Sunday, July 26, 2009

Watching Pedro Martinez in Clearwater

One of my favorite movies is HBO's 1996 original Soul of the Game - the story of Negro League stars Jackie Robinson, Josh Gibson, and Satchel Paige and their struggle to brake baseball's color barrier and be the first African-American to play in the Majors. It is the story of the young Robinson and his relationship with the older Paige and Gibson and their reactions as the former gets the call the latter two feel they deserve.

In the movie, as well as in reality, time unfortunately was not on the side of Satchel Paige, who although he eventually received a big league opportunity, was far beyond the peak of his career. But Paige would not let his age or his diminished ability deter him from his goals of making it to the bigs, milking and cajoling his arm in the desperate hope that it still had a few good innings left.

I saw a lot of the Satchel Paige character as I watched Pedro Martinez pitch for the Class-A Clearwater Threshers on Sunday. Martinez, signed by the Phillies a few weeks ago, was clearly not the Pedro of old and I could tell he knew it. The 97 mph fastball was long gone, the aura and mystic was fading, and he was fighting to prove his ability to merely contribute. The former Cy Young ace was now a conjurer, a Merlin of the mound, hoping his knowledge, guile, and a little bit of smoke and mirrors was enough to make it back to the Show.

Sadly, I don't think it was. In his first start against live batters since the World Baseball Classic, Pedro threw 1 and 1/3 innings in a rain-shortened game against the St. Lucie Mets. As it was the major league Mets who put him out to pasture after last season, the minor league Mets put the final nail in his legendary career. Although I didn't expect Pedro to dominate, it was clear he was struggling. Most of his pitches were up in the zone, the Mets were getting good wood on the ball, and he only produced one swinging miss, albeit on a classic Pedro change-up. The box score will say Pedro didn't do that badly, giving up one hit, hitting a batter, and striking one. But great change-up aside, I'd say his tank is empty.

There is another scene in Soul of the Game when after an exhibition against major league all-stars is rained out, the Josh Gibson character stands in the downpour and yells up to God, knowing full well the rain closed the door on his last chance. I saw a lot of the Josh Gibson character in Pedro as the umpires motioned for the players to clear the field. While the younger players scampered past him to shelter, Pedro Martinez slowly walked off the mound, tipping his cap to the many fans who came only to see him.

I have been a Pedro Martinez fan for a long time, and I don't hope this is true, but I wouldn't be surprised if Sunday was the last day of Pedro Martinez's brilliant baseball career.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Where are Carl Crawford's triples?

I was looking at the Rays stats this year and outside of the regular abnormalities (Upton's low BA, Sonnanstine's ungodly ERA), I noticed something very strange. Carl Crawford had only 3 triples.

This from a guy who is one of the most prolific triple-hitters in baseball history. Since his rookie season Crawford has averaged 12 triples a year. That's one every 48.26 plate appearances. Yet so far in 2009, Crawford is averaging one triple every 88.67 plate appearances. At this rate, Crawford will end up with his lowest total since his first season.

My first thought was that perhaps he is sacrificing triples for the sake of stealing third. After all, Crawford leads baseball in stolen bases. Yet Crawford only has one steal of third following a double, April 30th against Boston.

Ok. What else could it be?

Here is a breakdown of Crawford's 11 doubles as of June 10th:

1) April 7th vs. Boston
Top of the 6th off Josh Beckett
Double to LF (Line Drive to Deep LF-CF); Iwamura to 3B

2) April 10th vs Baltimore

Top of the 1st off M. Hendrickson
Double to RF (Line Drive to Deep RF Line); Crawford out at 3B/RF-2B-3B

3) April 15th vs New York
Bottom of the 3rd off Andy Pettite
Double to CF (Line Drive to Deep CF-RF)

4) April 24th vs Oakland
Top of the 1st off Trevor Cahill
Double to LF (Line Drive to LF Line)

5) April 30th vs Boston
Bottom of the fourth off Josh Beckett
Double to LF (Line Drive) - Stole 3rd

6) May 8th vs Boston
Top of the 5th off Brad Penny
Ground-rule Double (Fly Ball to Deep CF-RF)

7) May 9th vs Boston
Top of the 6th off Hunter Jones
Double to LF (Fly Ball to Deep LF-CF); Upton to 3B

8) May 9th vs Boston
Top of the 7th off Javier Lopez
Double to LF (Fly Ball to Deep LF); Upton to 3B

9) May 12 vs Baltimore
Top of the 1st off Mark Hendrickson
Double to CF (Line Drive to Deep CF-RF)

10) May 12 vs Baltimore

Top of the 2nd off Mark Hendrickson
Double to LF (Line Drive to Deep LF Line)

11) May 24 vs Florida

Top of the 3rd off Josh Johnson
Double to LF (Fly Ball to Deep LF Line)

So what do we have?

