Stay clear. I learned that with him the first year I was around him.
He's one of those -- you could talk to him a lit bit, but he's the kind of guys that gets into his own little world, his own little focus, and he sits in the corner and you see the look on his face. There's certain starting pitchers you really try to avoid the day this they pitch. Others you can talk to. I think he's kind of a tweener, but I never try to talk to him. There's nothing I could tell him that's going to help. I could only injure him right now.
Talking to Evan Longoria yesterday, he has such great perspective on everything he's accomplished this year. As a manager, what has impressed you the most about not necessarily what he's done on the field but his character?
It's his calmness and his sense of belonging. I mean, when you get a young man as talented as he is coming into the major leagues for the first time and performing at the level that he has and making the All Star team, beyond all of his skill level, it's about how he carries himself. And when you talk to him how he approaches the day, and he feels like he belongs here. Often times it takes you more time to get a young player to feel that way.
He came kind of equipped with that. I think he knew he belongs here from the moment he signed. He just needed a little bit of time. But from the moment he's arrived, he's never indicated in any way that he doubted himself.
There's times he's had some problems this year. There's times he went through some struggles, particularly early on. He was hitting at a very low number and they were pitching him very well, and he was struggling, but he worked his way through it because he knew he belonged here, and I really believe in that.
I just want to ask you, a little bit of housekeeping. Could you please list your lineup for us and how you came about setting it?
Lineup today is typical for us, Akinori, B.J., Carlos, Longo, Carl, Cliff, Navi, Gross, and Bartlett. Pitching is James Shields.
Growing up in Hazelton, I don't know if I've ever read who you rooted for, whether it was the Pirates, Phillies or maybe somebody else.
Was it a New York team?
Nope. The St. Louis Cardinals.
Well, anyway, there's been a lot of comparisons to the way your team has come of age this year and the '69 Mets, and I don't know, you were a 15 year old back in Hazelton back in those days. I don't know how closely you followed that Mets miracle, but if you did, do you see any comparisons between your team and what happened with that team?
I followed it very closely on WOR, Watched Kiner's Corner every night. We had the cable back home, Uncle Carli had the cable up at the third base luncheon that you'd sneak in the lunchroom and get to watch the games. I was a big fan, actually.
The pitching staff was incredible. They had all those power arms and they had the great bullpen. The biggest thing obviously was that they kept beating the odds and that they continued to move forward obviously from the meager past that they had.
Primarily, you know what you remember from that most of all when you watch those games on television, you remember the guy that held up the signs. The guy that was the sign guy, I mean, you always waited for the TV guy to break to the sign guy to give you the message for the day, and a lot of it was about believing, obviously. I think Tug McGraw was involved in a lot of that stuff, too.
I remember primarily the fact that they played with a lot of heart. They always seemed to rise to an occasion and come back and win big games. Different guys, just like us, would play a big role. Tommie Agee and Swoboda. I believe that was the year Swoboda hit the two two run home runs against the Cardinals in the 4 2 game in St. Louis when Carlton struck out 19 hitters, I believe, because I was a Cardinal fan. I have always been a Cardinal fan, up until more recently. I remember it very well and I watched it very closely.
Again, I guess the biggest thing was all the New York teams beat all the Baltimore teams that year. I remember that. I was a big Namath fan, so I remember it very well. But I remember the card guy. The card guy was very influential that year.
How central to everything has Bartlett been, and was he -- did you target him and how did he get your attention?
Well, that's all Andrew. That's all Andrew, because I only saw Bartlett, I think, once or twice with the Angels and once last year he beat us on a ground ball to shortstop that he beat out.
Andrew is the one that had his eyes locked on him for a while, and he started discussing him with me. He sent me some video to look, some different defense and offensive things, and then of course Matt.
But when Andrew would speak to me about him, he was so emphatic how much he felt that he was the right guy for us, and I couldn't give him a real strong opinion because I had not seen him enough except for video, and my advice to Andrew was to trust your instinct, because I think Andrew has got great instincts in regard to his evaluation skills.
So he did; he did, and we gave up some very good players. But I thought based on Andrew's description in regard to what J.B. can do to our defense, which obviously he has, and of course what Matt has done, too, and even this kid Eddie Morlan that's in the minor leagues is supposed to be very good, too. That was all Andrew.
He does his research and he talked about the improved range factor we were going to have. He was absolutely right about that, and the power pitching ability of Matt. It was a great trade for both sides as it turned out, but without J.B. in the middle, I really don't believe we would be playing this game tonight.
The two September wins at Fenway, how much were those confidence builders for your club?
Well, they're wonderful. We've gone up there all year. We've played some really close games and lost. We got swept twice and had to move on from there. Not easy. Not easy stuff. To do it in September was really good, obviously because it's later in the year, very short lead that we had over them at that particular juncture, and everybody is waiting for us to not be able to do those things.
Again, our guys answered the call and played really well, really well. Pitched well, caught it, and then of course some big hits. So confidence wise, it does matter. To have been able to have done that this year toward the end of the year and going up there now is going to present a different look to us. Had we not been able to do that, it would have been different.
