Over the course of the last few weeks, the odds of the Rays making it to the playoffs steadily grew from an 11.5% chance to a 36%, and then to a 57% percent chance, yet people outside of this market still didn’t want to believe that the Rays could clinch the wild-card spot. The Red Sox continued to drop the ball, both literally and figuratively, and the Rays consistently stepped it up and played like the scrappy team that they are. And still, people didn’t want to believe. Hell, some of us in this market didn’t even believe. Finally last night, a night when the hopes and dreams of a post-season berth hinged on the 162nd game of the season, the Rays made history. Do you believe now?
Way back at the beginning of the season, three teams started the year terribly by going 0-6. Two of those teams, the Rays and the Sox crawled out of the basement and started playing really good ball. After the doomsday scenario that was the start of the season, the Rays had the best April in history.
I’m not sure if you remember April 11th when the Rays pounded the Red Sox, 16-5? You know, the game that snapped the Rays April six game losing streak, the game that may just have been the catalyst for this Rays never say die season. I digress… Of course the emphasis from the ESPNs and Fox Sports’ of the world was firmly on the Sox. The airwaves, twitterverse, and bloggosphere were abuzz with questions of when the greatest Sox team of all time would step into their pre-destined (read: bought) spot.
The Rays played OK ball thereafter, and the Sox stepped it up. The baseball world made note of its new golden boy Adrian Gonzalez. “He, Who Could Do No Wrong” people called him. They made it as though that any and every pitcher should fear his bat, and every hitter should fear his golden glove. Roll over and submit! There’s no hope! Praise for the Red Sox as a whole came from the obvious sources, however something quietly was bubbling under the surface. The Rays, a rag tag team composed mostly of inexperienced players, started to gel and become a team. They slowly built momentum, especially after the all-star break, and in August they became the hottest teams in baseball. Thanks to (hands down) one of the best starting pitching staffs in all of baseball, great defense, and eak-gad, bats that slowly started to wake, the Rays started September nine games back of the infallible Red Sox. Perhaps the lack of objective exposure and reporting created enough vitriol…enough piss and vinegar to have shoved back in their faces.
But the funny thing was, the Red Sox weren’t infallible. And thanks to good consistent ball by the Rays, and the most monumental collapse in baseball history, the Rays stepped into last nights game tied for the wild-card slot. We all knew the possibilities, and we knew that there was a legitimate chance for the Rays to clinch a berth. Clinch they did. It didn’t start very pretty though.
In fact, the first seven innings were downright ugly. One hit?!? Yeesh. Scoring opportunities not taken advantage of , stranding seven base runners?!? Ouch. Also, if I may be so frank, David Price pitched like shit, and that really didn’t do too much to keep our hopes alive. Neither did the 3-2 score in the BoSox/O’s game. Nevertheless, the Rays continued to grind it out. And something happened, a sea change if you will.
The Rays pitching stabilized, thanks to the ‘pen…well, that is after a home run given up by Juan Cruz. Amped up from that point on, the ‘pen was able to hold the Yankees to seven runs. A huge hurdle to over come? Indeed. Impossible to overcome? Obviously not! Though a victory still seemed improbable, half of the crowd stayed, myself included, and I have to believe everyone of us believed in miracles. We turned our hats inside out, we clapped and yelled, and rose in our seats every time DJ Kitty compelled us to do so.
As confusion over whether the Orioles game would be called after the seventh inning, hour long rain delay swirled throughout the Trop, Johnny Damon stepped up to the plate in the bottom of the eighth. Damon smacked a single to center. Ben Zobrist followed suit by hitting a double to left, sending Johnny to third. And the crowd started to come back to life. Still with no outs, Casey Kotchman was beaned by a Brachman pitch, sending him to first and loading the bases. After a pitching change, Merlot Joe put Sam Fuld in to pinch hit for Kelly Shoppach. Fuld was promptly walked, scoring Damon and keeping the bases loaded. Then, for the second time in the inning, a Rays hitter (Sean Rodriguez) was hit with a pitch, scoring Zobrist. Make that 7-2. BJ Upton followed and hit a sac fly to deep left, scoring Kotchman. Make that 7-3! Finally, with two on and two out, Evan Longoria unloaded on a Boone Logan fastball, hitting a three run dinger to clear the bases. The Rays left the eighth inning one run down, and filled with the hope of what could be.