- One steal of 3rd (April 30).
- One time Crawford was thrown out going for third (April 10).
- One ground rule double (May 8).
- Three times a runner was held up at third (April 7, May 9 (2)).
- Three were hit down the left field line, probably the hardest place to hit a triple (April 24, May 12 #2, May 24).

That's nine. Leaving us with two doubles that perhaps could have been turned into triples (April 15, May 12 #1).

April 15th vs New York
With 2 outs, Crawford hits a line drive to deep RF-CF, driving home BJ Upton.
Idea why he didn't try for a triple: following Crawford was new acquisition Pat Burrell. The Rays had tagged Pettite for two consecutive doubles. Maybe Crawford didn't want to make the 3rd out at third with the big free agent slugger coming up.

May 12th vs Baltimore

With one out, Crawford doubles to deep RF-CF.
Idea why he didn't try for a triple: Perhaps the arm strength of Orioles RF Nick Markakis? Maybe Orioles CF Adam Jones got to the ball quickly?

So after going through Crawford's doubles, we really still haven't found the reason he is behind on his average triples rate. Perhaps it is situational and he hasn't had many opportunities to fly around the bases. Perhaps he is being injury cautious. Or perhaps his line drive rate is down, or maybe he isn't getting the jump out of the batter's box like he used to.

Overall, like Rays victories, Crawford triples have unfortunately been too few. Here's hoping both increase in bunches as the season progresses.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Southern Thunder repels a Royal LOOGY

I just got back from seeing the Rays play the Royals. Almost as if by divine calling, Southern Thunder Matt Joyce not only broke the game open with a two-run double in the 6th, he also hit a towering moonshot to deep right field in the eighth. Overall, not a bad day at the office for Southern Thunder as he went 3 for 4 with four runs batted in.

What makes the latest victory ever sweeter was the fact that tonight Southern Thunder silenced those who dare blaspheme and claim there is a chink his epic armor. Despite prestigious accomplishments at the lower levels, there were those who claimed Southern Thunder could not hit the servings of southpaws. Tonight Southern Thunder proved them wrong.

As I mentioned in the opening, Southern Thunder provided a game-winning, clutch two-run double to propel the Rays to victory. But if popular wisdom ruled, it would not have been. Thankfully Rays manager Joe Madden doesn't play by "the book". With the game on the line and two out in the sixth, Royals skipper Trey Hillman brought in his loogy (lefty one out guy), veteran left-handed hurler Horacio Ramirez to face Southern Thunder. There was no doubt nearly everyone in attendance thought Southern Thunder would be pinch-hit for. I'll admit, I almost expected it. But Madden was a believer. And Southern Thunder came through. Then again in the eighth, as he added Royals righty Roman Colon to his list of home run victims.

The legend continues ...

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Return of Southern Thunder

The rumble started in the legendary Tarheel home of Crash Davis and Nuke LaLoosh. It grew through the Palmetto State, echoed off Stone Mountain, cascaded through the Panhandle, and shook the bay to its foundation. After a short absence, the Southern Thunder had returned to the Bay Area.

Buried under the hoops hoopla that was the Orlando Magic celebration was the promotion of "The Southern Thunder" Matt Joyce to the Tampa Bay Rays. Knowing mere minor league hurlers were no longer a match for the greatness of Southern Thunder, the Rays called up Joyce and sent down journeyman right-hander Dale Thayer. Although Thayer's 'stache will be missed, the Southern Thunder could not be denied.

Many feel it is destiny that Southern Thunder make his mark in a Rays uniform. Many moons ago, a gypsy woman foretold of a great "natural" that would come from a quarter short of a score east of ancient Atlantis. Behold, on the day of third day of the eighth month of four score and four years into the 20th century, 15 miles east of Tampa, Florida, Matt Joyce was born.

