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Rays vs. Cardinals, game one recap: Sometimes we need nicknames

Sometimes we wish we didn’t.

Joshua “JT” Tree
Ian “Whelk” Malinowski

“I am large and unsurprising.”

My wife and I spent the past week hiking in Joshua Tree National Park. The park is made up of two distinct desert ecosystems, the Mojave (high desert) and the Colorado (low desert), as well as the transitional zone between them. It is beautiful, and dangerous. Mostly because of the heat, but not only.

To remind ourselves to make noise in the wilderness, we repeated a mantra: “I am large and unsurprising.” The point was that none of the potentially-dangerous critters (mountain lions, coyotes, a few types of rattlers in the Mojave, and a full seven different types of rattlers in the Colorado—or roughly one for every type of place you might want to step) actually wanted to meet us. They didn’t know that we’re soft and weak, and were carrying none of the tools that once helped our kind ascend the food chain. We look to them like bad news, so as long as we don’t startle them they’ll move off.

We saw plenty of coyotes, but never in a compromising situation. We saw mountain lion poop, but no mountain lions. We saw an unbelievable amount of snake tracks in the low desert, as well as several snake skulls eaten clean by ants, but no snakes. People say that the wilderness makes a person feel small, but I don’t think that’s true at all. In the wilderness, you are large and unsurprising, and everyone marks your presence, and some of them scurry away because of it. You don’t have to be a special human. Just the fact that you human and are there matters.

I’ve lived in New York City for over seven years now. Usually I love it.

I walk down the street, in a throng, and feel a part of something grand. I look at the buildings, especially at night and in the cold of winter, and I am proud; proud that we build shelters for ourselves and for each other to ward off the dangers of the wilderness; proud that we have made survival easy, so that we can challenge ourselves with art and make food that does more than nourish; proud of civilization.

But returning from Joshua Tree, I could find none of that pride. I only felt that I was small, and that while I might occasionally surprise (perhaps with a joke, or with a clever idea at work), for the most part no one marked me. The city never even knew that I was gone, and it sure didn’t care that I had returned.

That was sad. A couple days later, it still is.

This was the first Rays game of the first “Players Weekend,” where the uniforms have nicknames on the back and a patch on the sleeve identifying someone the player wishes to thank. It’s a gimmick to sell merchandise (it works, I bought), and also an opportunity for the players to express themselves as individuals. Everybody gets a chance to claim a nickname, whether they really have one or not. I think that’s neat.

I write about Rays baseball because I’m from Tampa Bay. Up here in New York, whoever you are, whatever you’ve decided to do, there are 15-20 others like you doing the same thing in that same spot, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t try to surprise.

Being surprising is the shelter you build yourself to keep the sadness of the city at bay. There are not a ton of Floridians or Southerners here, so I have become more Florida and more South than I ever had been before. In my work at a nonprofit theater, I’m not surrounded by many baseball fans, so I spend as much time thinking about the interplay of variables in the batter-pitcher matchup as I can.

These defining characteristics, like nicknames, are walls, and most of the time they work. I sit up at night, watching my Florida baseball, and I am sheltered. But in the wilderness you don’t use that type of wall, and there is no need to define yourself as anything other than large.

It’s hard to come back.

I was writing a recap of a baseball game.

Cardinals Score First

Jake “Odo” Odorizzi’s game started out with a poor bounce. With one out, Stephen “MoMo” Piscotty hit a grounder down the third base line, that Evan “Longo” Longoria had played well, until with its second bounce it hit the front edge of the base. That deflection turned it into a single. Paul “DeJong” DeJong slapped a liner the other way into right field, sending MoMo to third.

Up next, Dexter “Dex” Fowler hit a fly ball to left field. It was hit high, and only to medium depth, which gave Kevin “Outlaw” Kiermaier a chance to come a long way out of his centerfield position to make the catch and try to save a run with his strong arm. The distance he had to travel meant that he had no chance to set up his momentum going forward, and his throw, which was 100% arm strength, was a bit up the first base line. The run scored.

Rays Reassert Themselves in the Third

The Rays got on the board in a major way in the third inning, though, starting with Stephen “Souzbot” Souza Jr. Leading off the inning, he mashed an impressive home run into the second deck in right field. The broadcast crew, who were in good spirits all night, called it well.

“It’s a drive, long and deep, aaaand, a long one, I mean a LONG one off the bat of Steven Souza Jr.,” said Dewayne “Statsy” Staats.

“That’s Souzbot into Bic Mac Land,” (a sponsored portion of the Cardinals Stadium) said Brian “BA” Anderson.

