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.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Garza comes to Longo's defense

Evan Longoria is precious cargo and when that cargo is threatened, well, you retaliate.

That's one of those unwritten rules of baseball.

Yankee pitcher Joba Chamberlain, who leads the major leagues in hit batters, threw an 86 mph pitcher over Longoria's head in the fourth inning of the Rays 6-2 loss Wednesday night.

The next inning, Rays starter Matt Garza hit Yankee first baseman Mark Teixeira on the left shoulder. It wasn't so much a hit as it was a grazing, but Garza felt he made a point.

"I kind of got tired of them pushing (Longoria) back. I decided to make a statement," Garza said.

Longo bats third in the order. Teixeira bats third in the Yankees order.

Garza nipped Teixeira after walking Johnny Damon with two out. That looked kind of foolish since it put runners on first and second and brought Alex Rodriguez to the plate in a game the Yankees led 2-0. One swing and it's 5-0 Yankees and ball game.

But Garza got Rodriguez swinging to end the threat.

The Yankees lead the majors in hitting batters, thanks to the addition of A.J. Burnett and CC Sabathia. Perhaps that's retaliation for all the times pitchers throw at Derek Jeter and Rodriguez.

Hitting batters is one way the players police the game.

Garza, whether he got the attention of the Yankees or not, decided enough was enough.

"I hate to be that guy, but someone had to take a stand and go after them," he said.

Garza felt the Yankees were throwing at the Rays best player. So, he went after the Yankees top home run and RBI producer.

We'll see how this plays out down the road.

We'll also see if Garza is fined for admitting he threw at a batter.

Think Longo might pick up the check?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A small favor leads to a good day

The Yankees are in town, which means Suzyn Waldman is in the house with the rest of the Yankees radio broadcast team.

Waldman was the first voice ever heard on New York's famed WFAN and has acted on Broadway. Bet you never knew that?

Now, Waldman has taken her share of knocks over the years, but let me tell you a good story about Suzyn Waldman that happened during another trip to the Trop by the Yankees.

A few years ago I asked her for a favor. My sister-in-law's father wasn't doing well. His heart was failing.

Roger, or "The Chief" as we called him because he was a retired chief of the Fire Department of New York, was a big Yankees fan. Watched as many games as he could. Listened to the rest.

This was a Sunday afternoon, and I knew Roger and some of his family, including my brother, Jack, and his wife, Jill, (Yes, Jack and Jill) would be in The Chief's backyard enjoying a lazy summer afternoon on Long Island. I also knew the Yankees-Rays game would be on the radio.

I found Suzyn outside the visiting clubhouse at the Trop that morning and asked if you she could give Roger a shout out. You know, tell him the Yankee family was thinking of him and wished him well.

Suzyn said yes. Told me to tell my Jack to make sure the radio was turned up at the start of the third inning. I did.

Sometime around the sixth inning Jack, also a chief in the FDNY, called to tell me The Chief was listening when Suzyn wished him well.

Jack told me he saw a spark in Roger's eyes that they hadn't seen in a long time.

Jack said the phone at The Chief's house soon started ringing. It was friends of Roger calling. They were listening to the Yankee game, too. They called to see how their buddy was doing.

Unfortunately, Roger didn't have too many good days left.

But that was certainly one of them.

Monday, July 27, 2009

For starters, Rays starters are shaky

Well, that's not exactly the way to make a run at the division leaders.

Yankees starter A.J. Burnett was on, and Rays starter James Shields was not Monday as the first-place Yankees thumped the Rays 11-4 at Tropicana Field.

I guess we can blame some of Shields' lack of success to the embarrassing lack of run support by his offense - 3.63 runs per game, the third-lowest support in the the AL.

Still Shields has a 5.21 ERA in July, and that's not going to win you many games.

The Rays are now 7.5 games out of first place (five behind the Red Sox in thew Wild Card), and while this is no time to press the panic button, it should be cause for alarm.

The starting pitching is just not getting it done.

Five of their six wins since the All-Star Break have come with late-inning rallies. The other came in extra innings.

Shields has not won in seven starts.

Scott Kazmir, who starts Tuesday against the Yankees, has not won in seven starts.

That's not exactly what you want from the top-two pitches in the rotation.

Right now, the only starter that instills any confidence in the Rays fan base is fifth starter Jeff Niemann, who has a team-high nine wins.

Does anyone still believe the Rays can make a run at another postseason berth?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Good pitching beats good pitching

The Rays have three wins this season against Roy Halladay, and this is how they did it: With good pitching.

Friday's starter Matt Garza went nine innings. He allowed five hits and two runs. He struck out nine and didn't walk a batter in the Rays 4-2, 10-inning victory. That's the key. No freebies.

That's how you beat good pitching. You pitch just as well, because Halladay may give up two runs, maybe even three, but he's not going to get smacked around.

And J.P. Howell, the Rays closer, closed out the 10th for his 11th save.

That's how you bounce back from being on the wrong side of a perfect game. You focus on the game at hand and beat Halladay, one of the best, if not thee best pitcher in the game.

At worst, the Rays go 5-5 on this 10-game road trip.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Some thoughts on perfection

Well, being no-hit doesn't derail championship hopes.

The 1952 and 1958 Yankees were no-hit during the regular season and won the World Series.

The 1973 and 1974 Oakland A's were also no-hit during the regular season and also won the World Series.

Now, having been on the wrong side of a perfect game? No team has ever experienced that and won the World Series.

So, things don't look good for the Rays, though their own starting pitching might sink their season more than Mark Buehrle's history-making gem Thursday afternoon in Chicago.

At least it was quick.

The game lasted 2 hours, 3 minutes. Buehrle spent only 32 minutes on the mound. Rays starter Scott Kazmir can do that in two innings.

I know Rays fans won't agree, but at some point you had to root for history.

The Rays were down 5-0, and you know they weren't coming back. So, why not watch something that happened only 17 times in baseball history prior to Thursday?

