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Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon still taking blame about bullpen gaffe but saying little

NEW YORK — Manager Joe Maddon continued to take full blame for whatever was or wasn't said between him and pitching coach Jim Hickey resulting in the wrong reliever entering Monday's game against the Yankees.

But he wouldn't say exactly how the breakdown occurred — whether he misspoke, Hickey misheard or what happened.

"You're not going to get that," Maddon said. "Tell (people) they can't have that. But they can have my head on a bullpen platter if they choose to."

The "miscommunication" occurred in the sixth inning. Maddon thought LHP Randy Choate was warming up along with RHP Grant Balfour, but Hickey's call to bullpen coach Bobby Ramos was only for Balfour to get ready.

So when Maddon decided to take out Matt Garza and signaled for the lefty, there was no option but Balfour, who ran to the mound and was greeted by Maddon saying, "What are you doing here?"

Choate said he was available and eager to face lefty Curtis Granderson — who hit a three-run homer that was the difference in the Rays' 8-6 loss — but wasn't surprised that the call was for Balfour to warm up. Choate hadn't done well against Granderson, and he thought they might be saving him to face Robinson Cano.

But Choate was surprised a few minutes later when he was pacing in the back of the bullpen and the other relievers said Maddon had just signaled for a lefty.

"I was kinda like, 'Huh?' and I started taking my jacket off," Choate said, figuring he could get ready by throwing two pitches in the bullpen and the standard eight on the mound. But by then Balfour was on his way in.

"It was definitely strange because most times the phone rings five times, usually Hickey's looking down there in the pen to make sure two of us are warming up, to make sure what he wants," Choate said. "So it's a little surprising on that end, but mistakes happen."

Maddon said that was the first time he recalled a situation like that but didn't plan to change procedure such as calling the bullpen himself.

"I'm not a knee-jerk kind of guy," he said. "I can understand why people may be upset, and I accept full responsibility for it, but moving forward we've just got to make sure it doesn't happen again, and that's my responsibility."

To the Matt: RHP Matt Garza has complained of "September soreness" and "wear and tear of the season" while pitching poorly over his past three starts.

But he insisted Tuesday that his performance isn't the product of any injury issues.

"I'm fine," Garza said. "It's nothing. It's just the length of the season and fatigue. I'm not like I'm hurt or anything. There's no pain. Physically I'm fine; mentally I'm fine. It's just the long grind of it."

Garza said he'll be back to top form by the playoffs because adrenaline will kick in, though that didn't help in his past two high-stakes starts against the Yankees: "That's what I'm looking forward to is the postseason. I'm tired of the back-and-forth; let's just start dancing."

Miscellany: LF Carl Crawford attributes his major-league-most six catcher's interference calls to "trying to let the ball get deep" in the strike zone before swinging. … 3B Evan Longoria's 102 RBIs are eighth most in team history; Carlos Peña had a record 121 in 2007.

Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon still taking blame about bullpen gaffe but saying little 09/21/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 22, 2010 4:54pm]

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