Tag Archives: Tampa Bay Rays

The Creation of a Legend

In tomorrow’s (Sunday’s) print version of the St. Pete Times there will be a long-form article on Sam Fuld and his rise to the Major Leagues. Lucky for us they’ve already released it online. It gives some background on Fuld’s family, his high school and college days, and puts them in context with his ups and downs so far this year. My favorite part, obviously, is his special game in Boston on April 11, or what I sometimes refer to as “Super Sam’s Super Cycle”:

During batting practice before the game, Fuld saw Barbin, the assistant baseball coach who remembered all those nighttime swings in the cage in the winter. Fuld jogged over.

“Look,” Fuld said, holding out his hands. “I’m shaking.”

His family went to their seats in Section 21, behind home plate, up under the stadium’s second-deck overhang, and his sister Annie thought: God, please let him just get one hit.

Fuld came up in the first and flied out to right. He came up in the second inning and hit a home run down the right-field line. Teammate Johnny Damon was waiting at home plate. “Hey,” the veteran Damon told him, “wave to your parents.” On his way back to the dugout, Fuld looked over his left shoulder, up at Section 21.

Then he came up in the fourth and doubled to left. He came up in the sixth and tripled to center. Sarah looked at Annie. Annie looked at her parents. “The whole night,” Annie would say later, “we just kept saying, ‘I can’t believe this is happening.’ ” A single, and Fuld would hit for what in baseball is called the cycle, meaning a single, a double, a triple and a home run, all by the same player in the same game. It is a rare accomplishment.

Fuld came up in the seventh and flied out to left. He came up in the ninth, one more try, and he lined an outside fastball into the left-field corner. Damon and Price, his teammates in the dugout, had the same thought: Stop at first.

Down in West Palm Beach, Jim Munsey, Fuld’s agent, whose sons played with Fuld when they were teenagers, was watching the game at his house on his 54-inch TV. Up in Exeter, Dennehy, his old high school coach, saw the ball leave his bat. At Fenway, in Section 21, the Fuld family watched the ball rattle up against the green wall.

They all had the same thought.

No way he’s stopping at first.

“I just assumed,” his mother would say, “he would go as far as he could.”

Fuld sprinted to first. Then he did what he does. He kept going.

I know that feel-good stories like these pop up around the league every so often and dot the landscape of baseball’s history. But that doesn’t make them any less interesting or meaningful. Indeed, they always seem to validate why we pay attention to this silly game in the first place.

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Rays Above .500

With the 8-2 win last night against the Twins, Tampa Bay has moved to 12-11 which marks the first time they’ve been above .500 for the season. A far cry from that 1-8 start, isn’t it? Pretty balanced play from all four aspects – the rotation, the bullpen, the offense, and the defense – has propelled the Rays in their turnaround, though the superlative effort of the starting rotation shines through the most.

Several times over that stretch of games Rays’ starting pitchers have gone at least 7 strong, eating innings like nobody’s business and not letting the bullpen to join in on the fun much. The prime example of this has been Mr. James Shields, who pitched back-to-back complete games, one of which was a shut-out, giving up 4 hits in each of the games and only allowing one run total in 18 innings of work.

Welcome back, James.

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.500

Last night the Rays continued their hot streak by defeating the Chicago White Sox 4-1. This brings Tampa Bay’s record to 9-9. While a .500 mark is the definition of average and not usually something to write home about, it currently is remarkable considering the Rays were 1-8 after playing half the games they’ve played so far this season, and that included starting the year off 0-6. Since then, they’ve gone on a tear, winning 8 of 9 in the second half of the games they’ve played. ESPN notes that:

“Tampa Bay (9-9) became just the second team since 1900 — joining the 1991 Seattle Mariners — to reach .500 in April after starting the season with a six-game losing streak.”

Being only the second team to accomplish a certain feat in over a century, not too shabby eh? Plus, Tampa Bay is doing this with some of reserve players logging more playing time than was originally planned. On Opening Day, Tampa Bay was planning on having Evan Longoria and Manny Ramirez knocking the ball all over the place in the 3 and 4 spots and bringing in some runs. Instead, Longo will basically miss the month of April and Manny will miss the rest of his career, leaving characters like Sam Fuld and Felipe Lopez to fill in their shoes. Johnny Damon and Dan Johnson have also sat the past few games with various injuries, yielding some playing time to Casey Kotchman, Elliot Johnson, and Sean Rodriguez.