It's been a funny road trip for the Rays. They are 4-3. They could easily be 5-1, and they can just as easily be 0-6.

They won three games in Kansas City by rallying in the eighth inning during all three games. They had done that only twice during the first half of the season.

On Monday, the Rays almost pull off their first ninth inning-comeback of the season against Chicago closer Bobby Jenks. On Tuesday, they do pull off their first ninth inning comeback of the season against Jenks.

On Wednesday, they blow a 3-1 lead when B.J. Upton plays a line drive that should have been the final out of the inning into a two-run triple that ties the score at 3-3. The next batter drives in the winning run.

On Thursday, Buehrle becomes the 18th pitcher in major league baseball history to throw a perfect game.

What's next?

Roy Halladay of the Blue Jays, that's what's next.

The Rays open a three-game series Friday night in Toronto against Halladay.

Funny thing, if I was in a pool where I had to pick a pitcher likely to no-hit the Rays, I would gladly take Halladay.

Let's make a deal ... or not

Now comes that special part of the baseball season where rumors of trades fly higher than a another pop-up from Dioner Navarro. We'll call it: Let's make a deal ... or not.

With the July 31 trade deadline approaching, all sorts of possible deals are reported by ESPN, FOX, Sports Illustrated, and anyone else with a blog.

Toronto pitcher Roy Halladay is going to _________. (Fill in the blank.)

The Yankees. The Phillies. The Tigers. The Rays.

The Rays? Interesting. ESPN's Buster Olney reported that, but added "it's very, very unlikely," because of the Rays financial issues. I say it's very, very, very unlikely.

Rays owner Stuart Sternberg said he will not add payroll at the trade deadline. He will listen to vice president of baseball Andrew Friedman, who has a reputation of being creative.

The Blue Jays want a boat-load of prospects, of which the Rays have, but Friedman has been unwilling to part with any prospect.

Also, Halladay will not come cheap. He is due $15.75 million next year during the final year of a contract that carries a no-trade clause. Friedman could get flexible here and trade someone off the big league roster. Speculation is that could be Scott Kazmir, but Kazmir is dealing with arm issues again.

I just can't see any scenario that has Halladay going to the Rays.

Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reported the Rays are interested in Cleveland pitcher Cliff Lee, last year's Cy Young Award winner. Lee has a $9 million option for next year, so it is going to cost the Rays next year.

Again, trading someone off the major league roster to free up salary for Lee is a possibility.

Again, Kazmir's name comes up. But if I'm moving a former Cy Young Award winner for Kaz, I want to make darn sure Kaz is healthy and able to pitch deep into games. Any one feel confident Kaz has checks next to each? Neither do I.

The Rays always seem to come up in trade rumors, but, other than the trade that brought Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett from the Twins, they never swing the big deal.

The Rays might make a move at the deadline, but I just can't see it happening. They never have, and they don't have the financial flexibility to do it now.

Unless Friedman gets real creative, or they move a big name player.

Keep in mind: We go through this year every year and the thing about all these trade rumors is few actually come true.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Look who is No. 50!

Joe Posnanski of Sports Illustrated ranked the top-100 players in baseball.

It's no surprise that Albert Pujols is No. 1. I'm glad to see Posnanski ranked Joe Mauer second.

Evan Longoria is 15th, and Carl Crawford is 35. "Hitting .314, getting on base more than ever before (.374 OBP), has league-leading 46 stolen bases and plays left field like a center fielder. What's not to like?" Posnanski wrote of CC.

What's not to like? Maybe the ranking. If CC is considered the best left fielder in the game, I don't see how he can't be in the top-20. I'll give Posnanski this: At least he ranked Crawford. A poll of the top-50 players in baseball by The Sporting News didn't include Crawford.

The biggest surprise is No. 50 - Zorilla.

"Remarkable first half -- .418 on-base percentage and leads the American League with a .597 slugging percentage. He played six defensive positions. Is it real? I think so. We'll see if he wears down in the second half," Pos wrote about Ben Zobrist.

Posnonski has Jason Bartlett at No. 52, and B.J. Upton at ... nowhere.

"I love B.J. Upton's potential. But the last year and a half ... I just don't think he's quite a Top 100 player," he wrote.

That's interesting. Zobrist makes the list and not B.J.

Who would have guessed that back in March?

But then who would have guessed that Jeff Niemann would lead the Rays in victories with nine and own the three best starts by a Tampa Bay pitcher this season?

Ah, that's a blog for another time.

Check out Posnanski's top-100 here ...

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Crawford steals more of the national spotlight

If being the MVP of last week's All-Star Game wasn't enough, Carl Crawford will receive more national attention once this week's issue of Sports Illustrated hits the newsstands.

CC is featured in a story on the lost art of stealing bases.

Here is an excerpt of the story written by Albert Chen ...

“Four years ago, in a series of essays for the Baseball Prospectus and The Hardball Times websites, Dan Fox introduced a metric called Equivalent Baserunning Runs (EqBRR), which today is, by far, the most advanced baserunning statistic available. EqBRR combines the contributions of all forms of baserunning: stolen bases; advancement on ground outs, fly balls and hits; as well as advancement on passed balls, wild pitches and balks. Fox examined play-by-play data going back to 1956, the earliest year such information was available, and as expected, those who made the greatest impact on the bases were speedsters such as [Rickey] Henderson and [Tim] Raines, who, according to their EqBRRs, contributed an average of more than 10 runs a season at the peak of their careers with their baserunning alone. Hall of Famer Robin Yount was one of the best at taking the extra base on hits, adding nearly eight runs in his best seasons with his baserunning even though he never stole more than 22 bases in a season. The best base runner of all time, however, was [Willie] Wilson, who in his best season (1980) added more than 19 runs with his legs, according to Fox's formula.”

What are you trying to say, Theo?

Let's start by saying I like Julio Lugo.

He wasn't exactly a Gold Glove-shortstop during his days with the Rays, but Lugo hustled, which is saying something when you consider he was a member of some of the worst teams baseball has seen in years.

