OUR BOYS: Not to get all jingoistic or anything, but there's a soft spot hereabouts for the Rays that goes beyond the Cinderella, David-vs.-Goliath storyline (Boston Herald) that we've been dealing with for months now.
You see, it isn't often that two Rhode Islanders are major-league teammates. I spent about an hour yesterday poring through baseball-reference.com's "Players by Place of Birth" list and only came up with a handful since World War II.
Chet Nichols, Phil Paine and Max Surkont on the 1951 Boston Braves and again on the 1954 Milwaukee Braves. Nichols and Paine on the 1955-56 Braves. Art Quirk and Dave Stenhouse on the 1963 Washington Senators. Bill Almon and Jim Siwy on the 1982 White Sox. Almon and Davey Lopes on the 1983-84 Oakland A's.
And now Rocco Baldelli and Dan Wheeler on the Tampa Bay Rays.
Joe McDonald has done several pieces on Baldelli (above) this year and he caught up with him again yesterday at Tropicana Field on the eve of Baldelli's first playoff series. Rocco was good, as usual, but better was Jonny Gomes -- yes, yes, the same dastardly Jonny Gomes who pummeled Coco Crisp way back when -- who's been Baldelli's friend since they both joined the organization in 2001 and gives great insights into exactly what Rocco's been going through as he fights the diseases that have threatened his career.
Kevin McNamara, meanwhile, was also at The Trop and talked to Wheeler, who's now the Tampa Bay closer. Wheeler grew up as a Red Sox fan but says, "I never once said I wanted to play for the Red Sox. I wanted to play major-league baseball." And so he is.
Local boys. It makes what was already a pretty interesting series just a bit more interesting. At least around here.
BACK AT HOME . . . Daniel Barbarisi and Paul Kenyon had Fenway duty yesterday and produced a wealth of material -- all of which was posted to this very blog during the afternoon -- that included:
-- A talk with Mike Timlin as he awaits word as to whether or not he'll be added to the ALCS roster. (He made an interesting comment about his conversation with Terry Francona about being left off the ALDS roster, a conversation Tito described as "professional" but Timlin admitted was something less than that.)
-- The Red Sox saying their past battles with the Rays are behind them. (Down in St. Petersburg, the Rays were saying the same thing.)
-- A very newsy notebook, with little items that were all posted individually to the blog. McDonald and McNamara also had a Rays notebook.
The teams work out again today, and we'll be back with more. Stop by this afternoon.
THE GREAT DEBATE: Rob Bradford lists the reasons the Red Sox will win, and Alex Speier lists the reasons the Rays will win, in a pre-series debate on WEEI.com.
THE BIG TWO: Sean McAdam says the key players for the Red Sox in this series may be David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia, neither of whom did much in the ALDS against the Angels.
Actually, if you read both stories, you'll see they're both right.
NONE BETTER: Joe Posnanski looks into the subject, as only he can, and concludes Jed Lowrie is the best professional athlete in history with the name of 'Jed'.
DON'T YOU JUST HATE GUYS WHO MOUTH OFF FIRST AND THINK LATER? Curt Schilling says his personal physician, Dr. Craig Morgan, is "like me . . . [he] has little to no filter when asked about things he feels comfortable with knowledge wise." So after Morgan told the Associated Press Schilling would be pitching today if he'd had shoulder surgery back in January, like Morgan had recommended (projo.com), Schilling quickly took to 38pitches.com to announce he'd have no comment on Morgan's remarks. ("Don't ask" was the title to the post.) But he rue the timing of the remarks ("horrific") and apologized "to anyone being asked to respond or comment . . . [This] is not the time. The team is and will be focused on beating Tampa, as it should be."
THE BIG THREE: John Romano of the St. Petersburg Times lists the three team meetings that defined the season for the Rays.
KNOW YOUR ENEMY: The Times' Marc Topkin introduces his readers to several key members of the Red Sox.
WHO SAYS THEY DON'T DESERVE IT? Tim Marchman, now writing in Slate, thinks the suffering of the Rays' fans has been greatly underrepresented in baseball's tales of woe.