The rotation has really been pulling things along the last few games, with each starter trying to outdo the guy who threw before him (and if you missed James Shields dominating performance the other night, that’s your loss as he was in peak form for the 4-hit, 9 K CG). Oh, and don’t forget about the revamped bullpen that everyone was discounting but which actually is running a 2.72 ERA right now, by my calculations.  And that’s with Jake McGee doing badly. However, feel free to disregard this point about the bullpen due to the Law of Small Sample Size.

Tonight’s game against the Chi Sox will see the Rays going for the sweep, and a season series victory over Chicago as this will be the last game played between the two teams for the rest of the season.

Update: Rob Neyer over at Baseball Nation seemed to have the Rays’ bullpen on the mind last night too, and it appears my ERA calculations were a bit high:

With two perfect innings Wednesday night against the White Sox, Tampa Bay’s relievers lowered their group ERA to 2.57, the lowest in the American League.

Yes, just like last year.

This testifies to a number of things. For instance, the unreliability of statistics in April. Or perhaps the acumen of Tampa Bay’s front office, which hardly needs more testaments. And we might spare some credit for Joe Maddon, who just doesn’t seem to care who’s in the bullpen.

I am compelled, by duty if not honor, to mention a caveat. To this point, the Rays’ relievers have not been as dominant as last year’s. Yes, the ERA is lower. But last year’s bullpen struck out 7.8 hitters per nine innings, with a 2.6 strikeout-to-walk ratio; the figures for this year’s bullpen are just 6.2 and 1.9.

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Old Man Damon Strikes Again

As I said before, Johnny Damon’s 37 years just makes him way too old to continue playing baseball well, and I’m afraid his body just can’t take it anymore. I mean, two walk-off hits in the same series? 5 straight game-winning RBI in a row? How are the Rays supposed to use that to their advantage?

But seriously though, that 5 straight game-winning RBI stat is a bit misleading. The “game-winning” status is put on a hit when it brings in a run that gives that team the lead, and it could happen at any moment of the game if that team doesn’t relinquish the lead. This is why Damon’s 5-game streak includes such game-winning hits as a two-run single in the 6th inning of a 5-2 victory against Minnesota, and a home run on the very first pitch of the game in a 16-5 victory against Boston.

In other news, last night also marked the 2nd time in the same series against the Rays that Joe Nathan blew a save opportunity. That kid better get his stuff under control ASAP or he’s running high risk of some serious consequences, such as being dropped from my Yahoo! fantasy team.

Anyway, here’s to hoping Damon continues his hot hitting today. Sundays mean day games! Be on the lookout for a Hellboy sighting at 1:40

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WALK IT OFF

– I only saw the last few innings of this game, but I’m telling you guys, Johnny Damon’s 37 year-old body is just too old. He can’t play anymore. I mean look at him, hitting walk-off home-runs in extra innings. It’s just pathetic to watch.

The Legend of Sam Fuld again played a key role in the win. His single to get on base right ahead of Damon means his efforts gave Damon an “extra inning walk-off” instead of just a “solo shot to tie it in the 10th.” It’s the little things, and the Legend grows…

– Matt Joyce with a clutch hit in the bottom of the ninth to bring in two runs and tie the game also played a critical role in creating an opportunity to win it in the first place, so kudos to him. Let’s hope this is the start of Joyce breaking out of his slump too.

– Pretty good game by both starting pitchers. It’s a shame Pavano throws 8 shutout and doesn’t get a win, let alone a decision. And Shields only giving up 2 runs (and no homers!) over 7 is pretty commendable too, though no decision for him either. Oh well. Blackburn v Davis coming up tonight.

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Adventures in Irony

ESPN writers sure have a knack for publishing ironic articles. Yesterday before the Rays/Sox game, I read a piece that David Schoenfield wrote titled, “These Rays in big, big trouble.” It included the following:

As miserable as the Red Sox have played so far, at least they can look at a lineup that includes Adrian Gonzalez, Kevin Youkilis, Carl Crawford, Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz and know — eventually — they’re going to score a lot of runs.

The fans of the Tampa Bay Rays, however, are staring down a lineup that includes Triple-A veteran Dan Johnson hitting cleanup, Cubs castoff Sam Fuld hitting leadoff and 37-year-old Johnny Damon trying to hold off the cruelties of age.

