Make us your home page
Instagram

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Starting Kelly Shoppach was biggest slipup for Tampa Bay Rays

ST. PETERSBURG

And so the 2010 season ended for the Rays at 11:08 p.m.

At least that will be the official time of death going forward in baseball's record books.

In years to come, Tampa Bay fans will always wonder if the demise wasn't sometime sooner. Like early Tuesday afternoon when manager Joe Maddon filled in his lineup card with Kelly Shoppach's name. Or maybe early last week when the Rays front office decided the postseason roster would include Shoppach instead of Dioner Navarro.

Please, do not get the idea that Shoppach was the sole reason the Rays lost Game 5 of the American League division series 5-1 to the Rangers on Tuesday night. The list of Rays blunders was long, and the number of ineffective at-bats was even longer.

No single player can be at fault when an offense goes as silent as Tampa Bay's did in Games 1, 2 and 5 of this series. The Rays scored two runs in three games at Tropicana Field, and never led for a single moment.

So, yes, the failure was collective and it was complete.

But when this game is recalled in bar rooms, playgrounds and nightmares, chances are Shoppach's name will be spoken first.

Just as every conquest needs a hero, you can bet that every failure requires a culprit. And judging from the boos that bounced off the stadium's roof on Tuesday night, the guy in shinguards and a mask has forever been assigned the antagonist's role for 2010.

Part of it was because he played so poorly in Game 5. His throwing error allowed the go-ahead run to score in the fourth, and his continued refusal to block the plate helped the next run get across too.

But the dissatisfaction goes deeper than that. For a team with little discretionary cash, Shoppach was one of the major acquisitions for Tampa Bay last winter. And his season fell far, far short of expectations.

In that sense, Tuesday night's finale felt more like confirmation than condemnation.

So why was Shoppach in the lineup?

Better yet, why was he on the postseason roster?

"That's an easy one to talk about," Maddon said afterward, "but I feel very confident about the decisions we made."

Maddon's point was that the Rays won 96 games and the toughest division in baseball with this very specific catcher platoon. After Navarro was sent to the minors early in the summer, Shoppach was the catcher against left-handed pitchers and John Jaso against right-handers.

The problem is that Shoppach barely held up his end of the bargain.

He wasn't good at throwing out runners. His caught stealing percentage of .171 was one of the lowest in the American League, and the worst among Rays catchers.

He didn't seem to be particularly good at handling the staff either. Rays pitchers had a 4.35 ERA when Shoppach was behind the plate, which was far worse than either Jaso or Navarro.

As for his offense? In the history of Major League Baseball, no player had ever struck out more than 70 times while getting fewer than 160 at-bats in a season before Shoppach did it this season (71 Ks in 158 at-bats).

And the trend continued in this series.

Because Texas threw left-handers in three games, Shoppach got the majority of the playing time. At the plate, he went 0-for-9 with three strikeouts. But that was nothing compared to his defense Tuesday night.

The Rangers made it clear they had zero fear of Shoppach behind the plate. In the first four innings, the Rangers attempted to steal seven times, though most of the attempts were thwarted by balls being put in play.

Maddon said the stolen bases were more an indication of the Rangers running on pitcher David Price but, at the very least, Shoppach failed to provide any deterrent. The Rangers won by running past startled Tampa Bay players at every opportunity. And, as the catcher in charge of slowing baserunners down, Shoppach was overmatched.

"We understood that coming in," Shoppach said of Texas' aggressive baserunning. "We do the best we can to hold them on, keep them close. That's how they got here this year."

And it is how they took the lead in Game 5. After the Rays had tied the score in the bottom of the third, the Rangers went right back on top when Nelson Cruz doubled and then tried to steal third base. Shoppach's throw sailed into leftfield, and Cruz came home easily. As it turned out, the Rays trailed for the rest of the season.

"Just made a bad throw," Shoppach said. "I saw Cruz all day, and I just got locked in on (Evan Longoria) running to the base instead of just throwing it to the base. Made a mistake. I was trying to make a play, and I didn't."

Navarro spent most of the season in the minors, and is even worse with a bat in his hands than Shoppach, but Rays pitchers clearly prefer throwing to Navarro than the other two catchers. Navarro is better at throwing out baserunners, he is better at blocking pitches and he is better calling games.

The point is Navarro at least brought some value defensively.

Which, in retrospect, the Rays could have used on the season's final day.

John Romano can be reached at romano@sptimes.com.

Starting Kelly Shoppach was biggest slipup for Tampa Bay Rays 10/12/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 13, 2010 11:13am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Steven Souza Jr. snaps out of slump as Rays defeat Angels (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — After Tuesday's shutout loss to the Angels, Steven Souza Jr. stood in front of his locker and talked about his need to contribute to the offense.

    Tampa Bay Rays catcher Jesus Sucre (45) hugs right fielder Steven Souza Jr. (20) in the dugout after his two run home run in the second inning of the game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Los Angeles Angels at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Wednesday, May 24, 2017.
  2. Tom Jones: Rays made right move sending Blake Snell to minors

    The Heater

    tom jones' two cents

    ST. PETERSBURG

    Blake Snell’s struggles on the mound were only one of the reasons the Rays sent him to the minors; some other red flags existed. [WILL VRAGOVIC   |   Times]
  3. Marc Topkin's takeaways from Wednesday's Rays-Angels game

    The Heater

    Rookie RHP Ryne Stanek has had his early struggles, but Wednesday he showed his high-octane potential, working around a one-out walk to strike out the mighty Mike Trout (on a 98.4 mph fastball) and legendary Albert Pujols (98.7), both swinging.

  4. Rays journal: More bullpen changes as Diego Moreno heads to DL

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays bullpen has another new look.

    Rays reliever Diego Moreno, pitching Sunday against the Yankees, heads the DL with shoulder bursitis.
  5. ACC baseball tournament: FSU beats Notre Dame on 12th-inning HR

    Colleges

    LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Jackson Lueck hit his second two-run home run of the game in the 12th inning, lifting Florida State past Notre Dame 5-3 on Wednesday at a rainy ACC baseball tournament.

    Florida State outfielder Jackson Lueck (2) connects for a game-winning home run in the 12th inning during game 4 of the 2017 ACC Baseball Tournament in Louisville, Ky., Wednesday, May 24, 2017. (Wade Payne/theACC.com via AP)