He ran just as hard to first base in the bottom of the ninth inning of a game the Rays were losing 7-1 as he did in the first inning. He was the first infielder to the mound when a pitcher found himself in a jam, which is more than you can say for the Rays catcher at the time. From what I observed, Lugo was a pretty good clubhouse guy.

The Red Sox signed him to a four-year, $36 million contract before the 2007 season, which is what the big-market teams tend to do. It was never really a good fit, and the Red Sox placed Lugo on waivers just after the All-Star Game.

Here is what I find interesting about this story: the comments by Boston GM Theo Epstein.

Theo doesn't hide a thing. It's somewhat refreshing to hear a GM admit a mistake, especially a high-priced mistake like this, though I kind of feel bad that it was at Lugo's expense.

Normally, you get the usual GM blah-blah-blah. "It didn't work out." "We've parted ways." "This is best for both sides." Not this time. Epstein cut right to the heart of the matter.

Here is what Epstein told ...

"I think ownership has been consistent that we'll do what we need to do to put the best possible team on the field and the sunk cost is the sunk cost. We're sorry it didn't work out better with Julio, obviously, but keeping him on the team wasn't going to change that. Sometimes the best organizations admit their mistakes and move on, and that's what we're doing here. This was one of the free-agent signings that didn't work out and we ended up paying for past performance, not current performance. That's the definition of a mistake, and as the decision maker, that's on me. We'll just move on and try to make better decisions going forward."

"It started out poorly from before Day One. He called us over the winter after we signed him and he said he had a sickness or a stomach issue, a pretty bad issue, where he lost like 15 pounds. When he showed up, he lacked a lot of strength and some quickness, but particularly the strength, it was gone. (That) got him off on the wrong foot and was never with us the player that he was in Tampa Bay."

"We tried a lot of things to get the best out of him. We did win a World Series with him as our everyday shortstop and he did make a lot of contributions to that world championship. That's not to be lost in the mix, but, obviously, we'd be fudging the truth to say it worked out the way we envisioned it. (He) just never got on track here. (He) never really got locked in and comfortable and never played even close to the way we expected.... When you dabble in free agency, sometimes these things happen. That's kind of the nature of the beast. We're trying to grow the organization to the point where we don't have to ever get a free agent. We're probably closer to that point now then we were two or three offseasons ago. It's a lesson learned for sure."

Friday, July 17, 2009

Of Perry, McGraw and Apollo 11

I just read a funny story about Gaylord Perry in the latest Sports Illustrated that also includes a favorite topic of mine - Apollo 11.

While watching Perry take batting practice as a rookie in 1962, a reporter told San Francisco Giants manager Alvin Dark that the pitcher would hit a lot of home runs.

As the story goes, Dark replied: "There'll be a man on the moon before Gaylord Perry hits a home run."

People must have said that a lot back then. "They'll be a man on the moon before ... (fill in the rest)." Now its, "If they can put a man on the moon, they can ... ."

Anyway, on July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon. An hour later, Perry hit his first major league home run.

Perry swears it's a true story, and who wouldn't believe a man who carved out a hall of fame career by throwing a spitball.

We are in the midst of celebrating that historic trip to the moon, which began July 16 with liftoff, the touchdown on the moon four days later and Armstrong's amazing first steps.

I can't get enough of Apollo 11. I must have read my Dad's National Geographic issue on the space trip a hundred times.

That leads me to another of my favorite topics: the 1969 Mets, who, given the sorry past of the franchise, may have taken a bigger step for man that same summer.

As the story goes, the Mets were stuck in the Montreal airport waiting for their flight to leave. They passed the time at the airport bar watching Armstrong's historic walk. Reliever Tug McGraw yelled out, "If they can put a man on the moon, we can win the World Series."

I met McGraw and Ron Swoboda in 1999 when the Mets played the Rays at the Trop, and the Rays held a turn back the clock night to honor the Mets. Yeah, I know. Weird.

Anyway, McGraw said the incident definitely happened. Swoboda thought it did, but wasn't sure if it was McGraw who made the prediction.

Swoboda gave it some thought and decided that, yeah, if anyone on the team was crazy enough to yell that across the bar, it was McGraw.

The summer of 1969: Man first walks on the moon, the Mets win the World Series and Gaylord Perry finally went deep.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Comments from CC, Maddon after the big win

Here is the transcript from the post-All-Star Game interviews with Rays manager Joe Maddon and MVP Carl Crawford ...

Q. Talk about Curtis (Granderson) and his triple. How did it change the game?
JOE MADDON: I congratulate him on the fact that he went for three bases. A lot of times, a ball will be hit like that and a hitter automatically assumes a double. Did he not assume a double, he assumed three right there which puts an entirely different attitude on the other side in regard to what they can do.That was huge for me that he even thought of it. He thought of it and he did it and that was a big play. And the fact that he did not settle for a double. From a baseball perspective, we try to teach that to our guys all the time and I thought that was fabulous.

Q. What does it do? Obviously, these guys are all stars but when you have (Jonathon) Papelbon, (Joe) Nathan, (Mariano) Rivera the last three innings, what does that do for your confidence?
JOE MADDON: When you write it up before it begins, you know that's nice when you look at those three names and know what they are capable of doing. I was just hoping we could grab the lead after six, and it sets it up for these three guys after the last three innings. So any manager would want the opportunity to write those three names in a row like that, and they are all outstanding. Big pitch by Joe to break the ball in the dirt and great block by Victor, also. There are a whole bunch of little things that occur in the tightly-contested game. The pitching was outstanding, and early on we made some mistakes and they had made some mistakes and overall a well-played game and well-pitched game and those last three relievers did a great job.

