Rays can’t slow down the Dodgers in Series

by Gary Shelton on October 24, 2020

in general

Morton couldn't slow down the Dodgers./JEFFREY KING

Saturday, 4 a.m.

In the end, they got four hits. It seemed like less.

They struck out 13 times. It seemed like more.

They lost by four runs. It felt a lot more lopsided than that.

The Tampa Bay Rays, if you judge by momentum, may be in their deepest hole yet in their World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, who beat then 6-2 Friday night. They trail only 2-1 in games, but the Dodgers have




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taken convincing wins in two of the three contests, which puts the Rays in a must-win game tonight.

The Dodgers got a great pitching performance from Walker Buehler, who had a no-hitter going through 4 1/3 innings. He allowed only three hits and struck out 10, leaving with a 5-1 lead.

The Rays didn't get a hit until the fifth, when doubles by Manuel Margot and Willy Adames led to their first run. Randy Arozarena later homered for the team's second run.

Tampa Bay, naturally, wasn't in a mood to concede anything after the game. Not after beating the Yankees and Astros in back-to-back series.

“We need to find a way to win, that’s for sure," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "I don’t think we're concerned with (Clayton) Kershaw (who looms ahead) right now. We need to be concerned with (Julio) Urias, who is pretty talented too.

"We seem to be a much better club when we get a lead. Whatever we can do to get a lead on them is big."

The Rays had no chance to jump on the Dodgers Friday night. Morton struggled, giving up five earned runs in 4 1/3 innings. Morton had won seven straight post-season games, but he lacked his usual sharpness, especially with two strikes.

Justin Turner homered in the first. Max Muncy singled in two more in the second, and the Dodgers scored two in the fourth on a sacrifice bunt by Austin Barnes and a single by Mookie Betts.

"Execution in two-strike counts went  a little bit sideways on him," Cash said. "He competed really well. They put a lot of pressure on him.

“He’s set the bar as high as anyone in the game as far as post-season success. You hate to say shocking, because that’s unfair to Charlie. There were couple of pitches here or there he’d like to have back, that we’d like to have back. "

Said Morton: “I wasn’t particularly sharp. I was able to get to two strikes pretty quickly on a lot of guys and not able to put them away. In the fourth and fifth, the stuff wasn’t really there and command wasn't really there. They’re just too good for that.”

Still, the Rays talk as if Morton will get another chance in the series. If so, that means the Rays must find some way to slow down the Dodgers' bats. Los Angeles has scored 18 runs in three games.

Tonight's game will begin at 8:08 p.m. It is expected to be a bullpen day for the Rays.

Bucs take a gamble on Brown’s talent

by Gary Shelton on October 24, 2020

in general

Saturday, 3 a.m.

All the Bucs need now is someone to turn back the calendar to 2017. If they can do that, they should be in great shape.

The Bucs are about to make their latest effort to recapture the past. According to sources, they have agreed on a one-year contract with bad boy wide receiver Antonio Brown.

It seems like a fairly safe bet. If Brown, perhaps on his last chance, can return to form, he could ease the pressure on Mike Evans and Chris




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Godwin, who have both battled injuries. And if he acts up, the team can release him with no sweat.

It can be a gamble, signing veterans with fat resumes. It is a young man's league, and by the time most stars get name recognition, their games are already on the downslide.

Still, it is a huddle that can be rich in accomplishment.

Take, for instance, the 2017 season.

That year, quarterback Tom Brady won 13 games and reached the Super Bowl (he lost to the Eagles). He threw 32 touchdowns and just eight interceptions that year and accounted for 4,557 yards.

The same year, tight end Rob Gronkowski caught 69 passes for 1,084 yards and scored eight touchdowns.

In Jacksonville, rookie Leonard Fournette rushed for 1,,040 yards and scored nine times.

And in Pittsburgh, Brown caught 101 passes for 1,533 yards and nine touchdowns.

Now they are all Bucs, as are Evans, Godwin, Jason Pierre-Paul, Lavonte David, Ndamukong Suh, Shaq Barrett and Devin White. You can add Ronald Jones II and Carlton Davis III if you wish. Call it the famous names roster. The Bucs appear to be all-in in their efforts.