Longo continued the inning by flipping a liner into short right, and Logan “LoMo” Morrison hit a hot shot up the rightfield line for a double. Both runs scored when Adeiny “La Pantera” Hechavarria grounded down the third base line for a double of his own.

The fourth and final Rays run of the inning came off Odo’s bat, and it gave a cool lesson in the power of muscle memory (or lack thereof). Back in the second inning, Odo had squared and laid down a nice sacrifice bunt. Rays fans know that Odo is an all-around athlete. He’s very fast running from the mound to first base. But from home plate to first after a bunt? Not so much—he got out of the box slowly and then was slow to accelerate. He looked like a lead-footed catcher, and the Cardinals had no trouble getting him out on what another runner might have turned into an infield hit.

Not so with his grounder up the middle (stopped on a dive by DeJong) in the third with a man on third and two outs. Odo still watched the play a bit too much rather than putting his head down and concentrating on speed, and he had to measure his steps more than we usually see baseball players do as he approached first, but the speed was there. He beat it out, and won himself the run.

Good job, Odo. I know you’d look better running to first if it was something you did more than once a year.

Outlaw Steals Another Catch From Teammate; It Works This Time

Odo was wild in the bottom of the fourth, walking the first two batters he faced on eight combined pitches. The next at bat yielded a scary flyout to the deepest part of left center, which pushed Matt “Carp” Carpenter to third. The tag-up proved to be a moot point, as Odo walked Dex to load the bases.

Then Yadier “Yadi” Molina hit a fly ball to medium right field. Souzbot could have fielded it coming toward the plate, but it was deep enough that he probably didn’t have a real shot at getting Carp with his strong-but-sometimes-wild arm. Instead, Outlaw once more came out of center and made the catch and throw himself. His throw hit LoMo, in position as the cutoff man, and caught MoMo between second and third, leading to the inning-ending out on a close play at third base.

Starters Chased In the Fourth, Rays Bullpen Responds

Souzbot led off the fourth inning with yet another hit, and then stole both second and third base on Yadi, one of the best defensive catchers in the game.

Michael “Wach” Wacha was pulled in favor of Zach “Duke” Duke, but after an intentional walk to Wilson “Buffalo” Ramos, Corey “Dickerson” Dickerson doubled on a fly ball into the gap. Souzbot scored easily, and two runs would have scored if the man at first had been anyone other than Buffalo. Buffaloes are slow.

In the bottom of the fourth, Kolten “Wonger” Wong hit a homer, and with Odo looking shaky manager Kevin “Cash” Cash turned to his bullpen for 16 outs. To make a short story of it, they got them for Cash, scorelessly. Steve “Speedpass” Cishek finished out the fourth, Sergio “El Mechón” Romo pitched two efficient innings, Dan “DJ” Jennings secured two outs while giving up two hits, but Tommy “Two Towel” Hunter escaped that jam and completed a clean inning of his own. Alex “The Horse” Colome got the final three outs (up by four runs, so not a save situation).

It was a strong ensemble performance.

Speaking of Acting, You Never See La Pantera Until He Bunts

In the ninth inning, Dickerson led off with a hustle double. La Pantera walked to the plate as nonchalantly as you’ve ever seen a man walk.

This was obviously a situation where a bunt was possible (late in the game with a good pitcher like The Horse ready it may even have made WPA sense), and Hech is a batter who can bunt well, so the Cardinals should have been expecting it. But I tell you, he looked for all the world like a man ready to take pitches and work the count. Then, at the last moment he tensed and squared and laid down a perfect bunt on the third base line, beating it out for a single. Well played.

La Pantera stole second, and The Outlaw drove in both runners with a line-drive single into left.

Some other notes:

  • File this one in the Late To The Party drawer, but Wach is big, and his stuff comes out of his hand real pretty. I’m no scout, but I could scout this guy. Tonight though, as in plenty of other nights throughout his bright but mixed young career, he struggled. The Rays tattooed his fastball the second time though the order and knocked him out of the game early. This is where I say “I’m no scout” and walk away without even trying to decipher why it happened.
  • Brian Auld said that his nickname should be “Handsome BA.”
  • When The Buffalo was quickly issued an intentional walk in the fourth, Statsy remarked that they didn’t even let him get to the plate before sending him to first. BA said, “Speedpass, that’s what it is.” Well played.
  • In the seventh inning, Wonger bunted well down the first base line, and DJ had to make the play. He got to it, with no time left, barehanded, and flipped it backhanded, strongly, to first to get the out. Slick play.
  • There were two much-anticipated meeting between Outlaw and Cardinals relief pitcher Ryan “Sherriff” Sherriff. The lawman won.
  • I am large and unsurprising, and if you tell me your nickname I will call you by it.