Q. Talk about C.C. and what he did tonight.
JOE MADDON: Well, you know, I was talking on the way over here, I don't know that I've ever seen Carl go over the wall. I heard it was over the wall. That's what I'm getting. I've never seen him do that. The way he got to the position on the ball was great, and the catch, obviously, was fantastic. I've been talking to everybody all year about this. Carl, he has become a better baseball player since I first met him in 2006. He's a better defender, a better thrower, a better baserunner, a better base stealer, and it's all because of his work. I'm not saying it's our fault he's better; it's because of him. His work ethic is that good. And when I first met him in 2006 he came into my office and said something to me about the fact that he wanted to become a better baseball player, and he knew he had some shortcomings; and to his credit, he's really developed in a lot of different areas.

Q. Obviously, the AL had such a long streak. Is there any relief that you were not the manager when that streak would have come to an end possibly?
JOE MADDON: I didn't even know that in the beginning that it was that long. But I mean, of course, I would prefer being a start of the streak, as opposed to the other way around. You know, it is so important to get home-field advantage in the World Series. We were just there last year, we did not take advantage of it. But first and the seventh game possibly is really important, and for us, the Rays playing in Tropicana Field, it's very important. So there was a lot on the line there today. It is a very condensed two days. You look at the playoff situation and going to the World Series, you have days to spread all of this angst out. But you have all of this stuff working over the course of two days and it's really condensed and concentrated and it's good for the baseball soul. So it's really an interesting experience and something that I'll never forget, and yes, I prefer being on the winning side.

Q. Can you just talk about the experience, because of your affection for this town and managing?JOE MADDON: Yes, I was a Cardinal fan growing up from 1963 at nine years old and I followed it closely and I got to meet Mr. Gibson and Lou Brock, and Red Schoendienst. I've had conversations with him and Ozzie Smith, and of course I got to meet Stan last year and all of the Cardinal greats, Mr. Ricky. I'm a big fan of Mr. Ricky and what he did for the game of baseball. For me to get back here as a manager under these circumstances, I've been here as a manager last year with the Rays, and in an All-Star situation, really it's a bastion of baseball and this town embraces the game in a way that's different from a lot of other areas, because they are just good baseball games. The Cardinal fans appreciate a good game.So to come back in those circumstances in where I come from and how I felt vehemently as a Cardinal fan as a kid, it's special to come back in an All-Star Game and do it and win it.

Q. To go back to the bullpen, you mentioned (Ryan) Howard against Nathan, were you close, was it a consideration to go to a lefty against Howard there? Was matching up not an option? JOE MADDON: During the season I would match up. But these stallions in the bullpen, it's not necessary to match up. It was their inning. My concern there with -- (turning to Carl Crawford, entering the room). Congratulations, Buddy.


JOE MADDON: There's no concern about matching up with those three guys in the bullpen. It's just their inning. My only concern would be that they would throw too many pitches in an inning and that's why I had Ryan up in the bullpen. Mr. Nathan has done a nice job of getting out both right ties and lefties in a long time.

Q. Can you describe the catch for us there?
CARL CRAWFORD: (Brad Hawpe) hit it pretty good off the bat. He hit it pretty good off the bat, and I didn't think it was going to carry that far. But it carried and just tried to find the wall and was able to jump up and make a play on it.

Q. You were over the wall?
CARL CRAWFORD: Yeah, I was over the wall. It would have been a home run.

Q. Feels pretty good?
CARL CRAWFORD: Feels good. Feels great to help the team win.

Q. Joe said that he had never seen you bring back a home run like you did tonight. Where does that stack in your plays that you've ever had in your career?
CARL CRAWFORD: It's got to be the top play. I don't think I've ever robbed a home run before, so I picked a good time to do it tonight. It's definitely probably my best catch I've ever made.

Q. How familiar are with you that fence? Have you played much out there at all? Did you have a good feel for where you were and what the fence was going to give and you possibly take away from you?
CARL CRAWFORD: I played there last year but the ball was so high in the air, it gave me time to get back to the wall. It was just one of those things where when the ball is so high in the air, you just try to get to the fence and do what you can from there.

Q. Can you just talk about the MVP honor, as a third-time All-Star?
CARL CRAWFORD: It feels great. They totally got me off-guard today. I didn't think I was going to win it. This being my third time coming here, it definitely feels good to win the MVP Award. You know, I'm just so happy, I don't really know what to say. I just hope I can come back many times and try to win it again.

Q. Could you sense that your catch was kind of a momentum changer?
CARL CRAWFORD: Well, I knew the game was close, so you know, everything -- we needed every out and every run we needed. So I didn't know how things was going to play out at the end. But I knew it was probably going to be important at some point that run didn't score.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

CC provides All-Star Game's top moment

Wouldn't it be nice if the outfield walls at Tropicana Field were just a tad lower? That way we can watch Carl Crawford steal more than just bases. We can watch him steal a home run or two or three or four.

The Rays left fielder robbed Brad Hawpe of a leadoff home run in the seventh during Tuesday's All-Star Game in St. Louis, which the American League won 4-3.

It was a play that kept the score tied at 3-3 and earned Crawford the MVP award, which might have been an indication of how much the 80th All-Star Game lacked in action as much as it was a reward for Crawford's game-turning play.

The AL took the lead in the eighth and old reliable, Mariano Rivera, closed it out with a perfect ninth.

We've come to expect All-Star plays like that from Crawford. What can I say? We're spoiled.

But with the walls at the Trop being 12 feet tall, we'll never see CC make that catch unless we hit the road.

Crawford had the best day of any of the five Rays players in the game. (Obviously, because they gave him the MVP award. Such keen insight on this blog.)

He delivered a pinch-hit single in the fifth inning only to be erased at second when Ichiro Suzuki grounded to second. That was Crawford's lone hit in three at-bats, but it did give him an All-Star Game hitting streak. CC homered at San Francisco in 2007, his last All-Star appearance.

Jason Bartlett bounced out in his lone at-bat.

Ben Zobrist struck out as a pinch-hitter in the eighth. But Zorilla did catch Miguel Tejada's fly ball in short right field for the final out of the night.

