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Tampa Bay Rays' big mistake: J.P. Howell vs. Josh Hamilton in ALDS Game 3

Why, Joe?

Why J.P.?

Why put him in when it seems he is throwing b.p.?

Of all of the pitchers in the game, of all of the alternate choices in the employ of the Tampa Bay Rays from the Instructional League to the Alumni Game, why J.P. Howell? And, for crying out loud, why in the seventh inning of a close game?

In a defeat that put the offseason one game away, there is no question quite as perplexing as this one. Not the one about the hitters. Not the one about the catchers. Not the one about David Price.

Today, these are the questions that Rays manager Joe Maddon will not be able to escape:

Why J.P?

Why then?

It was the seventh inning, and the Rangers had just chased Price from the game. Texas led, 2-1, but there was still plenty of time for Team Comeback to make another one of those crazy come-from-behind rallies. They just had to escape a two-out, bases-loaded situation.

And then manager Joe Maddon called on J.P. Howell. Again.

Two pitches later, two, he gave up a crucial hit. Again.

Back-to-back curveballs, and Howell was done. This time, he had given up a two-run single to Hamilton, a particularly gnawing at-bat when you consider the Rays lost 4-3. If Howell even holds Hamilton to a sacrifice fly there, the Rays have a chance.

Why J.P.?

Why with the game on the line?

"That's why he's on this team," said Maddon. "To get that guy out in that situation."

All together now? Aargh.

And furthermore, huh?

As seasons go, this one has roughed up Howell pretty fiercely. He stood in front of his locker, and his eyes seemed as if he had lost a boxing match, and his hair kept falling into his face in wet strands. Too many times lately he has stood and talked about the feeling of getting roughed up, of letting his team down.

"Disgust," is the word he used most often to describe his feeling. "It makes you kind of sick. I feel bad. I feel terrible. I feel like the loser, like I'm the reason why."

Today, a lot of people will agree. But let's be honest here. Howell didn't put Howell on the postseason roster. The Rays did. Who cares if the mistake was putting him into the game Monday night or putting him on the roster five days ago?

Why J.P.?

Why then, when the Rays needed a K?

"He's our best matchup against Hamilton," Maddon said. "Look at his numbers against lefties. Righties have hurt him this year, but he's been good against lefties. You saw what he made (Hamilton) do on that first pitch. If he gets that breaking ball to the same spot, the same thing happens. He is on the team for that particular moment."

Maddon is right about this: Lefties have only hit .222 against Howell this season, with only one home run in 68 at-bats.

On the other hand, Hamilton has now faced Howell twice with the bases loaded. In those matchups, Hamilton has a grand slam and Monday's two-run single.

Why not Jake McGee there? Because Hamilton is a fastball hitter. Why not Cesar Ramos? Because he lost the designated lefty reliever role to Howell. Why not someone else, anyone else?

"I was trying to make him roll over something," Howell said. "I threw that first fastball off the plate to see if he was being aggressive, and I saw he was. So I tried to make the next pitch really low. I wanted him to swing and hit it to a good spot. He hit it pretty good.

"I got more of the dish than I wanted to get. It's bad. It's really bad. There is a lot of anger inside me. But I have to swallow it and move on."

It has been some time since Howell has looked like an answer coming out of the bullpen. He finished the season with a 6.16 ERA, and of the last 15 batters he has faced, seven of them got a hit.

His year will be remembered for a meltdown on July against St. Louis, for a crushing home run in a loss to Baltimore, for surrendering a go-ahead double by the Yankees' Robinson Cano. After that, fans started wearing batting helmets in the leftfield stands. No one seemed to have any faith in him anymore.

Put it this way: Howell didn't get on the postseason roster by a vote of Rays' followers.

For some time, it has seemed as if the Rays kept marching Howell toward the mound as if the next appearance would somehow be better than the one before, as if Howell would wake up one morning and be the same admirable oddball of the old days.

It hasn't happened. Howell still doesn't seem like the pitcher he was before shoulder surgery.

"Physically, I feel great," Howell, 28, insisted. "That's the frustrating part. This is straight up on me. It isn't the arm or the shoulder. This is me."

Right. And that is Hamilton.

With so much on the line, why in the world would anyone want to point one at the other?

Tampa Bay Rays' big mistake: J.P. Howell vs. Josh Hamilton in ALDS Game 3 10/03/11 [Last modified: Monday, October 3, 2011 11:36pm]
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