AND SPEAKING OF SUFFERING . . . One 12-year-old Rays fan got suspended from school because of his love for the team. (St. Petersburg Times)
OUCH: Will Leitch, back on Deadspin, says it "hurts me more than it hurts you" to pick the Red Sox in five.
SOX IN FIVE? HAH! David Chalk of Bugs & Cranks says Nate Silver's recent appearance on The Colbert Report establishes the Rays as having a 90.5 percent chance to win the series. Silver didn't actually say that, mind you, but David can walk you through the steps he used to reach that conclusion.
WHAT THE PROS ARE SAYING: Haggerty lists the Vegas odds.
WON'T BE EASY: Jim Rice says the Rays are a tough opponent.
I'LL DO IT AGAIN: Stung by mounting criticism of the squeeze play in the ninth inning Monday night, Mike Scioscia vigorously defended the decision, saying it has a high percentage of success and he'll make the same call when the situation next presents itself. (Los Angeles Times)
MUST-WATCH TV: Be sure to tune in Game One of the NLCS tonight for Manny Ramirez' first at-bat. Because if Tim McCarver repeats even half of what he said about Ramirez in an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer . . .
You've probably all heard it by now, but "simply despicable, despicable" is the sound bite I'll always remember.
COME AGAIN? Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus wants to know exactly what McCarver's talking about, because he says the numbers don't back up the accusations.
In actuality, the two pieces -- McCarver in the Inquirer's, and Sheehan's -- encapsulate the Manny debate perfectly. The McCarver side says he was a cancer that had to be extricated from the Red Sox clubhouse at any cost, and the Sheehan side wants to see evidence, any evidence, that Ramirez was actually hurting the team . . . compared to the mountains of evidence that indicate he was helping it.
All I know is, these Red Sox are probably the most progressive, intelligent organization in baseball today, much more in tune with the Sheehans of the world than most baseball insiders. (Theo Epstein, in fact, once wrote a blurb for the Baseball Prospectus' cover.) Yet they considered him to be a cancer that had to be extricated from the Red Sox clubhouse at any cost. So forget what the numbers tell you. What does that tell you?
It tells me there was something going on that couldn't be quantified by the numbers. Whether it ends up helping or hurting the Red Sox on the field . . . well, we'll find out soon enough, won't we?
SERIES PREVIEW: David Pinto of Baseball Musings analyzes the Dodgers-Phillies series and gives Philadelphia a slight edge.
BIG DEAL: Someone on the Cubs apparently broke something in the visiting dugout in Los Angeles in the third and final game of the NLDS, but Chicago GM Jim Hendry doesn't know, and doesn't care, who's responsible. (Chicago Tribune) He told the Dodgers to bill him.
WRONG STRATEGY: Rafael Palmeiro has all but disappeared from public view since -- mere months after he wagged his finger at Congressmen, while under oath, and denied taking steroids --- it was revealed he used performance-enhancing drugs. The Dallas Morning News' Jean-Jacques Taylor talks to the people around him, including his wife, about his life today, and concludes Palmeiro's going about it incorrectly. " We love to forgive in America. All you have to do is ask."
HERE AND THERE: The Mariners will interview Mets vice-president Tony Bernazard for their vacant GM position (New York Post) . . . Some Yankee officials have heard Mike Mussina say he's going to retire but they don't discount that he might file for free agency, just to keep his options open (New York Post) . . . Bobby Abreu wants to return to the Yankees (mlb.com) . . . His shoulder examination revealed nothing serious, so the Cubs exercised Rich Harden's 2007 contract option (Chicago Tribune) . . . The Orioles' Jamie Walker won't need shoulder surgery (Baltimore Sun) . . . The Indians may have interest in reacquiring Casey Blake (Cleveland Plain Dealer) . . . It's doubtful the Angels will bring back Jon Garland (Los Angeles Times) . . . The Reds aren't bringing back Corey Patterson. (mlb.com)
AND FINALLY . . . I probably shouldn't go here, but . . .
To get in the spirit of the Rays' playoff run, women in central Florida are getting their own special mohawks to show their team spirit . . . even if they can't really show it. (South Florida Sun-Sentinel)
-- ART MARTONE