-37, 1943-48, 1950-54) and never had a losing record. His teams posted a mark of 1,040-821 (.559), good for the 15th-best winning percentage in history among managers with at least 1,000 games. He led the Tigers to the American League pennant and a World Series championship in 1945.

The 10 finalists for the executives/pioneers ballot:
Gene Autry owned the Angels from their birth in 1961 until his death in 1998. Autry, a television and movie star known for his rendition of Christmas classic “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” led his teams to American League West titles in 1979, 1982 and 1986.

Sam Breadon owned the Cardinals from 1917 to 1947, leading St. Louis to nine pennants and six World Series titles during his tenure. Breadon helped develop the modern farm system by stocking the Cardinals’ own minor league clubs with prospects.

Bob Howsam served as the general manager of the Cardinals in the mid-1960s, helping build a team into a two-time National League pennant winner – and 1967 World Series champion. Howsam then moved on to become the general manager of the Reds, laying the foundation for the Big Red Machine that won four NL pennants and two World Series from 1970-76.

Ewing Kauffman owned the Kansas City Royals from their birth in 1969 until his death in 1993. Kauffman established the innovative Kansas City Royals Baseball Academy and led the Royals to a first- or second-place finish in the American League West every season from 1975-85, including the AL pennant in 1980 and a World Series title in 1985.

John Fetzer owned the Detroit Tigers from 1956-83, building one of the 1960s most consistent teams – one that won the World Series in 1968. Fetzer, a broadcasting pioneer, helped negotiate baseball’s initial national television contract in 1967.

John McHale served as the general manager for the Tigers, Braves and Expos from the 1950s through the 1980s. McHale joined the Expos at their inception in 1969 and built the club into one of baseball’s most consistent teams of the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Marvin Miller was elected as the head of the Major League Baseball Players Association in 1966 and quickly turned the union into a powerhouse. Within a decade, Miller had secured free agency for the players. By the time he retired in 1982, the average player salary was approximately 10 times what it was when he took over.

Gabe Paul served as the general manager of the Cincinnati Reds, the Houston Colt 45s, the Cleveland Indians and the New York Yankees from the 1950s to the 1980s. Paul helped rebuild the Yankees in the 1970s, crafting a team that won three straight American League pennants and two World Series from 1976-78.

Jacob Ruppert owned the New York Yankees from 1915 until his death in 1939, turning a second-division club into a dynasty. Ruppert presided over the acquisition of Babe Ruth, the opening of the original Yankee Stadium, 10 American League pennants and seven World Series titles.

Bill White served as the president of the National League from 1989-94 following a successful career as a player and broadcaster. White presided over the addition of the Marlins and the Rockies to the NL and helped consolidate both the American and National leagues under one administrative umbrella.

Gold Glove process doesn't favor Crawford

If Bill James and his crew of stat crunchers view Carl Crawford as the best left fielder in baseball, how come the Tampa Bay Rays left fielder can't win a Gold Glove?

The answer is in the question. C.C. is a left fielder.

The Gold Glove, which is voted by the managers and coaches, picks one player at every position with the exception of the outfielders. Instead of choosing a left, center and right fielder, they lump them into one category: outfield.

That is a category dominated by center fielders.

Angels center fielder Torii Hunter won his ninth Gold Glove on Tuesday. So did Seattle's Ichiro Suzuki. Yes, Ichiro is a right fielder, but he's obviously one of the best in the game, so no argument there.

The third Gold Glove outfielder was Baltimore's Adam Jones, who is also a center fielder.

In the nine-year run of Hunter and Ichiro, the third outfielder was always a center fielder. That's really no surprise since the center fielder is usually your best fielder.

If they picked the infielders in the same manner the group would be dominated by shortstops.

Crawford will likely continue to be excluded from this group, unless the voting is changed to include one fielder at each outfield spot.

That is too bad for C.C., because his glove is a gold as they come.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Rays add to minor league staff

Here is the Rays release on some additions to their minor league staff:

The Tampa Bay Rays have added three minor league coordinators for the 2010 season.

Bill Evers will join Jim Hoff as Minor League Field Coordinator, Matt Quatraro will join Steve Livesey as Hitting Coordinator, and Dewey Robinson has been hired to join Dick Bosman as Pitching Coordinator.

In addition, the Rays have named Matt Arnold the Director of Pro Scouting and Tateki “Bori” Uchibori an International Scout.

“We made these additions to our player development staff because we want to support our young players as much as possible,” said Director of Minor League Operations Mitch Lukevics. “With nine affiliates and 270 players in our minor league system, we have more teams and players than ever before. We feel these additions will ensure that every player receives the attention he deserves.”

The entire staff of minor league coordinators from 2009 will return in the same capacities in 2010.

In addition to Hoff, Livesey and Bosman, Skeeter Barnes will return as Outfield and Baserunning Coordinator, Jamie Nelson as Catching Coordinator, Mark Vinson as Medical Training Coordinator, Joel Smith as Rehabilitation and Athletic Training Coordinator and Trung Cao as Strength and Conditioning Coordinator.

Evers has spent 14 seasons in the Rays organization, including the last two (2008-09) as a professional scout. Prior to that, he spent two seasons (2006-07) as the major league bench coach and managed the Durham Bulls for eight years (1998-2005). He joined the Rays on October 16, 1995.

Quatraro has managed the last four years in the Rays organization, including the last two (2008-09) at Class-A Bowling Green and Columbus. An eighth-round selection by the Rays in the 1996 June Draft, he became the first Rays minor league player to join the organization’s coaching staff. He joined the staff in 2003 as a catching instructor.

Robinson joins the Rays after 13 seasons with the Houston Astros organization. He spent the last two years (2008-09) as the major league pitching coach. He previously served as Houston’s Director of Pitching Development and worked as a professional and amateur scout, including the evaluation of draft-eligible pitchers. Robinson joined the Astros from the Chicago White Sox organization, where he spent 10 seasons. The former right-handed pitcher made 30 career relief appearances for the White Sox, going 2-2 with a 4.05 ERA over parts of three seasons (1979-81).

Arnold has been promoted to the newly created position of Director of Pro Scouting after three seasons as a professional scout for the Rays. He joined the Rays in 2007 from the Cincinnati Reds organization, where he served as the Assistant Director of Professional Scouting.

Uchibori will assist in scouting efforts primarily in Japan, as well as Korea and Taiwan. He was the Rays Cultural Assimilation Liaison for the last two seasons while serving as the interpreter for Akinori Iwamura. Prior to joining the Rays, Bori was an interpreter in Japan’s Professional Baseball League for 10 years.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Bill James: Zorilla to struggle in 2010

Bill James, who makes a pretty good living predicting the future bases on the past, is not high on Ben Zobrist in 2010. According to the Bill James Handbook 2010, '10 won't be > than '09 for Zorilla.

Here is the release ...

In the recently-released Bill James Handbook 2010, baseball guru Bill James projects the 2010 seasons for players on the Tampa Bay Rays—and predicts a slight down-turn offensively from second baseman Ben Zobrist.

“In any season, the vast majority of players play in a manner that seems a natural extension of what they had done before,” James says in his new book. “When that happens, our projection should be reasonably accurate.

With this in mind, here are five key Tampa Bay hitters for 2010, according to the new Bill James Handbook 2010:

Key Rays Hitters (by OPS)
Player At-bats R HR RBI SB Avg. OPS
Evan Longoria 595 106 37 120 9 .287 .918
Ben Zobrist 509 86 23 75 15 .281 .876
Carlos Pena 530 88 36 99 3 .240 .858
Carl Crawford 528 82 12 62 41 .295 .786
B.J. Upton 507 81 13 59 39 .266 .768

Projecting stats for pitchers is very different from projecting offensive stats for hitters.

"We used to believe that pitching performance was much, much less predictable than batter performance," James says. "This is probably still true...due to injuries and other factors. Sometimes a pitcher gets hurt, and when that happens our projections for him are knocked into a cocked hat."

Here are three key Tampa Bay pitchers for 2010, according to the new Bill James Handbook 2010:

Key Rays Pitchers (by ERA)
Player IP W L K SV ERA
James Shields 220 14 11 178 0 3.80
Matt Garza 201 12 10 175 0 3.85
David Price 180 10 10 157 0 4.30

The complete projections for the 2010 Tampa Bay Rays can be found in the Bill James Handbook 2010.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Instant replay: A-Rod makes history again

Let's play a game. When did Alex Rodriguez say the following?

“There’s probably 800 players in the big leagues. The odds of me doing something controversial is 2-1. Somehow I find myself in these situations all the time. It’s just good to get the right call.”

After Game 3 of the World Series when the umpires reversed a call with the first use of replay in World Series history and changed an A-Rod double into an A-Rod home run?

