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World Series: Tampa Bay Rays' Maddon gets hometown vibe from distance

Rays manager Joe Maddon and teammates confer with starting pitcher Matt Garza in the first inning.

BRIAN CASSELLA | Times

Rays manager Joe Maddon and teammates confer with starting pitcher Matt Garza in the first inning.

PHILADELPHIA — Manager Joe Maddon is certainly enjoying being in the World Series, spreading the word of the Rays' rise and furthering his already excellent reputation with the national media.

But he's happiest about what his appearance has meant to his family and friends, and to his hometown of Hazleton, Pa.

"There's plenty of you guys that have been up there to see Hazleton, and it's a unique place," Maddon said before Saturday's game. "And I know, even though I haven't been there, I know exactly what's going on in each barroom and the luncheonette and the discussions and the fights and the arguments and the people defending me and others just not defending me.

"And even though that I'm from there they're still going to root for the Phillies because they're loyal. It's all good stuff. It's really good stuff. And that to me is the most pleasurable thought I have about it. Of course I want the Rays to win the World Series, and of course I'm very happy and honored to be in this position, but for those that have been around here and they understand the culture within this part of the world, what these people are enjoying right now to me is the most gratifying part of it."

GOING GROSS: The decision to start struggling Gabe Gross in rightfield was somewhat unorthodox. And, as it turns out, Maddon's most difficult of the postseason.

"I talk about not overthinking things, but this one caused me as much back-and-forth as I've had to this point," Maddon said.

Rocco Baldelli, Fernando Perez and Ben Zobrist were also considered, and any of the three would seem to make more sense against Phillies left-handed starter Jamie Moyer. Even more so since Gross was just 1-for-16 (.063) in the postseason, and that after finishing the season in a 1-for-22 slump.

But some left-handers have hit Moyer better than righties, and Maddon was confident Gross' (at-times) patient approach and "swing path" would be the best matchup the Rays have against the soft-tossing, sharp-thinking Moyer. Gross had a sac fly in his first at-bat, flied out in his second then had a run-scoring grounder.

Maddon said Baldelli felt fine and could have started if needed.

SHIELDS UP: RHP James Shields didn't take kindly to Daisuke Matsuzaka's accusation — since shot down by team and MLB officials — that Shields benefits from the Rays moving the Tropicana Field rubber.

But he also figures he has the last word on the Red Sox pitcher.

"It is what it is," Shields said. "All I know is we're still playing here and we're in the World Series, and they're not. And that's all that matters."

Matsuzaka's charge, made to Japanese media during the ALCS, was that the Rays move the rubber 3 inches to make Shields more effective at home (where he was 9-2, 2.59 during the season compared to 5-6, 4.82).

"I didn't like it," Shields said. "He can think whatever he wants to think. It's kind of funny to me. I don't know if it's a compliment or what. Maybe he thinks I'm good enough that that's what it looks like to the hitters, I don't know. When I heard about that, it kind of caught me by surprise."

MISCELLANY: With Carl Crawford's second-inning steal of third, the Rays broke the AL record with 19 stolen bases in a postseason, and were one shy of the overall mark shared by the 1975 Reds and 1992 Braves. Crawford's seven playoff steals match the fifth most without getting caught. … First-pitch temperature was 55 degrees; the Rays were 5-9 in games that started colder than 60. … Rookie LHP David Price told Maddon he felt "great" after throwing 42 pitches in Game 2 on Thursday and was available Saturday. … The Game 2 safety squeeze bunt by Jason Bartlett was the second time the Rays were successful in eight tries. … No Rays were picked to the Sporting News AL All-Star team, though two ex-Rays were: OF Josh Hamilton and DH Aubrey Huff.

World Series: Tampa Bay Rays' Maddon gets hometown vibe from distance 10/25/08 [Last modified: Monday, October 27, 2008 4:52pm]
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