Born into prophesy, Southern Thunder first picked up the tools of his craft as a youth in the Tampa Bay area. As he grew in stature from a boy to man, his achievements grew from local legend to regional myth. To paraphrase the Sandlot, "people said he was less than a god but more than a man". He was next in a long line of talent that included Wade Boggs, Tino Martinez, Dwight Gooden, and Gary Sheffield. He was indeed the Tampa area's next "natural". Then he was drafted by the Detroit Tigers and nearly forgotten.

Fortunately, the bright minds of the Tampa Bay Rays front office knew enough of the Legend of Southern Thunder to bring him back to Tampa in exchange for inconsistent flamethrower Edwin Jackson. It was as if the planets aligned and the gods spoke down from the heavens. Southern Thunder was coming back to the Land of the Lightning.

And now, after a short stint tearing the cover off the ball in charming southern towns such as Durham and Charlotte, Southern Thunder is back in the big leagues and ready to rule in the formerly aptly named Thunderdome.

Of course, and as to be expected, Southern Thunder rang true in his return, taking the Twins' Nick Blackburn deep in his second at-bat.

Welcome back, Southern Thunder.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

New Tunes for One of the Rays?

As I mentioned last week, Tampa Bay Rays batters are using the same at-bat music in 2009 as they did in 2008 (at least they were as of last Friday). I don't know if the stadium hasn't programmed new music, or the players haven't picked new songs, or they all opted to keep the 2008 sounds going, but I think it is a bit strange.

I bring this up again because Hard Rock is reporting that the band Tantric is releasing a new album on July 21st. Tantric is of course the band responsible for the song "Down and Out" that Evan Longoria comes to bat to.

I wonder if a new Tantric album will mean Longoria will finally change his song. Interesting note: I would guess that save for a few weeks listening to Pantera, every home at-bat Longoria has had during career has been to the same song. Longoria probably leads the Rays in song/career at-bat percentage.

Thought of the day: I wonder if any MLB players pick their song to help drive the sales of artists they know. What if, for example, Evan and Tantric lead singer Hugo Ferreira were friends and Ferreira asked Longoria to come to the plate to a new Tantric single? Are there any rules against that? What if artists paid players to come to bat to their song? What if they did it without the team knowing? Is there anything in the contracts that say players can't do that?

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Ruminating on the Rays: Looking for new magic to the same old songs

Although they are 4-0 with me in attendance, the 2009 Tampa Bay Rays have so far been a disappointment. Following 2007, a 16-20 record would not have been a bad start. Fans may have even gotten excited over being so close to .500. But unfortunately for the 2009 Rays, the 2008 season happened. 97 wins and a trip to the World Series is a lot to live up to.

There are a lot of theories as to why the Rays are struggling: injuries, regression, the loss of key personalities from 2008, etc, etc. You can read about them on better blogs than mine. I have my own theory, however, on why the Rays are struggling in 2009: no new tunes in Tropicana Field. They are jamming to the same songs from 2008.

Last year, I wrote about the Rays player's at-bat music. This year, they are coming to bat to the same songs. As a matter of fact, some of the harder, more aggressive songs have even been removed from the playlist. Pantera's "Walk" and "I'm Broken" were often played last year before the at-bats of Eric Hinske and Evan Longoria, respectively. Now with Hinske gone and Longoria using only Tantric's "Down and Out", there are no more metal songs in the Rays lineup. Although I can't argue with Longoria's production, I don't know why the team didn't pick new songs for 2009. It would be nice to hear something new, something fresh, and something that proves we are not stuck clinging to 2008.

The lack of head-banging tunes might also be the reason that before Friday night the Rays played as if they had no marbles.

A few weeks ago, RaysTheStakes compared the Rays to the fictional Indians in Major League 2. Although I think they nailed the background and some of the individual comparisons (Pat Burrell as Jack Parkman), I think they were way off on others. For example, instead of comparing Matt Garza to Rick Vaughn's character, I think the more apt comparison is fellow starter Scott Kazmir.

Kazmir has been terrible this season. Absolutely atrocious (4 wins, 3 losses, and a 6.97 ERA). In Friday night's game, he never once topped 90mph with his fastball according to the scoreboard radar gun. Not once. For someone who has led the league in strikeouts, that's pathetic. He hasn't been the ace of the staff in over a year, and there is even growing talk that the Rays would be better off parting ways with him. My personal opinion is that with too many of the Rays pitching prospects still struggling in the minors, trading a big league pitcher, no matter how bad he is, is a risky venture. But if David Price, for example, gets his act together in the minors before Kazmir gets his together at the big club, it might be time to entertain offers for Kid K.

