Scott Kazmir was asked in the lead up to yesterday’s game which Scott Kazmir would show up for game 2 of the American League Division Series.
“Hopefully the good Scott Kazmir”
Uh-huh. With the bases loaded and nobody out in the top of the first, the good Scott Kazmir was looking like a distant dream. (Just for the record, I don’t agree with Harold Reynolds’ assertion that Kaz hit leadoff man Orlando Cabrera on purpose in retaliation for Thursday’s war of words. I think it was a pure lack of control early on.).
By the time Scotty K had gotten out of the first, he had thrown 37 pitches and faced 8 White Sox hitters. The good (nay, amazing) news was that he had limited them to just two runs…
“Its about 9 guys, playing hard for 9 innings, to take one of the 8 playoff spots.”
So said Joe Maddon of his t-shirt design, back in Spring Training. And we laughed. Sure, we admired his ambition and his coinfidence, but frankly I think we’d have been happy with a season in which we didn’t lose 90 games. A .500 season would have been awesome. And a winning season the stuff of dreams.
Joe Maddon is a smart man. He thinks before he speaks, and he doesn’t go in for hyperbole. But he knows baseball.
And I will never doubt him again.
‘Cos the Rays are going to the playoffs.
And the win that sealed it was a perfect example of the mantra that the Rays have lived by all season. It saw 5 pitchers limiting the Twins to two consolation runs late on. It saw 6 batters drive in runs. And, of course, it saw a myriad of sparkling defensive plays, from Evan Longoria, from Fernando Perez, from Rocco Baldelli, from Dioner Navarro and from Carlos Pena.
Before the game, the local chapter of the BBWAA announced their team award winners. Their selection of team MVP pretty much sums up the way the season has gone. It wasn’t Pena with his 31 homeruns and 98 RBI. It wasn’ Longoria with his 25 homers, 82 RBI and spectactular defense. It wasn’t Navarro with his team-best .292 average and immense play behind the plate. It wasn’t any of our starting pitchers, all with at least 11 wins.
No, it was a guy who has hit .280 with 1 homerun and 33 RBI. Jason Bartlett. A guy who, along with Matt Garza, we received in a trade last winter for Delmon Young. And you know what, without his defense, and without his spark, I don’t think we’d be in this position right now. And I guess that makes a pretty good definition for the Most Valuable Player.
The way this week started though, you wouldn’t have been betting on the celebrations that the Trop saw last night. Monday’s loss to Boston wasn’t just ugly, it had the potential to be mentally destroying. When your ace takes the mound, in a huge game, and gets tagged for 6 hits, 4 homeruns and 9 runs in just 3 innings, you’ve got a long way to bounce back. By the time the 13-5 defeat was done with, Scott Kazmir’s confidence was shattered, and the Rays were in a virtual tie for first place in the East for the first time since the All-Star break.
So how do you come back? You send your number 5 starter to battle with your rival’s ace. As it turns out, its a masterplan. For the second time in a week, Andy Sonnanstine went toe-to-toe with Josh Beckett, allowing just a single unearned run in 6 innings. Balfour, Howell and Wheeler did their thing, kept it shutdown, and let the walk-off happen like it has so many times already this year. Tuesday night it was the turn of Dioner Navarro, his walk-off single (it would have been a ground-rule double had he not been mobbed on the basepaths) the margin in a 2-1 win.
So, Wednesday, and a massive game. Heading out, the Rays would either be tied with the Sox, or have a 2-game lead. And, perhaps more importantly, it would decide the season series – a Rays win would seal the matchup 10-8, giving them the edge if the AL East were to go to a tiebreaker. And the Rays would have to deal with their nemesis, Tim Wakefield.
Unfortunately for the Sox, they had to deal with Joe Maddon. After the success of the non-switch hitting switch hitters against Mike Mussina last weekend, Joe had Willy Aybar and Fernando Perez repeat the act against Wakefield. They responded by both hitting homeruns off the knuckleballer – according to Elias, the first pair of switch hitters to both hit homeruns from the wrong side (ie righty v righty) in the same game since division play started in 1969. Gabe Gross went deep as well, and the Rays coasted to a 10-3 win. Yeah.
After those two feel-good wins, Thursday was another loss that threatened to be disheartening. We knocked the Twins starter out in the first, putting up a 5-spot, but couldn’t shake the pesky Minnesota hitters. Evan Longoria became just the second Ray (after Jonny Gomes) to hit three homeruns in a game, but it wasn’t enough as closer de jour Dan Wheeler had a rare meltdown, allowing four runs as the Twins fought back to a 11-8 win.
