The past weekend included the scary and surreal, a promotion to remember and the promise of anticipation to come.
Routine, in many ways, defines a baseball season for those who live within the game. An existence at the ballpark includes rhythms that become a structure, a life: arrival, batting practice, a pre-game meal, nine or more innings, departure, the promise of doing it all again tomorrow.
Sometimes, the unexpected interrupts that flow. A break from the normal can be jarring, but in other moments it teases the imagination. It can teach. The Tampa Bay Rays lived both extremes Saturday and Sunday at Tropicana Field.
Of course, right-hander Alex Cobb’s mild concussion as the result of a 102.4-mph line drive from Kansas City Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer in the fifth inning Saturday was a stunning sight. The scene returned memories of the horrific event involving Toronto Blue Jays left-hander JA Happ on May 7, when he sustained a skull fracture behind his left ear and a sprained right knee after a line drive from Rays center fielder Desmond Jennings struck him.
The Cobb incident was another sad reminder that this game, this lifestyle, includes risks. Routine can be interrupted. Nothing is guaranteed.
Good news arrived Sunday afternoon, when Cobb was released from Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg, Fla. During the series finale against the Royals, the Rays displayed a message on a video board beyond right field announcing Cobb’s return home to rest. There was applause, relief from the stands and both dugouts. The scene was a pleasing contrast to the eerie hush that filled the dome only a day before. For some, it was closure.
“Those are the kind of moments that you feel as a group, as a fraternity,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said later.
Baseball moves on, sometimes seemingly as fast as the quickest men who play it. Progress takes no pause. There are times to reflect, to hope and pray, as there should be. But ultimately, like in life outside the diamond, evolution continues. There is no break.
So it was that the Rays announced their plan to recall top prospect Wil Myers on Sunday evening in a flash news conference, to end a weekend that offered perspective that there are larger concerns than a final score, a game. With Myers’ debut set for Tuesday against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park, speculation will begin on how his anticipated major league career will go: Will he meet the hype? Will he grow in a healthy way? Will he become all he can be?
There is optimism in Myers’ promotion, of course. It comes at a fitting time, given his recent hot streak at Triple-A Durham. The four-game series against the Royals, which allowed for right-hander James Shields’ return to Tropicana Field, provided a reminder of the Rays’ evolution since last December. Tampa Bay had moved forward, and Myers was understood to be a significant part of the future.
The Rays’ video tribute for Shields on Thursday, which closed with the message, “THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES, JAMES,” was as much a tribute to their own progress as to the pitcher. Both had moved on. But the ties that helped shape each remained.
More bonds, more memories, will be created with Myers in time. Nothing is a given, but if his production matches his potential, the moment he was promoted will be recalled as a significant moment in franchise history: Friedman and Maddon sitting behind the manager’s desk in a small office, speaking about how the move was, as Friedman put it, “something that we’ve been deliberating for a while” and how the Rays planned, as Maddon put it, “to ease him into the whole thing” by placing him lower in the batting order to start.
The scene felt full. It felt large, important, meaningful. It felt like the start of something that could become big.
“I don’t want to just lump on a bunch of high expectations,” Maddon said. “Just come and play. He’ll be a 22-year-old in the big leagues. You’re not going to hear of high expectations coming from this chair.”
Two moments: One awful, the other exciting. Two moments: One that brought heartache, the other a sense of wonder. Two moments: One that reminded about the game’s risks, the other about its rewards, its potential.
There is comfort in routine.
Sometimes, though, a break from the familiar is worth remembering.
Luke Scott has compared finding success in the majors this way: “Imagine if you had a tail, and you go around and around trying to catch it, and you can’t. Just imagine that you work hard at something every day and you’re giving it your all, and you’re not seeing fruit from it. … All you can do is keep playing and keep praying.”
Well, Scott found something against the Kansas City Royals. He hit safely in all four games between the teams at Tropicana Field. Perhaps the most surprising stat is this: He had three extra-base hits against the Royals after posting three extra-base hits in his previous 24 games from May 15-June 12. Now, he is hitting .240 with four home runs and 23 RBI.