Despite Kazmir's lackluster performance Friday night, he was bailed out when the Rays managed to claw their way back and win with an Upton homer in the bottom of the 9th. If the Rays start playing better, I am sure this game will have a lot to do with it. It may be one of those games the players look back on and call a turning point. Especially BJ Upton, who was definitely due a confidence boost in the power department. However, if Kazmir and fellow struggling starters Andy Sonnanstine and Jeff Neimann continue to throw batting practice to the opposition for four or less innings, no amount of offensive confidence and production can save the Rays sinking ship.

And now, without further ado, I present the Rays current leaders in JSIA BA, JSIA HR, JSIA RBIs, and JSIA SB:

Batting Average with Jordi Scrubbings in Attendence:

B.J. Upton: .428 (6 for 14)
Carl Crawford: .385 (5 for 13)
Carlos Pena: .353 (6 for 17)

Home Runs with Jordi Scrubbings in Attendance:

Carlos Pena: 3
Ben Zobrist: 2
4 others tied with: 1

Runs batted in with Jordi Scrubbings in Attendance:

Carlos Pena: 9
Evan Longoria: 7
Ben Zobrist: 5

Stolen Bases with Jordi Scrubbings in Attendance:

BJ Upton: 5
Carl Crawford: 4
Jason Barlett: 2

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Southern Thunder

(This post was originally published on Thunder Matt's Saloon.)

To be honest, ever since the Saloon reopened, I've felt out of place. Afterall, this is predominantly a Chicago sports blog and although I have some really good friends that live in the Chicago area, the closest I have ever been to the Windy City is a visit to the airport (Maybe O'Hare? Is there more than one?)

Over the last few weeks, I been trying to figure out how I can fit in. How can a writer from Tampa contribute to a blog named after a Cub pseudo-hero/fourth fifth outfielder? Should I try to write about the Cubs, knowing sure well any Cubs fan worth their salt would see right through the chirade? Should I try to provide pop news, music reviews, movie talk, or other miscellaneous jibber-jabber that wouldn't really serve any purpose other than another update on your daily RSS feed?

As none of those ideas appealed to me, I slowly saw my talent and persona become irrelevant around these parts. I was the Kevin Maas of the site, a star that fizzled and died with the Chris Gaines-esque other site. I was a failed experiment, like the Cubs "College of Coaches" from back in the day.

Then, almost out of nowhere, an idea hit me. No, more than idea. This was an epiphany. A life-changing moment, at least as pertains to my life here at the Saloon.

Ladies and Gentlemen, and other fine readers of this blog, I bring to you "The Southern Thunder": Matt Joyce of the Tampa Bay Rays*.

(Let's for a second ignore the fact that the Rays just sent Joyce back down to Triple-A, ok?)

According to, Joyce is comparable to former Met, Brewer, Cub, etc Jeromy Burnitz. Burnitz, as many remember, definitely brought the thunder with his all-or-nothing approach. The man either struck out embarrassingly or hit the ball into next week. It's true, you can look it up. Right there on Baseball it says "Burnitz, Jeromy - on 5/16/1999 hit a baseball that landed on 5/23/1999". At least it said that the last time I looked.

But Burnitz isn't the only carrier of thunder that Matt Joyce compares to. DRays Bay also compares him defensively to the patron saint of this site, the Honorable, Venerable, and Almighty Matt Murton.

So already this year Matt Joyce has begun his journey as a fifth outfielder with pop, with better than average corner outfielder fielding prowess, and a knack for being sent down to the minors. Although Matt Joyce is not red-headed, and therefore is merely a weak impersonation of the original Thunder Matt, I can't sit around all day waiting for the second coming of the baseball messiah. I need to throw my support to someone.

Therefore, it is my pleasure to hereby dub Matt Joyce of the Tampa Bay Rays Durham Bulls (hopefully Tampa Bay Rays again soon) "The Southern Thunder Matt".

Long live Thunder.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Mark Teixeira Plays Stickball in Tampa

Cool story in Tampa Bay Online (via Ybor City Stogie) about New York Yankee first baseman and multi-gabillionaire Mark Teixeira playing stickball with some local teams in the historic Ybor City district of Tampa.

The Florida Stickball League web site has a few videos of the event.

