Road to nowhere (i.e. St. Petersburg)
A 90-minute adventure on the way over here this morning. This is what happens when two guys who've only been on the beat a year (myself and the Globe's Rob MacLeod) decide to car pool.
First, I forget my credentials. Then we took our first of many incorrect detours. Then I got to the end of Robbie's scribbled directions and the last two words read, 'Tropicana Field', which is not where today's game is taking place. The Rays play their spring games at Al Lang Field.
Then in the midst of our reasonable decision to 'find the water' we lost the Gulf of Mexico which is, like, really big. We wandered into one of Tampa's many unsavoury neighbourhoods ("If we get rear ended, I'm not stopping," MacLeod said while I got ready to use my laptop as a bludgeon). Then we finally found someone chopping weeds off a phone pole (no word of a lie) who pointed us in the right direction.
Jeff Blair, who was still getting out of bed when MacLeod left, was standing on the field as we walked in.
"Is that Blair down there?!" MacLeod says, aghast. Seriously, I have to take the lion's share of the blame for this mess. I actually told him, Left, and it was, like, totally wrong. Sorry, Robbo.
LATE ADDITION: Blair now informs me of our fourteenth mistake. That's not the Gulf of Mexico. It's Tampa Bay. Oh.
Dustin McGowan getting the start. To commemorate the occasion, and McG's home state of Georgia, our song of the day is Peaches' Downtown. I also choose this song because I really do need someone to 'take me downtown' - downtown St. Pete's - though not exactly in the way Peaches means it.
At some point, one assumes that baseball will start happening. Check yesterday's post for today's starting line-up, featuring our first look at Shannon Stewart.
12:45 - The only thing with the outdoor pressbox here (and it's a mere quibble, sitting out here with the fans is fantastic) is the proximity of the PA system and the artistic merits of 'Walking on Sunshine' - which are few. This the Rays last year spending their spring at the beautiful Al Lang field. Next year, they move down to distant Port Charlotte (I'm already worrying about the traffic).
The current site of Al Lang will become the Rays new big-league ballpark by 2012. It should be spectacular, though without a dome, it might get a tad windy in there during the frequent tropical storms. Right now, they have a small stamp of a home plate sitting in shallow right field, where the actual home plate will soon be. Since that's only about 300 ft. from the water, we're assuming they're thinking landfill here.
1 - Johnson (CF)
2 - Stewart (LF)
3 - Rios
4 - Hill
5 - Scutaro
6 - Barajas
7 - Adams
8 - McDonald
9 - Thigpen
1 - Akinori Iwamura
2 - Carl Crawford
3 - Carlos Pena
4 - Cliff Floyd
5 - Rocco Baldelli
6 - Willy Aybar
7 - Hector Gimenez
8 - Jason Bartlett
9 - Fernando Perez
SP: James Shields
No Evan Longoria for the Rays. Bummer
First pitch to be thrown out by newsman Sam 'Brows' Donaldson. Saw him close-up earlier. I swear to you - that hair is real.
MacLeod leans over to remind me that his first name is spelled 'Robby' not 'Robbie'. This is what I need in my life - another editor.
1:00 - Donaldson reaches home plate. Kudos.
1:04 - Rays warm-up music improves - Rammstein's 'Du hast'
1:05 - An either/or to start for the Jays. Prospective left-fielder Reed Johnson followed by prospective left-fielder Shannon Stewart.
1:08 - Johnson grounds out to second.
1:09 - Stewart loses his grip and flings his bat into the second row beyond the Jays bench. Medical staff coming quick. Nasty sight.
1:10 - Stewart catches it on the wrists, breaks his new bat and pops to first.
1:11 - Rios grounds out to short. Stewart out of the dugout to check on the injured fan before heading into left-field. Medical staff still working, but it doesn't look panicky. Whoever it is can't be too badly hurt. That looked scary for a moment though. Stewart's bat blew in there like a missile.
1:15 - Iwamura grounds sharply to Russ Adams at second, who misplays the ball and watches it bounce into right field. Iwamura given the hit, but that's Adams' third terrible play in two games. He looks very unsure in the field so far. It was an older woman hit by Stewart's bat. She's escorted from the park with her head bandaged, but she's moving under her own steam.