Carlos Pena would have pinch-hit for Zach Greinke in the top of the fourth had the inning been extended and Greinke got to bat. But Rays manager Joe Maddon, who skippered the AL squad, send CC up for Greinke to start the fifth.

Pena, a late addition to the squad, didn't get in the game.

Evan Longoria was scratched from the lineup because of an infected right ring finger that is not supposed to keep him out of action when the Rays return to the field Friday night in Kansas City.

Longoria's batting helmet did make it to the plate, though. AL starter Roy Halladay wore it during his second inning at-bat. The Rays logo was removed, but that was Longo's familiar No. 3 on the back. Didn't help Halladay. He looked at a called third strike.

Maddon wins his debut as an All-Star Game manager.

CC comes home with the MVP trophy.

A pretty good showing from the defending AL champs.

And now that the AL won, we can prepare for a possible Game 6 and Game 7 of the World Series at the Trop, right?

Yeah, we'll see.

It's an All-Star 'exhibition' Game

I think we can agree that baseball's All-Star Game is the best of the four major sports.

With the exceptions of the starting pitchers working deep and the mass substitutions, baseball's All-Star Game looks like a regular season baseball game. Can't say that about the NFL's Pro Bowl and the NBA and NHL all-star games.

No one plays defense in those other three.

In baseball, the hitters don't want to strike out and the pitchers don't want to get shelled.

It's an exhibition game, yes, but the players want to prove they belong ... to a point.

With Pete Rose knocking over Ray Fosse at the plate in the 1970 game as one of the few exceptions, the players play at just a notch or two under 100 percent.

But, tonight's game in St. Louis, tonight's exhibition game, will decide which league gets home field in Game 7 of the World Series.

That's right, the biggest game of any baseball season, Game 7 of the World Series, is directly tied to a mid-summer exhibition game.

Way to go, Bud Selig.

It was the commissioner, embarrassed by the fiasco in his own park in 2002 when both sides ran out of pitches and the game ended in - gasp! - a tie, who decided that the All-Star Game will count.

Yeah, that fixed the problem.

So last year the two sides played forever in the Bronx. Scott Kazmir was the last pitcher used by the American League, and he Rays didn't want Kazmir to pitch. Neither did Kazmir.

And Kaz is determining which league gets home field in Game 7 of the World Series?

If you want this game to count, then you have to change the rules.

You have to make it less of an exhibition game. That means the starting pitcher has to pitch deep. Heck, if Roy Halladay can give you nine innings, great.

You need relief pitchers used to pitching in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings, and one or two lefties to come in and get a tough lefty.

So, no longer do you need to send a bus load of starters, just two so you can use one in long relief.

Also, say good-bye to all the closers. You only need one since he''ll be pitching the ninth and only if you have the lead.

Say good-bye to all the starters at the other positions who serve as backups. Now you need guys like the Rays Willy Aybar, a switch-hitter who can pinch-hit and play several positions. You need guys accustomed to coming off the bench in the late innings.

In other words, you'd want to put together a roster that resembles a real major league roster.

Problem is, it's no longer an All-star Game.

So, back to having it an All-Star Game, a night of stars.

Set it up so you have enough players to 11 innings. That's two extra innings to break a tie. If not, it goes down as tie. Everyone wins. The players all played, the fans got to see all the stars and they were able to get home before 3 a.m.

As for home field in game 7? The old way worked just fine with the leagues alternating every year. You went to spring training knowing what the deal would be should you reach the playoffs. No one seemed to complain before.

Awarding home field to the team with the best record isn't always fair, because a team from a tough division may not have the best record even though it is the best team.

Award home field to the team with the best Interleague record is one idea, but what if one team played a weak Interleague record while it's opponent faced the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays? Doesn't seem fair.

But neither does leaving the biggest game of the year in the hands of a mid-season exhibition game.

There are plenty of things in baseball that need fixing: Testing for performance-enhancing drugs, big market vs. small market, ticket prices, the late start of World Series games.

The All-Star Game wasn't on that list.

So, wouldn't you know it, that's one Selig decided to fix.


Sunday, July 12, 2009

Pena named to All-Star team

Turns out, Carlos Pena is an All-Star.

The Rays first baseman was added to the American League roster Sunday morning by Rays and American League manager Joe Maddon to fill the spot created when Boston second baseman Dustin Pedroia removed himself from the team.

Pedroia took himself out of the game to be with his wife, who is expecting a baby.

Pena, who leads the American League with 24 home runs, was in danger of becoming the first AL home run leader not to make the All-Star team since Mickey Tettleton of Detroit in 1993.

Pena was not among the top vote getters for AL first baseman. He was one of five players on the "Final Vote" ballot, an sponsored on-line campaign, but finished fourth.

Maddon placed Pena on the squad ahead of Texas second baseman Ian Kinsler, despite the fact Kinsler finished ahead of Pena in the "Final Vote" campaign.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

A past worth forgetting

Remember that logo? Nightmares, right?

Well, some Einstein with the Tampa Bay (No Devil) Rays decided to trot out that logo and the uniform that went with it Saturday night during the Rays salute to the '90s promotion.

Ah, old times.

Not good old times,just old times.

Take away the 30,000-plus crowd and you had old times.

Matt Garza, the Rays starter, gave up a 2-0 run lead in the seventh, and the last place A's poured it on against the top bullpen in baseball, winning 7-2 to become the first team to beat the Rays on Saturday concert night at the Trop.the Rays had been 11-0 on such nights.

The loss snapped a nine-game home winning streak, including four straight on this homestand.

Hey, the Rays might have been due for a loss, and the bullpen can't be shutdown every night.

But why did the Rays have to salute the '98 and '99 Rays? It's an era - error? - the organization is trying hard to forget, and one that seemed to be forgotten during the march to the 2008 World Series.

Those aren't the old orange uniforms of the Tampa Bay Bucs, which became cool shortly after the Bucs won the Super Bowl. But the Bucs actually reached the NFC title game in the old orange and white.

