When Last Place Meets First
I went to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays @ Los Angeles Angels game last night and was fortunate to sit in the first row behind the home team's dugout. The tickets fell into my lap a few hours before game time. I hightailed it out to the ballpark with a friend and met my older brother and his wife underneath the big Angels' helmet in front of the stadium about 15 minutes before the opening pitch.
The Edwin Jackson-Kelvim Escobar matchup looked like one that would favor the Halos. However, Escobar has been struggling all month and, true to recent form, gave up runs in the first, second, and third innings and was pulled in the fifth inning with the bases loaded and no outs. The big righthander's ERA has leapt from a league-leading 2.68 after beating Toronto on August 16 to 3.46 (9th in the AL). He has gone from a legitimate candidate for the Cy Young Award to a question mark as the Angels ready themselves for the postseason.
Jackson, for his part, allowed 14 (yes, FOURTEEN) hits over 4 2/3 innings. He gave up seven runs (only four earned) and took his 15th loss of the season. The 24-year-old righthander was obviously frustrated in the second inning over a fielding mishap by second baseman Brendan Harris and a close call at first base that went against TB that led to the Angels scoring three runs and overcoming a 2-0 deficit. Jackson could be seen kicking the rubber and shaking his head repeatedly, giving off body language that suggested he was feeling sorry for himself.
For as much talent as Jackson possesses, he is far from a finished product. The one-time highly-prized prospect's fastball was sitting at 92-94 all game and he touched 98 (according to the radar gun at the stadium). Although Jackson ranks fourth in the AL in walks, he was throwing strikes – perhaps too many – and inducing more grounders than flyballs. To the extent that the fireballer had good control, he didn't necessarily have good command. It was a classic example of throwing strikes but not locating one's pitches.
Aside from a lack of command, the rap against Jackson has always been that he lacked quality secondary pitches. Last night, it once again appeared that his breaking ball was far from sharp. He may be better served as a setup man who can come in and throw mid- to high-90s heat for an inning or two without facing anyone more than once. Like so many youngsters, Jackson is one offering and another year or two of experience away from being a stud. But those shortcomings loom large and illustrate the difference between a top-of-the-rotation and a back-of-the-bullpen pitcher.
Bruce Froemming worked the plate. The longest tenured umpire in the history of Major League Baseball in terms of the number of seasons umpired will turn 68 in 10 days. Froemming has umpired over 5000 games and will end his 37-year career when he retires after the season second on the all-time list (behind Hall of Famer Bill Klem). Short and overweight, Froemming positions himself a full step behind the catcher and as far back as any home plate umpire I've ever witnessed. He barely bends at the knees and can't have much of a view back there.
Froemming ejected Joe Maddon in the top of the seventh inning when the Tampa Bay manager moved to the other end of the dugout to give first base ump Mark Wegner an earful after the latter ruled that Jonny Gomes had gone around on a checked swing for strike three. Froemming, who is also the crew chief, took a few steps toward the dugout and waved his right hand as only an umpire can do. Maddon, who had argued vehemently with Wegner in the second inning, raced out onto the field and appeared to be telling the home plate ump to butt out. Froemming, red in the face and perhaps growing tired of a game that took almost four hours to complete, had the final word and Maddon walked away and exited the game for the third time against his former team.
Speaking of manager-umpire clashes, Mike Scioscia climbed up to the top step of the dugout in the fifth inning and yelled at Mike Winters, who thought he had the night off working third base. Scioscia was upset that Jackson wasn't coming to a full stop and wanted Winters to call a balk on the pitcher. Pitching coach Mike Butcher and Scioscia both baited Froemming out to the mound at different times and had words with him as they walked off the field.
It was a long and frustrating night for both the umpires and the Devil Rays, who now possess the worst record in the majors. Tampa Bay fans can be comforted in knowing that the team is likely to add another top prospect next June to go along with former No. 1s Delmon Young and David Price, No. 2 B.J. Upton, and No. 3 Evan Longoria, who could find himself manning the hot corner sometime next season.
Upton showed his athleticism and inexperience on three plays, stealing home in the third inning and overthrowing the plate and third base in separate innings. His latter throw skimmed off the top of dugout and zoomed past my brother and off the shoulder of an elderly woman seated in the third row. Unlike Jackson and Maddon, she stayed in the game, taking one for the team as her hometown Angels outlasted the Devil Rays 10-7.