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J.P. Howell glad to see ‘bad man’ Pete Fairbanks break his Rays record

The individual scoreless innings streak, as well as season-starting streaks for home wins and games with homers, all have been surpassed this season.
 
Former Rays reliever J.P. Howell set a team record by stringing together 27-1/3 scoreless innings during the 2012 season. The mark was recently surpassed by Pete Fairbanks.
Former Rays reliever J.P. Howell set a team record by stringing together 27-1/3 scoreless innings during the 2012 season. The mark was recently surpassed by Pete Fairbanks.
Published April 25, 2023|Updated April 25, 2023

ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays have been resetting records and threatening history at a frenetic pace during their remarkable season-opening run to the extent — as wise-beyond-his-22-years rookie pitcher Taj Bradley said — “it seems like there’s a new record broke every day.”

J.P. Howell is as amazed and impressed as anyone about their stretch of individual and team success.

“Has anyone ever done what they’re doing?” the former Rays pitcher asked. “It’s pretty cool, man.”

From his home in northern California, Howell paid particularly close attention to reliever Pete Fairbanks setting a team record Saturday by extending his scoreless innings streak to 28 and then running it to 29 on Sunday.

That’s because it was Howell’s 11-year-old record of 27-1/3 innings that Fairbanks broke.

“It almost got broke (in 2013 by Alex Torres), so I was watching then, and even last year I was watching Fairbanks,” said Howell, a Ray from 2006-12. “So I knew he was creeping. I was rooting for him, man. That’s what it’s all about.”

Fairbanks, 29, and Howell, who turned 40 Tuesday, have never met and couldn’t be much more different, aside from the shared pain of battling injuries during their careers.

Fairbanks is a tall, hard-throwing right-hander from the Midwest with an intense and serious approach on the mound and a steady dose of sarcasm in the clubhouse. Howell was a short, soft-tossing lefty from California who was always willing to take the ball but projected a party persona, enjoying the big-league life and dropping the words, “man and “dude” into a lot of sentences.

“Everyone’s different, man. Everyone has a thing,” Howell said. “I bet he’s having fun. I know it’s stressful. It was a little stressful for me. But him, I know it’s fun now. He owns it. Every time he gets an out, it’s a record. That’s pretty freakin’ fun, man.”

Rays reliever Pete Fairbanks on Sunday extended his team-record scoreless innings streak to 29.
Rays reliever Pete Fairbanks on Sunday extended his team-record scoreless innings streak to 29. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

Fairbanks’ streak started on July 25, 2022, in this third appearance after missing the first half of the season with a right lat strain. He posted zeroes in 22 outings to finish the regular season, and then entered play Tuesday with seven more to start this year.

“It’s unreal to watch him every time,” Howell said. “That dude is a bad man. He had to wait an offseason, and if that didn’t ice him, he is the truth. … I love watching him compete. When he comes in, it’s nasty time.”

Howell did his damage during the 2012 season, starting with a June 14 outing against the Mets and breaking the previous team mark of 23 set by James Shields Aug. 17 in Anaheim. The streak ran through Aug. 30, a stretch of 27-1/3 innings over 24 games.

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The end was a bit rough.

Howell didn’t pitch Aug. 31 and said manager Joe Maddon told him he also would be off for the Sept. 1 game, a 1:07 p.m. start in Toronto.

“I came in having had a couple ‘soda pops’ the night before; you know how it is,” Howell said. “I was creeping down in the bullpen with a coffee on. I didn’t even do a workout, a (pregame) warm-up. If you knew me, I had to prepare every day. I had, like, a two-hour routine I had to do no matter what. I just didn’t do anything, man. I was living the life.”

Up until one batter into the fourth inning, when starter Jeff Niemann, in his return from a broken right leg, had to leave due to arm tightness. Howell was summoned, walked Colby Rasmus and then gave up a 488-foot blast of a home run to Edwin Encarnacion.

“I remember that like it was yesterday,” Howell said. “It was BS. But at the same time, never sleep in this game. You’ve got to stay ready. Just one of those tough breaks.

“But it was a good run, so I wasn’t too worried about it.”

Here are some other records the Rays broke recently.

Going deep

Rays leftfielder Randy Arozarena (56) celebrates a three-run home run against the Boston Red Sox April 12 at Tropicana Field.
Rays leftfielder Randy Arozarena (56) celebrates a three-run home run against the Boston Red Sox April 12 at Tropicana Field. [ IVY CEBALLO ]

Monday’s 8-3 win over the Astros was noteworthy for something the Rays didn’t do for the first time this season — hit a homer.

“It shows that we don’t need to hit home runs in order to win games,” leftfielder Randy Arozarena said via team interpreter Manny Navarro. “We had 14 hits. We were able to produce and still put (up) runs, and that’s the way we win ballgames.”

In going deep in each of their first 22 games, the Rays broke the season-starting record streak of 20 by the 2019 Mariners.

Jared Sandberg, a former Rays player and minor-league manager, back now as a minor-league coordinator, was a coach on that Mariners team. He attributed the powerful start to a team-bonding trip to open the season in Japan and veteran leadership.

“It was impressive as far as the streak and the home runs, because to start the year it seemed like it was somebody different doing it every time,” Sandberg said. “These guys are hitting homers, and it just made a lot of fun. It put expectations probably a little bit too high on the team that early in the season. It was kind of a surprise. It was a surprise for everybody. And it was also very fun run to just start the year.”

The Mariners hit 42 homers in the first 20 games, going 13-7. They hit 197 over the remaining 142 games and went 55-87. Eight players had at least 15 homers: Daniel Vogelbach, Kyle Seager, Omar Narvaez, Domingo Santana, Encarnacion, Tom Murphy, Mitch Haniger and ex-Ray Tim Beckham.

Home sweet dome

Rays leftfielder Randy Arozarena (56) celebrates with teammates after his game-winning hit in a walkoff win over the Chicago White Sox Saturday at Tropicana Field.
Rays leftfielder Randy Arozarena (56) celebrates with teammates after his game-winning hit in a walkoff win over the Chicago White Sox Saturday at Tropicana Field. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]

The Rays on Monday broke the modern-day record by winning their first 14 home games, surpassing the 13 by the 2009 Dodgers.

That portends well, as when the Rays have a good season their success usually starts at home. In each of their eight playoff seasons, the Rays have won at least 58 percent of their games at Tropicana Field. That includes a 2008 team-record 54 of 78 (they had three “home” games that year at Disney).

“I think any team would tell you that they want to make their home field some bit of a homefield advantage,” manager Kevin Cash said. “(Late radio broadcaster) Dave Wills said it best as ‘Dome-field advantage.’ We’ll do whatever. If it’s an advantage, we’re going to take it.”

Over their first 25 seasons, the Rays were 1,036-927 (.528) under the tilted roof (with 11 “home” games elsewhere); from their 2008 breakthrough season through 2022, they were 676-484 (.583).

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