No such luck for the Rays, who finished last each season they dressed in their original rainbow colored uniforms, which were compared to a bruise or a 1972 Chevy van.

Rays relief pitcher J.P Howell joked Friday night the uniforms, which saw a lot of losses, had a lot of wins in them.


Turns out, they had one more loss.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Rays owner Stu Sternberg speaks

Rays owner Stuart Sternberg held a conference call Friday to talk about the a recent ESPN poll that ranked the Rays first in game affordibility out of the 122 teams in Major League Baseball, the NFL, NBA and NHL. He also tackled a few other issues.

Here is a transcript:

Sternberg's opening statement
“This is something, as the owner of this team, that I’m really proud of. It’s something that we’ve strived for. There were a couple of things—to get to the World Series, to win the World Series, the steps we took last year were enormous. And the work that went into that. To get recognized by ESPN was the most affordable team in major professional sports is something that we inside the Rays organization have celebrated dramatically. We couldn’t ask for anymore. It really does talk about all the hard work that all of the employees and all of the partners that work with us strive for is to put out a great product on the field and a great entertainment venue, but to be recognized nationally when, quite frankly, the history of this franchise, even recently, has been somewhat of a laughing stock. To be recognized by ESPN as No. 1 for all the teams is an incredible accomplishment and a statement on the organization for what we’ve done.”

On if he’s frustrated by attendance:
“We had a mark in the ground a couple weeks ago when the Phillies came in. There was a confluence of events there, and I think that was something that that particular series was frustrating. And I sensed it from people within the organization, too.”
“The numbers that we saw for the Phillies and other games this year are not what they can be. But by the same token, we’re doing everything we possibly can. I don’t know if frustrations the term. We’re quite proud of what’s going on.”

On other promotional events coming up:
“We think about everything all the time. When ESPN does this, all of that is taken into account. A cheaper ticket price, the dollar dogs, it really is about value. And value comes in a lot of different ways. When you go to a movie theatre, you can buy three levels of popcorn. We don’t just look at it as what just happens to be the cheapest, we want to provide the quality surrounding it. We don’t just look at it now, we’ve been looking at it since I’ve come in. We’ve really touched every corner of it. I’m certain we’re going to have other concepts and ideas. I think in recognition or celebration of being the most affordable, we just want to be even more affordable.”

On the importance of a new stadium to improve franchise:
“Certainly we’re going to need a new facility. There’s no question about that. I’ve said that since the day I came in. The question is when. Right now, we play in St. Petersburg, we’re proud to be in St. Petersburg. It’s an enormous project to build another ballpark in St. Petersburg. Clearly we’re sold on the area, we love the area, and we think there’s tremendous potential. I doesn’t take a person to build a new park, it’s going to take the whole region.”

On challenges of getting people to the ballpark:
“Clearly the economy has had some impact. We look at it locally in Tampa Bay. One of the things I focused on before the season was on a relative basis, we’re not shooting for the moon as far as people coming in and packing the place. We were hoping to be average this year, that was sort of the expectation and desire. Each individual has their own reasons why or why not (they come). I think what I’m focused on is why they are coming, and of those that come out to the park, whether it’s once a year or 81 times a year, clearly having an incredible experience and seeing the value in it. We really focus on the people that do come out. In addition to that, our TV ratings continue to climb this year. I would expect that’s going to transfer to people coming to the ballpark as well.”

On TV ratings:
“It’s difficult for me to sense TV. It’s something that’s brand new to me. I think when you look at attendance, people in baseball or in business, there’s easy markers that you can look at. Payroll is one thing people focus on. Wins and losses is another. And attendance. The numbers are easy to digest. Ratings get a little trickier, because of where they’re being carried, how many games are being carried, things like that. I think as far as the ratings are going, it’s been a constant climb since we came in the door. We had a nice jump last year, we’ve had a nice jump this year. As long as they keep going up, it’s hard to understand where they should be or what the potential is. We’re drawing to a substantial number of households in the region. Hundreds of thousands. That’s a lot. So I think we’re heading in the right direction.”

On possible payroll adjustments this season:
“We made a commitment to do certain things this year to try to put the absolute best product we can on the field, and then some. Last year was so special, you wanted to give each of the guys in the clubhouse and the fans and the organization the chance to succeed again. I don’t think I would’ve changed anything what we did in the offseason in prepping things. We clearly had a need, we felt at the time, to shore up different parts of the team. We did that. We still feel great about the team. And as long as we’re in the hunt, I don’t see us, because of financial reasons, pulling back from that. Clearly, though, it’s a multi-year process. The money doesn’t come out of thin air. And budgetary shortfalls from out end, from a revenue standpoint, lead toward future years being a little bit leaner. I won’t say a lot leaner, but a little bit.”

On the importance of this recognition nationally:
“Affordable is a relative term. We talk about the average attendance, there was an expectation throughout all of MLB that attendance was going to come down a good deal this year. Nobody really knew, six months ago or eight months ago, when we made these projections, we didn’t know if attendance would be down 10, 20 percent. And I think we didn’t expect it to get to last year’s average attendance numbers, that would have been outstanding. Don’t get me wrong, it was in the realm of possibility. But to be a realist, we thought there would be a little bit of a shortfall in Major League Baseball’s numbers, and there has been. When we talk about affordability, that’s a relative term as well. Every dollar that people spend, wherever they spend it, comes out of their pocket, and it’s all relative. We just want to make sure we are at least in the game as far as what might be affordable. On an absolute basis, a family of four can come in for what I think is a very, very competitive, reasonable price for what we provide.”

On expanding fan base:
“That’s been a real focus. We didn’t know exactly what (moving Spring Training to Port Charlotte) was going to amount to. It’s obviously only been half a season, and we look at zip codes and where people are coming from, but we clearly have put a number of seeds int the ground by going to Port Charlotte.”