Will it work? At times this season, as in last week's 38-10 win over Green Bay, it has seemed so. But the offense tends to go into slumps, and the defense still gives up too many big plays, and penalties are a problem. They remain a streaky team.

Against the Raiders, and former coach Jon Gruden, we will again see if the team can play from start to finish. The game is now at 4:25 p.m. on Sunday afternoon.

Prediction: Bucs 23, Raiders 21.

In other picks:

Louisville over FSU.

Miami over Virginia.

Pittsburgh 24, Tennessee 20.

Seattle 30, Arizona 24.

New England 20, San Francisco 17.

Tulsa clobbers USF, whose slide continues

by Gary Shelton on October 24, 2020

in general

Saturday, 2 a.m.

The USF Disaster Tour continues. And, man, what a tough season it is shaping up to be for new coach Jeff Scott.

The Bulls, 1-5, were swamped by Tulsa Friday night in a 42-13 loss. Tulsa had 462 yards and took advantage of three USF turnovers.

The Bulls played three quarterbacks, mostly Noah Johnson. But Tulsa turned a 7-6 first quarter lead into a runaway. USF was two-for-15 on third downs.




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“I think the story in the first half offensively was the two turnovers," Scott said. "I thought the turnover right before halftime going in, that was huge. If you look at coming out in the third quarter, we held them, went down and scored and made it an eight-point game. If we could have punched it in right there before the half, we would have been in a much better position.

" Also, I thought in the first half, again third-down defense, Tulsa executed very well and we did not. I just thought that was kind of the story of the first half. I really challenged our guys in the second half to go stop them and go down and score and get it to a one-possession game. We did that and finally had some momentum, I felt like. Then, it was just a couple plays later, they had the long run and it just kind of went downhill from there.

" It’s obviously very disappointing… I just challenged them and said after the game, ‘Hey, it’s on all of us – coaches and players.’ We’ve got two weeks to get ready for our next game and we’ve got to kind of reexamine, reevaluate what we’re doing. The only way we’re gonna get it corrected is the guys in that locker room – coaches and players. That’s what we’ll do.”

USF does not play next week, but travels to Memphis the following week.

Bucs to take on former coach in Jon Gruden

by Gary Shelton on October 23, 2020

in general

Gruden infused the Bucs with a new energy./JEFFREY S. KING

Friday, 4 a.m.

The flavor didn't last. The winning wasn't forever. The scowl wore off.

But there for a while, Jon Gruden was the perfect coach at the perfect time.

For one magical season, he was the perfect supplement to a dynasty. He was filled with energy, and while working with him wasn't the smoothest transition in the world, he set a franchise on edge. He was demanding, and he gave off voltage, and he boosted the Tampa Bay Bucs to the mountain top.

Then he was a champion.

And because of it, Tampa Bay has never forgotten him.




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The Bucs and Gruden cross paths again Sunday night. The franchise that won a Super Bowl, and the coach that drove them to it, face each other in a game in Las Vegas.. It will be the first time Gruden will have coached against the Bucs since he guided the Raiders to a 45-0 victory in 1999.

That 2002 season was magical. After the Super Bowl victory, I suggested that Gruden might have been the best-ever first year coach. How many other rookies have won it all, and remember, Gruden came from the outside. Heck, he mispronounced Mike Alstott's name in his opening press conference.

But he went from not knowing his players to figuring out just how to get the best out of all of them. He retained Monte Kiffin and the defense, but players of that year were quick to sense Gruden's urgency. He made a lot of people uncomfortable, including those in the front office, but there was a different air. Under Tony Dungy, who turned this franchise around, an air of comfort had taken place. Gruden changed that.

Oh, you know the argument. Since that season, fans have argued whether Gruden or Dungy was more responsible for the Super Bowl. It's a silly argument. The truth is that it took both men -- and a lot of others -- to win it. Gruden never won another playoff game. With his offensive staff, it's doubtful Dungy would have won one here. But together, they were the planter and the reaper, and the Bucs harvested a title.

