The loyal opposition for the Red Sox will come from the Tampa Rays in the ALCS. As Sox players and fans have come to learn from the regular-season meetings, this is a very good, confident and balanced Rays team.
They are headed by manager Joe Maddon, who will bring his same philosophy of managing to this series that he maintained with the Rays all year.
After the Rays’ clinching win on Monday in Chicago, I asked Maddon if anything changes in his prep for the Sox.
“Not a thing,” said the skipper. “We’ll keep it simple just like we have all year.”
That “simple” is about how he deals with his players and staff, but not how he prepares for games.
On his desk is a binder that has every chart imaginable to compare his hitters and pitchers to those of the opponents. He studies the pitcher vs. hitter charts; the fly ball-to-ground ball ratios of hitters and pitchers; who gets the best swings off opposing pitchers even if they don’t all show up as hits, and a myriad of other indicators.
“I like to look first at the style of pitcher we face and see who we have who gets the best swings against that style,” said Maddon. While much of the lineup is set, those one or two choices that change from game to game are the ones attracting Maddon’s focus.
Another part of his “keep it simple” approach deals with meetings, or the lack thereof. “I don’t like meetings,” says Maddon, “never have.” He did not meet with his team prior to the division series.
“I especially don’t like meetings at home,” said Madden. “The home clubhouse should be a quiet refuge for the players. They should feel safe there, a place where they can relax.”
Maddon’s own Tampa Bay manager’s office reflects that. He has a wine rack on one wall where he keeps a couple dozen bottles of good vino.
One of those bottles he has yet to open is a GTS Cabernet Sauvignon that comes from the California vineyard of Hall of Famer Tom Seaver. “Gotta get to that,” says Maddon.
When I asked him if he can sleep during the pressures of the postseason, Maddon said, “I get my sleep, I really do. A couple glasses of red wine and I’m off to bed and a good sleep.”
Don’t be deceived. Every nuance of the game is well studied by the modest Maddon. On Monday he started weak-hitting Gabe Gross in right field.
“I want to go with what got us here,” said Maddon prior to the game. “I took a look at our starter (Andy Sonnanstine) and decided I wanted to have the best defense we could get out there.”
In the bottom of the first inning, with the Rays leading 1-0, A.J. Pierzynski of the White Sox blasted a ball to the right-field fence. Gross got to the wall, leaped and robbed Pierzynski of a potential game-tying home run.
Maddon had made the “simple” right player, right place decision.
The Sox and Rays know each other well. There are no secrets, but there are decisions from game to game and within the games.
Like the Sox with Terry Francona, the Rays are ready.
Raise your glass to the right manager, in the right place, at the right time.