Or, when umpires confirmed a call with the first use of instant replay in baseball history and upheld an A-Rod home run?

Which one? A or B?

The answer is B, and it occurred Sept. 3, 2008 at Tropicana Field.

Here is what I wrote that night ...

The historic moment occurred Wednesday at Tropicana Field in the ninth of the Yankees 8-4 victory against the Rays.

Rodriguez turned on a fastball from Troy Percival and drove a towering fly ball down the left field line that hit the D-Ring catwalk beyond the left field foul pole. It bounced off the ring in foul territory. The question was whether the ball was in fair territory.

Third base umpire Brian Runge emphatically called the ball fair.

Rays catcher Dioner Navarro threw his mask and helmet on the ground in protest. Rays manager Joe Maddon emerged from the dugout and asked the umpires if they would want to take a look on the new 19-inch flatscreen TV installed last week in a room behind the visitor’s dugout.

“The threat of us getting into the playoffs motivated this to happen sooner, because this is a tough building,” Maddon said.

The foul poles do not extend high enough to reach the past he catwalks and the baseball tends to get lost in the white background.

Umpires Jerry Lane, Charlie Reliford and Runge went to view the replay, while home plate umpire Greg Gibson remained on the field.

They emerged 2 minutes, 15 seconds later, and Reliford twirled his right index finger, giving the signal for home run.

“A fair ball is fair when it leaves the playing field. That’s why the foul poles are up there to help us. We have it going right over the pole, all four of us had it going right over the pole on the field. And our views of the replays confirmed that. It was not inconclusive. It was conclusive that Brian’s call was correct.”

The first official use of instant replay in baseball history involved the often controversial Alex Rodriguez, and the first use of instant replay in World Series history involved A-Rod. Surprised?

Makes what Johnny Damon said that night at Tropicana Field prophetic.

“I’m sure he’s going to be a part of more of these,” Damon said. “He’s got nine more years left on his contract."

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Crawford voted best left fielder in baseball

I think those of us who watch Rays Carl Crawford play on a regular basis will agree that he is one of, if not the best fielding left fielder in baseball.

Well, this confirms it.

Here is the release on Crawford winning his third Fielding Bible Award as the top left fielder in the game ...

Tampa Bay Rays veteran Carl Crawford won the 2009 Fielding Bible Award for left field in an announcement made November 1, 2009, in The Bill James Handbook 2010. This is Crawford's third Fielding Bible Award.

Crawford, who received an almost-perfect score, was chosen by a panel of ten experts, including Peter Gammons, Bill James, Joe Posnanski, and John Dewan, author of the new Fielding Bible—Volume II.

In granting the award to Crawford, Dewan wrote: “This was no contest. No player has ever won with a perfect record (10 first-place votes from 10 panelists), but Carl came as close as possible with nine first place votes and one second. That's 99 points. (The best previously was 98 points by Adam Everett at shortstop in 2006.) If Crawford doesn't win his first Gold Glove this year, I'm going to throw up.”

Officially announced annually on November 1 (before any other fielding awards), the Fielding Bible Awards try to name the single best fielder at each of the nine positions (including pitcher) in the major leagues. This distinction came into play this year as Jack Wilson, who split his time between Pittsburgh and Seattle, won the Fielding Bible Award at shortstop.

"It is almost impossible for a player who is traded between leagues during the season to win a Gold Glove," Dewan pointed out. "I predict that Wilson will not win a Gold Glove this year, even though our 10 judges voted him the best-fielding shortstop in Major League Baseball."

This year, National League players were chosen at three positions, American League players at five, and Wilson at shortstop. 2009 marks the fourth year of the award. First-baseman Albert Pujols of the Cardinals is the only player to have won a Fielding Bible Award four years in a row. Aaron Hill won over Dustin Pedroia and Chase Utley at second base only after a tie-breaker was invoked. The complete voting results and further information are available in The Bill James Handbook 2010, published by ACTA Sports (

The 2009 Fielding Bible Award winners are:

First Base—Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals (fourth-time winner)

Second Base—Aaron Hill, Toronto Blue Jays (second-time winner)

Third Base—Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals (first-time winner)

Shortstop—Jack Wilson, Pittsburgh Pirates/Seattle Mariners (first-time winner)

Left Field—Carl Crawford, Tampa Bay Rays (third-time winner)

Center Field—Franklin Gutierrez, Seattle Mariners (second-time winner)

Right Field—Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle Mariners (second-time winner)

Catcher—Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals (third-time winner)

Pitcher—Mark Buehrle, Chicago White Sox (first-time winner)

Friday, October 30, 2009

Where did the month go?

It was after I flew home from Philadelphia that morning/afternoon and after I reached my house and wrote the last of my World Series stories when I finally sat down on the living room couch to relax.

The 2008 postseason had been a long affair, but I didn't realize how long until I heard my wife, who was in the kitchen, pouring something in a bowl.

"What's that?" I asked.

"Candy," she said.


"Yes. Halloween Candy?"

"Halloween Candy?"

"Halloween is tomorrow."

Tomorrow? Where did the month go?

That's what happens when the local nine reaches the playoffs and advances all the way to the World Series. The month is no longer made up of weeks, which are made up of smaller units of time we normally refer to as days.

Instead, the month is broken down like this:

Division Series, Game 1, Game 2, travel days, Game 3 ...

Championship Series, Game 1, Game 2, travel day, Game 3 ...

World Series, Game 1, Game 2, travel day, Game 3 ...

There are some off days mixed in between the end of one series and the start of another, and, in the case of Game 5 of last year's World Series, a rain delay that stretched from Monday night to Wednesday night and included a quick trip to soggy Wilmington, Del., on Tuesday.

It can be an exhausting process to follow as a fan. It's an exhausting pace to keep as a writer covering one of the teams, as you move from city to city, taking early morning flights that are so early there is no time to sleep after you've finished writing after Game 2. You file, go home and shower and head to the airport.

I can say this: speaking for both fans and for writers, we do it again in a heartbeat. I know I would.

There is nothing like the postseason in any sport. Remember the Bucs run to the Super Bowl? the Lightning's run to the Stanley Cup?

They are one long roller coaster ride where every win is a great and every loss is uh-oh.

This World Series shifts to Philadelphia for Games 3, 4, and 5, and the writers took a special train from New York to Philly. Lucky them.

And lucky fans, too.

The baseball season is still alive in those two cities and to Yankees and Phillies fans everywhere.

Here? We have the 0-7 Bucs and an offseason wondering if the Rays can retool enough to be a contender in 2010.

We also have the memories of one terrific October in 2008, where every game was either a trick or treat.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Rays 2010 ticket prices

Here is the Rays release on 2010 ticket prices ...

The Tampa Bay Rays have refined its ticket pricing structure, holding the line on
ticket prices for a wide range of its 2010 home games. Under the new format released today, tickets for nearly 40 percent of Rays games at Tropicana Field will be at or below ticket prices for 2009 when the Rays were named by ESPN the Magazine as “the most affordable team in professional sports.”

“We were proud to be recognized as the best value in all of professional sports and that’s a title we plan to retain,” said Rays President Matt Silverman. “During these challenging times, we want Tropicana Field to continue to be an enjoyable place that families can afford. The objective for our 2010 pricing is to ensure that Rays games remain an affordable family entertainment option.”

“The best way to see a Rays game continues to be as a season ticket holder. It’s our best value by far,” said Mark Fernandez, Rays Senior Vice President and Chief Sales Officer. “Season ticket holders have access to our best seat locations at up to a 33 percent discount off individual game prices.” Season ticket holders also have the guaranteed opportunity to purchase Rays postseason ticket packages.

For 2010, there will be five categories of individual ticket pricing: Diamond, Platinum, Gold, Silver and Bronze.

This new price structure includes tickets priced as low as $12 for more than 50 games and $10 for more than 30 games. Pricing on Bronze games starts at just $8 for an Upper Reserved or tbt* Party Deck ticket.

Diamond games are weekend games vs. the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. Platinum games include all other Saturday games, weekday games versus the Yankees and Red Sox as well as Opening Day, April 6 vs. the Baltimore Orioles. Gold games include the remaining Friday and Sunday games. Silver games include the remaining weekday games except for five select Bronze games.

