ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — His team looking to rebound from a 2-0 shutout loss to the Red Sox in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series, Tampa manager Joe Maddon said today before Game 2 that he was inclined to agree with David Ortiz that the Rays didn’t look like the same opportunistic team that won the AL East after their vaunted offense was short-circuited by several squandered scoring opportunities.
In fact, Ortiz went so far as to suggest that the Rays, making their first appearance in the ALCS, appeared to be a little tight facing Daisuke Matsuzaka in those game-breaking situations.
“I saw faces . . . different than the regular season,” Ortiz said Friday night. “It’s a lot of pressure on them right now in this game. You have to win, otherwise you go home. So that relaxed kind of thing that you have during the regular season wasn’t out there tonight.”
It’s called a sense of urgency, Big Papi.
And, yes, the laid-back Rays seemed to be lacking any semblance thereof in the immediate aftermath of their Game 1 setback in the ALCS, which, for all intents and purposes, squandered not only a great pitching performance by Rays starter James Shields (7-1/3 innings pitched, 6 hits, 2 runs, 2 walks, 6 strikeouts, 100 pitches) but also any semblance of a home-field advantage Tampa had hoped to establish at Tropicana Field.
Asked what he thought of Ortiz’s comments, Maddon said, “I agree, and I did see it. That’s why I thought it primarily manifested itself in the pitches that we swung at. However, they had kind of the same look themselves. It was a very close game. It was 2-0. I think both teams played a relatively good game. Neither team played well on offense. That happens sometimes. Both starting pitchers were fantastic. That was our first foray into that situation yesterday, and I’d like to believe we’re going to come out and be more typical today.
“But I can’t disagree with him.”
So know we get to see what kind of master motivator Maddon really is. Will he channel the zen master himself, Lakers coach Phil Jackson, or will he take the more heavy-handed approach of Dr. Phil, in dealing with the offensive struggles of rookie slugger Evan Longoria, who, since making a smashing postseason debut in Game 1 of the ALDS with a 3-for-3, two-homer performance, has gone 1 for 16 in his last four playoff games and has been hitless in his last 13 postseason at-bats, good for a gaudy .063 batting average, and a .118 on-base precentage.
“He’s fine, he’s fine,” Maddon said today, when asked if Longoria’s wrist, which he injured during the season, was the reason the Rays’ 23-year-old phenom seemed to suffer a setback at the plate. “A couple of days ago, he hit two home runs in one game and looked pretty good.”
That he did, but it wasn’t “a couple of days ago,” as the Rays manager seemed to suggest. It was more like 10 days ago — Oct. 2.
“I think for right now, he just expanded his own strike zone a bit,” Maddon explained. “He’s gotten out of his game plan a bit. It happens. It happens to everybody. So I talked to him a little bit today. I’m just trying to get him to go up there and just pretty much do what he’s done all year, and that’s use a little more selectivity, looking for his pitches, et cetera, et cetera. It happens.
“The first game against the White Sox, he hit two home runs; he looked very good.” Maddon added. “And I’ve seen him do this before; whereas he may have had a couple of bad games in a row, and all of a sudden, heads up.
“So he’s got it in him. They got him [Friday night]. I look forward to him getting them [tonight].”
Major League Baseball has its managers and the National Football League has its “micro-managers,” ahem, head coaches. We know about such things in Boston, what with Terry Francona striking a yin-yang balance to that of BB, the HC of the New England Patriots. Talk about your polar opposites. How then does Maddon co-exist in the same town as the fiery Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden, he of the perpetual sneer. Well, as it turns out, very well, thank you very much.
Gruden told the Tampa Tribune he is “a really big baseball fan” and a Rays season-ticket holder. But his day job has prevented him from keeping up with his hometown team.
Memo to Gruden: Your Rays are making their first-ever appearance in the ALCS. They lost Game 1 to Daisuke Matsuzaka, who nearly no-hit them, and they went into Game 2 tonight looking to salvage a home-field split before this best-of-seven series shifts back to Fenway Park for Game 3 Monday afternoon.
“In some ways I’m very disappointed in my inability to keep in touch with reality,” admitted Gruden, in a refreshing moment of candor, which is something that would likely never come tumbling from BB’s lips. (To his credit, though, BB did congratulate the Sox in his off-day press when they clinched the AL wild card) .
“There’s an election coming on here and I really haven’t gotten a chance to get to know either candidate, honestly,” Gruden said. “And I’m a really a big baseball fan. I was a heck of a player once, too. Hit a home run one day. And I’ve been to so many Rays games. I think they’re the greatest story in sports.”
The only thing greater would be if Gruden led his Bucs to the Super Bowl, which will be staged on their home field at Raymond James Stadium in February. Oh, be still thy beating heart, Bucs fans.
“I have a lot of respect for pro sports and what it takes to get to this phase of the tournament,” Gruden said. “So I just hope they can put an exclamation point on what has already been one very exciting year for me and my kids.”
Asked how difficult it was to keep tension from creeping into the clubhouse, Maddon responded, “I didn’t really want to get the group together and give them the old Knute Rockne thing. I don’t think it’s necessary. Like I said, it’s a baseball season. The vibe within a baseball clubhouse is totally different than football. I’ve been in clubhouses through college and I know what that feels like. It’s an entirely different feeling. We just want to get ready and go out there and play another good ballgame. ”