I am confused about why Teixeira is even "playing" first. I thought stickball was played with "automatics". Maybe it's league preference. Whereas here in Florida they use bases, a Troy, NY league and the Uptown Stickball Association of Bayonne, NJ doesn't.

Anyway, good to see Teixeira taking time to play ball with people who play for the love of the game, even if it was a promotional event. Would it be too much to hope a few Tampa Bay Rays players join in local stickball games like the old folks say Brooklyn Dodger, NY Giant, and NY Yankee players used to do back in the day?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Thunder Matt MLB Preview 2009: Tampa Bay Rays

2008:97-65, 1st place in AL Eastern Division, American League Champions

SO LONG: OF Rocco Baldelli, OF Cliff Floyd, OF Jonny Gomes, OF Eric Hinske, P Edwin Jackson, P Trevor Miller

WELCOME: OF Pat Burrell, P Lance Cormier, P Jason Isringhausen, OF Matt Joyce, OF Gabe Kapler, P Joe Nelson, P Brian Shouse

PROJECTED LINEUP (actually, this is last year's lineup. This year's lineup depends on Upton's health.)
1. Akinori Iwamora 2B
2. B.J. Upton CF
3. Carl Crawford LF
4. Carlos Pena 1B
5. Evan Longoria 3B
6. Pat Burrell DH
7. Matt Joyce RF
8. Dioner Navarro C
9. Jason Bartlett SS

Starting Rotation: James Shields, Scott Kazmir, Matt Garza, Andy Sonnanstine, Jason Hammel (Where's David Price? Check Triple A.)

Setup: Grant Balfour/Dan Wheeler

Closer: Troy Percival

Welcome to the most important year in Tampa Bay Rays' history.

When we last left the Rays, they were defeated at the hands of the World Series Champion Phillies. They were wet, tired, and probably hungry.

Now, five months later, they have returned as the model of all franchises. Although denied glory, they are the heroes of the underclass. The little market that could. They are the revolutionary who dared to challenge the twin evil empires. They envoked the audacity to upset the establishment, knowing they had little to lose but a past full of defeat.

Like the heroic Tank Man of Tiananamen Square, the Rays of 2008 stood defiant before the Red Sox and Yankees and dared them to run over their upstart season. Despite numerous challenges and scares, the Rays held their ground. While other small market teams cried for salary caps, new stadiums, and other Marxist solutions, the Rays looked for solutions from within, for the talent, drive, and heart necessary to reverse the misfortune of a decade of embarrassment.

The 2009 Tampa Bay Rays, like Jefferson, Franklin, Adams, and John Jay, now have to prove their revolution was not only a success, but the beginning of a fruitful nation. Whereas a young America was allowed to prosper in poli-social-economic-military vacuum without any legitimate fears of invasion, the Rays now bear the burden of being the biggest target in the Junior Circuit. They have to protect their burgeoning reputation of success against numerous embarrassed entities with scores to prove.

The Rays enter 2009 without any significant losses. The foundation is still intact and will be for years to come. Many believe the Rays are even stronger now than at this time a year ago. They have acquired the long-range muscle of a Phillie import, while only parting ways with part-time pieces and spot starters. Of course, they also have a year's worth of experience to their credit as well as a bevy of talent in the lower ranks.

Although some might be dared to label the Rays as the benefactor of their own misguidedness, reaping hordes of quality youth through years of wayward failure, those people are fools. Never in history have youth been revolutionary due solely on their age. They need a quality environment in which to blossom and the opportunity to prove to the world they are in indeed for real.

The Rays are here to stay.

(Disclaimer: I am a Rays season ticket holder.)

Preseason Awards:
Mr. Sexy Time: Evan Longoria - How can the AL Rookie of the Year be Mr. Sexy Time? Shouldn't he have already arrived? Not so fast. To quote Rays patron Dick Vitale, Longoria is PTP. He is going to be David Wright-South. If not this year, sometime soon he will be in running for a few MVP Awards. And he drives the ladies in Tampa nuts.

The Sorry Dude, The Bandwagon's Full Award: Lil Wayne, Rob Schnieder, and Jeff Foxworthy - I don't care how "in" rooting for the Rays is. B-list celebs only look even sadder try to hype themselves by putting on Rays hats. Hey Mr. Wayne, you might have survived Hurricane Katrina, but you've never seen suffering unless you sat through a Casey Fossum start.

Best Use of an Afro: The Cowbell Kid. How much I miss the harmonious ring of cowbells.

Further reading: