Thursday, February 22, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Jennings comes through for Rays

ST. PETERSBURG

It had been a rough night for Desmond Jennings.

Come to think of it, it had been a rough month for Desmond Jennings.

He had booted balls in the outfield. Misread liners. Turned outs into doubles, outs into triples.

Normally reliable and one of the best centerfielders in the big leagues, he had suddenly become a high-wire circus act every time a sinking liner was hit his way.

Fly balls he used to run down with ease had suddenly become adventures. And not just the hard ones, but the routine ones. His defensive woes had become such an issue that some wondered if he needed glasses.

He then carried his struggles in the field to the plate and had become so ineffective that Rays manager Joe Maddon no longer automatically penned him into the leadoff spot.

And while he slumped in the field and at the plate, the Rays continued their roller coaster ride — one day up, one day down — in a mad scramble to the postseason.

But one swing of the bat changed that. One swing of the bat fixed a broken night. One swing of the bat gave the Rays a game that makes you believe.

For the first time in who knows how long, the Rays won a game they had no business winning.

And it was Jennings who took that swing and delivered the winning hit, knocking in Sam Fuld with a single in the bottom of the 12th to give the Rays a 4-3 walkoff victory Wednesday.

From goat to star, that's how Jennings' night went. The Rangers scored two runs in the top of the second because Jennings butchered another liner in the outfield.

With two outs, Rangers No. 9 hitter Leonys Martin drilled a knuckling liner to centerfield.

Looking like a Little Leaguer, Jennings raced in, froze and started sprinting back. But you knew it was too late, and the ball sailed over his head, scoring two runs. For a long time, it looked like the blunder would cost the Rays yet another game.

The play was scored a triple, but it was a ball Jennings should have had.

"I just made a bad read on the ball, and it got over my head," Jennings said. "I just misread it. I misplayed it."

That has become a familiar postgame quote for Jennings. Since returning from the disabled list Aug. 19, Jennings has been charged with three errors, although one was later ruled a hit. There were three other balls he misplayed, including one that directly cost the Rays a victory.

This from a guy who had made one error from the start of the 2012 season until last month.

"It can bite you a little bit, and it has bitten him," Maddon said.

Jennings' struggles in the field followed him to the plate. Going into Wednesday night, he was 0-for-9 and was batting .169 in his past 27 games.

Then came the latest misplay in the field.

"If I wouldn't have misplayed it, I would have still been thinking about helping the team out," Jennings said. "But I definitely wanted to redeem myself."

He finally got his chance in the 12th.

"I still have confidence," Jennings insisted.

And he proved it.

Jose Lobaton led off the inning with a single, and then pinch-runner Fuld moved to second on a Yunel Escobar single. Jennings then followed with a single to right.

"Oh yeah," Jennings said when asked if he thought Fuld would score.

And as the Rays dugout poured onto the field to mob Jennings and Fuld, you finally felt the Rays had a signature win that could propel them into the playoffs.

And it finally looked as if Jennings had shed his recent struggles.

"(Confidence) is fragile, man," Maddon said. "I don't care how long a guy has played. It matters. If you have it or you don't, it matters. And yes, it can help him along."

The Rays still have plenty of issues. They are 17-23 since Aug. 6. Just 17 wins in 40 chase-to-the-pennant games. Does that sound like a playoff team to you?

But one swing changed everything Wednesday night.

Not only for Jennings. But just maybe for the Rays.

Comments
Rays find taker for Corey Dickerson, get Daniel Hudson, prospect from Pirates

Rays find taker for Corey Dickerson, get Daniel Hudson, prospect from Pirates

The Rays found a taker for OF/DH Corey Dickerson, trading him Thursday to the Pirates for veteran reliever Daniel Hudson, minor-league INF Tristan Gray and an undisclosed amount of cash.Hudson, 30, will compete for a spot in the Rays bullpen, co...
Updated: 7 minutes ago
Rays Honeywell sidelined by right forearm strain

Rays Honeywell sidelined by right forearm strain

UPDATE: Honeywell sustained a "right forearm strain" and will be further evaluated, manager Kevin Cash said."Obviously it's unfortunate. We'll let the doctors and trainers get a look at him."DEVELOPING: Rays top pitching prospect Brent Honeywell left...
Updated: 2 hours ago
New pitcher Anthony Banda already “loving the vibe” with Rays

New pitcher Anthony Banda already “loving the vibe” with Rays

Acknowledging the "whirlwind" that comes with being traded, LHP Anthony Banda said he is excited to come over from Arizona because he figures to have a better opportunity with the Rays.And he already likes the fit."I'm very excited to be here and con...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Spring is in the air as games start today

Spring is in the air as games start today

After a week of players stretching, doing mundane drills and practicing practice, spring training moves to the next phase today with the start of exhibition games.Ah, baseball in the sunshine.Consider it a soft opening in this part of the state, with...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Rays are adding players?

Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Rays are adding players?

The Rays signed veteran outfielder Carlos Gomez to a one-year contract one day after trading Steven Souza Jr. to Arizona. In his latest podcast, Rick Stroud discusses reaction to the moves from players, as well as super fan Dick Vitale.Plus, the Bucs...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Grapefruit League 2018 day-by-day schedule

Grapefruit League 2018 day-by-day schedule

Here is the 2018 day-by-day Grapefruit League schedule. Check out the Tampa Bay Times’ 2018 Spring Training Guide for stadium locations, contact information, team-by-team schedules, ticket information and more.Thursday, Feb. 22U. of Tampa vs. Philade...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Dick Vitale to Rays owner Stu Sternberg: Sell the team

Dick Vitale to Rays owner Stu Sternberg: Sell the team

PORT CHARLOTTE – Dick Vitale, the Rays' most visible and, as of late, vocal fan, took to Twitter and the 620-AM airwaves Wednesday morning and later in the day in a phone call to the Tampa Bay Times to blast his local baseball team.Vitale, ESPN...
Updated: 5 hours ago
What if the Rays actually have a good plan?

What if the Rays actually have a good plan?

PORT CHARLOTTE — Going against popular opinion, here's an odd thought to ponder:What if the Rays actually know what they're doing?The deal agreed to Wednesday afternoon with veteran outfielder Carlos Gomez — one year for a hefty-for-them ...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Denard Span on new Ray Anthony Banda: ‘Guy is pretty legit’

Denard Span on new Ray Anthony Banda: ‘Guy is pretty legit’

PORT CHARLOTTE — 2B Nick Solak reported to camp Wednesday, while LHP Anthony Banda, the other player acquired in the Steven Souza Jr. trade, is on his way.Banda, whose fastball hits the mid-90s, pitched in eight games last season with the Diamo...
Published: 02/21/18
Rays move fast to fill void, sign Carlos Gomez

Rays move fast to fill void, sign Carlos Gomez

PORT CHARLOTTE — The Rays moved quickly to fill the void created by Tuesday's trade of RF Steven Souza Jr., agreeing to a one-year deal Wednesday afternoon with veteran OF Carlos Gomez.The deal, pending a physical, will pay Gomez $4-million...
Published: 02/21/18