But then again, we're talking about a different time of the year, too. It's a different month and I understand that. When you're growing as an organization, and as a team, you have to be able to teach yourself a lesson at some point, and I thought we did. And that's going to be, I think, important when this series advances to Boston.
You talked about Longoria and his sense of just knowing that he belongs here from the beginning.
You have a couple of key guys here, talking about Balfour and Howell, who probably had some serious doubts before this year about whether they belonged here. Can you talk about how they've evolved in that way?
I'll go with JP first. I think JP always in the back of his mind always believed that he belonged here. He just needed the right opportunity. JP, he is a unique young man. Augie Garrido was his manager at the University of Texas, and I know Augie well. I believe I had heard after JP had left that Augie had said he had the best makeup of any pitcher that he ever had at University of Texas.
I know that he's not going to say that easily, so I was really eager to see this guy, and then here he comes talking in, skinny little guy with a strut. He ended up being a starting pitcher for us, and of course, his stuff was short, and it didn't all fit.
Came into spring training this year, and once we put him in the bullpen and he saw the lineup one time through, all of the sudden, he became a different guy and the confidence began to sore and he felt like he could do this.
He came with a lot of the stuff, this equipment, but I think putting him in the bullpen this year and putting him in some of the right slots did a lot, but his velocity is up. You're going to see 87, 89 on that gun now where before it was 84 to 86 as a starter and you still see the good changeup and you see the really good breaking ball that's good to righties and lefties. I think his confidence was built by hitting him in the bullpen.
Grant has always had a wonderful arm, and with him, it's about opportunity; and with him, furthermore, the world revolves around confidence. He just wasn't confident enough in his own ability. And again, he comes back to the sense of belonging. He did so well in Triple A, and he was just unable to bring that. Even though he was throwing the same kind of pitches, he was walking too many people.
But once he got his feet on the ground here and we started putting him into more situations and he was successful, he also felt like, I belonged here.
It's not more complicated than that. They're both very talented, but they needed opportunity and they needed some success to get that sense or feeling about themselves, and that's where they're at right now. Wonderful young men, absolutely wonderful.
We also saw Longoria this year, he just turned 23. Could you speak to how big he could get in this town and how well he can navigate all that, and does he enjoy being a guy like that?
I think so. That's part of what he came equipped with. He's special, he's different. I don't know exactly where he's gotten it from the beginning. I don't know, I guess his baseball pedigree didn't start out that well when he was younger but all of a sudden at Long Beach, the date he blossoms, the guy handles all of this really well for me, and on top of that he's one of the more skillful young players I've been around, period.
He is very good now, but he has room to get a lot better, and he knows that himself. I think he has a great combination of skill and personality and charisma to really put this all together. I think with him we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg right now, and I think as a manager I'm really excited about being able to work with him in years to come, because you project him out over a period of time, he could become something very, very special.
How would you say that Scott Kazmir has matured and developed over the last several years?
Kaz, again, here's another guy as a pitcher with one of the better arms in either league.
I think maturation wise, what you're seeing right now is the fact that he's been around for a couple years and he's been struggling with his command but he's still been able to work through those moments and be very good for us this year. It's easy to look good when everything is going well. It's difficult to look good when things aren't going entirely your way, and I think part of Kaz, the maturation part of it, and I've said it often times, I don't think he gets enough credit for being as tough as he is. I think that's going to bear itself out over time. People are going to become more familiar with that. But he is.
Physically, like I said, he's very gifted. Maturation, again, just like talking about Longo, he's still got some ways to go, a lot of our guys do. But I've seen him make a lot of progress this year, and I think this event right now that we're involved in kind of validates everything that we've been talking about as a staff for the last couple years in regard to trying the drive the point home, in regard to fundamentals and handling the day properly, so when you get to this point, you present yourselves as we have to right now; that they are prepared for it. I think we are, but I think our guys are getting better, and he's right in the mix of that whole thing.
Staying on the Kazmir topic, his last start during the Division Series, the White Sox had him on the ropes. I think it was 37 pitches in the first inning. Was that a big step for him along those lines of why you discussed, being able to get out of that and then basically cruise relatively unblemished from there?
Exactly. A lot of guys when they're faced with that moment tend to go the other way; then they're out of the game and they don't give you five or six innings. He's battled through some tough moments just based on command, and he knows it, and it's not a big secret. He's working on it constantly, and it's going to get better.
Again, it's not overtly wrong. It's about tempo and it's within his delivery and just what he's seeing at the plate. A lot of abstract or intangible kind of things. I believe this: Those things come together like of a finger sometimes, so with him, even though he hasn't been at the top of his game necessarily, if you look at his numbers, they're pretty darned good. So just imagine when he pieces all this stuff back together, which he will, how this man could really take off.
Again, I've seen a lot of improvement, and like with a lot of our young guys, it's just the beginning, and I keep talking about this whole event just being the beginning. This is something we have to grow from as a group, and I think our guys are handling it in absolutely the proper way.
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