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AZ 5, Devil Rays 8 - Flailing in Florida

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Record: 36-35. Change on last season: +1

There are times when the L by a pitcher's name is not justified. But there are others, when it seems entirely appropriate; last night, I think Miguel Batista would be pretty hard pushed to argue he deserved to take the loss. While undeniably squeezed by the home-plate umpire, he gave up eleven hits and three walks in five innings, which led to six earned runs - facing a team who came into the game with the second-lowest tally in the American League. Thanks to a four-run third, they scored six before we got onto the board, and we were always playing catchup thereafter, as the Rays ran their record to 4-0, in the battle of the 1998 expansion teams.

But it would be unfair to blame Batista, alone, for the defeat - there were plenty of areas for improvement, and Melvin held a brief team meeting after the game. According to Batista, "We weren't ready to play... [Well, duh - two wins in fifteen games? Film at 11.] The skipper wasn't happy about that. He told us we've got to play baseball. He let us know he was very uncomfortable with the way we played. That's his job." Our lack of effort was apparent from the first inning, when Gonzalez's lack of hustle let Baldelli turn a single into a double, and later score the Rays' first run.

Two words, Luis: contract year. That play reduced the chance of your option being exercised. You'd think that playing in fron of 100 friends and family might have encouraged him, too. He said, "Everybody's trying to do a little too much. We've just got to get back to playing the way we did in spring training. Just having fun out there and playing." It certainly didn't look like he was trying to do "too much" on the ball hit his way to Baldelli, and I don't, personally, give a damn how much "fun" the players have out there. From a fan perspective, winning = fun. Losing = not fun. Losing to the Devil Rays = really not fun at all. I'm surprised I have to explain this.

Here seems an appropriate place to mention something brought up on Diamondbacks Bullpen - the comments made back in spring training by Gonzalez:

I'm not looking for handouts. I told them to run 20 kids out there in left field during spring training, and I'll beat all of them. I'm not afraid of competition. I've had to deal with it my whole life... Look, I'll be the first one to tell you I suck, and last year, I had a bad year. The second half was horrible, and I know I have a lot to prove. But this will be my first healthy year in two years. Physically, I feel great. I'm ready to go.

Really? Could have fooled us:

2005 overall:  .271/.366/.459 OPS .825, 24 HR, 79 RBI
2005 Post-ASB: .256/.354/.469 OPS .823, 12 HR, 28 RBI
2006 so far:   .263/.352/.410 OPS .762,  5 HR, 31 RBI

Even discounting defense charitably described as "average", Gonzalez is currently on pace for just 11 homers and 71 RBIs. This makes the "bad year" of 2005 - even the "horrible" bit - seem like a golden age of performance in comparison. So, if the second half of 2005 was dreadful, what does that make this season? Answers on a postcard to: "We Should Exercise Your 2007 Option Why, Exactly?", Chase Field, Phoenix, AZ. I still have a lot of respect for him as a person, but as a player, he has done incredibly little since 2003 to justify a roster spot; even his most-ardent supporters (and we count ourselves among them) are finding their patience taxed.

[As a Gonzo fan, I hesitate to bring the next thing up, but in the interest of full disclosure, feel I must. Though it was actually Mrs. SnakePit who noticed this, so blame her! When I mentioned Gonzalez hadn't hit a home-run in two months, since April 20th, she asked, "When was Jason Grimsley raided?" "Um, April 19th," I replied. "Oh," she said. Our lawyers have advised us to redact the remainder of the conversation from the public record. :-) But, really, it's hardly surprising, given this, that "whispers" are doing the rounds - even if it is absolutely nothing more than bizarre coincidence, that Gonzo started the longest home-run drought of his career, 24 hours after the Feds grabbed a team-mate. I certainly hope, desperately, it is just chance.]

Yesterday, it wasn't just the veterans though. In that Rays' four-run third, Conor Jackson thought he'd called time - but it hadn't been granted by the umpire, and a baserunner moved up as a result. He was also caught over-running second base in the fifth, taking the steam out of our rally - with three runs already in, what should have been first and second, with one out, became just a man at first with two outs. I appreciate this is Jackson's first year in the majors, but these aren't even rookie errors: they're the kind of things that should be beaten out of you in the minor-leagues. If he was hitting the snot out of the ball, I'd overlook it, but he's batting .173 in June, with one extra-base hit. I'm seriously contemplating disabling the RotY-meter.

While giving up fifteen hits to the worst-batting team on the Junior Circuit (now hitting .246) is nothing to write home about, there were a couple of positives to take from the game. First, would undoubtedly be the solid performance of Jose Valverde: in an extended appearance, over two innings, he allowed one hit and struck out five hitters [Medders pitched a less-effective ninth, allowing two runs on four hits]. Byrnes reached base four times, on a pair of hits (including a homer, his team-leading twelfth) and two walks, while Counsell, Tracy and Green had a pair each.

But on the whole, it certainly didn't appear that there was much sign of Monday's victory being one of those "wins that change a season," as J-Strada said after the game. But he wasn't playing, so maybe he meant in a personal sense. We'll see what today brings. Thanks to Keith (especially for the amusing link regarding fan Rob Szasz, who was getting on Eric Byrnes' case - we heard him, loud and clear, on the radio, driving to The Sets. Imagine the 9th-inning home-run was an immense disappointment...), Spencer, VIII, Devin, Ben, icecoldmo and suitsmetoATnT for their comments.

It's been confirmed that EdGon will pitch on Thursday, so we'll see how that goes. Neither 2004 nor 2005 were exactly kind to him, so we'll be hoping for better this time around. And an MRI on Scott Hairston's arm showed no major damage, and it looks like just a bit of swelling on the biceps tendon: he is "day-to-day", which is good to hear. Mind you, the need to make a roster spot available for Gonzalez will perhaps necessitate a rapid departure back to Tucson; this could be Hairston's last chance today.

[Morning update]

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Today: Batista gets battered