October 7, 2013

Tom Caron: Rays losing their cool

Joe Maddon is one of the coolest characters in baseball. He’s well-spoken and generally mild-mannered, a manager who will discuss wine and literature as easily as he’ll discuss sports.

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Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon scratches his head during a news conference before Monday's Game 3 of baseball's American League division series against the Boston Red Sox, Sunday, Oct. 6, 2013, in St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

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Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon, left, holds the ball as starting pitcher David Price leaves the baseball game in the top of the eighth inning in Game 2 of the Rays' American League division series against the Boston Red Sox Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013, in Boston. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

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Yet he, and his team, seemed to lose their cool after an October weekend in Boston. They were rattled by an offense Red Sox Manager John Farrell describes as “relentless.” Shaken by a 19-run, 25-hit attack over the first two games of the American League division series.

“I think we got out Fenway-ed tonight,” said Maddon after losing the second game in as many days Saturday night. “They took advantage of the quirks; we did not…. It was kind of a weird night the way everything set up for them and against us.”

It was shocking to hear Maddon chalk up a pair of one-sided losses to the quirks of the ballpark. He and his team are certainly familiar with the nooks and crannies of Fenway, having played 10 games there during the regular season. Maddon has managed 78 games in Boston since taking in his 10 years as Tampa Bay manager.

He wasn’t the only one blaming the ballpark.

“I don’t want to take anything away from what Boston did (in the first two games),” said Alex Cobb before starting Game 3 on Monday. “They’re a very aggressive offense. They played to their advantages of their home ballpark. There’s a lot of balls hit off that wall that were typical outs here. A lot of balls finding holes for them, a couple of 90-feet doubles they hit.”

Cobb went on to say “the game is played differently in Tropicana (Field) than Fenway Park.

While Maddon and Cobb were unhappy with the venue of the first two games, Game 2 loser David Price was unhappy with many things. He complained about the time it took David Ortiz to circle the bases after his two home runs Saturday night. He complained about comments made by television analysts Dirk Hayhurst and Tom Verducci on TBS.

“Dirk Hayhurst...COULDNT hack it,” Price wrote on Twitter Saturday night.  “Tom Verducci wasn’t even a water boy in high school...but yet they can still bash a player...SAVE IT NERDS.”

A day later, Price apologized on twitter, using the hashtag “#thatsnotme.” By then it was pretty clear that the calm veneer of the Rays was cracking.

At Sunday’s off-day press conference Maddon said his team is given a lot of freedom, including the freedom to make mistakes on social media. That the manager had to speak about such things in the midst of a playoff series was a stark reminder that things had not been going well for a team making its fourth postseason appearance in six years.

It’s the Red Sox that are looking like a team that has been playing October baseball regularly, even though it had been four years since the franchise had been to the playoffs. It’s hard to imagine that Saturday was the one-year anniversary of the firing of Bobby Valentine. It was one of the low points in recent Red Sox history, a bottoming out after a toxic 93-loss season.

In that year the Red Sox went from worst to first, something never done before in this history of the franchise.  Over the weekend Fenway Park was as electric as it has been in years.

We’ve said all along that this 2013 team reminds us of the 2003 team that ran to the ALCS with swagger and determination.  We just didn’t expect the Rays to resemble the 2003 Devil Rays.

Tom Caron is the studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network. His column appears in the Press Herald on Tuesdays.

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