Still, if at first you don’t succeed, and all that. Friday night the Rays took until the second to knock the Twins starter out the game, but thanks to a great start from Edwin Jackson (7 IP, 7 hits, 5 Ks, 1 run), this time there were no late game fireworks. Evan Longoria added 3 RBI to his series output, while Carlos Pena had four of his own, three of which came on a history-making homerun – originally ruled a fan-interference double, it became the first ever call to be overturned by video replay. An 11-1 win, and a game away from history.
And, wouldn’t you just know it, that it was Scott Kazmir, after getting shellacked in his last start, who came up big yesterday. 6 shutout innings, 5 hits and 5 strikeouts, and the Rays’ winningest ever pitcher was rewarded with the W. The win that sends the Rays to the postseason for the first time ever.
Joe Maddon had it right all along.
Well, not quite. The nine innings and eight teams is right. But the number of players, well he was way off. This season has been the ultimate team effort. And its been even better to watch as a result of it. From the mohawk-fever thats sweeping the clubhouse, to the beards for Rocco earlier in the year, to the never-ending stream of shaving foam to the face victims, its been a joy. There was a great quote from Scott Kazmir in the St Pete Times yesterday – “We got Mohawks and everything. We might as well do dugout chants.” And you know what, he’s right. Rather than the highly-paid professional athletes that they are, the Rays have played more like a bunch of mates playing for some high school team, wanting to win not for themselves, but rather for their friends. Its a great attitude to have, and no small part of the Rays’ success this year.
And its architect? Joe Maddon of course.
You know the story. A nightmare start to the roadtrip. More injuries. A struggling offense.
And then the Rays effect takes over.
Due to one thing and another, I’ve just finished watching Wednesday night’s game three of the Boston series. I watched games one and two on Wednesday and Thursday, hence the longer than usual net lag delay. But, in the end, it was worth the wait.
After arriving in Boston, things started with a scare as reliever Juan Salas had an epileptic seizure. He’s fine, and back with the team, but its harldly a calming way to start a crucial series. Then the game came, Edwin Jackson gave up three runs in the first inning, and things looked grim…
I should probably make it clear right away that I’m not a huge fan of the All-Star game. I like the homerun derby, and the general concept of celebrating the best players each year.
But I don’t like the fact that the result of the game decides home field advantage for the World Series. Probably not alone there.
And, unfortunately, I think that while the concept is good, the practicality of celebrating the year’s best players is where the whole thing falls down. Let me explain.
Ok, giving the fans a say as to who they want to see play is a good idea. To a point. But the simple truth is always going to be that more fans=more votes. This year is a case in point. I’m trying not to be overtly Rays-orientated here, but they are who I know best, and so its easier for me to draw an example from them. Terry Francona said, on the Rays having only two representatives (and I paraphrase from memory), “at some point if the Rays want more representatives, then their fans are going to have to go out an vote.”
Its reasonably logical, I suppose. But how many fans do the Rays have? Even including displaced fans (such as your author) and part-time fans and well-wishers, would we ever be able to outvote even that small percentage of Yankee fans who regularly attend 2 or more games a year at the Stadium? I think not. So already that plan has fallen by the wayside.
So what next? Ok, so we need the neutrals, and fans from National League teams to give our guys the vote. There’s plenty of them, after all. It is possible that, with a good season, and lots of media attention, that a Ray could pick up enough votes from them to have a serious shot at making the team.
But here’s the kicker. You can vote 25 times. Why? Why, oh why, oh why? I challenge anybody to come up with an election where you are allowed to vote for the person you want up to 25 times. Lets face it, its a system that could totally revolutionise democracy.
And it renders the neutral vote more or less useless. Why do I say that? Ok, I’m a Red Sox fan and I love David Ortiz. A big stretch of the imagination, I know. I want him on the All-Star team. What am I going to do? Yep, I’m going to go an vote 25 times. Big Papi 25-Everyone else 0. But what if I’m one of those neutrals. I’m thinking that Cliff Floyd (for example) is more deserving. So I vote for him. But do I care enough to go and vote for him 25 times? No. So its Big Papi 25 – Everyone else 1. Ladies and Gentlemen, democracy in action.
