Carl Crawford Steals Bases

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Sorry for the lack of posts. I just haven’t had the urge to write lately. I’ve been in an awful funk that I just can’t shake. Hopefully I’m able to snap ot of it soon. Having some fun with my family this weekend surely helped, as did making an awesome dinner last night.

But you see, the Rays have been in quite a funk themselves. They recently came back from a 3-6 road trip, and hadn’t won a series since opening week against the Red Sox at Fenway.

Funny as it may be, those same Red Sox made their season’s first visit to the Trop this weekend. Rays took 3 out of 4. Next comes Baltimore and then a jaunt up to the new Yankee Stadium. Another 3 out of 4 is quite doable, but that’s getting ahead of ourselves.

Today we honor Carl Crawford, the longest tenured Ray on the team. He stole a MLB record tying SIX BASES. Unbelievable.

In recognition, fellow Jesuit and Notre Dame Alum James Geyer has created the following picture. Enjoy.

Go Rays. I should hopefully make it to a game in the upcoming weekends. I went to a real stinker against the White Sox!

smallheap.jpg image by jmooser

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You Are Dead To Me!

The feel good story of the 2008 baseball season may end up leaving a bitter aftertaste in the mouths of Rays fans everywhere. Rocco Baldelli, who has been the face of the franchise for many years, has signed a one year contract with the Boston Red Sox Sux. Blasphemy.

Not the sort of news I enjoy coming home to.

What makes this incredible to me is the amount of time the organization gave to Rocco to overcome injury (some inappropriately inflicted during the offseason) and for him to stage a comeback after being (mis)diagnosed with a mitochondrial disorder. In the 2+ seasons prior to the back half of the 2008 season, Rocco had played next to nothing, being a regular on the 60 day DL list and on injured reserve.

Clearly this is a frustrating situation to be in as a player. No matter what team you are on, even if it was the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, most professionals want to play. I don’t want to take anything away from Baldelli’s accomplishments as a member of our ball club. He was many times the sole reason to drive across the bay and watch the team play in that sarcophagus of a stadium (before current renovations).

I’m not sure how I should judge this. Of course, it initially comes across as a slap in the face to the efforts of the Rays organization to keep him in the game and to provide him hopeful support. Then again, could it be that someone in the front office really messed up? Or perhaps this was to be expected when Rocco filed for free agency after the season. Did we not up the ante when it came down to it? I definitely think the chance to play closer to where he grew up was a huge factor as well. I can’t help but think that the signing of Pat Burrell only expedited the process.

Nevertheless, we will miss you Rocco. You will always be remembered as a legendary Ray, and as an essential part of the eventual success of the franchise.

I’ll try not to boo too hard when they announce your name when you visit the Trop.

A Golden Glove

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Another epic piece to the surprising puzzle that was the 2008 Rays team. For the first time in their history, a position player has won the Gold Glove Award, an accolade bestowed upon 1 player at each position for defensive excellence. This year, Carlos Pena, the Rays’ charismatic, dependable but gradually balding first baseman has won this years AL award for first base! He only committed and unprecedented 2 errors the entire year! Congratulations to Carlos! He cares because he doesn’t smoke!

smallheap.jpg image by jmooser

UnRaylievable

Happy World Series Eve. Just a quick blurb here congratulating the Rays on an amazing American League Championship win! The boys won the pennant at home against the indefatigable Boston Red Sox in 7 thrilling games. The World Series starts tomorrow at 8:30 or so… and it will be on FOX, so no worries if you don’t have cable! The Rays take on the Philadelphia Phillies in what should be an epic series. A lot of people focus on the Cubs not winning the Series in 100 years, but Philly has won it ONCE in 126 years! That’s absurd.

As for me, I will actually be at the game! Thanks to a good frend of the heap., I was able to purchase an outfield ticket! What a historic event to go see, and the pitching match up isn’t too shabby either. Cole Hamels vs. Scott Kazmir. I’ll definitely have pics and stories to share! Look for many updates this weekend!

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ALDS Game 2

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Game 1 went to the Rays, thanks to Evan “Almighty” Longoria and his 3 RBI. James Shields pitched a solid 6+ innings, though he left the bases loaded with one out as he departed. Add in a little of Rays’ “small ball” and the boys were able to manufacture just enough.