On thoughts of what’s happened on the field this year:
“I’m really satisfied. If you look at the team, from man one to man 28, the people that have contributed, I couldn’t be more pleased. I think we have a lot of good things ahead of us here. Clearly the schedule has dragged us down a little bit. We got off to a slow start. As I look back at it now, clearly there was a hangover effect from what we did last year. While I don’t think I would have changed a thing, because it was a real reason to celebrate, I think it might’ve had a bit of an impact especially because we have players that haven’t gone through it before. Next year it’ll be a little bit easier, when we get to the World Series again (laughs). I think once again if we can get our numbers at Tropicana Field as what I’d term a homefield advantage, if we can get that up to the upper 50 (wins), I think we’ll have a good opportunity to be there well into September.”

On improving midweek game attendance:
“I’m accepting all suggestions. I expected this year that Fridays woud’ve been a go-to night. Fridays compared to the rest of the week are very strong times for attendance. The biggest gap that we seem to have is what’s going on the rest of country on Friday nights and what we have in Tropicana Field. I try to tackle one thing at a time. We’ve tackled Saturdays. We’ve tackled Sundays, made them sort of go-to events. Now the next focus has been and will continue to be on Fridays. And as I expect Fridays to work, we’ll get to the midweek stuff and figure that out.”

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Happy Anniversary, Jimmy Qualls

Jimmy Qualls had 31 hits during a largely unforgettable major league career that touched parts of three seasons and three teams - the Cubs, Expos and White Sox. But one of those hits is the reason Qualls is long remembered by Mets fans and baseball historians.

It was the one-out, ninth inning single to left-center field July 9, 1969 off Tom Seaver that ended Tom Terrific's perfect game.

The Mets won 4-0.

No Met pitcher has ever thrown as much as a no-hitter. It wasn't until after Seaver was traded to the Reds when he finally threw a no-hitter.

Mets fans still curse the name Jimmy Qualls, even though Seaver beat the Cubs 4-0 that night and the Mets eventually overcame the Cubs to win the division, the Braves for the pennant and the Orioles for the World Series.

Here are links to a pair of stories on the Seaver-Qualls throw down at Shea Stadium 40 years ago tonight ...

Stealing home: More exciting than a triple?

I think most agree that a triple is the most exciting play in baseball. I know Carl Crawford does not agree.

The Rays left fielder told me once the home run is the most exciting play. I guess if you're hitting them they are exciting.

But for those of us who can only watch, the foot race between the batter and the outfielders with third base as the finish line is pretty darn exciting.

Then B.J. Upton steals home Wednesday night, and I think, "Hmmmm."

Watching a guy steal home is pretty darn exciting, too.

Crawford did it a few years back against the Red Sox. That was a straight steal.

Upton didn't break for the plate until Toronto pitcher Brian Tallet threw over to first base in the first inning and easily beat Kevin Millar's throw home. That was considered a straight steal, too, meaning the runner from third didn't score on the front end of a double-steal.

Steals of home happen so quick you almost miss them.

Runner on third breaks. Pitcher throws home. The slide. The late tag.



It was Upton's third career steal of home plate, tying him with Torii Hunter, Alex Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield and Omar Vizquel for the most in the majors among active players.

You think stealing second is a dying art, how about stealing home?

Ty Cobb did it 54 times during his career. He also holds the record for a single season with eight, which he set in 1912.

The record for most steals of home plate in one game is two, shared by 11 players. The last to do it was Cleveland's Vic Powers in 1958.

Here is a link to Baseball Almanac's Web page on the topic ...

Here's a link to an story on Upton's steal Wednesday complete with video ...

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The tale of two shirts

Say this about the Rays All-Star promotions: The T-shirts have gotten better.

The one on the bottom was going to be used to push Carl Crawford for the "Final Vote" in 2005, but the left fielder wasn't among the five finalists, so the campaign was scrapped.

The one on top is currently in use in the "Vote 'Los" campaign to push Carlos Pena for the "Final Vote."

Notice the use of the St. Louis Arch, the St. Louis skyline, an actually head shot of Pena and the way Pena's head is used for the letter "O."

"I'm very happy with it. I think I look somewhat handsome," Pena said before Tuesday's game with the visiting Blue Jays.

Crawford wasn't even aware of a campaign back in 2005.
"No way," he said before Tuesday's game. "They made T-shirts? No way."

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Longo, CC, Bartlett, Zobrist are All-Stars

Led by Evan Longoria, who was the fan’s choice to start at third base for the American League, the Tampa Bay Rays will send a franchise-high four players to the All-Star Game on July 14 in St. Louis.

Joining Longoria are shortstop Jason Bartlett, left fielder Carl Crawford and second baseman Ben Zobrist.

"I think it shows a lot about the steps that the team has taken, as far as the fan’s eye, and it’s definitely a huge honor, obviously with the caliber of third basemen there are in the American League, to be the leading vote getter is just a tremendous honor," Longoria told reporters Sunday afternoon in Arlington, TX.

The defending American League champions will be well represented at the All-Star Game. Rays manager Joe Maddon will manage the American League squad with the help of his entire coaching staff.

Longoria is an All-Star for a second straight year, having won the American League "Final Vote" by a record nine million last July during his rookie season. He was one of a then team record three Rays to attend an All-Star Game, joining pitcher Scott Kazmir and catcher Dioner Navarro.

Longoria is the second player in team history to be voted a starter by the fans. Jose Canseco was voted in as the designated hitter in 1999 but missed the game because of back surgery.

Crawford, who leads the major leagues in stolen bases with 40 and is third in the majors with 104 hits, will attend a franchise-record third All-Star Game. He was a reserve in 2004 and 2007, homering for his only All-Star Game hit in the American League’s win in 2007 at San Francisco.

Bartlett and Zobrist are making their first trips to the All-Star Game.

Bartlett, the top-hitting shortstop in the majors, finished second to Derek Jeter of the Yankees in the fan voting.

Zobrist is the surprise of the quartet, having begun the season as the Rays super utility player. The versatile Zobrist has started at six different positions — second base, shortstop, third base and all three outfield sports — but has settled in as the Rays every-day second baseman after Akinori Iwamura injured his knee on May 24.

