Zim gets the call
Don Zimmer got the call around 2 p.m. Sunday. It was Rays owner Stuart Sternberg, asking if Tampa Bay's venerable special adviser would throw out the ceremonial first pitch before Game 7 of the American League Championship Series.
Naturally, Zim obliged — with the only stipulation that third-base coach Tom Foley serve as his honorary catcher.
"I'm a little nervous," said Zimmer, holding court in the Rays dugout several hours before the game. His 60-year career in the game as a player, coach and manager — and his relationship with the Rays since 2004 — made him a natural. "I don't know if I can reach home plate," added the longtime Pinellas County resident. "I might have to take a running start. And to think that the best thing that I had was a good arm. Tonight I'm gonna try to lob one up there."
The last time Zimmer, 77, threw out a first pitch was during an Independent League All-Star game in New Jersey this summer. "I threw it low. I'm gonna try to start this one a little higher," he added.
Does this rank as the biggest first-pitch game for Zimmer, who has been with the Rays since 2004. "Oh, I would say so. This is not my idea, you know. Stu Sternberg called me and said, 'I'd like you to do me a favor.' 'Well, what can I do for Stu Sternberg?' He said, 'I know you're going to say no, but I want you to do this.' "
Zimmer acknowledged it had special meaning. "I guess being an old man has something to do with it, just being around the game all your life." To mark the occasion, he decided to don his uniform with the No. 60 jersey — reflecting his years in baseball — for the first time.
"I haven't worn it since I got it," he said. "… I just hope it fits. I might be a little tight." On the mound, however, Zimmer looked loose as he could be — lobbing it to Foley like an old pro.
Mr. Low Shot guy
By now, you've probably noticed those mobile close-up shots during the TBS telecasts when a player trots toward the plate after a home run. It's the handiwork of veteran cameraman Matt Cunningham, 44, of Kansas. Cunningham lugs a 35-pound camera in his right arm as he follows alongside players, a gimmick approved by Major League Baseball three years ago. He makes many of the decisions on who to follow, and when, on the spur of the moment.
"It's hard and takes a lot work," said Cunningham. "I look down at the viewfinder occasionally, but I've got to be aware of not running into players and umpires. I can't step into the field of play, all kinds of stuff."
Cunningham has become a master of running with the camera over the past three seasons, always keeping track of who's at bat or on base. "When (B.J.) Upton and (Evan) Longoria are up, I don't want to be out in the crowd," he said. In Game 6, he was getting a shot in the Red Sox bullpen when Jason Bartlett homered and he had to dash a good 40 yards in order to follow the shortstop to the plate. Players occasionally get annoyed with him. "Some have an attitude," he said, "but most are pretty good about it. It's a moment of glory for them anyway."
Umpire added to the crew
With Derryl Cousins out of action after suffering a collarbone injury on a foul tip Saturday, Angel Hernandez, left, was added to the crew. He worked the rightfield line Sunday, with Brian Gorman moving behind the plate, Sam Holbrook at first, Brian O'Nora at second, Tim McClelland (who replaced Cousins behind the plate in Game 6) at third and Alfonso Marquez on the leftfield line.
Homecoming for hitting coach
Former big-leaguer and current Red Sox hitting coach Dave Magadan has enjoyed a special perk during the ALCS: sleeping in his own bed in Palm Harbor. Magadan was born in Tampa and was drafted out of Jesuit High School by the Sox in 1980. He chose to attend the University of Alabama and was later drafted by the Mets, for whom he played third and first base. He went on to play for an six other teams, retiring with a career .288 batting average.
"It's great coming back," said Magadan, who has been Boston's hitting coach since 2006. "We still live here. It's always nice coming down and sleeping in my bed."
His feeling about the Rays: "They're a hell of a team. They proved it throughout the year. At no time did we take them lightly. It's no surprise they're in the position they're in."
Rocco does it right
In the first inning, the Red Sox jumped to a 1-0 lead when 2B Dustin Pedroia — who entered the ALCS batting .333 in the postseason — hit his third home run of the series. Matt Garza then walked DH David Ortiz. And with cleanup hitter Kevin Youkilis (hitting .370 in the series) coming to the plate, it seemed as if Boston might be getting something started. Youkilis launched a fly ball to rightfield that was fading toward the line. But Rocco Baldelli raced over and made a nice running catch for the second out , then Garza struck out J.D. Drew.