All of that is even before we get to who everyone is voting for. I could live with everyone having 25 votes if someone could guarantee that it was the best players who were being voted for, and not the most popular. But just look at the lineups. Someone please make the argument to me that Derek Jeter, Manny Ramirez, Ichiro or Ortiz have been the best at their positions so far this season? Someone tell me how Joe Mauer only squeaked home barely ahead of Jason Varitek? Carlos Pena came in the top five for first basemen. Not even I would have voted for him based on his first half (if I had voted). I literally do not understand the point of the All-Star game if it is not the players who are playing best that are selected. Especially not when the result of the game actually counts for something.
Of course, I don’t really have an alternative suggestion. The other possibly acceptable one is for the players to choose. But look at their votes this year for the reserves. They voted on Scott Kazmir, who while I think he’s great, missed the first month of the season, had 6 awesome starts in a row, but otherwise has actually been some distance off of his best form. And while the fans did eventually manage not to pick Jason Varitek, the players went right ahead and gave him the nod. Yep, the same Varitek who is hitting .220 on the year, and a bruising .133 over the last 30 days. The NL pitchers must be quaking in their boots.
Its a bit sad then, that for all this I am still ecstatic that Dioner Navarro got the nod. He truly deserves to be an All-Star this year. Don’t get me wrong, I’m pleased for Kaz as well, but I could think of at least 2 or 3 other Rays pitchers who I think deserve it more than him this year. Sorry Kaz.
And I am certain that Evan Longoria is worthy of winning the final vote. He is an immense talent, and deserves the recognition that being an All-Star brings. And I’m enjoying the campaigns that are going on for the various players. Well, some of them. I like the fan-orientated, fun ones. I liked Giambi-tache night yesterday.
But I read this article on MLB.com and it actually made me feel a little ill at the whole All-Star experience. The final vote could be, should be – in fact, probably was meant to be – a way to get the fans really involved in the week, a chance for lovers of baseball to give a reward to a player who would otherwise have just missed out. I could cheer for that. Anyone could.
But sometimes the MLB, and MLBAdvancedMedia are just in their own little worlds. I quote from the article directly –
“…take the Giants as just one example. Their front-office people have been voting non-stop for Rowand online. Employees have been encouraged to vote as often as possible and have their families vote on their behalf. There are contests among employees to see who votes the most. Winners of those contests receive “cash prizes” and “memorabilia.” Staci Slaughter, the club’s senior vice president of communications, said the first time they counted how many times the employees had voted, some had already registered 10,000 votes.”
How is that giving the fans a chance to reward someone who they think deserves it? If I sat at home and voted non-stop for the entire time that I wasn’t working this week, could I vote 10,000 times? No. Nobody could. So my vote doesn’t count. Your vote doesn’t count. But hey, it is a nice job if you can get it, being paid to vote for someone. I believe that, in some democracies, it is considered illegal, but in the MLB it’s positively encouraged.
I hope Evan wins. But I can’t support a game that is created through this farce. And I can’t believe that the MLB’s own website is actually praising what I can only describe as vote-rigging.
What a joke.
As it turns out, Zack Grienke is a pretty good pitcher indeed. Not quite good enough to stop the rolling Rays, however.
From a offensive show friday night, we moved to a pitching spectacular last night, with probably the rotation’s biggest surprise this year, Andy Sonnanstine, on the hill. I don’t think Sonny would be offended if I were to say that he was the least of the Rays’ five, in terms of pure natural ability. But he does have something really very special. A knack of getting the job done…
Well I hope that everybody on the other side of the pond had a very enjoyable Independence Day. Its not exactly something that is celebrated over here (I can’t imagine why!!!), but I enjoy it, as it always gives me a good reason to re-read the Declaration of Independence, which in my mind is one of the finest written pieces of political text – of any text, in fact – ever produced.
Still, whatever the Declaration says, it’s demonstrated time and time again that, as far as baseball is concerned, all men are not created equal. In fact, some are just so unequal that it is almost ridiculous. Take Evan Longoria, for example…
You know something? You just can’t not watch this team. You can’t stop, you can’t look away, not even for one second.
Because every pitch, every swing of the bat, every bit of glovework could be the one. It could win the game. Even a game that looked out of reach. And maybe even a series against the World Champions.
At 3AM last night (UK time, obviously!), the Rays were 4-1 down. Kaz had lasted only 5 innings with an elevated pitch count, and through 6 innings the hitters had picked up only 3 hits between them. I had to be up for work at 8. I was only watching live at all because well, lets face it, Kaz v Dice-K, Rays going for the sweep, how can you not watch live? And as Jonny Gomes struck out, leaving a man aboard to end the 6th, going to bed looked a pretty good option.
However, before I get to my good decision, and those last 3 innings, lets have a quick recap of games 1 and 2…