Diamond Platinum Gold Silver Bronze
Seating Section (9 games) (20 games) (20 games) (27 games) (5 games)
Home Plate Club NA NA NA NA NA
Whitney Bank Club $175 $155 $125 $115 $100
Club 105 $130 $120 $100 $90 $80
Fieldside Box $140 $115 $90 $85 $70
Lower Infield Box $100 $80 $65 $55 $45
Lower Box $65 $60 $48 $42 $33
Press Level $50 $45 $36 $29 $22
Baseline Box $40 $35 $30 $22 $18
Loge Box $40 $35 $30 $22 $18
Outfield $27 $24 $20 $17 $12
Upper Box $23 $20 $15 $13 $8
Upper Reserved /
*tbt Party Deck $20 $18 $12 $10 $8

For the fifth consecutive year, the Rays will continue to provide carpoolers access to free parking in team controlled lots. As in 2009, vehicles with four or more passengers will continue to park free for all Bronze and Sunday games. For all other games, the first 100 cars with four or more will park for free up to an hour before game time, with other main lot Tropicana Field parking rates ranging from $10 to $20 per vehicle.

“Keeping some level of free parking available at all games is important to us, especially for Sunday and Bronze games because we recognize those dates will be popular with families,” said Silverman. “We also continue to be one of the few teams that allow fans to bring food and select beverages to games. It’s part of how we can ensure our games remain an affordable experience.”
Sundays will continue to be “Family Fun Days.”

Those dates feature discounted ticket options for families, special promotional giveaways for kids and the opportunity for youngsters to run the bases after the game.

The Rays will also introduce a new Upper Box Seat seating category that will include the first 11 rows between the bases in the upper deck. Depending on the game, those tickets will range in price from $8 to $23.

Group party area reservations are currently being accepted for the 2010 season. For information on purchasing group tickets or to reserve a group party area or suite, fans can call 888-FAN-RAYS.

Place your reservation for 2010 Rays Season Tickets. Ensure the best seats, biggest savings and all the great benefits.

Call 888-FAN-RAYS or visit,, or visit the Rays office at Tropicana Field or the Rays Tampa office at 400 N. Tampa St.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Rays resign Kapler

The Tampa Bay Rays have resigned right-handed-hitting outfielder Gabe Kapler to
a one-year, $1,050,000 contract.

Here is the rest of the Rays release:

Kapler, 34, appeared in 99 games at all three outfield positions for the Rays in 2009. He hit .239 (49-for-205) with eight home runs, 32 RBI, 15 doubles and five stolen bases. Against left-handed pitching, he hit .276 (40-for-145) with all eight home runs, 14 doubles, a .379 on-base pct., and more walks (26) than strikeouts (23).

Over the last two seasons (2008-09), he hit .304 (69-for-227) against left-handers with a .577 slugging pct., 11th best in the majors over that span.

Kapler has played parts of 11 major league seasons with the Detroit Tigers (1998-99), Texas Rangers (2000-02), Colorado Rockies (2002-03), Boston Red Sox (2004-06), Milwaukee Brewers (2008) and Rays (2009). He initially signed with the Rays as a free agent on January 12, 2009. He retired briefly from playing in 2007 to manage the Class-A Greenville Drive in the Red Sox organization.

Kapler's role will remain the same this season, though he will likely share time in right field with Matt Joyce.

Joyce, acquired from the Tigers in the trade for Edwin Jackson in December 2008, is expected to compete for a job on the major league roster in spring training.

Friday, October 23, 2009

It's Elmer Fudds season

Those hats you see the Phillies wearing this postseason? The ones with the ear flaps? They call them Elmer Fudds after, well, Elmer Fudd.

I don't remember seeing them until last year when the Rays and Phillies made them popular during the World Series.

They look kind of goofy, but I'm sure they are warm. There are few things more annoying than cold ears while playing baseball up north in late October and early November. Except maybe cold hands, cold necks, cold feet, cold ...

Maybe they shouldn't be playing baseball up north in late October and early November unless the stadium comes with a roof, but that's another blog for another day.

Anyway, the Elmer Fudds are also a better look than wearing the ski masks some of the players wear.

If the Yankees hold of the Angels in the ALCS, expect the lasting image from the 2009 World Series to be Elmer Fudds.

In keeping with the baseball/Fudd theme, here's a memorable quote from one of my favorite Buggs Bunny cartoons ...

Elmer Fudd: [to Bugs as a game warden] Oh, Mr. Game Warden. I hope you can help me. I've been told I could shoot wabbits and goats and pigeons and mongooses and dirty skunks and ducks. Could you tell me what season it weawwy is?
Bugs Bunny: Why, coitenly, me boy. It's baseball season!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Oh, Mr. Maddon! Dennis says 9 = 8

About this time last year, the familiar one-panel cartoon was tucked into the funny pages of newspapers across the country, including those found in and around Boston.

Actually, it was Oct. 13, 2008 when Dennis the Menace stood at the blackboard, added 5 and 4 and came up with 8.

"No, Dennis," his teacher said, "we can't agree to disagree."

The cartoon, which I read that morning at a hotel in Newton Mass. (and I know this because I read Dennis the Menace every morning), left little impression other than that all-to-familiar feeling of standing at the blackboard and not knowing the answer.

Look closer: 4 + 5 = 9, except in the world of Dennis the Menace, where it equals 8.

Some readers took that to mean in the world of Dennis the Menace, 9 = 8.

Some of those readers were in Boston that day, preparing for the Game 3 of the ALCS between the Rays and the Red Sox.

And, the Rays advanced that far in the postseason (and would advance farther, still) because, Class? Nine equals eight!

Someone in the Rays organization or a Rays fan or a friend of manager Joe Maddon (I can't remember which) sent a copy of the cartoon to Maddon. It now hangs in his office inside the Trop.

It was proof, Maddon said, of just how far Rays mania spread in 2008.

Even Dennis Mitchell believed. Wonder what good ol' Mr. Wilson thought?

And to have it run in mid-October when the Rays were on their way to the World Series is something you can't make up.

Except, that wasn't the case.

Marcus Hamilton, who draws the Monday to Saturday Dennis the Menace one-panel cartoons, wasn't aware of the odd connection between Dennis and the Rays.

In a phone interview back in June, Hamilton explained he draws the cartoons weeks in advance, so to tip his pen to the Rays and have it run during the ALCS would have been a big risk.

Also, Hamilton said he is a football fan, and wasn't aware of the Rays remarkable run to the World Series or the 9 = 8 theme.

Way to kill a great story, Marcus.

When told of the non-connection, Maddon smiled and said, "Great. A total coincidence. This makes the story even cooler."

I suppose it does.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

October Madness

Did you hear how quiet it was at Fenway Park on Sunday after Erick Aybar grabbed Dustin Pedroia's fly ball for the final out? Deafening.

Is it me or are baseball's playoffs taking on a March Madness feel?

You have a historic meltdown/comeback in the Dodgers' Game 2 win against the Cardinals.

You have Alex Rodriguez - Yes, A-Rod - hitting a two-run bomb in the ninth inning Friday to start the Yankees comeback.

You have the Red Sox, one strike from a win to three straight batters, yet going home after Jonathan Papelbon not only allows the first postseason runs of his career, but also blows his first postseason save.

Papelbon was protecting a two-run lead when he allowed a two-out, two-strike single to Aybar. He had two strikes on Chone Figgins before issuing a walk.

Papelbon had two strikes on Bobby Abreu, before Abreu lifted an RBI double off the Green Monster.

No way Vladimir Guerrero was going to let the count go deep on him. He swung at the first pitch and drove in the tying and winning runs with a single to center.

Red Sox Nation, screaming in all its glory when Aybar seemed ready to make the final out, stood stone-like as the Angels celebrated their three-game sweep.

The first week of the playoffs have been must-see cable TV.

Man, I love this game.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Cardinal Blue

When was the last time a team was down to its final out with no one on base and came back to win a postseason game when that final out became a game-changing error? Never, according to the folks at ESPN.

Never, at least, until Matt Holliday lost a two-out, bases-empty line drive Thursday in either the Dodger Stadium lights (likely) or the white towels waved by Dodger fans (unlikely) that opened the door to the Dodgers improbable 3-2 come-from-behind win.

Holliday makes the catch - and he made one error in 63 games with the Cardinals this season - and the series shifts to St. Louis tied at 1-1 with the Cardinals having the home field advantage.

But Holliday doesn't, and now the Dodgers are one win from advancing to the NLCS.

''I didn't see the ball,'' Holliday told reporters in L.A. after the game. ''Obviously, I can catch a ball that's hit right at me. It's very difficult to swallow. We had a chance to win the game. It was unfortunate that it happened when it did.''

St. Louis starter Adam Wainwright, who was in line for the win, had this to say: ''That ball got lost in 50,000 white towels shaking in front of Matt's face. It doesn't really seem fair that an opposing team should be able to allow their fans to shake white towels when there's a white baseball flying through the air. How about Dodger Blue towels?"

