Oct 7, 2008
Oct 6, 2008
Top 5 Most Impressive Aussie Baseballers in 2008
2. Ryan Rowland-Smith
Maybe he knew something we didn't?
Speaking of his chances of making the 2008 Opening Day roster for the Mariners, Ryan Rowland-Smith said 'I always try to stay positive and tell myself that it's not where I am in April, it's where I am in September'. At that time, the Mariners were boasting about their 'best rotation (on paper) in several seasons'. There was some uncertainty about the makeup of the bullpen, but Rowland-Smith had his eyes set on a spot. 'I knew the rotation was set and I just tried to get one of the spots in the bullpen. I think I've given myself a good opportunity', he said during Spring Training.
Oct 3, 2008
What a shot! James Shields thanks Balf for saving his ass in the 7th inning jam.
And the video tribute...the Oils rocking out:
There are a ton of articles out there today about the game, here are a few choice selections:
Top 5 Most Impressive Aussie Baseballers in 2008
1. Grant Balfour
Before the season began, I wrote that 'my prediction is that Balfour is a solid contender for the Rays' opening day bullpen. If he does not make it, he will likely pitch in AAA, and I would expect he will see some time in the majors this year'.
Not a bad prediction in the end.
Balfour missed out on the opening day roster, but he pitched amazingly at AAA Durham, and he saw plenty of time with the Rays. What I, and probably nobody on the planet (with the exception perhaps of the brilliant Joe Maddon), could have predicted was the level of success that Balfour (and the Rays) have found this year. There are a number of things that stand out about Balfour's success this year, but it seems that he really worked hard to earn his spot, and once he got it he hung on to it for grim death.
Grant pitched his arse off during spring training. He gave up 7 hits and 3 walks over 8.1 innings, and struck out 7. He posted an ERA of 3.24, and faced off against some tough hitters, including the core of the Yankees lineup - Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Morgan Ensberg. On 21 March, he pitched two innings against the Bronx Bombers and gave up no hits and just the one walk. His spring performance was high quality, but really only a very small taste of what lay ahead for the firebrand from Sydney.
It was not smooth sailing for Grant though, and he hit some rough seas at the end of spring training; missing out on an opening day roster spot. A lesser man would have struggled to get over such disappointment, especially after the 2 years battling injuries, and such a quality spring training. But Balf did not muck around. He copped his assignment to AAA Durham on the chin, and set about forcing his way back into the big league squad.
Remarkably, Balfour was out of options entering 2008, meaning that he was effectively pitching to secure his major league future.
In 15 appearances for Durham, Grant pitched 23.2 innings and allowed just 5 hits and 1, yes that's right - just 1 run, for an ERA of 0.38! He picked up 8 saves and 39 strikeouts in the process. On 23 May, he struck out 5 hitters over 1.2 innings against the Richmond Braves. A week later he picked up his first major league save, drawing a flyout from the one hitter he faced, as the Rays beat the White Sox 2-0. Rays manager-cum-saviour Joe Maddon said that Balf had to work on controlling his pitches. 'If he can locate with his pitches he can be very successful here,' said Maddon.
He must have done something right, because he was unstoppable throughout the season. Through 58.1 innings Grant showed his versatility, filling all roles in the bullpen, including that of middle reliever, setup man, and closer, and he pitched one or two games as a mop-up man. Through it all, he struck out 82 and gave up just 10 hits and 24 walks.
What really impressed me about Balfour's season was that he absolutely owned his spot on that roster. Once he was in the Rays squad, there was no way anyone was getting him out of it. You could see the intensity in his body language when he pitched, and you could hear it in the yells he made on the mound. There were testing times for the Rays bullpen throughout the year, with their #1 closer Troy Percival going on the DL a number of times. Each time Percy came back, there was the chance that Balf would find himself back at Durham. But he pitched so well that they were forced to keep him, and to use him.
It seems that Balfour became an absolutely integral part of the Rays team. He was heavily involved in the mohawk craze that took over during the team's race to the pennant, and it seems that his energy and intensity had a real impact on his teammates every time he toed the rubber.
His obvious hard work and intensity have paid dividends so far. Balfour and the Rays are headed into the post-season. Grant has pitched in some absolutley massive situations throughout the season, and has usually done amazingly well. He will be looking to bring the same firepower into October, and beyond. He has a lot to play for; a possible ALCS; the World Series, and not insignificantly, a contract for 2009.
However it all ends up, Balfour has provided one of the best single-season performances of any Australian Major Leaguer ever. We can only hope that he succeeds in the post-season and into 2009, and sit back and enjoy watching a fierce competitor being tested against the best teams in MLB.PS - and now his intensity and fire has kicked into the postseason, with Grant pitching the Rays out of a bases loaded jam in Game 1 of the ALDS and getting into a bit of a slanging match with Orlando Cabrera! Onya Balf!