I was going to post this last night after the game, but decided to wait until today to have access to the paper figuring there would be some juicy quotes to back me up. I was not disappointed.
To set the stage -- the Sox come into town riding a 9 game winning streak to face the Rays. Nearly a month ago, Rays manager Joe Maddon adjusted the schedules of the pitchers here to get specific match ups for the three game series.
Game 1 has James Shields pitching a nine-inning shut out for the Rays. Tim Wakefield pitches into the eighth allowing only 1 earned run. It's a great game, a pitcher's duel, and after the game, the Sox players comment with appreciation for Shield's performance. Good stuff all around.
Game 2 has Josh Beckett pitching nearly a perfect game -- a 97 pitch, shut out that would have been a no-hitter had Reid Brignac not nine-ironed a changeup out of the dirt for a weak infield single. Rays pitcher, upcoming star Jeremy Hellickson kept it close until Kevin Youklis hit a three run homer to win it for Boston. Good stuff again, right? Not with the bad sports at the St. Pete Times.
After a two page article extolling the promise and ability of Hellickson, we get a "oh by the way" about Beckett's performance -- "He was...benefitting from home-plate umpire Rob Drake's high zone." That from Times writer Mark Topkin. Chiming in were disgruntled Rays Matt Joyce and Brignac -- "He was...getting some calls his way, so that made it even harder." "He was getting a few calls here and there, and that helps out a...pitcher like him."
Wow. Beckett's leading the AL in ERA, has won two World Series titles with Boston and is a two time All-Star. But apparently, he needs his own umpire to pitch a good game. And last time I looked guys, the umpire calls balls and strikes for both teams! So Hellickson was "benefitting" from the high zone as well. Only difference is that the hitters from Boston weren't whining like b*tches about it.
But then, because the local sports writers have to have something to gin up hatred for Boston over, we get Spike-gate!
Youk, who was having a tough night at the plate hitting into two inning ending double plays earlier takes off for first on another potential throw out. Running inside the line a bit, in my opinion hoping to get Rays first baseman Casey Kotchman to pull his foot off the bag, Youk tries to step over Kotchman and nips his foot. OMG!!! Youk tried to take out Casey!!!
Even though Kotchman said it wasn't intentional, even though Youk said it wasn't, the Times sports writer said it was. Having already been dismissive of Youk's home run -- the ball mysteriously carried over the fence, instead of dropping for an easy out, the local writers tried their best to depict Youk as a dirty player.
So now we get to Game 3. Right out of the box, David Price drills Youk on the first pitch he throws him, then steps off the mound daring Youk to come after him. And the sportswriters were ecstatic!
Sports tool Tom Jones said it didn't matter if Youk kicked Kotchman on purpose or not, "...it was nice that David Price plunked him [Youklis] in the first inning..."
John Romano said that "perceptions matter" and "slights must be addressed" by the Rays. Kotchman is still emphatically stating he doesn't think Youk's contact with him was intentional, but that doesn't matter to the doughy, desk bound sports writers for the Times. THEY KNOW Youklis is guilty of . . . playing rough . . . or something. They mention that Youk has a tendancy to act cranky and have a bit of an edge when he isn't having a good night.
Price, who admitted his control was off, he threw over a hundred pitches in just five innings, doesn't have the juevos to admit he threw at Youk. But you have to wonder about the intelligence there. If he couldn't get the ball over the plate, should he have been sending a fastball towards a player's head? Youklis, to his credit, said he wasn't upset about getting hit, though he didn't understand why, but was concerned that Price came in shoulder high with the heater.
The Sox, as a team, behaved like the professionals they are, getting the ultimate revenge -- a 4-2 victory that put the Rays 5 1/2 games back.
But until the Rays quit allowing the local sports writers to run the team, stirring up controversy where none exists, the team and the area will always be second rate also rans.
And now to Scott Kazmir.
The Rays stole Kazmir from the Mets in 2004. He made the All-Star team in '06 and in '07 went 13-9 with a 3.48 ERA and an AL high 239 strike outs. Two years later he was gone, traded to the Angels who just released him after earning a 17.02 ERA in 15+ innings with triple A Salt Lake.
Kazmir's tenure with the Rays was the definition of perplexing. He would start off hot, go inexplicably cold at some point, then seem to get it together for a bit.
I took notice once, after he began making a seasonal come back, that in an interview he stated he had tweaked his delivery earlier on and was now back to his original set up on the mound.
This happened again and again during his stay with the Rays. And it kept coming up, that in the middle of a successful string of outings, Kaz would suddenly change his delivery trying to find . . . something.
How can someone reach the pinnacle of their chosen sport and not understand the basic tenet of having a grooved swing or delivery or whatever? Golf, bowling, basketball, anything . . . all athletes develope that muscle memory that allows them to accurately repeat a motion that is essential to their performance.
With the exception of Tiger Woods, who kept changing his swing at the top of this game (and where is he now?), I've never heard of anyone who kept monkeying with something that was working. Except Kazmir. And now he's out of baseball. At 27. Granted, the Angels are on the hook for the balance of Kaz' $23 million long term deal. But still . . .
If I could see what was going on, where were the pitching coaches? Why wasn't someone standing next to the mound with a cattle prod in spring training, jolting Kaz in the ribs and saying, "Get back on the rubber! Put your foot where it belongs!" etc?