I thought about that as I watched the Tigers-Twin playoff game Tuesday and the NLDS games in Philly. Fans there wave white towels. The ball is white. Is it possible for a player to lose a ball in the towels?

I would think so. I wonder why it hasn't already happened.

I don't think it happened Thursday, because Dodger crowds are a tad laid back, and I doubt they would be waving towels when James Loney sent that catchable line drive toward Holliday in left field. Maybe before the pitch, but once the ball was hit? I don't think so. It wasn't like it was whistled down the left field line, drilled into the gap or sent sailing over the outfield wall. Loney didn't give the Dodger fans a chance to cheer. Holliday did.

Holliday is considered the goat, though Cardinals All-Star closer Ryan Franklin deserves equal blame. He didn't retire a single batter in the ninth.

Still, Holliday makes the catch and the biggest news Thursday was the Angels win against the Red Sox.

But he didn't, and we were treated to something we have never seen before in the long history of postseason baseball.

Boy, I love this game.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Great game on Tuesday. More, please.

Alexi Casilla is the first hero of the postseason, though technically, his heroics took place during an extended regular season, but let's not argue over minor details.

Tuesday's game between the Twins and the Tigers, Game 163 of the regular season for those two teams, was necessary to determine the AL Central champ, so it was every bit a playoff game. It was no different from a Game 5 of the ALDS or a Game 7 of the ALCS.

Winner moves on. Loser goes home.

The Twins were winners thanks to Casilla's 12th inning single that drove home the winning run in a 6-5 victory. This after Casilla's inability to properly tag at third base in the 10th cost the Twins what would have been the winning run.

The game was the perfect warm-up to the postseason.

The Tigers jumped to a 3-0 lead. They blew a 3-0 lead.

They trailed 4-3 and led 5-4.

Tigers closer, Fernando Rodney (He of the wayward toss into the Tropicana Field press box after a game Sept. 4)turned in the performance of his life, pitching three innings but took the loss.

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire used seven relievers, and five turned in scoreless outings.

Tigers left fielder Ryan Raburn lost a ball in the lights and played a single into a triple that allowed the Twins tie the score at 5-5 in the 10th. Goat? Maybe. But it was Radburn who threw Casilla out at the plate to end the inning and extend the Tigers season for two more innings.

It was a game you didn't want to see end, unless you were a fan of the Twins or Tigers.

The game was necessary because the Tigers couldn't hold a seven game lead in the final month of the season. We know this about the Twins, they don't quit.

Minnesota came on strong at the end of the 2008 season and forced a one-game playoff with the Chicago White Sox.

Orlando Cabrera was the White Sox shortstop last year. He is the Twins shortstop this year.

Maybe Cabrera is the key to winning these one-game playoffs in the AL Central. He is to that division what Eric Hinske is to the AL East. Can't win the title without him.

This is the third straight year a one-game playoff was necessary to determine the final playoff team. The Rockies beat the Padres in a thriller in 2007. The White Sox beat the Twins 1-0 in 2008. Tuesday gave us the epic 12 inning Twins victory.

All three games were decided by one run. Two were decided in extra innings with walk-off victories. The other ended with diving catch in center field.

I don't know about you, but I kind like these one-game play-ins.

The postseason starts today. The Twins had 21 hours to celebrate their victory, fly to New York, get some sleep and prepare to battle the Yankees, winners of 103 games this season, in Game 1 of the ALDS that begins tonight at 6 p.m.

I wouldn't mind a repeat of Tuesday's dual at the dome as we go forward with this postseason.

Would it be too much to ask a few Game 5s and maybe a Game 7 in one ALCS be decided by such a contest?

And, if that's not too much, can the World Series go seven games? And can Game 7 go 12 innings?

Give me those, and I won't ask for anything else until next season.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Happy Anniversary, Game 1

I remember driving over the Sunshine Skyway and catching my first glimpse of Tropicana Field. The white, round building with the funny roof never looked better.

It was drenched in sun light. No kidding, it sparkled.

I was as excited as I had ever been to make the drive over the bridge and through the side streets of St. Pete to that ballpark.

It was Game 1 of the American League Division Series. The playoffs. And the Tampa Bay Rays were playing.

I remember thinking as I drove across Tampa Bay and watched the stadium dance under the sunlight that I never dreamed I would ever be making that ride for that reason.

The Rays had been the worst franchise in professional sports for their first 10 years. They finished last in their division and with the worst record in baseball in both 2006 and 2007.

But there they were, Oct. 2, 2008, the American League East champs, playing host to the Chicago White Sox in Game 1 of the ALDS.

We didn't really know it at the time, but the entire baseball world would head to the Trop last October, because the Rays would take care of the White Sox, out-last the Red Sox in the American League Championship Series and play the Phillies in the World Series.

I remember having a good feeling about the Rays a year ago today as I made the ride from my house to the Trop. Carl Crawford would be back in the lineup, and I felt they could beat the White Sox that afternoon, which would give them the advantage in the best-of-five series.

They did, winning 6-4 behind the pitching of James Shields and two home runs from soon-to-be rookie of the year Evan Longoria.

Much like Longoria, the Rays were babes in baseball's postseason, but the intense light never got in their eyes. Maybe the rain in Philly, but not the glare from the postseason spotlight.

Tonight, the Rays play the Yankees at the Trop in a game that means very little except to Yankee starter CC Sabathia, who needs one more victory for a 20-win season.

The talk around the Rays as they finish out the season with one final three-game series is, What went wrong?

Let's leave that for another day. Today, let's celebrate the anniversary of Game 1 of the 2008 ALDS, a day we never thought we'd see, a day we wish to see again.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Pirates, Rays come up big

The Pirates and Rays put some money together and renovated the baseball fields at Norma Lloyd Park in Bradenton for the RBI Program, run by the 13th Ave. Community Rec Center.

Great move.

You won't find many major league teams that will work with another on a community project, mainly because it's hard to find two teams that share a fan base, Rays president Matt Silverman said.

The Rays and Pirates do.

The Pirates train in Bradenton. The Rays play across the bay from Bradenton. Actually, across the bay from Palmetto, but you can see Tropicana Field from several points in Bradenton.

Rays pitcher James Shields and Pirates pitcher Matt Capps, who lives in Bradenton, also kicked in, showing they do more than talk about caring for the fan base, they actually contribute to making something better for said fans.

The ball fields are beautiful. The kids in the RBI program don't know how fortunate they are to have a pair of diamonds of that quality.

It won't make them better ball players, though it could help the infielders with their fielding.

They key to their development is the input from the parents. Will they help maintain the fields? Will they help nurture the love for the game?

Football is the sport of choice in Bradenton, with every receiver hoping to be the next Peter Warrick and every quarterback hoping to be the next Tommie Frazier and every defender wanting to be the next Michael Jenkins or Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

But there is nothing to say they can't be the next Lastings Milledge or Lance Carter or Joe Mays, a trio of major league players who learned their skills on those very ball fields.

Patrick Carnegie, the executive director of the 13th Ave. Coomunity Rec Center, who played ball on those fields more than a few years ago, had this to say Thursday morning as he glanced around the complex, "It really is a field of dreams, so you never know."

Hey kids, Play Ball!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Hinske = AL East title

What went wrong with the Rays this season? Simple. We can sum that up in two words: Eric Hinske.

Hinske, who hit 20 home runs and drove in 60 RBIs in a very non-Burrell season in 2008, is headed to the playoffs with his third team in three years. This time it's the Yankees, who won the AL East title last Sunday.

That makes it three seasons, three AL East titles for Hinske.

He was with the Red Sox in 2007. The Rays signed him to a minor league contract with an invite to spring training before the 2008 season.

Hinske, who was not resigned with the Rays after last year and signed with the Pirates instead, ended up in the Bronx after a June trade.

He mentioned that fact to Rays manager Joe Maddon the last time the Yankees were in town.

With the Yankees the favorites to win the World Series this October/November, Hinske has a chance to do what Don Baylor did in the late-1980s - reach the World Series in three consecutive years with three different teams.

Baylor played for the Red Sox in 1986, the Twins in 1987 and the A's in 1988.

The Red Sox blew the series in the famous Game 6 collapse and a Game 7 collapse that no one seems to remember, and the A's were upset by the Dodgers. In between Baylor won a World Series ring with the Twins.

Hinske celebrated the World Series title with the Red Sox in 2007 and made the last out against the Phillies in 2008.

His absence this year could be one reason the Rays stumbled to a third place finish. The '08 Rays were energized by the presence of such veterans as Hinske, Cliff Floyd and Trever Miller.

The Rays need a lot of things if they want to return to the postseason in 2010 - a closer, a catcher, a designated hitter.

Maybe they should resign Hinske for his karma.

