ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball crew makes its second-ever visit to the Trop, and first since the dark days of 1999, for tonight's series finale with the Red Sox. We checked in with analyst and Hall of Famer Joe Morgan for his take on the Rays and the playoff race, and what the Reds did for "dress-up" road trips, and here are some excerpts:
On the Rays overall:
They're a fun team to watch. They have speed, they have power, they play good defense, they're aggressive on the bases and they're pretty smart. … I haven't seen them make a lot of mental mistakes.
On health as a key to the race:
Injuries have so much to do with who's going to end up winning at the end. And because they're younger, I see them staying healthier.
Most of those guys have been in a pennant race, and that's always a positive. … I think they know what they have to do to win, and they have confidence in themselves enough to win because they've done it before.
On starting pitching:
How healthy are the Rays? They still have these question marks with their starters. But obviously you have David Price anchoring your staff, you have (Matt) Garza, (James) Shields, you've got guys that are capable of going for it. I think the Yankees' starting staff is probably the weakest (of the three) at this point. You have CC (Sabathia) but then where do you go? Boston has guys that are capable. (Clay) Buchholz and (Jon) Lester are their strong guys. If (Josh) Beckett and (John) Lackey are able to pick it up, then they've got a pretty good chance.
On Evan Longoria:
Obviously he's maturing as a player. He looks like he's getting better. He looks like he's adjusting to what (the pitchers are) doing to him. And that's the biggest key for a young guy.
On B.J. Upton's potential vs. performance:
Unfortunately you used that word potential, which means you haven't done it before. He's had some injuries that have held him back. I'm still waiting for him to put all of that talent together with the proper mental frame of mind. Once he does that, the sky's the limit, but it's not easy to do.
On Joe Maddon:
Obviously he comes from the Angels camp, and since the game has changed (post steroids), I've always felt the Angels played the most complete game. … I'm impressed with the fact that he plays good fundamentally sound baseball, and he seems to know when to push certain buttons. I think that comes from thinking all the time, whereas you've got a lot of managers who are sitting and waiting for the three-run homer, and the Rays don't do that.
On the Rays' "dress-up" road trips:
When you play 162 games and you're in a pennant race, anything that takes your mind off of that for a moment to relax you is good. When I played with the Reds, as good as our teams were, we'd wear bow ties sometimes on the road. … If you think baseball 24/7, it's going to tire you out mentally. … I used to listen to jazz before the game all day and read a lot; I'd read adventure stories, not real-life stuff. I wanted to get away from everything.
Former Mets GM Steve Phillips, now working for AOL Fanhouse, ranks Joe Maddon eighth best among MLB managers, citing his ability to "nurture youngsters" and "handling the media." Ahead of Maddon: Tony La Russa, Bobby Cox, Terry Francona, Mike Scioscia, Joe Torre, Ron Gardenhire, Jim Leyland. … Not only does closer Rafael Soriano like the song Sweet Caroline (see below) — even though it's something of a Red Sox anthem — he walked the aisle of the recent team flight to San Francisco playing it on his boom box: "It's not Boston's song." … A potential concern for the Rays: Games 1 and 6 of the AL Championship Series are on Fridays. … SS Jason Bartlett left a clever note on the new bench added to the dugout, poking fun at Maddon's vitamin commercial: "It's getting late, Joe's getting tired, try taking Men's Pro Health one a day." … Rays pre- and postgame radio host Rich Herrera and Durham play-by-play man Neil Solondz swap jobs again for the Jays series. … On radio, why is it Rays regular-season games get bumped from 620-AM to 970-AM for Bucs exhibitions? … The Rays aren't done with their BRaysers; Maddon said they'll be worn on another trip, with plans to "accessorize." … Postseason ticket invoices were mailed to season-ticket holders, due Sept. 8.
Got a minute? Rafael Soriano
Best meal you can make? Coconut chicken with rice and corn.
Late-night TV? Telenovas (soap operas) on Univision — Corazon Salvaje (Savage Heart).
Karaoke song if you had to? Sweet Caroline (which he then plays on his iPod in the clubhouse).
Late-night snack? Dulce de coco — a coconut fudge candy.
With your wife Maria's permission, dream date? Aracely Arambula (a singer and actress on Corazon Salvaje).
* Interpretation help from Carmen Molina of Rays staff