"I think it is all well deserved obviously," Maddon said. "I’m in agreement with all the people that were voted in and I felt, I’m looking at everybody else that was available or eligible and I just felt that Zobrist’s numbers stacked up really well. And you have to be careful, you want to be fair to everybody else but then you cannot be unfair to your own group at the same time. I just looked at the whole thing and I felt Ben definitely belonged on the team also."

Zobrist leads the American League in slugging percentage and OPS. With a career-high 16 home runs through 82 games, he is on pace to hit more than 30 this season.

"I’m really excited to see Zobrist go," Longoria said. "I definitely think he deserved it. He didn’t get the at-bats he needed at the beginning of the year, but you saw when he got the at bats his abilities."

Saturday, July 4, 2009

"The luckiest man ... "

Lou Gehrig's famous farewell speech at Yankee Stadium, delivered 70 years ago today, will be remembered across major league ballparks this afternoon and evening as MLB helps promote awareness for ALS, which is known as "Lou Gehrig's Disease."

Baseball will also give Gehrig another day in the sun, which is great. To most fans, Gehrig is a name from the past, linked more to his record for consecutive games, since broken by Cal Ripken Jr., than anything else.
Gehrig was one of the best to ever play the game. Still, it is his death that keeps his memory alive.

Fans have come to poke fun at the famous line, adding their own echoes ... "Today (today), I consider myself (consider myself), the luckiest man (man) on the face of the earth (on the face of the earth.)"

I've heard grooms say this at their wedding. I was going to, but those plans were nixed.

You'll find it during a scene of "Sleepless in Seattle."

Anyway, the thing is, Gehrig didn't know he was dying. That bit of news was kept from him. So the scene in "Pride of the Yankees," where Lou asks the doctor, "Is it three strikes, Doc?" Great line. Never happened.

Still, "Pride of the Yankees" is one of the best baseball movies ever.

Lou is my all-time favorite Yankee, more so than Babe Ruth. Lou had one of the greatest careers in baseball history and was happy to play in the shadow of Ruth.

He set the the record for consecutive games played, because that's what did during his era: You played every day.

And, of course, he died a hero's death.

I just bought a figurine a few weeks ago of Lou, hat in hand, standing at the microphone while he delivers his farewell speech. It will have a prominent display in my den as soon as I clean out my den.

Here is a link to the Lou Gehrig web site:

Here is a link to a clip of his speech:

Here is a link to Gary Cooper in "Pride of the Yankees:"

Here is Lou's speech ...

"Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth.

I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans. Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn't consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them for even one day?

Sure, I'm lucky. Who wouldn't consider it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseball's greatest empire, Ed Barrow? To have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins? Then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy?

Sure, I'm lucky. When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift - that's something.

When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies - that's something.

When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter - that's something.

When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so you can have an education and build your body - it's a blessing.

When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed - that's the finest I know.

So I close in saying that I may have had a tough break, but I have an awful lot to live for."

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Rays trade for Triple A pitcher

The Tampa Bay Rays have acquired right-handed relief pitcher John Meloan from the Cleveland Indians in exchange for right-handed relief pitcher Winston Abreu.

Meloan (ma-LONE) has been added to the Rays 40-man roster, bringing the roster to its full capacity. He will report to Durham (AAA). Meloan, who turns 25 on July 11, has spent the entire 2009 season with Columbus (AAA). He went 0-0 for the Clippers with a 5.52 ERA (44.0-IP, 52-H, 27-ER, 17-BB, 37-SO) in 25 appearances (two starts). He has pitched a total of seven games in the major leagues, appearing in two games for the Indians in 2008 and five games in 2007 with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Over parts of five minor league seasons, he is 15-16 with 22 saves, a 3.75 ERA (321.1-IP, 134-ER) and 384 strikeouts, an average of 10.8 strikeouts per nine innings.

Meloan was acquired by the Indians on July 26, 2008 from the Dodgers along with catcher Carlos Santana in exchange for infielder Casey Blake. In 2007 he was named a Southern League All-Star and Double-A Reliever of the Year by He was selected by the Dodgers in the fifth round of the 2005 June Draft out of the University of Arizona.

Abreu, 32, was designated for assignment on June 27 after making two appearances for the Rays. The Rays selected him from Durham on June 14 after he compiled a 3-0 record, 10 saves and a 1.41 ERA (32.0-IP, 14-H, 5-R/ER, 10-BB, 49-SO) for the Bulls. Abreu was a non-roster invite this spring for the Rays.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Rays No. 1 ... in affordability

ESPN the Magazine ranked all the professional sports and found the Rays 16th in their ultimate standings.

The affordability of attending a game at the Trop carried the Rays, who improved from 75th last year.

I would question the rank of the coaching, which is 25th. After what Joe Maddon and his staff did with that team last year, I would say they deserve to be in the top-5.

Here is ESPN's run down. For more, here is a link to ESPN the Magazine ...

Last Year's Rank: 75
Title Track: 35
Ownership: 48
Coaching: 25
Players: 23
Fan Relations: 19
Affordability: 1
Stadium Experience: 106

Bang for the Buck: 21
What do you get when you charge fans the fourth-cheapest admission ($18.35) in MLB to see the defending AL Champs? A 59-slot bump in the Standings. Even with a 24.3% hike in the average fan cost per season ($2,962.35), the Rays are still the most gently priced team among the Big Four sports, thanks, in part, to free parking and programs.

But even young superstars Evan Longoria and David Price can't fill the seats at Tropicana Field. The club averaged just 22,259 fans during its 2008 World Series run and is drawing only slightly better this season. Sparse crowds are a big part of the reason fans rank the Trop's Stadium Experience so low. And plans to build a new $450 million ballpark on the waterfront in downtown St. Pete are off the table (the team is looking for alternative sites), while developers court needed public support.

Until then, don't think of the Trop as half-empty. Think of it as half-full.