Success didn't stay. The Bucs' defense began to age, and Lynch left, and Sapp, and the Bucs paid for the high cost of obtaining Gruden.

In his later years, I criticized Gruden a lot. Oh, I always thought the guy could coach, but his shortcomings as a general manager kept digging the franchise a hole. He never won another playoff game after that Super Bowl.

In 2006, and I've told this story before, the Bucs started the season 0-4. I wrote on Sunday that it simply wasn't working with Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen, that the losses had started to build. Gruden had a walking-around guy on his staff. In the fifth week, Tampa Bay won a 14-13 game over Cincinnati.

As you know, in the NFL, you earn a lot of forgiveness for winning. So that day, in the locker room, I felt a heavy hand clap me on the back. "I read what you wrote today," the worker said. "Thanks," I said. Suddenly, the guy turned on me. "Lies," he said. "It was all lies! It was bleeping lies!"

For once, I kept my calm. I merely smiled at the guy and said, "Gee. I thought I got the part about being 0-4 right."

Of course, the Bucs didn't exactly improve when Gruden left the building. Raheem Morris replaced him. Greg Schiano came in, then Lovie Smith, then Dirk Koetter. It is only lately that the Bucs have stood upright again.

Was Gruden worth the trouble? Hell, yes. The Bucs won a Super Bowl. Without him, they haven't won any. He was worth his price tag.

That season, Gruden was the trail boss. He prodded that offense. He made them believe that they could win in Philadelphia. He decoded the Raiders in the Super Bowl. Love him or not, blame him for not maintaining Dungy's winning percentage if you win, but his fingerprints were all over that season. They always will be.

For the record, I like Jon Gruden. I find him to be funny and a great interview. I'm sure he didn't like a lot of what I wrote in those days. The Bucs hire their own cheerleaders; they didn't need me to be one.

But if someone from Tampa Bay were to run into him before Sunday night's game, there is just one message from his old homestead.

"Jon...thanks."

Have the Bucs found a mini-Godwin?

October 22, 2020 general

Thursday, 3 a.m. One is a star, a Pro Bowler. When he has been hurt, the entire huddle walks with a limp. He knows where he is going. The other is a newcomer, and his price tags are still attached. He just got here. Yet, if you squint, you can see a lot of Chris […]

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Lowe ‘returns’ to help Rays even Series

October 22, 2020 general

Thursday, 4 a.m. Hey, didn’t you used to be Brandon Lowe? Yeah, I recognize you. Same beaten up helmet. Same sweet swing. Same home run trot with your teammates waiting to slap palms with you. You used to be quite the hitter, as I remember. A lot of home runs. A lot of RBI. Then, […]

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Dodgers’ stars shine in victory over Rays

October 21, 2020 general

Wednesday, 4 a.m. Up close, the mountain looks steeper than they thought. Up close, the teeth look sharper. Forget what the scouting reports said. At first glance, the Los Angeles Dodgers may be even more formidable than the Tampa Bay Rays might have first believed. The Rays got a glimpse of just how difficult their […]

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Looking back on the Bucs’ win over Green Bay

October 20, 2020 general

Tuesday, 4 a.m. 5 Thoughts We have seen them now. We have seen the promise delivered. This is the kind of football we should expect from the Bucs: disciplined, efficient, relentless. They won’t go every week with no turnovers or no penalties, but they should be able to run and play good defense. 2. Is […]

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Bucs’ defense shines in big win over Packers

October 19, 2020 general

Monday, 4 a.m. There is some bad news on hand. State Farm is on line two. Aaron Rodgers, your insurance rates are going up. When you consider the abuse that Rodgers suffered in the final three quarters of Tampa Bay’s 38-10 clobbering over the previously unbeaten Green Bay Packers, how could they not? The last […]

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Brousseau’s moment high on Rays’ memories

October 19, 2020 general

Monday, 4 a.m. Some teams measure their seasons in championships. Some measure them in Hall of Fame players. This one measures itself in moments. And, for right now, that seems like plenty. No, the Tampa Bay Rays are not rich in acomplishments. They’ve played in only one World Series so far … and lost. They’ve […]

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