Everything can be magnified in the postseason. And that includes speculation that the Rays - somehow - moved the Tropicana Field pitching rubber a few inches to benefit James Shields.
The chatter started with Boston's Daisuke Matsuzaka, who, having faced Shields in Game 1 of the ALCS then watching him pitch Game 6, told Japanese reporters he thought the rubber had been shifted and that it was to the Rays' benefit, sparking discussion in two countries.
Two top MLB officials - Mike Port (VP, umpiring) and Joe Garagiola Jr. (senior VP, baseball operations) - said Wednesday that there was nothing to the claim. "There's no story there," Garagiola said.
Plus, MLB officials check the mounds before the first game at each site (Games 1, 3 and 6), and Shields pitched in Games 1 and 6. Port said the umpires would have noticed if anything were amiss.
"It's a ludicrous accusation," Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman said. "It's crazy."
The story was first reported in Japan, then in the New York Post. The theory was that Shields likes to set up on the first-base side of the rubber and the adjustment would give him a better angle for outside pitches.
Phillies GM Pat Gillick said his team was not aware of any issues.
LINING UP: Part of the reason manager Joe Maddon gave switch-hitting Ben Zobrist his second career start in rightfield Wednesday against Phillies LHP Cole Hamels was that he felt it was more advantageous to start right-handed hitting Rocco Baldelli tonight against Phillies RHP Brett Myers.
That seems backward, but Myers has "reverse splits," in that his numbers are worse against right-handers (.293) than lefties (.235). And Baldelli, dealing with the effects of a rare muscle fatigue disorder, has not played the field on back-to-back days. "It's not something Joe has done," Baldelli said, "and I don't think it's something he would start now."
One issue with starting Zobrist in rightfield is that he probably had to finish the game; Maddon is reluctant to take him out since he is the only backup middle infielder on the roster.
NO PERCY: Veteran reliever Troy Percival, left off the Series roster, opted to remain in California dealing with undisclosed family matters.
"I talked to him (Wednesday) and I'm telling you, he's just got some things going on," Maddon said. "The fact that he's not on the roster, he really needs to stay at home. If he was on the roster, he'd be back. I asked him to continue to throw in case anything broke down and he said fine."
Maddon said there weren't any medical issues, but it's a situation "that's not lightening up."
ROSTER REVIEW: After hours of meetings Tuesday, the Rays made their roster official Wednesday, sticking with 11 pitchers and 14 position players, rather than 10 and 15, and with struggling OF Gabe Gross over Eric Hinske.
"Just debating why we would want to do anything differently, there really was no reason to," Maddon said. "We like the number of pitchers. We like the guys that are participating right now. There was always the consideration of bringing 'Ske back on, and I'm sure there was some different thought process regarding Cliff (Floyd) because he can't play defense in Philadelphia and with Hamels being left-handed."
FAMILIAR FACE: INF Miguel Cairo, the last of the 1998 original Rays still playing (with Seattle last season), came to the game with his 7-year-old son, Christian. Cairo, who lives in Safety Harbor, followed his old team as much as he could and was excited for them. "This is awesome," said Cairo, 34. "They played this year the way baseball is supposed to be played."
MISCELLANY: 3B Evan Longoria won another honor, named the AL's outstanding rookie in the Players Choice Awards, which are voted by the players. ... Game 3 in Philadelphia is in jeopardy, with a 70 percent chance of rain forecast; if postponed, it would be played Sunday and Games 4 and 5 moved to Monday and Tuesday.