Thursday, November 23, 2017
Tampa Bay Rays

Jennings comes through for Rays

RECOMMENDED READING


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
Presenting the 2017 Sports Turkey of the Year

Presenting the 2017 Sports Turkey of the Year

Happy Turkey Day!Today is a day of tradition.The Macy’s parade. Turkey and stuffing. The Lions and Cowboys.And our annual "Turkey of the Year.’’It’s a tradition started by my former colleague at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the brilliant columnist P...
Published: 11/22/17
Updated: 11/23/17
Rays INF Matt Duffy has to say big goodbye to 27-pound cat Skeeter

Rays INF Matt Duffy has to say big goodbye to 27-pound cat Skeeter

When the Rays acquired INF Matt Duffy from the Giants during the 2016 season, we also heard about the giant and somewhat famous cat he had, an up-to-27-pounder named Skeeter.Duffy announced over the weekend on Instagram that the family had to have Sk...
Published: 11/21/17
Rays agonize over which prospects to protect on 40-man roster

Rays agonize over which prospects to protect on 40-man roster

ST. PETERSBURG — That the Rays went right up to Monday’s 8 p.m. deadline in deciding to add seven players to the 40-man roster, and that a couple they left off seem to be potential Rule 5 draft losses, was apparently a good thing."There’s always some...
Published: 11/20/17
Updated: 11/21/17
UPDATE: RHP Brent Honeywell among 7 added to Rays 40-man roster

UPDATE: RHP Brent Honeywell among 7 added to Rays 40-man roster

UPDATE, 8:11: RHP Jose Mujica was an additional addition to the roster, beyond the six previously reported. Mujica, 21, was 14-8, 3.04 ERA in 27 starts between Class-A Charlotte and Double-A Montgomery.So among those left unprotected and potentially ...
Published: 11/20/17
Former Devil Ray Aubrey Huff among newcomers to Baseball Hall of Fame ballot

Former Devil Ray Aubrey Huff among newcomers to Baseball Hall of Fame ballot

Aubrey Huff isn't going to make the Baseball Hall of Fame.But at least the former Devil Rays standout has the satisfaction of making the cut to get onto the ballot, one of 19 first-timers up for election this year.Other newcomers with Rays ties are O...
Published: 11/20/17
Topkin: As Rays start dealing, how far will they go?

Topkin: As Rays start dealing, how far will they go?

After collecting intelligence at last week’s GM meetings, the Rays soon will launch their offseason mission of trading at least a couple of veterans to reduce payroll.The question is how far they will go — how many players they deal, and how big of n...
Published: 11/18/17
Rocco Baldelli’s promotion on Rays coaching staff now makes him major league field coordinator

Rocco Baldelli’s promotion on Rays coaching staff now makes him major league field coordinator

The Rays completed the reorganization of their coaching staff by giving Rocco Baldelli the title of major league field coordinator.In being promoted from first-base coach, Baldelli will implement ideas and information from the staff, while assisting ...
Published: 11/17/17
Rays hope to cash in on Alex Cobb leaving

Rays hope to cash in on Alex Cobb leaving

LAKE BUENA VISTA — The Rays were banking on pitcher Alex Cobb declining their one-year, $17.4 million qualifying offer based on the lure of a longer-term and more lucrative deal elsewhere as a free agent.With that decision official Thursday, now the ...
Published: 11/16/17
Commissioner Rob Manfred likes Ybor City stadium site, but must see more support to keep baseball in Tampa Bay

Commissioner Rob Manfred likes Ybor City stadium site, but must see more support to keep baseball in Tampa Bay

LAKE BUENA VISTA — MLB commissioner Rob Manfred didn’t want to talk Thursday about what might happen if the current effort to build the Rays a new stadium at the Ybor City site falls through."I’m more focused on working with the community to figure o...
Published: 11/16/17
A message to Rays fans from Alex Cobb

A message to Rays fans from Alex Cobb

Here is a message from RHP Alex Cobb after he officially left the Rays Thursday in declining their one-year, $17.4-milllion qualifying offer to seek a bigger and longer pact elsewhere:"Getting to this point in my career is truly bittersweet."Twelve y...
Published: 11/16/17