Rays' Maddon refuses to go 'by the book'
There is unorthodox, and then there is Joe Maddon.
Baseball's best out-of-the-box thinker was at it again this week.
The Tampa Bay Rays manager, a longtime Angels coach, had first baseman Carlos Pena leading off for the first time in his career Tuesday and Wednesday against Toronto.
Pena, in a 0-for-17 funk, responded by reaching base six times in two victories.
They took the Devil out of the Rays shortly after Maddon arrived, but not the details.
Maddon has juggled lineups continually with third baseman Evan Longoria (hamstring) and leadoff man Desmond Jennings (strained left knee) on the disabled list.
Jeff Keppinger has batted cleanup against lefties, and Wednesday journeyman infielder Drew Sutton hit No. 4 for the first time in his major league career. Keppinger has 34 homers in 615 big league games, including two this season before he too went on the DL (broken big toe).
Maddon, the last man to manage the Angels before Mike Scioscia arrived (Maddon went 19-10 to end 1999, after Terry Collins resigned), has taken the Rays into the playoffs three times in the past four seasons, quite a feat for a low-budget team in the AL East, baseball's equivalent to the SEC in football.
Remember, each Tampa Bay postseason berth meant either the Red Sox or Yankees stayed home.
This year, he again has the Rays in contention, with Angels reject Fernando Rodney 14 for 14 in save situations, plus 2-0 with a 0.40 ERA through Thursday.
No one who watched him pitch in Anaheim the past two seasons would believe Rodney's 2 2/3 strikeout-to-walk ratio as a Ray, but it's real. And, Rodney is a fill-in, too, for last year's closer, Kyle Farnsworth (right-elbow strain).
Maddon is in a good place, though. It's actually fortunate he had to go to Florida to get this chance to work his magic.
With some Angels fans making clarion calls to Scioscia, urging him to pull a slumping Albert Pujols from the No. 3 spot — while others constantly criticize the lack of a set Angels lineup — they'd all likely go berserk over Maddon's lineup tweaks, if he were making them in Anaheim.
Pujols would've led off one of Maddon's lineup cards by now.
The seasons of the Lakers and the Clippers ended almost a week ago, but since this column only comes around bi-weekly, they'll be addressed now.
The Lakers, at least, put up more of a fight in their elimination game in Oklahoma City than they did a year ago against Dallas. And the Clippers did anything but roll over to the San Antonio Spurs in Game 4, although they were unable to avert a sweep by a superior team.
San Antonio's excellence in execution is a marvel to behold (excuse the random wrestling reference, to Bret Hart). The Spurs simply can't be double-teamed, they share the basketball so well. Good luck, Thunder.
The biggest problem in rebuilding the Lakers, besides Kobe Bryant's max contract, is style of play. Now we know why Phil Jackson didn't employ a true point guard all those years.
After injecting an initial burst of speed, Ramon Sessions was allegedly told to slow it down, that he was playing too darn fast for the Lakers' big men. Sessions never was quite the same after that.
It's probably a good thing David Stern voided the Chris Paul trade to the Lakers. CP3 would've been more than a little frustrated with this plodding bunch.
The Showtime Lakers somehow ran and ran and ran, even in the NBA playoffs, despite having center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar nearing his 40s. So, it's remarkable this contrasting style of play has been tolerated in Los Angeles the past dozen years. Winning covers up for everything, it seems.
Despite all the calls for axing Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro, he did a great job utilizing the bench GM Neil Olshey did a great job in acquiring. Who knew, during the lockout, that Kenyon Martin, Nick Young and Reggie Evans would be Clippers?
Now, it would be nice if the Clippers brought back some of those guys.
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