1:17 - Crawford grounds to shortstop Aaron Hill (scratch that - John McDonald), who takes the force at second. Pena follows with a line-drive back up the middle. Men on first and second, one out.
1:19 - Cliff Floyd pops to short.
1:21 - Baldelli grounds out to third. A Halladay-esque shutdown for McGowan. End of the first inning.
1:25 - Shields hits Hill waaaay inside on the shoulder. He's fine.
1:27 - Scutaro strikes out swinging. During Barajas' at bat, Rays backstop Hector Gimenez almost catches Hill leaning off first. Hill was only eight or so feet off the base. Gimenez has an absolute gun of an arm.
1:31 - Barajas walks. First and second, one out.
1:34 - Adams taps one into the no man's land between pitcher and the second baseman. Infield single. Bases loaded. One out.
1:36 - John McDonald hits it sharply to left-field. Carl Crawford snags it on the fly. Hill tags and scores. The Jays have their first lead of the pre-season 1-0.
1:39 - Curtis Thigpen flies out to centrefield. I know it's in good blog form to cross out your mistakes and add next to them, rather than try to rewrite history by just changing them. For the record, I've made at least four serious errors of fact in this half-inning. Not you'd you know that from reading this back. I'm just too small a man to admit my mistakes. And I think I deserve a lot of credit for being able to admit that.
1:41 - Willy Aybar breaks his bat and pops to second. One out.
1:43 - Gimenez lines out to right field. Two out.
1:44 - Another broken bat. Jason Bartlett hits one to shallow left-field. Stewart gobbles it up. McGowan's day is over. Casey Janssen due for two innings now.
McGowan's line: 2 IP, 2 H (one of those doubtful owing to Adams' fielding), 26 pitches-19 strikes
1:47 - Johnson hit by pitch. Let's see if Stewart now feels the need to step in front of one.
1:48 - No, Stewart lines one straight back at the pitcher, who snares it nonchalantly and doubles Johnson at first.
1:49 - Rios pops out to right-field. Janssen's time to shine.
1:51 - The beauty of working outdoors. A beer vendor stops by to ask us if we're for or against that new stadium. I argue passionately in favour. It ain't my money.
1:52 - Fernando Perez hits a softie that Adams can't get to in time. Single.
1:52 - Iwamura lays down a slow-rolling bunt toward third. Janssen is off the mound in a flash and just catches the streaking Japanese. Nice play by the pitcher. Man on second, one out.
1:53 - Crawford hits it deep to centrefield. Johnson can't catch a tagging Perez. Man on third, two out.
1:56 - Swing and a miss. Janssen strikes out Pena and disabuses the Rays of the notion that they can win the AL East with smallball.
1:57 - The t-shirt gun has emerged between innings. And me, in the open, exposed to danger (short pause) Thank God, it's over. Fourth inning starting.
1:59 - Aaron Hill doubles off the wall in centre-field.
2:00 - Where's the respect? Marco Scutaro introduced as Marco "Scooto". Scutaro lines out to centre, Hill moves to third.
2:02 - Barajas nearly decapitates shortstop Jason Bartlett, who was playing in with Hill at third. Hill scores on Barajas RBI single.
2:03 - Feeling his oats perhaps (or maybe Russ Adams missed a sign - which do you think more likely?), the hulking Barajas takes off for second. He's safe. Well, he would be safe if second base was fifteen feet closer to first. In fact, he's out by miles.
2:04 - Adams strikes out. This poor guy isn't having his greatest day. Bottom of the fourth.
2:07 - Cliff Floyd singles up the middle.
2:08 - Barajas returns the favour and Rocco Baldelli didn't miss his signal. The Rays DH swings through a high fast one as whoever was pinch running for Cliff Floyd (I can't see everything people) takes off for second. Barajas' perfect throw catches him out.
2:11 - Aybar watches a Janssen curve pull in for a called third strike.
Janssen's line: 2 IP, 2 hits, 2 SO, 20 pitches-15 strikeouts.
I'm off now to catch Dustin McGowan when he comes in from his post-game run. After four, the score remains 2-0 Jays.
3:16 - It's 5-2 Rays now. We asked Janssen about the now famous baseball cards taped above Halladay's locker (see yesterday's post).
"I saw that the other day," Janssen, the odd man out, said amiably. "I think it's a packed house over his locker. Maybe I'll hang one or something."