Rays Diary 10/3/11

What a Roller Coaster ride!  The past month in Rays baseball has been nothing short of bizarre! First, the Rays go into a funk.  In three games in a row, with bases loaded and no outs, in two of the games down a run and two runs down in another, Manager Maddon disdains the bunt or a ground out or even a groundball double play.  Instead he sacrifices the “sure” run for the all too routine pop fly out and the ensuing double play.  The Rays lose three winnable games in a row as their manager, undoubtedly the best clubhouse manager I have ever seen, performs his best Bobby Cox imitation, forgetting all those things we all learn in Little League as soon as he steps on the field.  Later in the month, Rays pitching comes alive, their bats awaken briefly and they begin to creep up on the Red Sox.  Deserving of American League Manager of the Year merely for his clubhouse demeanor and his club’s “never say die” attitude and despite a few obsessive compulsive “lefty/lefty” and “righty/righty”  pitching matchup failures,  Manager Maddon leads his team into a must win three game series with the hated Yankees.  

Despite his ace pitcher lapsing into his tantalizing sidearm delivery, Maddon virtually wills his team to victory and into the playoffs “on a wing and a prayer.”  With the help of Rays administrative brain trust, he chooses rookie phenom Matt Moore as starting pitcher and the Rays steal game one of the ALDS.!  For game two the Rays pitcher James Shields starts out well, but temporarily loses his “rhythm.”  He uncharacteristically hits two batters and loads the bases with no outs.  Regaining his composure, trying to throw a double play ball,he proceeds to throw three perfect strikes just above the knees over the heart of the plate.  Instead of rewarding Shields for throwing the “perfect strike,” umpire McGoo calls all three pitches “balls” before finally calling a strike.  Forced by the umpire to pitch higher in the zone, the beleaguered pitcher gives up a two run double instead of a four strike walk.  The Rangers end up scoring five runs. Meanwhile, I can’t help wondering what would have happened if there were a more honest, professional official behind the plate? Proudly, the Rays fight back to within one run before losing game two.

In game three David Price pitches well, but Ranger pitcher Colby Lewis is just a little bit better.  Price gives up a two run home run, walks the next batter, and after 102 pitches, leaves for the dugout.  As Manager Maddon , suddenly suffers another “OCD” attack, every Rays fan but their manager knows that with two outs and men on base, he is choosing the wrong pitcher to face Josh Hamilton.  After the all too predictable base hit by Hamilton and a second home run by the hot rookie Desmond Jennings, the Rays manage to put runners on first and second with one out in the ninth inning.  Foolishly, the Rangers have their third baseman playing ten feet beyond third base and their first baseman a few feet behind the the runner at first.  Instead of taking the sure bunt base hit (at worst a sacrifice or forcing the first and third basemen to come in closer) the batter hits sharply to third into a game ending double play.  Ironically, even if the batter had faked a bunt, it would have forced the infield in and his sharp grounder down the third base line would have resulted in a double, driving in at least one run.  That way I might not have to make myself hoarse, yelling “bunt the goddam ball!” at the inert television set.

Allen Finkelstein