Good thing Grant Balfour, and his superior Australian Athletic ability prevailed, as he struck out Uribe and Cabrera. Some testosterone laced competitive spirit erupted as Cabrera called out our favorite Aussie, kicking dirt in his direction? Balfour reacted with an expletive filled explosion. He brought the heat too, hitting 96 MPH on the gun… utterly devastating White Sox hitters.

So here we are on late Friday afternoon. Its Game 2 at 6 PM. Scott Kazmir faces traditional Chi Sox ace Mark Buehrle. Kaz has been struggling as of late, giving up 4 solo shots to the Tigers in his last start, and giving up 9 runs to Boston a few starts back. We need 6 innings from him. We need some K’s. And we need a win.

Are the Chi Sox feeling the heat yet?

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There’s Only One October

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The Rayvolution begins today at 2:30 PM when the Rays begin their inaugural quest into the post season in a best of five games series against the AL Central Champions Chicago White Sox.

Chicago comes in on a relatively high note, as they had to win the last three to even get into the playoffs. After defeating the Indians on the last day of the season, they were within a half game of Minnesota. As a result, a postponed game against Detroit HAD to be made up. They beat the Tigers 8-2 thanks to a Alexei Ramirez grand slam. A 1 game playoff ensued because of the tie in the standings between Minnesota and Chicago. Chicago defeated Minnesota on Tuesday 1-0 on a Jim Thome solo shot, finally ending the season long battle between the two for AL Central Supremacy.

The prize? A trip to the Tampa Bay Area to face playoff newcomers, the Rays. Our team which has been the perennial doormat of the league is that no more, amassing 97 wins and winning the AL East crown, the hardest division in baseball. If that isn’t intimidating enough, the Rays were an MLB best 57-24 at home. The White Sox? 35-46 on the road. And one more little tidbit. The Rays have won over 20 games, and have lost only once when the crowd is over 30,000. This afternoon’s game is sold out.

But stats are just stats. Which Rays team will show up today? How debilitating will the butterflies be? The White Sox lead the MLB with over 200 home runs this season. Rays’ pitching has been giving up a lot of them lately. James Shields has been dominant under the dome. The boys always find a way to win. The world has noticed. They are perhaps the most adopted team by fans of the other 22 teams which didn’t make the playoffs. Sportswriters everywhere have been hopping on the bandwagon left and right.

The little wagon that could.

They think they can. They think they can.

The baseball world will find out in less than 2 hours how the beginning of the final chapters of this fairytale thriller will end.

Guess we’ll just have to keep reading.

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9=8… Rays Win the American League East

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The chase for the division is over. The Rays will sit atop the hardest division in baseball at the end of the regular season. It had been 11 years since anyone BUT the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox had been division champs. That streak ends, at least for one year. Who else is ready to join the Rayvolution? Are you feeling the heat already? The winner of the AL Central most certainly will when either the White Sox or Twins begin a best of 5 against the Rays Thursday night at Tropicana Field, where the Rays have the best home record in all of baseball. Rumor is that BOTH games are sold out. The Rays are undefeated in the last 20 or so when the crowds at home are over 30,000. You do the math.

I just wanted to share my enthusiasm, obviously, but also Tampa Tribune’s Martin Fennelly’s column. He’s one of my favorite journalist because of his style of writing. It’s unique… almost mirroring a sort of stream-of-consciousness. You simply could not sum up the season any better than how he does t in this piece. Enjoy reading it!

By MARTIN FENNELLY | The Tampa Tribune

Published: September 27, 2008

Updated: 02:40 am

DETROIT Most of them left the visitors clubhouse without knowing whether they owned a flag or not. The franchise that has waited 11 seasons to plant one in the Red Sox and Yankees had to wait a little longer.

Many of the amazing Rays departed Comerica Park after losing to the Tigers on Friday night. Their magic number for clinching the American League East remained 1. The Yankees were clobbering the Red Sox, but doing it in and around rain delays at Fenway Park.

So Rays scattered, some to the team hotel, others to a nearby casino; the latter seemed appropriate for the team that had beaten all the odds. Rays manager Joe Maddon lingered in the clubhouse with his coaches and a small platoon of his miracle men.

But one by one, or three by three, the others came back to the stadium.

They had to be together.

It’s like that grand old man, Cliff Floyd said.

“We’re a team, after all.”

The clock struck midnight.

And the magic number turned to none.

The Red Sox were crushed by the Yankees.

Actually, it was 12:52 a.m., Destiny Time, when the pumpkin turned into a coach all over again.