Monday, September 28, 2009

My favorite Mark Hendrickson story

Former Ray Mark Hendrickson is on the hill tonight for the Orioles, and that calls to mind my favorite Mark Hendrickson story.

My second-favorite was waiting out an eight-hour rain delay at Tampa International Airport inside the same air side terminal as the big, 6-foot-9 lefty. It was during February a couple of years back, and the bay area was pounded by the most rain it received in 100 years.

I began talking to Hendrickson, who asked me not to mention anything about him pitching for the Rays lest he be bombarded by autograph request by the rest of the stranded passengers. No problem. It's not like me to cause waves.

I spent the next four hours or so walking around the airport when I again bumped into Henderickson. He told me no one had asked him for an autograph, which had him wondering: Was he going unnoticed? Or, did no one care?

Anyway, that's my No. 2 Mark Hendrickson story.

Here's No. 1.

Hendrickson joined the Rays in 2004, and I spoke to him early in camp. Naturally, we talked about his days in the NBA. Naturally, the subject of Michael Jordan came up.

Hendrickson said he played against Jordan but never guarded him, which I thought was odd. Didn't Jordan drive the lane on Hendrickson at least once?

Nope, Hendrickson said.

OK. Whatever.

Sometime later I was at the Red Barn Flea Market, where I bought a rather large bookcase for my house. It was so large I couldn't fit it into my car, so I called Tom O'Neill, the Herald's photo editor at the time, and asked if Tom could duck out of the office for a few minutes and helped me get this bookcase home. Tom had a pick-up truck, you see.

Tom said to give him 15, 20 minutes.

I killed time in the Red Barn's book store, where I picked up a book of Sports Illustrated photos. The photographers at the paper had a small library of such books, and I figured it was the least I could do for Tom.

As I waited in the parking lot, I glanced at the book's cover, which showed MJ dunking over some hapless defender. I couldn't quiet make out the defender's face, but I could see the last letters of the his last name. They spelled "rickson."

I looked closer at the face.

Was it ... ?

Why yes, it was.

Michael Jordan throwing one down over Mark Hendrickson.

I never asked Hendrickson why he wouldn't admit to that. What the heck. It's not like Hendrickson was the only NBA player to be dunked on by MJ.

Now, the only major leaguer pitcher? Sure.

Still, no shame in that.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

No fun with no postseason

The Rays were mathematically eliminated from the postseason Tuesday night, though they were officially eliminated sometime early in their 11-game losing streak.

You know what that means?

No champagne showers.

No Rayhawks.

No playoff tickets.

No playoff crowds.

No Grant Balfour kicking dirt at Orlando Cabrera.

No home runs from Evan Longoria.

No games ending past midnight.

No auxiliary press box in the tbt Party Deck.

No missing deadlines because the games ended past midnight. No writing for the Web site only.

No 11th inning dashes to the plate by Fernando Perez.

No bombs over the Green Monstah by B.J. Upton.

No Matt Garza out-pitching Jon Lester.

No saves for David Price.

No beating the Red Sox for the pennant.

No moving the center of the baseball universe to Tropicana Field.

No Joe Buck. No Tim McCarver.

No cold nights in Philly.

No rain in Philly.

No side trips to Wilmington, Del.

No memories.

No fun.


Saturday, September 19, 2009

Pena still smiling, still leading in home runs

It was team photo day Saturday for the Rays, which meant first baseman Carlos Pena was at the Trop sporting two pins sticking out of his bandaged left hand and, as always, a smile.

Pena still leads the American League in home runs with 39, even though he hasn't played since breaking the middle and index fingers of his left hand on Sept. 7 when he was struck by a CC Sabathia 95 mph fastball during the first game of a doubleheader.

Yankee first baseman Mark Teixeira was second with 33 homers at the time of Pena's season-ending injury. Teixeira hit two homers in the night cap of the Yankees sweep, but is homerless since.

At this pace, Pena might just hold on to the lead and win his first home run crown. If so, he will become the first to lead the league in home runs despite missing the final 25 games of the season.

Dick Allen in 1974 and Jimmie Foxx in 1939 won home run titles after missing the final 20 games. Allen hit 32 in '74 and Foxx hit 35 in '39.

Pena, true to form, said he is not rooting against Teixeira or Jason Bay (third with 34), because he does not wish ill on anyone.

But, Pena added, his friends and family are keeping him update on the race.

Should Pena somehow hold on to the lead, it would cap a three-year run that began with the American League Comeback Player of the Year Award after his 46-home run, 121-RBI year in 2007, and the AL Gold Glove after he committed just two errors in 1,099 total chances for the AL champs in 2008.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

CC frustrated with losing or just Burrell?

Word out of Baltimore is Carl Crawford and Pat Burrell argued in the clubhouse before Wednesday's batting practice.

CC wouldn't elaborate, and Burrell, true to form, didn't talk to reporters.

Which leaves us to speculate about what the two were arguing about.

Where to eat after the game?

Maybe Burrell was giving CC tips on how to play left field, and the discussion escalated into a heated argument?

Fantasy football?

Maybe the losing finally got to CC.

Maybe the thought of losing Wednesday and dropping to .500 hurt CC in a way it won't the other Rays, since he is the longest tenured Ray and knows what a losing record feels like.

Or, maybe CC is tired of seeing Burrell mail it in this season.

A better effort from Burrell won't have the Rays in first place, but they'd be in a better place than they are now, which is fighting amongst themselves in Baltimore.

Rays manager Joe Maddon told reporters it was nothing.

Except CC isn't prone to public outburst.

So, if CC is yelling at another player in the middle of the clubhouse where reporters can watch, it's something.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Niemann deserves better support

Jeff Niemann, the best pitcher on the Rays staff, will have nothing to show for this season except maybe a bump to the fourth or third spot in the rotation next season.

He leads the staff in wins (12), complete games (2) and shutouts (2), and should be among the league leader in wins if not for a bullpen that continues to let him down.

In his last five games in which he received a no-decision, Niemann turned a lead over to the bullpen four times. The other game was a 1-1 tie.

You can argue manager Joe Maddon should let Niemann pitch deeper. You can also argue the bullpen has been particularly horrible when following Niemann to the mound. Take away three of the blown saves and Niemann is 15 wins.

That would make Niemann the leader in the AL Rookie of the Year race.

Grant Balfour is usually the culprit, getting the loss or letting the trying run score in four of Niemann's last five no decisions.

Nothing cause Rays fans to wince more than seeing Maddon walk to the mound to pull Niemann when the big righty has the lead.

Niemann has a 3.24 ERA in his last five no-decisions. Take away the inherited runners the bullpen allowed to score that were charged to Big Jeff, and his ERA is 1.01.

Can a pitcher sue his bullpen for lack of support?

Sunday, September 6, 2009

DiMaggio, Williams, Pujols, Longoria

Evan Longoria homered off former Ray Edwin Jackson in the second inning Sunday for his 28th home run of the season and his 100th RBI.

For a guy that has struggled this season, Longoria is putting up some pretty good numbers. He will finish the year with at least 30 home runs and around 110 RBIs. Not bad for someone who hit 27 homers and drove in 85 runs as a rookie in 2008.

Longoria has a nine game hitting streak, which means his bat has perked up during this crucial stretch of the season. It looks as if the Rays won't be heading to the playoffs, but don't blame Longoria.

With his home run Sunday, Longoria became the 14th player in major league history, and ninth in the American League to have 40 doubles, 25 home runs and 100 RBI in a season before his 24th birthday.

He joins Hank Greenberg, Hal Trosky, Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Cal Ripken, Alex Rodriguez, Scott Rolen, Albert Pujols, Eric Chavez, Aramis Ramirez, Jorge Cantu, Miguel Cabrera and David Wright.

That's a pretty impressive list.

What will be the snapshot of 2009?

The above photo was the snapshot of 2008: celebrations.

Celebrations at home plate after walk-off wins. Celebrations on the mound after clinching something - a playoff berth, the ALDS, the American League pennant.

What will be the snapshot of 2008?
How about Joe Maddon changing pitchers?
Or B.J. Upton looking at another called strike three?
Or Pat Burrell swinging and missing?
Or another soft pop up from Dioner Navarro?
Or ... you get the picture.

The Rays are cooked.

They are hitting now. Carlos Pena and Evan Longoria are back, and Jason Bartlett and Carl Crawford haven't cooled off.

The starting pitching is still far from a sure thing.

But what has ultimately decided the Rays fate is the bullpen.

There is not one arm out there that you can trust now that J.P Howell can't get anyone out.
Too many innings over the last two seasons has caught up to Howell and Grant Balfour, too.
Not having a closer has caught up to the Rays, as well.