It should be obvious that the team he thinks has a way better offense scored 5 runs last night (which is fairly average), while the team he thinks has a way worse offense scored 16 (which is fairly average x 3). Anyway, I already told you that “Cubs castoff Sam Fuld” consciously declined a cycle tonight while also knocking in three runs and scoring another two himself. Old Man Damon went 3-5 with three RBI and two runs.

As for “Triple-A veteran Dan Johnson,” I would like to point out that he has hit 52 home runs in 1252 career at-bats (at the Major League level, not AAA) for a 24.07 AB/HR ratio. Notable players who have a worse ratio:

  • Adrian Beltre
  • Vernon Wells
  • Kevin Youkilis
  • Grady Sizemore
  • Raul Ibanez
  • Al Kaline
  • Harold Baines
  • Carl Yastrzemski
  • Miguel Tejada
  • Rogers Hornsby
  • Bobby Abreu
  • Victor Martinez
  • Jorge Cantu
  • Robinson Cano
  • Ivan Rodriguez
  • Brandon Inge
  • George Brett
  • Nick Markakis
  • Joe Morgan
  • Jackie Robinson
  • Joe Mauer
  • Michael Young
  • Roberto Clemente

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Rays/Sox Recap

The first game of the season between the Red Sox and the Rays was quite a doozy. A 16-5 final score means it was  way more interesting for Rays fans than Sox fans, to say the least, and it indicates the Rays offense is back on track. Several notes from this game:

  • Sam Fuld was in full beast mode last night. Final line: 4-6, 3 R, 3 RBI, 1 HR, 1 3B, 2 2B, falling a single short of the cycle. He also made another sick diving catch, which is becoming a regular thing now. Make no mistake though, Fuld could have legitimately had that cycle, he just chose not to because he’s straight bad-ass. He entered the 9th needing a single, and when he laced one down the left field line he secured it…except, he decided not to stop at first and instead went straight on to second, apparently feeling his cycle would have been cheapened/illegitimate if he simply took first and didn’t try and get everything he could out of the hit. Ladies and gentlemen, this boy’s got integrity (an irrelevant push for an extra base in the 9th inning of a 16-5 game notwithstanding).
  • Dice-K tried to take advantage of the Rays and their .163 BA by throwing strikes instead of “nibbling at the strike zone,” as Rays announcer Dewayne Staats liked to put it. Instead, the Rays took advantage of Dice-K. Johnny Damon started it off by smacking the very first pitch out over the right-field wall. Then the rest of the Rays opened up in the 2nd inning, seemingly hitting every ball thrown at them to push across 6 runs before the Sox could record the first out. Daisuke’s final line: 7 ER on 8 hits (2 for bombs) with 2 walks in 2 IP, with only 2 K. Ouch.
  • Wakefield was brought in to start the 3rd inning, but it’s not like he did much better: 5 ER on 7 hits in 3 1/3 IP. Alfredo Aceves was Boston’s star pitcher of the night, putting almost 3 innings in the books without giving up any runs! Former Ray Dan Wheeler then closed things out for the Sox by giving up 4 ER on 5 hits in only 1 inning. I almost shed a tear for you, Wheels. Almost.
  • Baseball Tonight said every Ray raised his batting average tonight, except for Dan Johnson. It’s OK though, I know he’ll hit at least one bomb this series.
  • I didn’t really notice any awkwardness between Carl Crawford and the Rays during his first game against his former team. However, I was watching to see if he would accidentally walk into the Rays’ dugout after a plate appearance or between innings. Unfortunately, to my knowledge that didn’t happen. We’ll see what transpires the first game Carl plays back in Tampa.
  • Hellickson pitched pretty well tonight, allowing only 2 runs on 5 hits in 5 1/3 innings, though he only got one strikeout. He also gave 5 walks, which is odd for him. This oddity can be verified by checking out his Strikezone Plot:

Notice the 13 balls (green squares) that home plate umpire Tim Tschida called that were within the strike zone. Hellboy had an unusually small zone to deal with, and this is why he had an unusually high number of walks.

Anyway, tonight’s game should be the exact opposite of last night’s game as David Price faces up against Jon Lester. Pitcher’s duel here we come!

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