The good guys were again able to stave off the Yankees in the top of the ninth to give them three more chances to score a run. The Rays entered the ninth with nothing to lose and everything to gain. The Yankees got two quick outs, and Joe did something that was very familiar: Maddon put Dan Johnson in the game. I must admit, this humble blogger felt the pains of a game going by the wayside, after all, the Dan Johnson experiment wasn’t too successful earlier in the season. With a 2-2 count, Johnson did something that was quite deja vu. The Great Pumpkin hit a line drive home run to right (which, uh, actually made landfall with a certain attendees crotch) to score the tying run!
In the top of the 10th the Orioles game resumed. With one eye on the field and one on the score board, the ‘pen blazed through the next three innings with a minor scuff in the tenth, which found the Yankees ending their half of the inning with the bases loaded. The Rays continued to put pressure on the Yankees in the 11th. However, they unfortunately could not capitalize and left two on to end the inning.
Something amazing happened in the bottom of the 12th in the drama filled dome. With BJ Upton, at the crowd started to cheer wildly; without abandon. Upton struck out, but the cheers got louder. “That’s a bit counter intuitive,” I thought. In my confusion I decided to check my phone to see if there was an update in the Orioles game, since nothing had been formally announced at the Trop. Yes, there was! After tying things up in the ninth, the Orioles took a one run lead to win the game. Just then the scoreboard was updated with the news, and the cheers grew even louder. We knew that the Rays were safe, but safety wasn’t enough. We wanted the win and the wild-card berth! As if on cue…as if he knew it was the Rays time, not the Red Sox, Evan Longoria stepped up to the plate and smacked a one run homer to left to win the game 8-7! Rays win!
So, I’ll ask you again. Are you a believer now? If not, then maybe you should rethink your initial assumptions on the Rays, and their unlikely rise to prominence.
We can never forget the feeding frenzy in the off season that left the bullpen decimated, nor can we deny the hurt that we felt when our most beloved hero left for the enemy. Call it what it was: a pilfering of our team. I know, it was partially the making of a team that could not afford to keep the top six players.
Nevertheless, the time is now to remind all of those that counted us out, that regardless what the Buster Olney’s and Ken Rosenthal’s of the world say and have said about our team, fans, and area, that we indeed are a formidable opponent. The Rays are not a team that will be slipping beneath the radar anytime soon…they’re not going away. Get used to it, get over it, and put some objective thoughts and consideration into your constant barrage of belittling comments about the team and area. Sure, our stadium may not be filled on a nightly basis, however our market is filled with foreclosed houses and people that can’t get a job to save their lives. Perhaps, the Oral Hersheiser’s and John Kruk’s of the world can take a trip through our trailer parks and ghettos; our suburbs full of abandoned foreclosed houses and homeless camps before they trash talk us again. And maybe, just maybe you who belittle us and our team, can attempt to objectively learn the culture of the people that make up the bay area. You’ll find that, like OUR Rays, we too are scrappy, we too try our hardest, and we too won’t give up even when we’ve got two strikes against us.
Last night Tampa Bay made history, a history that cannot be denied or contested by the Rays detractors.
The Tigers skipper, Jim Leyland, recently summed up what his team means to Detroit:
“It’s tough times for people in Detroit,” Leyland told Tigers broadcaster Mario Impemba. “We know that, and believe me, it’s not something that we don’t think about, ’cause we do. …
“But I think during times like this, a sports team can uplift your spirits, and I hope we lifted up the spirits of our fans in Detroit, because they deserve it.”
I believe it’d be safe to assume the sentiment holds true for us in this area. In short: we love our small market team, and we love that our team is in the post-season for the third time in four years. And while the Red Sox and their fans can sit in their discontent and pine for the glory days of yore, we’ll continue to make history!
PS, Here’s to hope that Crawford really and truly is devastated!