NEW YORK — With SS Yunel Escobar (sore left ankle) joining CF Desmond Jennings (left hamstring tightness) on the list of starters unavailable due to an injury, Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon turned to a higher power while putting together Wednesday’s lineup.
He walked from the team hotel to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, took a seat in a back pew and formulated his plan.
“Looking for some divine help,” Maddon said before the game. “We’ll see if that’s forthcoming or not.”
Maddon said it was a planned trip, a late-morning walk on a picture perfect New York day with another crucial game waiting for him later in the day at Yankee Stadium.
“I was looking for inspiration,” he said. “I saw St. Jude. Don’t know how good he is with the hit-and-run. I think he was a pretty good defender.”
It wasn’t just who would play center field (he settled on David DeJesus), it was how he would set the lineup knowing the Yankees would likely pull starter RHP Phil Hughes early in the game for LHP David Huff.
Maddon didn’t want to make the lineup left-hander heavy, something that would work to the Yankees’ advantage when they went to Huff.
“You don’t want to put it on the tee the second time through,” Maddon said.
Huff was pitching by the third inning. Hughes was pulled after allowing hits to the first four batters of the third inning. He allowed seven total hits and three runs.
Maddon, who is Catholic, said he lit a votive candle before leaving the New York landmark. He said he did that for “general purposes.”
About those injuries …
Jennings ran lightly in the outfield before the game with head athletic trainer Ron Porterfield. He said his hamstring felt fine but he didn’t push it.
Jennings said the hamstring does not bother him when he swings, and Maddon said Jennings was available to pinch-hit Wednesday.
“I’m doing stuff every day to get back as soon as possible,” Jennings said.
Maddon said Jennings wouldn’t return to center field before the series in Toronto that begins Friday.
Escobar said his left ankle was feeling better before Wednesday’s game than it was Tuesday when he hurt it while trying to turn a double play in the fourth inning.
But Escobar said it still hurt when he walked. He said he hopes to return to the lineup tonight.
Maddon said before the game that he thought Escobar might be able to play Wednesday night.
C Jose Lobaton, who left Tuesday’s game with a bruised right elbow, said Wednesday that he was fine.
Sternberg wants things balanced
The road to a possible wild-card spot takes the Rays through New York and Toronto, while the two teams they are chasing — the Indians and Rangers — play the White Sox and Twins and Astros and Angels, respectively.
Rays owner Stuart Sternberg said he would like the unbalanced schedule a little more balanced, so the Rays would play fewer games against the AL East and the teams in the other divisions would play more games against the AL East.
“With the unbalanced schedule and what’s happened, it’s really an abomination for where we are right now, teams who we played compared with the two teams we’re competing with,” Sternberg said. “… It’s all fine when you’re a division winner, but I’m competing for a wild card now and I have one hand tied behind my back,” Sternberg said.
Sternberg said he would gladly give up home games against the Red Sox and Yankees — the two top draws on the schedule.
“Give me 12 games against them, I’ll take six at home instead of nine,” he said.
“People will come to those six. (Attendance) will be down, but not that much. I’d rather have games in the standings.”
Maddon said he hasn’t given any thought to possible matchups for next week’s wild card game … RHP Jake Odorizzi, RHP Chris Archer, LHP Alex Torres, LHP Enny Romero and RHP Alex Colome — all rookies — are a combined 14-10 with two saves and a 2.75 ERA this season. They have held opponents to a .209 batting average … LHP Matt Moore set the club record for wild pitches in a season at 17, giving him one more wild pitch than wins … Maddon made 40 pitching changes during the eight games prior to Wednesday’s game.