Is Scott back? It is too early to say, but his recent run could be a start.
Once the Rays’ best hitter, James Loney has slumped of late. He batted .115 (3 for 26) in the past seven games, with one home run and two RBI. He is still hitting .301 (69 for 229), but Evan Longoria has become the Rays’ top hitter with a .306 average.
Most of Loney’s problems came against Kansas City. He went 0 for 14 in the series, the four-game hitless stretch the longest for him since he produced zeros in season-high five consecutive games from April 10-16. Despite the dry spell, he still ranks second on the team in hits (69) and fourth in RBI (35).
Quotes of the week
“Obviously, Lackey was upset at the 3-0 swing. He yelled at me as I ran down the first-base line. As far as I understood, he was pretty upset that I dropped my bat on the 3-0 (pitch). I was actually pretty upset at myself that I got such a good pitch to hit, and I missed it.”
— Rays outfielder Matt Joyce, after a pitch from Boston Red Sox right-hander John Lackey that hit him below the right shoulder blade and led to a bench-clearing incident in the sixth inning of Boston’s 10-8 victory in 14 innings on June 10. The incident proved minor, and no ejections were issued.
“Being in the same organization for 12 years, you get accustomed to the same thing every year – going to spring training, seeing the same guys, seeing the same coaching staff. Now, you’re the new guy. I’m 31 years old now. Now, I’m finally the new guy, and I’m not the old greybeard anymore.”
— Ex-Rays right-hander James Shields, now with the Royals, on his return to Tropicana Field last Thursday. He was part of a seven-player trade last December – along with other notables such as right-handers Wade Davis and Jake Odorizzi – that brought elite prospect Wil Myers to Tampa Bay’s system.
“Those are the kind of moments that you feel as a group, as a fraternity. I know we feel wonderful about it. I think the rest of baseball feels good about it beyond the fan base. … The biggest thing is just to follow the instructions of the doctors, make sure that he gets his rest.”
— Manager Joe Maddon, after right-hander Alex Cobb was released from Bayfront Medical Center during Tampa Bay’s 5-3 loss to the Royals on Sunday. The Rays displayed a message with the news on a video board beyond right field, and a loud cheer lifted from the announced crowd of 27,442.
324: Length, in minutes, of a game between the Rays and Boston Red Sox at Tropicana Field that began last Monday and ended early Tuesday. The 14-inning marathon, won by Boston 10-8, was the second-longest game in Rays history.
4-6: Record posted by the Rays in their most recent homestand, which stretched from June 7-16. It was the first homestand in which they posted a record below .500 since July 13-22, 2012, when they went 4-6 against the Red Sox, Cleveland Indians and Seattle Mariners.
1-5: Rays’ record against the Kansas City Royals this season, after two games at Kauffman Stadium (April 30 and May 1) and four at Tropicana Field (June 13-16). Kansas City has outscored Tampa Bay 40-21 in the season series, and the Royals have claimed nine of the last 11 games between the teams.
Tweet of the week
Want to say thank you to our All-star trainer Ron Porterfield and the doctors @bayfront hospital. Woke up with only a minor headache today.
Cobb is one of the most interesting personalities in the Rays clubhouse. He is thoughtful, insightful and reflective. He is easy to like as well, given his up-beat approach to his job and those around him.
Thank goodness the incident Saturday never turned more serious. Obviously, it is never a good sight when a line drive strikes a pitcher is such a gruesome way. No words do justice to describe the sight of medical personnel rushing to the mound, with a pitcher clutching his head in pain.
To some Rays pitchers, however, this situation felt different than the J.A. Happ incident. Cobb is one of their own. It cut deep. Teammates such as left-hander David Price, left-hander Matt Moore and right-hander Jeremy Hellickson visited Cobb in the hospital. His positive demeanor encouraged them. They showed how tight members of a rotation can be. Here is hoping none of them make a similar trip again.