Yankees outfielder Nick Swisher likes to call Tampa Bay Rays Manager Joe Maddon “the mad scientist,” and with good reason. When the two teams met, in St. Petersburg, Fla., on the opening weekend of the regular season, the Rays’ fielders moved to the left and to the right and straight into the Yankees’ heads.
“First, second, third game of the season, just leave spring training, you hit a couple of rockets and next thing you know, they’re right at somebody,” Swisher said last week, recalling how the Rays’ aggressively positioned defenses made it seem as if they had 15 players on the field instead of 9.
During Tampa Bay’s three-game sweep, Maddon not only loaded the right side of the field against left-handed Yankees hitters, which is common enough, but also tilted his defense to the left against right-handed batters, which is a more unorthodox strategy.
All of it worked. Rays fielders snared balls scalded up the middle by Curtis Granderson, snatched liners laced into the outfield by Mark Teixeira and turned what was on a trajectory to be a single by Alex Rodriguez into the final out of a victory.
Where there used to be hits, there were now outs.
“None of it’s by the seat of our pants,” Maddon said.