Henry's Chopping Block

September 2, 2009 6:08 PM

Rays Dying on the Vine


Maybe the idea germinated Saturday night, when I watched The Kingston Trio on an episode of The Jack Benny Program on public television.

Wherever it sprang from, I haven't been able to banish the song "Where Have All The Flowers Gone?" from my head since.

It seemed to apply in a couple of ways during Tuesday night's 8-4 Red Sox victory against the Rays that pushed the defending American League champions a step closer to October spectator status.

First was in the stands, where 19,000 of Tampa Bay's notorious front-running fans showed up as vacant seats (making me wonder what happened to the area's hordes of Red Sox fans who normally outnumber their Rays' counterparts).

With the economy being what it is, I'm not going to blame folks for staying home and watching the game on TV (especially with an option to switch to The Big Lebowski on Versus between innings). But 17,692 was a surprise.

Then, as the Red Sox kept piling on runs, the song got to me again. Where, indeed, have destiny's darlings gone, less than a year after their meteoric rise to a pennant and spirited World Series try against the Phillies?

Probably the same place the New York Mets went in 1970. Major league baseball is a game of ongoing adjustments, and no team stays on top for long unless their boss is named Steinbrenner, with the financial clout to alter the sport's precious balance.

The need to adjust from pitch to pitch makes the game compelling and elevates the sharpest minds, like Derek Jeter and Greg Maddux, above the competition. Rivals made off-season adjustments for the Rays, who have not been entirely successful countering.

To read members of the peeved Tampa Bay area media Wednesday, though, it's as if the Rays let THEM down. Effort, or a supposed lack thereof, was Tuesday's culprit, according to more than one source.

Which confused me, because I saw a team poised to rally from a 7-2 deficit in the eighth until a desperate Terry Francona turned to closer Jonathan Papelbon with the bases loaded and no outs.

What no one in the media mentioned, to my knowledge -- this would require a specific criticism of a specific player -- was Pat Burrell's failure to tag up and score from third on Jason Bartlett's sinking liner in the eighth, the one Jacoby Ellsbury (originally a 2002 Rays draft pick) somehow snared before it went past him for a game-changer. (Actually, I double-checked and the Tampa Tribune did get it right, calling the Burrell mistake "oafish.")

This is not a blast at the veteran Burrell, but his job on that play is to tag up as soon as the ball is hit to the outfield, because he's going to score whether or not it is caught.

Instead, Burrell got caught too far off the base and the Rays remained three runs behind. So why does no one call him on it, find out what went wrong? Beats me.

Memo to scribes: Fans already know how they feel about their team and their guys. They don't need you proving you feel their pain.
Go for some serious analysis, maybe start by giving Papelbon the credit he deserves.
Because after all, tomorrow is another day.

Even as I wonder where the flowers went, florid writing seems the norm around a team that is withering fast.

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