Most of this doesn't really matter, thought. The Red Sox are not going to give up the lead in the Wild Card.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Buzzed in the box

I've heard of pitchers being wild, but Fernando Rodney's last offering Friday was a tad high.

The Tigers reliever almost chocked away a three-run ninth inning lead, but managed to hold on to what became a 4-3 win over the Rays when he got Willy Aybar to bounce out to first base with the tying run at third and the winning run at second.

Detroit first baseman Miguel Cabrera handed the ball to Rodney, and the hard-throwing right-hander threw it into the Tropicana Field press box, where it came close to hitting an unsuspecting writer who was busy trying to make deadline.

That writer was me. So I'm told.

I was pounding away on the keyboard of my laptop, paying the least bit of attention to what was going on down on the field.

Why should I?

What happens after a game that can hurt someone sitting four floors above the field?

Now, it is a different story during the game. Foul balls sail back here all the time, so you find yourself writing with one eye on your screen and one eye on the game.

In fact, I caught a foul ball off Ben Grieve's bat on Opening Day 2003. Gave it to a kid, too.

Anyway ... back to Friday.

I heard several people yell, "Watch out!" And I heard what sounded like a ball smacking something in the booth, a sound I've heard many times.

By the time I realized what had happened, the ball bounced off the desktop about 10 feet to my right and was pin-balling around the back of the press box.

Soon after, Rodney was confronted by a reporter - not me, I was still on deadline.

Rodney said this: "I know we're not supposed to throw the ball, but I did. I was celebrating the moment."

Good for you, Rodney. Getting save No. 32 is a big occasion for anyone.

Next time hand it to a Detroit fan. You know, the ones who sit behind the third base dugout at the Trop.

You should be able to reach them with ease, unless your control was as wild in the ninth inning Friday.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

How about dressing as playoff contenders?

Another road trip looms for the Rays, and you know what that means? Another theme.

I would suggest dressing like a playoff contender, but, so far, no one has asked me.

Rays manager Joe Maddon held a meeting before Thursday's game with the Red Sox to discuss a few ideas. His big one: Herb Tarlek (above) from WKRP in Cincinnati, the old 1970s sitcom about a radio station in Cincinnati.

Tarlek was known for his checkered suits.

"That got a few scowls," Maddon said. "So I left it up to the guys."

Some suggestions:
Camouflage, which probably came from the boys in the bullpen. The Russ Springer, Chad Bradford crowd.

Some players suggested "business." The old suit and tie, dress for success-look, which would actually work since the Rays have to be all business if they hope to catch the Red Sox.

Still, I like my idea.

One step up and two steps back

You watch the way the Rays beat the Red Sox on Wednesday night and you think there is hope.

But you remember how they played Tuesday and you look down at the bullpen, and you think, no, no October to remember this year.

They lost Tuesday when the Red Sox took an early lead against Andy Sonnanstine, and Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon turned in the first six-out save of his career.

They won Wednesday because the offense, led by Carlos Pena, came alive after the bullpen blew the lead.

The Rays lose one day and you think they're done. They win the next night, and you think, "OK. Here they go."

The players talk of running off a string of victories. Their longest winning streak this season is five, which they've done twice.

They had two five game winning streaks last year. They also had two six game winning streaks and one that went seven games.

They Rays need to run off a string of wins now. They have to catch the Red Sox for the Wild Card lead as soon as possible, because the Sox close the season with 17 games against teams who are a combined 80 games under .500. It will be tough to catch the Red Sox when they hit that soft spot in their schedule.

This win one, lose one is going to get it done.

It's like Bruce Springsteen sang,

"We're the same sad story that's a fact,
One step up and two steps back."

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Effort is great, wins are better

There was Joe Maddon late Tuesday night praising the effort after another loss, as if they keep count of effort in the standings.

No, the "E" in Tuesday's 8-4 loss to the Red Sox were the three errors the Rays made, which lead directly to two earned runs and aided another.

Starter Andy Sonnanstine, who pitched fairly well in some big games last season, said he could take some "positives" out of his outing, never mind his outing lasted two batters into the fifth inning.

Shame on you Andy. You know better than to say that when you pitched your team a step farther from a playoff spot.

Tuesday was the start of a crucial three-game, do-or-die series with the Wild Card-leading Red Sox, who also brought some effort of their own to the less-than-half-filled Trop. The Red Sox entered the game with a five-game lead over the Rays and left with a six-game lead.

Now, folks, that's effort.

At this point of the season, the Rays do not need "positives," they need wins. And if the effort doesn't end in victory, what's the point?

The old "E for effort" thing grew stale during Maddon's first two years at the helm, but actually was accurate, especially when you consider what the effort meant least season - a title in the toughest division in baseball and a trip to the World Series.

Sorry, Joe, you and the lads set the bar awfully high last season. No one is buying the "effort" line anymore.

How about showing a little frustration that the season is slipping away.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Ode to Kaz

You can argue that Scott Kazmir never lived up to his potential in Tampa Bay.

At one point, Kazmir was among the top young pitchers in baseball. He left the Rays Friday in the trade with the Angels as the third- or fourth-best pitcher in the rotation.

At one point, the Rays didn't have a chance unless Kazmir was on the mound. His recent stretch of good starts notwithstanding, you couldn't think that this season. Or last.

But this is what Kaz brought to the Rays in his nearly six seasons at the Trop: credibility.

Especially during the first few years of his career. As long as they had Kaz throwing every fifth day, the Rays had a chance to win at least once a week, and during those days, that was actually acceptable.

Injuries slowed his development. Some within the organization question his work ethic and desire, especially after he signed his big contract early in 2008.

But what I will remember most about Kazmir, besides the fact he never ducked the media no matter how poorly he pitched, was Game 5 at Boston during last year's ALCS.

Rays manager Joe Maddon switched his rotation to have Kazmir pitch at Fenway Park instead of James Shields, who is no "Big Game James" on the road.

It seemed like a dumb move. Maddon was ripped in the Boston media.

Kaz allowed two hits and struck out seven in six innings, turning a 7-0 lead over to the bullpen.

Kazmir had pitched the Rays to within nine outs of the World Series. He bowed up and found a bit of the old Kaz. He was the ace everyone believed he would be.

When you consider the lousy teams he pitch on when he first came to Tampa Bay, Kazmir deserved the chance to be the winning pitcher in the game that clinched the American League pennant and sent them to the World Series.

Alas, the Rays bullpen wasn't up to the task, and the Rays would need a full seven games to win the pennant.

Of course, that made Kaz the Game 1 starter in the World Series, another fitting honor for the two-time All-Star.

But I will always remember that October night in Boston, when, for six innings Kaz silenced a nation.

Monday, August 24, 2009

'That was for you, Monty'

Greg Montalbano never had a chance since that first battle with testicular cancer as a college freshman in 1996. Operations were followed by more tumors that were followed by more operations that were followed by more tumors.

Montalbano once referred to himself as a “tumor machine.”

Montalbano never had a chance.

But he had friends, and two of those friends honored his passing Saturday morning with big days on the baseball field.

In Boston, Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis tied a career-high with six RBIs in the Red Sox’s 14-1 against the Yankees.

Closer to home, Rays first baseman Carlos Peña homered twice, scored three times and drove in four runs, including the game-winner in the bottom of the 10th to push the Rays past the visiting Rangers 5-4.

“He was my right-hand man in college,” Peña said of his former teammate at Northeastern. "The one thing that comforts me is I know he’s in a better place, but we’re going to miss him greatly.”

At some point while Youkilis was taking his grief out on the Yankees, Peña wrote a message on a piece of paper: “That was for you, Monty.”

“I just figured that I’d make a little note,” Peña said, “and if something happened I’d flash it to the camera.”

That “something” happened in the second inning when Peña drove a fastball from Rangers pitcher Tommy Hunter into the right-field seats.

Peña flashed the sign toward the TV camera next to the Rays dugout after he circled the bases.
“I hope the family saw it,” Peña said.

Peña hit a two-run homer off Hunter in the fourth inning for his American League-leading 34th home run.

In the eighth, Peña scored what appeared to be the winning run when he hustled home from first on Pat Burrell’s two-out double off the top of the left-field wall.

Rays closer J.P. Howell blew his first ninth-inning save of the season in the ninth, but all that did was set Peña up for another big hit.

Rangers relief pitcher Jason Grilli came on to pitch the 10th. He drilled Rays leadoff hitter Evan Longoria and walked Ben Zobrist.

Peña stepped up and singled to center to score Longoria.

“His good buddy passed away, and he got a little emotional lift to get through this game with the game-winning knock,” Howell said. “It’s pretty impressive, and that makes you wonder if there’s other things out there helping you out.”