Garza gets the best of Big Papi
Matt Garza seemed to have settled into a rhythm by the third inning, retiring Alex Cora on a fly to left and striking out Coco Crisp. But after getting ahead of Dustin Pedroia 0-and-2, the hard-throwing righty lost control of his next pitch and hit him — just in time to face the dangerous David Ortiz. Garza put Ortiz in a 1-and-2 hole with a pair of called strikes, then Pedroia stole second and suddenly the Red Sox had a man in scoring position. Garza's next pitch was in the dirt, but he struck out the lefty slugger swinging on a 94 mph fastball.
Big double, big slide
Just when you were starting to wonder if the Rays would ever get anything going against Boston ace Jon Lester, Evan Longoria came to the rescue in the fourth. With Carlos Pena on first after forcing out Akinori Iwamuru, Longoria ripped a shot to right that hit fair before slicing foul, bouncing off the wall and then ricocheting to RF J.D. Drew. As Drew fired to cutoff man Dustin Pedroia, Pena was dashing around third and heading home. For a moment it looked as if Pedroia's throw to C Jason Varitek might get there in time. But it was just a hair behind Pena, who slid in safely to tie the score at 1.
Tough call for a proud grandpa
Mega-Boston fan Art Giannetti of Oldsmar had a big pregame dilemma. His older granddaughter, 13-year-old Gina Dozois, was born in the Boston area, moved to Palm Harbor when she was 6 months old and was dutifully raised as s diehard Red Sox fan. Then along came his second granddaughter, Angela Giannetti, born four years ago in Tampa. She has been raised as a devoted Rays fan by her father, Jeff, and watches the team whenever she can on TV. So what's a doting grandfather to do?
"It's a real dilemma," said Giannetti, 73, who flew to Boston in 2004 to attend the Red Sox victory parade and drove to Fort Meyers to have his picture taken with the World Series trophy. "I love both my grandchildren. I brought my oldest one up to be part of the Red Sox Nation. But since the little one roots for the Rays, I have to make a little concession — I'll console the loser and cheer with the winner."
Only question: green or orange?
1B Carlos Pena wiping his brow with a Gatorade towel? Manger Joe Maddon drinking from a Gatorade cup. Players digging into Gatorade coolers for bubble gum and sunflower seeds.
Talk about getting your brand out.
If you look in the dugouts and on the postgame interview podiums, the Gatorade logo will be the only brand seen in the major-league playoffs. Gatorade — created by a group of UF medical researchers — maintains exclusive rights to the postseason.
In both dugouts, the labels of water bottles have been ripped off, and Gatorade cups — sometimes they are empty — are strategically placed in the postgame interview room.
Interesting enough, the unidentified water bottles are from Aquafina, the official MLB water that is also owned by Gatorade's parent company, PepsiCo.
When the Rays needed four outs to clinch the pennant, their arm of the future turned into the arm of the moment. LHP David Price, the 23-year-old No. 1 overall pick of a year ago, closed the door on the Red Sox, mixing a nasty slider with a mid 90s fastball.
"I didn't even hear the crowd," Price said. "I was just so focused. You've got to prepare yourself to be in that kind of situation and when you get there you've got to act like you've been there before. I've never been in anything close to how important that was.
"That's the moment I've worked for my entire life. The three years I was at Vanderbilt, my coaches prepared me for this."
And even though Price had never been in this moment, with this much at stake, he performed well, striking out J.D. Drew with the bases loaded on four pitches — finishing him with a 97 mmph fastball — and then striking out two of three batters in the ninth inning. That after C Dioner Navarro told manager Joe Maddon to keep Price in for the ninth.
"He's got a chance to rewrite a lot of the record books here if he stays healthy," pitching coach Jim Hickey said.
"That's pretty heady stuff for a guy that was in college a year ago."
Despite delay, Game 6 broadcast a winner
Sure, viewers tuning into the beginning of Game 6 of the ALCS on TBS Saturday night were treated to a rerun of The Steve Harvey Show. But the broadcast — once the actual game came on 20 minutes in — was TBS's most watched broadcast of the 2008 playoffs. The broadcast drew a 5.4 share nationally, garnering 8,928,000 viewers. By comparison, the six-game average is 4,721,000 viewers. So in other words, better late than never, TBS.