Maddon’s Offbeat Approach Reaping Rewards for Rays

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Maddon's Offbeat Approach Reaping Rewards for Rays Reigning AL Manager of the Year Joe Maddon of the Tampa Bay Rays is sporting a new 'do these days. See, Maddon, whose stylishly spiked "silver-fox" coif reminded one Yahoo Sports blogger of Roger Sterling from Mad Men, had his wife dye his hair black earlier this week.

"I had been wanting to do it," the nattily spectacled Maddon told MLB.com. "I had been wanting to do something different. We have the Ring of Fire road trip coming up, so I was going to wait until Sunday to do it, but I thought, 'Why not, in advance, just to get it out there, loosen things up a bit?'"

With the Rays just three games behind the Red Sox for the wild-card lead — it makes sense that Maddon is doing whatever he can to shake up his defending AL champs, who had lost five straight last week before taking their last four games. The Rays are embarking on a seven-game road trip next week that will take them to Toronto and Detroit … before they return home to host the Red Sox and Tigers … then head to New York for four games against the Yankees … and then head to the Fens for a weekend series in Boston.

By any measure, it's an important stretch of games for the 65-54 Rays.

But the Ring of Fire road trip? Really?

Yes, 'tis true, says Maddon, who claims that his hair is an ode to the Man in Black, Johnny Cash, and has instituted an all-black dress code for the Rays' road trip.

"I just think we've been applying way too much pressure to ourselves," Maddon told reporters. "Winning games was almost a relief, and losing was very painful. And that's not us. I don't want that to be us. Win or lose, I want it to be about 30 minutes and move on.

"We've been grinding very hard," he continued. "I love our effort, I love how much we care. But let's just be a little bit more pragmatic about it and understand what's going on. And let's start processing it in a better way that I think is going to lead us back to the promised land. It's not too late to do that."

It sounds a little bit like the baseball version of Phil Jackson, the Zen master, and his teachings with the Lakers … but with a Southern accent and wearing tight black pants.

And hey, four wins in a row for the Rays is nothing to scoff at. So this Ring of Fire business got me to thinking …

With the inspiration they've gotten from Kevin Youkilis charging the mound against the Tigers last week, maybe the Red Sox should dub the upcoming contests at Fenway against the Yankees, White Sox and Blue Jays the Beast in Me homestand. It's possible that some of Youk's testosterone and energy will rub off on the rest of the lineup.

Red Sox hitters also led the majors in bases on balls heading into Wednesday's action, so maybe the impending stretch at Fenway should be called the Walk the Line homestand to stress the importance of laying off of bad pitches.

If the Oakland A's are looking to make up ground in the AL West, maybe they should christen next week's away games the Boy Named Sue road trip, hoping that catcher Kurt Su-zuki heats up at the plate.

But the trip-naming possibilities don't end with Johnny Cash.

After stealing eight bases against Jason Varitek and the Sox last weekend, the Texas Rangers could honor the late Michael Jackson by labeling their upcoming stretch the Smooth Criminal era. All of the base-runners could wear one sequined batting glove and moonwalk around the bases. And can't you picture manager Ron Washington in the red leather Thriller jacket?

Based on their hard-hitting, trade-deadline addition, maybe the St. Louis Cardinals could take a page out of Madonna's song book and entitle this week's homestand the (Matt) Holliday Tour.

Heck, let's face it … the final six weeks of the season for the Nationals, Orioles, Padres, Pirates and Royals have taken on an Elvis Presley motif: Don't Be Cruel.

But the point to be taken from this is that the job of Maddon and any other manager is just as much psychological as it is coaching, teaching, hitting and pitching. Over the course of a six-plus-month, 162-game schedule, there are natural peaks and valleys. Every team goes through them.

And whether it's through rah-rah clubhouse speeches, airing dirty laundry in the media or … gosh, I don't know, ripping off your shirt and challenging your players to a fight, managers are supposed to do everything in their power to accentuate the positives and eliminate the negatives.

No, Maddon's Johnny Cash-themed means aren't exactly conventional. But he's taken matters into his own hands and his team appears to be responding.

Even the Man in Black would have to respect that kind of success.

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