It was Peña’s third two-home run game of the season and the 16th of his career. It was also the third time since August 2008 that Peña ended a game with a hit, though it was the first this season.

“You realize how blessed we are,” Peña said. “I dedicated this game to him (Montalbano) and for his memory.”

Here is a link to a great story on Montalbano that ran in the Boston Globe last October while the Rays were in Boston playing the Red Sox in the ALCS

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Niemann my leader for AL rookie of the year

Here is something I never thought I would write: Jeff Niemann should be the American League Rookie of the Year.

Not that I didn't think a Rays pitcher would win the award this year, I just thought that rookie would be David Price. I don't think I was alone in that assumption, either.

Back in March, the story was how the Rays would baby Price at Triple A to keep him fresh for the late summer playoff push.

Well, the Rays are making a playoff push, and one reason is because Niemann has emerged as the best pitcher in the rotation.

Price, who returned to the big leagues sooner than the Rays planned because of the injury to Scott Kazmir, has pitched like a rookie.

Niemann, who almost didn't make the team out of spring training, is the reason why the Rays still have playoff hopes.

He is 11-5, leading the staff in wins, ERA (3.71), complete games (2) and shutouts (2).

He leads all American League rookie pitchers in wins, complete games and shutouts. Detroit's Rick Porcello and Toronto's Ricky Romero are tied for second with 10 wins each.

I have voted for the AL ROY in past years, though I won't this year, and I tend to lean toward a rookie who is involved in a playoff race. I figure it is tough enough being a rookie. Throw in the pressure of playing meaningful games and the pressure only gets dialed up.

Trying to learn the game at the big league level while trying to help your team reach the playoffs is a lot to ask from a rookie.

That said, Porcello and Niemann are two pitchers I feel are legit ROY candidates.

As far as position players go, Nolan Reimold of Baltimore appears all over the hitting categories, but he plays for a last-place team.

Gordon Beckham of the White Sox is also having a nice year, but his numbers aren't Evan Longoria numbers.

I think the ROY is going to be a pitcher, and at this time, I think it should be Niemann.

The No.5 starter is pitching like the staff ace. Take him out of the rotation and you can take the Rays out of the Wild Card hunt.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Rays won't sign first two draft picks

Apparently, LeVon likes his money. At least his agent, Scott Boras, does.

LeVon Washington, the high school infielder/outfielder selected by the Rays in the first round of the draft back in June, is not expected to sign by tonight’s midnight deadline, according to Rays vice president of baseball Andrew Friedman.

"We are disappointed that LeVon has chosen not to sign with the Rays," Friedman said in a statement released by the team. "We offered him a bonus consistent with late-first-round picks. Immediately following the draft, he seemed eager to sign but it has not materialized. We wish LeVon great success with his baseball career."

Friedman also said the team will not reach an agreement with infielder Kenny Diekroeger, who they took in the second round. Diekroeger had signed with Stanford University and said from the outset that he was prepared to play college baseball.

Washington, a Gainesville-Buchholtz High product who signed with Florida, said on the night of the draft that he had told the Gator coaches he was going to sign with the Rays.

"When we drafted Kenny, we went in with our eyes wide open, knowing he had a strong desire to attend Stanford University," Friedman said. "We knew that we would either be signing a top talent or receiving a comparable pick in the 2010 draft. We wish Kenny all the best at Stanford."

This is the first time in team history the Rays were not able to sign their first-round pick.

They will receive equivalent draft picks in the 2010 draft as compensation.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Can Garza match Kaz?

See what I mean about good pitching?

Scott Kazmir shakes off a two-run homer in the third inning Saturday and pitches into the seventh. Loads the bases with no-out in his last inning, but gets a ground ball to force a runner at second. He gives up a run to get an out. The rest of the inning is left to Russ Springer, and the rigthty does his job.

The Rays led 5-2 at the start of the seventh Saturday and would win 5-3.

Kaz gives them a quality start. The offense does enough against Toronto's Brian Tallet and the Rays say "goodbye" to the five-game losing streak.

As I blogged Saturday and later wrote in my Sunday column in the Bradenton Herald, the Rays have to get better outings from their starters and they have to get them on a nightly basis, or it's goodbye postseason.

Matt Garza throws this afternoon against the Jays.

I just saw him bouncing around the clubhouse while rock music rocked the room. He looks loose as ever. Garza always does before a start.

He needs to give the Rays more today than what he gave them in his last outing at Anaheim - six runs (four earned) in 3 1/3 innings. He needs to do what Kaz did Saturday: give them a quality start and turn a lead over to the bullpen.

Garza does that and the Rays win two straight with both victories going to the starting pitcher.

When was the last time that happened? Aug. 1 and Aug. 2 when David Price (seven innings, one run) and Jeff Niemann (eight innings, one run) beat the Royals on back-to-back nights at the Trop.

The rookies can do it. How about the vets?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Location, location, location

It doesn't matter if Pat Burrell gets another home run or not, or if B.J. Upton and Dioner Navarro continue to slump or the Rays offense fails to get hits with runners in scoring position.

There will be no October baseball beyond the regular season finale in St. Pete if the Rays continue to get poor starting pitching.

It's that simple.

James Shields retired a career-best 16 straight during one point Friday night. Problem was, he put the Rays in a 5-0 hole before settling down. With Roy Halladay pitching for the Blue Jays, that means one thing: Ball game.

Scott Kazmir is pitching Saturday night, and Matt Garza pitches Sunday. That should favor the Rays, but both were rocked in their previous starts and both have been so inconsistent that you never know what to expect.

The current rotation is one-game above .500 - 35-34, and that's with Jeff Niemann's 10-5 record.

I've written this plenty of times this season: Things can't be good if Niemann is the best pitcherion the rotation. Nothing against Big Jeff and everything against the Big Three.

Shields is 7-9 with one win since June 20.

Kaz is 6-7.

Garza is 7-8.

David Price is 5-5, looking great one start and like a rookie the next.

The Rays need consistent starts out of their starters if they plan to make a run at another postseason. At this point of the season, it is kind of much to ask that from a rotation that has been consistent in its inconsistency.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Upton not happy about batting ninth

No one expected B.J. Upton to be happy about his free-fall through the batting order from first to last, but his reaction has been a little, well, this is what he told the St. Petersburg Times on Sunday:

"It's almost like a kick in the face," he said.

And ...

"To go from being a leadoff guy and last year hitting (No.) 2, 3, maybe 4 … it's just like I'm back where I started (as a 19-year-old rookie). I was in the 9-hole, the 8-hole and kind of worked my way up. I know I'm not a 9-hitter. I know I'm not a bottom-of-the-order type of guy," he said.

OK, here's the deal:

As the leadofff hitter, Upton killed the Rays, batting only .140 during his first at-bat of the 86 games he spent at the top of the order. If it wasn't for manager Joe Maddon's undying loyalty, Upton would have been dropped to seventh long ago.

That loyalty from his skipper might be one of the factors that will keep the Rays from the postseason.

This was no knee-jerk reaction by Maddon. Those 86 games were enough for Upton to prove that he is a top-of-the-order guy.

Maddon dropped Upton to seventh to take a little pressure off Upton and maybe help the center fielder regain his stroke. Then Maddon dropped Upton to eighth and now ninth.

Upton has only three hits in his 20 at-bats since being moved down the order in favor of Jason Bartlett. Nine of those 17 outs were strikeouts.

So, he's embarrassed. So what?

We all saw last October what Upton can do when he's swinging the bat well.

And, we saw during the first four months of the season what happens when Upton struggles.

Maybe the "kick in the face" is what Upton needs to pick up his offense, because patience and confidence from the manager didn't work.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Rangers seem for real

Uh, what's up with the Texas Rangers?

Aren't they supposed to wilt in the Texas heat?

Aren't they supposed to go away?

Don't the Rangers know that the American League Wild Card is predestined to come out of the AL East?

Guess not.

The Rangers just took two out of three in Anaheim and are poised to overtake the Red Sox for the lead in the Wild Card.

This means the Rays have to pass two teams in the Wild Card race, the slumping Red Sox and the surging Rangers.

It's not enough the Rays have to deal with the Yankees and Red Sox. Now they have this team out West, too.

The good news for the Rays is they have six games remaining with the Rangers, starting with a three-game series at the back end of the Rays next homestand. They don't return to Texas until the last weekend in September.

The bad news is the Rays follow the Rangers into Anaheim, where the Rays start a three-game series Monday night. The Rays haven't won a series in Anaheim since the 1999 season. They have won once in their last 11 games in Anaheim.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Stupid rule? Not when you had been warned

If I hear one more person say the rule is stupid I'm going to scream.