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They sprayed champagne and poured beer on their AL East caps and shirts, they smoked big fat cigars (eventually setting off stadium smoke alarms) and screamed “9=8,” the Maddon-made mantra that became the running theme – nine men competing for nine innings equals one of the eight playoff teams.

There’s something about a group of sloppy Rays forming a circle around Carlos Pena and Evan Longoria as they dance cheek to cheek that, well, never gets old. Or maybe it was the skipper himself parting the sea of celebrants, holding aloft a bottle of Patron tequila as if was a holy relic.

“Jon?”

Maddon was calling Rays mad dog Jonny Gomes.

Gomes seized said tumbler.

And it was on.

Here are your Rays, Tampa Bay.

They are tickling America’s nose as much as any bubbly could.

Forget the presidential debate.

Move over, McCain and Obama.

Meet the real candidates of change.

And the new Beast of the East.

It had been 11 years since anyone other than the Yankees or the Red Sox had won the American League East. We figured it would be another 111 before that changed.

These Rays believed different.

Never mind that the combined Red Sox and Yankees payrolls resembled some sort of federal bailout plan, or that Rays players earned less than the left side of the New York infield. That whining sap, Yankees sort-of owner Hank Steinbrenner, is right. It isn’t fair being the AL East.

How are you going to beat the Rays?

People, stupid people, will say that Joe Maddon’s guys backed in, seeing as they’d lost two straight to the Tigers.

Let me tell you something:

When you go from worst to first, when you go from 96 losses to 96 wins, from fantasy to reality, there’s no such thing.

You don’t back into a mountaintop.

“You don’t back into something like this,” Pena said.

Amen, brother.

If you own a car horn, honk it.

If you own a frying pan, bang it.

If you love an underdog, bark at the moon.

The story that couldn’t be beat couldn’t be beaten by the Red Sox, either.

“We stared everyone down,” Rays reliever J.P. Howell said the other day.

Every single Ray, big names, no names, any name, chipped in.

And believed.

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“You’ve got to believe it before you see it,” manager Joe Maddon said.

Yes, they would have liked to have clinched it their way. The Tigers would have none of it, and that includes Tampa son Gary Sheffield, who hit the 498th and 499th home runs of his career.

But it happened anyway.

No one could stop the Rays.

They stared everyone down. They lost Longoria and Carl Crawford to injuries and they kept staring. They lost Troy Percival and B.J. Upton and they kept staring. They lost seven in a row before the All-Star break and they kept staring. They lost that first game at Fenway a few weeks ago and kept staring. And believing, even when others didn’t.

“If you weren’t here to see it, you wouldn’t believe it,” said Dan Johnson, who probably got the biggest hit of the season, that ninth-inning home run off Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon to tie a game that the Rays eventually won.

Dan who?

Tampa Bay who?

The Beast of the East, that’s who.

We once questioned how they were doing all this.

Now there’s only one question:

Why not the Rays all the way?

“Why not us?,” Floyd asked. “Nobody wants to play us.”

Why not the Rays over the Twins or White Sox, or Angels and Red Sox? Why not their pitching, defense, bullpen and enough hitting to make you think someone upstairs has just come downstairs and is doing the backstroke in the Rays tank?

We’ve spent a season wondering just when these cats were going to crack, and right now we could walk from here to the postseason on Rays champagne corks.

Why not the Rays?

And to think, there was a time when a lot of Rays wanted no part of the AL East. The Red Sox and Yankees were menaces.

Gomes, who was the life of the celebration, remembered the first time Maddon told his Rays that the AL East was the best place for the Rays.

“We thought he was high,” Gomer said.

And so they are – high, oh, so high.

And the Red Sox can only look up.

And there’s a moral to the story.

“I bet every team with a payroll like ours can take something from this,” Floyd said.

I bet someone slugging it out for seven bucks an hour can take something from this.

“In this day and age, where most everything seems to be measured by the amount of money you put into it, people can identify with good play, with effort,” Maddon said. “They can identify with putting something together, with coming together, with unity, trust and accountability.”

Gomes added, “It’s the story of the kid who keeps getting his lunch stolen by the bullies until he punches back, and he keeps all his money.”

There’s a lot of kid in these amazing Rays. Before Thursday’s game, Carl Crawford smiled like he was waiting on a parade.

“And now we got a flag to wave,” Crawford said.

“This is only the start,” Maddon said.

Believe it.

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