A week ago yesterday, Bryce Harper made his major league debut at Dodger Stadium to a chorus of boos. I didn’t get it. Harper is a nineteen-year-old who has been bestowed the mantle of the games next, well, Mantle. Or just simply baseball’s next superstar.
And here he was getting booed. He played through the boos and probably used them to fuel the fire of excellence that he pursues.
Last night, in the tenth inning at Tropicana Field, boos cascaded down to the field, bounced off the turf, and pinballed among the ceiling rings. Brandon Gomes was struggling. He was struggling to throw strikes, and the Rays were in danger of having a ten game home winning streak fall by the wayside.
Jim Hickey made a trip to the mound, and it became obvious that Gomes was going to have to hold the fort. While Wade Davis and Joel Peralta stood up and stretched briefly in the bullpen, neither began to throw. The mound fixated on Hickey and Joe Maddon in the dugout. I won’t try to read their minds, but I know they were trying to win the game. They were also, I would bet, concerned about a pitcher who might lose all confidence.
And the boos continued.
I was looking at Gomes’ face as he yanked one pitch and then had the next one sail on him. It was obvious how much this mattered to him, and it was also apparent that he was giving it his best shot. Maybe, just maybe, he was trying too hard.
Somehow, after throwing only ten strikes in twenty-five pitches, he escaped the inning. And then the fans cheered loudly, not sarcastically as they had when he had thrown one of his first strikes. As the last out had been recorded, his teammates rose and came to the dugout steps to greet him. It was obvious how concerned they were for him.
The next inning, he went out and threw eleven strikes in seventeen pitches, and it seemed he had his old mojo back. Three routine ground balls and the inning was over. Hopefully, Gomes has crossed his roughest waters and found himself. People seem to have forgotten that he pitched in forty games last year, and filled a vital role out of the ‘pen, while posting a 2.92 ERA and going 2-1.
You see, I don’t like boos. I can never recall booing, even if it was the Evil Empire in the other dugout. The Rays do a great deal for the Tampa Bay community. Their organization is well-run, and they bust their butts every time they take the field. If they didn’t hustle, then that might make booing acceptable. Might.
The Rays players, following the lead of Maddon, have attempted to become family with folks in the Tampa Bay region. And who would boo a family member? Hopefully The Trop will be filled today with fans enjoying some Everglades BBQ or a Rays Cuban Sandwich. Maybe they will even responsibly hoist a beer or two. I just hope they go easy on the boos.
- Two former Rays, Jonny Gomes and Grant Balfour had a hand in stopping the Rays’ home winning streak at ten games. Gomes made a leaping grab of Carlos Pena’s drive opening the bottom of the tenth inning, and ultimately hit the game-winning home run for Oakland. Balfour earned his seventh save of the season. Joe Maddon mentioned earlier in the week how much he thought of both of them, and their commitment to the game and organization.
- Joel Peralta, ever the professional, said “I have to be better than that.” He threw a splitter that didn’t drop, and Gomes took it out of the park. After that pitch, he was masterful, giving up only a bloop single while striking out three.
- Yesterday was my sister Mary’s birthday. I won’t tell you the number; she might come after me. Mary has been blind since ten months, and yet always loved sports, especially baseball. Sadly, she’s a Braves fan, but at least they’re in the National League. I do know that Mary planned to have margaritas at five yesterday. What a day. Birthday, Cinco de Mayo, and the Kentucky Derby. Oh, and her Braves whipped Colorado 13-9.
- Matt Moore will look to start a new home winning streak for Tampa Bay in a battle of lefties as he faces off against Oakland’s Tommy Milone.