Sunday, April 22, 2007

Stiles in Tampa - Day TWO

Smell that? Yeah, that's the smell of victory...

The Game Recap
The Tampa Bay Devil Rays snatched victory away from the clutches of the dastardly Cleveland Indians, 6-5 on "Superheroes Night" despite Pronk's attempt to smash the roof off Tropicana Field in St Petersburg, FL on Saturday evening. Travis Hafner absolutely crushed a first pitch offering in the 5th inning, driving in three runs and tying the game at 5 runs apiece. There is no doubt that it would still be in flight if hit in an open air stadium.

When Rays Manager was told after the game that the ball travelled an estimated 442 feet, his response was simply "that's only because something stopped it". The bomb rattled off the overhanging catwalk or else it may have unprettied the spanking new scorebard a bit. Only fred McGriff and Jason Giambi had hit that catwalk previously. OR maybe the people who estimate the distance of home runs forgot to carry the 1 and it was really 542 feet. It certainly seemed like it. Hafner has now hit a homer in each of his last six games, just two from the record of eight straight games held by three players (Dale Long, Don Mattingly and Tino Martinez).

See the catwalk up there on the left? That's what Pronk hit! Picture of the new scoreboard taken by Manny Stiles just minutes before the Monster HR

But on "Superheroes Night" it was the Rays who brought their super powers to the park to be the heroes this day.

After the Indians jumped to a 2-0 lead, "Fabulous" Ty Wigginton opened the Rays scoring in the second inning by going yard and went 3-4 on the day.

In the sixth inning and the score tied 5-5, Delmon Young picked himself up after an over-aggressive throwing error that allowed Kelly Shoppach to advance to third base when the next batter, Josh Barfield lined out to right and Shoppach tagged up. Young fired an absolute laser-guided missile to the plate to easily gun Shoppach out at the plate. Delmon also helped the cause with two hits, one an RBI double and two runs scored.

Carl Crawford came swooping in, full extension to save the day in the seventh inning on a terrific diving catch from (guess who?) Travis Hafner's thundering line drive for a huge out with the tying run already on base. It was also Carl crawford replica stolen base tonight as the first 12,000 fans recieved the miniature base commemorating his three AL Stolen Base crowns.

B.J. Upton flexed his super abilities in the sixth inning, ripping a single then stealing second and advancing to third on Shoppach's throwing error on the steal. He scored the winning run on a ground out to short by Ben Zobrist and it proved to be the difference.

The bullpen avoided the kryptonite and shut the door despite a tense moment in the eighth when reliever Juan Salas hit two consecutive batters with pitches. Courageous Shawn Camp got out of bases loaded situation and closed the door on the inning. That allowed "el assassanino", a.k.a. Al Reyes to earn his 6th Save on the season putting the evil doers down 1-2-3 in the ninth. (meaningless trivia - the other relievers in Rays history to record at least 5 saves in April went on to be All-Stars in that same season (Roberto Hernandez '99 and Lance Carter '03. See? Meaningless, just like I said)

Credit Manager Joe Maddon on some creative defensive adjustments in dealing with the torrid Hafner (Is this a Hafner or Devil Rays article?). Both games this series the Rays played Pronk seriously to pull, having Third Baseman Akinori Iwamura basically playing shortstop and all the other fielders to the right side of the infield. Maddon's superpower tonight came in the ninth inning in the form of running Shortstop Ben Zobrist to left field, Iwamura to behind second and Upton in short rightfield whilst shifting the outfield deep and to the right (see picture at right) to combat Hafner.

The Pronk shift; photo by Manny Stiles

It worked perfectly when he crushed a liner right to Crawford in deep left center. Apparently, the Joe Maddon suggested "higher league Hafner should be in" has four outfielders, not three!
At first when I looked up to see them shift I thought Aki forgot to run out onto the field! There was no one near third base. I couldn't help but think... "Jeez, push a bunt to third and you'd get at least a double, Pronk!"

After last night's tough loss, tonight's victory was a bit sweeter. Coach Maddon says his team is "like those little red rubber balls. These guys just keep bouncing back."

Guys were lounging, smiling and enjoying the post game spread and beverages; Hip-hop was pumping in the locker room (I was probably the only media thronger who enjoyed that, too). The guys seem tightknit. They seem to actually like each other and they came out and had fun tonight. I'm having a lot of fun too!

Go Devil Rays!