I am referring to Rule 7.05 (g) of the Baseball Rule Book that says a ball lodged in equipment in the bullpen is ruled a dead ball and runners are awarded two bases from where they were when the pitch was thrown.

So, the wild throw from Boston pitcher Danial Bard that sailed past Red Sox first baseman Victor Martinez in the eighth inning Tuesday night and made its way into an equipment bag in the Rays bullpen was ruled the same as a ground rule double and cost the Rays a run in a game they would eventually win 4-2 in 13 innings.

To say it all started with the sacrifice bunt by Willy Aybar would be misleading.

It actually started a while ago when the Rays were told by umpires to keep the bullpen area clear of bags and jackets and whatever else relief pitchers carry down there.

They didn't.

So there we were Tuesday in the bottom of the eighth, the score tied at 2-2 and Ben Zobrist on first.

Aybar dropped a bunt in front of the plate. Bard picked up the ball and threw it past Martinez and down the right field line where it bounced into the Rays bullpen.

The bullpen at the Trop is in play. The ball can rattle around out there like a pinball, bouncing off the bench, chair legs and the wall. As the long as the ball isn't lodged in the padding of the four-foot wall, it's in play.

Unless it rolls into an equipment bag, which, this ball did.

Rays manager Joe Maddon couldn't argue, because he knew the rule and he knew he had been warned in the past.

Yeah, Zobrist had scored before the ball became lodged, but, what are you going to do? A stupid rule?


But had the Rays relievers kept the area free of bags and whatnot, we would never have learned of the rule's existence.

And maybe we would have been home at a decent hour.

But then we would have missed Evan Longoria's 13th inning home run, and that was worth the wait.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Now leading off ... not Upton

Some managers move players up and down the lineup. Some managers like a set lineup.

Some managers are quick to drop a slumping hitter down a few spots. Some managers stick with a set lineup.

Rays manager Joe Maddon likes a set lineup. Aside from tweaking the bottom of the order based on platoons and keeping to the right-lefty-righty look, Maddon wants to send the same guys out there in the same spots.

He does this for two reasons: He's spent a great deal of time in the offseason figuring out the batting order and he doesn't want to show a lack of faith in his players.

Maddon said the best thing a manager can do for a slumping hitter is to maintain his confidence in that hitter, and that's why he stayed with B.J. Upton in the leadoff spot for so long. Maddon was hoping Upton would find the stroke that led to a productive June.

But Upton strikes out too much and walks too little. In between, he doesn't get nearly enough hits.

So Maddon decided on a change. It was a long time coming, because Maddon spent a long time mulling the move. Changing leadoff hitters to Maddon is the same as changing quarterbacks in football. It can't be a knee-jerk reaction, and the guy you stick in there better be able to do the job. If not, the only option often is to go back to the former No. 1, and we know how that worked out.

So Maddon moved Jason Bartlett, the team's leading hitter to the top of the order Monday and kept him there Tuesday. Maddon said he does not have a time frame on how long Bartlett will be the Rays leadoff hitter. Bartlett will likely tell Maddon he can or can't handle the job.

It's the right move for the Rays right now, because the offense is struggling. Upton gives them no spark at the top of the order.

Bartlett has a higher batting average and on-base percentage. He walks more and strikes out less. He's also a much better base runner than Upton.

Not sure if Bartlett can provide the spark that will carry the Rays to the postseason. But giving Bartlett one more at-bat than Upton on a nightly basis can't hurt.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Thoughts on a near no-no

A few of us writers spent more than a few minutes Saturday afternoon talking to Rays pitcher James Shields about Mark Buehrle's perfect game and how Shields had never thrown one and what it would be like to even throw a no-hitter.

Next day Shields takes a no-hitter into the eighth inning against the Royals at Tropicana Field.

You look for signs during no-hitters and perfect games.

The fact Shields talked about throwing the day before was one, and would have made a heck of a lead had Shields finished the deal.

Rays manager Joe Maddon noticed one in the middle of the game when the answer to the daily trivia question was Dick Bosman, the Rays minor league pitching coordinator, who would have thrown a perfect game once if not for his own fielding error.

Here is another: Jim McKean was the umpire supervisor watching the game from the Trop's press box. McKean worked 10 no-hitters during his major league career, which stretched from 1973 to 2001.

Yet he never worked home plate in any of them.

Maybe that's why Shields didn't get the no-no. McKean was seated behind home plate.

Remembering Thurman

It was 30 years ago when I heard the news over the radio while sitting in my bedroom writing a letter to some baseball player to ask for his autograph.

Shortly after there was a knock at the side door of our house. It was Pat, my friend from next door. He was crying. He, too, heard the news.

Thurman Munson, the Yankee catcher, was dead, killed in a plane crash.

Munson was just one of many of my childhood sports heroes. There was also Joe Namath and Dr. J and Roger Staubach, whose hand I once shook before a Cowboys-Jets game at Shea Stadium.

I wore my chest protector inside-out during CYO baseball games so the orange would show, because that's how Munson wore his. My coach would tell me to fix the chest protector so the blue side showed.

I would tell him this is how Thurman Munson wears his. He would tell me, "You're no Thurman Munson." I would mutter something like, "Yeah, well you're no Bill Virdon."
Virdon managed the Yankees at the time.

Years later I would argue with Red Sox fans that Munson was better and tougher than Carlton Fisk.

I once talked to Lou Piniella about Munson when Lou was managing the Rays. Lou had tears in his eyes when he talked of the ovation Munson received the day after his death, when the Yankees tried to hold a moment of silence at Yankee Stadium, and of how Bobby Murcer drove in all five runs in a come-from-behind walk-off win against the Orioles the following Monday.

The Yankees flew to Ohio for Munson's funeral, than flew back to New York and beat the Orioles.

Sunday was the anniversary of Munson's death, and 30 years later I can still hear Pat knocking on the door.

Here is a link to a Daily News story on Munson ...

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Sitting tight at deadline might prove best move

In 2008, the Rays didn't get Jason Bay at the trade deadline, and many of us thought the Rays were sunk by the non-move, especially when Bay was traded to the Red Sox, who were at the time chasing the first-place Rays.

Turned out to be a wise move. The Rays held on to the prospects the Pirates wanted in exchange for Bay, won the division and the pennant and reached the World Series.

The Rays didn't make any moves this season, and that might turn out to be a wise move, as well.

The Rays had a definite need for another right-handed power-bat in 2008.

They have that this season, though Pat Burrell hasn't provided the pop the Rays had hoped for when they signed the DH in January.

Basically, every thing the Rays need they already have.

Starting pitching? Check.

Defense? Check.

Offense? Check.

What the Rays have, though, are inconsistent starting pitching, slumping hitters and a defense that is not as tight as it was last year.

The Rays feel they can receive the same pop of adding a player if some of those who are struggling return to their productive states.

A productive Scott Kazmir bolsters the rotation.

A productive Burrell, Carlos Pena and Dioner Navarro bolsters the lineup.

The Rays protect their prospects like a mother bear protects her cubs, so they aren't going to give one or two away for another arm in the bullpen.

If V.P. of baseball Andrew Friedman is going to part with a prospect, he's going to want an impact major leaguer in return.

While the Rays are very much alive in the postseason chase, they are far enough out of both the division race and the Wild Card race to mortgage the future on what might be a failed attempt at October baseball no matter how well a trade pans out.

Friedman thought he assembled a playoff team last offseason. He still does.

And if the bats come alive and Kazmir continues to pitch well, he might just be right.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Big Papi or Big Liar?

Now it is David Ortiz's turn to face the steroid music. Yawn.

This is getting older than a Pat Burrell swing-and-a-miss on strike three.

The Red Sox slugger's name is apparently on that list of 104 who tested positive for performance enhancing drugs back in 2003, linking Big Papi with A-Rod.

Here's what Ortiz said in spring training about those baseball players who are believed to have tested positive for performance enhancing drugs"

"Ban 'em for the whole year."

Here is his statement to the media before he spoke to reporters after Thursday's game against the visiting A's, a game the Red Sox won with the help of an Ortiz home run.

"Based on the way I have lived my life, I am surprised to learn I tested positive. I will find out what I tested positive for. You know me, I will not hide and I will not make excuses."

Ortiz said he will talk again after he got to the bottom of the situation. Translation: "I will talk again after my agent and the player's association tells me what to say."

This is getting old.

Sluggers fail tests mike Manny Ramirez or are found to be among the 104 who failed the 2003 testing. They try to come clean with fake apologies and excuses.

It would be much easier on baseball fans if all 104 names on the list were revealed, though that will never happen since that list was confidential and supposed to be destroyed.

So, we'll have to deal with the occasional leaked name like that bathroom faucet that drips all night.

Very annoying.