Manny's Wiles
-Paul Byrd stepped out of the time machine to start for the Indians. With his old timey windup (which warms the cochals of mine heart) and classic uniform stylings I could almost forgive him for bringing Lillith to his new show after he left Cheers for Seattle.
-Announced attendance was 22,805 (almost 10,000 more than Friday's game), so some people went home without their replica C.C. stolen base. Carl had himself a healthy supply to take home (to autograph for charitable causes I suppose). Even star MLBers get homework too!
-I said it before, I'll say it again - the stadium is really not a bad baseball stadium and the field surface is awesome. After seeing the new FieldTurf II on the field for himself, HOFer Eddie Murray seeked out a friend from their Orioles days, P.R. wunderkind Rick Vaughn and asked who he needed to contact to have it put on his yard. (I said the same thing when I first stepped on it, but then realized I'm not rich being currently unemployed and I'd end up with crabgrass either way...)
-Longest-ever tenured Umpire Bruce Froemming was behind the plate tonight. I think he plans on umping until he dies on the field. Five bucks says he gets a home plate instead of a headstone on his grave when it happens. And he'll still be better than a decent percentage of umpires.
-During Cleveland's BP, I was mulling about in front of the Rays dugout when a ball ricocheted off a protective screen and came to a rest at my feet. I picked it up and like a trained dog (or a guy with too many fundamental baseball drills wired into his DNA) threw it back toward the BP pitcher's ball bag. As I picked it up and tossed it, a guy hounding for autographs from the players was asking me for the ball like a nine year old. He was saddened by my habitual instinct and proclaimed "Come oooon, it's Cleve-land maaaan." It was pretty chuckleworthy.
-Media dining included Black Angus bacon mushroom burgers and "Sausage Hoagies" ('sausage and peppers sandwich' or 'Italian Sausage sandwich' to those who know the true definition of the term "hoagie") with steak fries and blueberry pie for dessert. And stadium hot dogs and popcorn in the press box. All washed down with non-diet soda. Did I mention my theory on why professional media members seem to average about 6-12 more inches of waistline than regular bloggers? If I don't go on a diet soon, I'll start getting paid to do this!
-To be fair, there IS a salad bar in the media dining area, but it did seem a little lonely over there.
-While eating in the media dining area, I sat near the TV and watched a tad of the Red Sox - Yankees game along with a total of ONE other person out of the 40 or so in the room. I get the feeling sometimes that many journalists aren't sports fans after all (or have just been completely deprogrammed from experiencing any level of enjoyment in life)
-Tonight's game was the Rays' 6th game in a row decide by two runs or less (I guess 'or less' means 'one').
-Jae Seo picked up the W which ended a personal 13-game losing streak.
-Kids, kids, kids... The youngest team in MLB is as kid friendly as any organization can possibly be. (Maybe it's just me missing my Bubbas and Pookie.) The players accomodate the youngsters with signatures and baseballs galore. The Starters ran out on the field for the National Anthem and each had a kid run out with them. Kids sang Take me out to the ballgame and I think every kid in the stadium was on the jumbotron at least twice. After afternoon games, they let kids run the bases. They got the right idea because the future of baseball is at risk unless kids learn and love the game.
-More needless trivia/curious tidbits courtesy of the pregame media notes:
--Only 11 players in MLB history have had more hits in their first 46 games than Delmon Young (59). Rocco Baldelli (65) is one of them.
--Delmon Young and Carl Crawford made their MLB debuts at the exact same age.
--Seven years ago today, Troy Glaus, Mo Vaughn and Tim Salmon homered in the 4th inning AND did it again in the 9th inning. It was the first time three hitters homered in the same inning twice in one game.. oh yeah, against the Rays.
--Coming into tonight's game, #9 hitters were batting .373 against the Rays, highest of any spot in the order.
--The Rays are on pace (273) to tally the most steal attempts since the '96 Royals (280)
-Manny Stiles is making a TV appearance about how all of this charity blogging business came together along with Matt Silverman for a local station on Monday before the game. They failed to heed my "I have a face made for radio" advice.

A little side project I took upon myself
I "interviewed" about a dozen and a half people who are 'on the clock' during the games - R.A.Y.S. (Ready At Your Service) employees, Elevator jockeys, door attendants, security folk, credential checkers, etc. I asked them where they were from (since like Arizona, everyone in Florida is from somewhere else), how long they've been with the organization, who their favorite Ray player is and when they think a World Series would come to Tampa Bay.

Where they are from originally
A few are from New York, 3 people from SouthEast PA (like myself), Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Michigan and one from Minnesota. (Apparently east coasters go to Florida to live, while midwest and west coasters go to Arizona)

Years of service ranged from 2 months to one gentleman who voted FOR the stadium and worked at the dome since it's opening (years before the Rays were concieved) and he even was one of 25 finalists in the "Name the Dome" contest - he suggested "Sun Dome"

Favorite Rays
-Ty Wigginton was the high vote getter with one voter swayed because he delivered his second child, Cannon when his wife went into sudden labor (He IS a superhero!)
-Other favorites - the usual suspects, Rocco Baldelli, Carl Crawford and Scott Kazmir but some of the long-timers listed others such as Wade Boggs and Travis Lee (apparently he is really nice?).
-My favorite media credential checker, Dan likes all of the Rays, but chose Rocco as his favorite and stated Willie Mays as his favorite All-Time player because he grew up a Giants fan in the Bronx who would spend the nickel to take the subway to the Polo Grounds. He even played stickball in the street with the 'Sey Hey Kid' when he was a kid himself. But he summed it up when he said Ted Williams was the greatest player he ever saw play.
-One employee, Chris who started in '98 said it was unfair to pick just one but then said Toby Hall was the nicest person she ever met. I asked her if Hall was nicer than Fred McGriff and she admitted "No one else on earth is as nice as Fred".
-I concurred...

Crime Dog
This user demands Fred McGriff be voted into the Hall of Fame.

When will the World Series come to Tampa Bay?
-Most answered '08 or '09, one said '07 (is he reading my articles too intently?), most agreed this is the year to get the growing pains out of the way. One answered "maybe 2012" and believe it or not, only one person answered "you're kidding, right?", but he's really a Tigers fan.
-All in all, the longtimers are thrilled and optimistic about the direction of the franchise. They've seen a lot of positive changes in the past year and a half since Stu Sternberg took over as owner.

It really IS more than just a game.

Coming Up
The Cleveland series wraps up tomorrow with a early afternoon contest pitting Jamie Shields against Jake Westbrook.

Don't forget! Monday vs. the New York Yankees, a live running game blog on hosted by Manny Stiles from the game!!! You can watch from home on ESPN. Join in and comment away!

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