I certainly wasn’t planning on feeling the way I did when BJ Upton came up to bat in the bottom of the eighth, in last night’s season finale. That’s the funny thing about emotions; you’re at the will of them unless you’re trained to suppress them. It would be reasonable to assume that this particular at-bat would be the last for Melvin Emmanuel in a Rays uniform. Upton blooped a single to left and was promptly pulled from the game for Rich Thompson, presumably ending his tenure with the Tampa Bay Rays; his swan song.
After doffing his cap to the throngs of fans chanting his name, Upton returned to a dugout of visibly choked up teammates who would go on to hug him while holding back the tears, or trying to at least. It’s easy to imagine that many of us in the Trop felt the pangs of sadness knowing that we’d probably never see Upton effortlessly glide toward a well struck baseball and make an outstanding play, or swipe a bag in a high leverage situation. For all of Upton’s warts one thing is obvious, Upton will be missed.
But something happened in the dugout that we, at the game, weren’t privy to. It was something that most of us wouldn’t even hear about until well after the game. Left to his own devices on the bench, BJ Upton, the kid that’s been in the Rays organization since he was 19…the kid that’s been a lightning rod for many a fans ire, and a source of many fans adulation, broke down. Unable to hold back his tears, Sun Sports focused on Upton for a good fifteen seconds. And in that time, a question of by of Upton’s had been answered; yes, Upton really did care about this organization.
Like I said before, I wasn’t expecting to feel this way. Like many of us, I’d long been on the fence with BJ Upton. Joe Maddon summed things up well when he mentioned that BJ had really matured this season, both in the game and in life. And to be fair, the difference was noticeable. The negative attitude at the plate was absent. Long gone were the moments where he was caught mouthing off to the ump when he struck out looking. Sure he had his struggles prior to the All-Star Break, but which Ray didn’t? He really turned it on following the All-Star Break, especially in August and September, and he can be counted as one of the reasons that Tampa Bay went on a tear to end the season. Dare I say that my feelings today are similar to those I felt in 2010 when Carl Crawford ended his tenure with the Rays, in their final game of the ALDS against Texas? He finishes his Rays career hitting .255/.336/.422 with 118 home runs and 232 steals in 956 games over parts of eight seasons.
Upton went out on an emotional high-note, whereas the “Carlos Pena and Luke Scott” eras fizzled out quietly. Scott didn’t come off the bench at any point in the game, and Pena was Pena, going 0-3 with a pair of strikeouts. Both ‘Los and LUKE started the year strongly, but ultimately ended the season being a combined $12 MM mistake.
Last night’s game wasn’t all doom and gloom by any stretch of the imagination. Besides the fact that the Rays are currently cleaning out their lockers instead of prepping for postseason play, this year’s finale had all of the drama as Game 162. Evan Longoria went 3-4, going yard three times with each blast going further than the one previous. Ryan Roberts attempted to make his stake his claim on next season’s roster by sending one out as well.
And just when we thought that Rodney wouldn’t get to close things out, Maddon made the call to the pen following three Orioles hits and an RBI off of Joel Peralta. Fernando came in to face Jim Thome with two outs and a runner (Matt Wieters) on first. Rodney did as he had done 47 times prior; he saved the game and shot an imaginary arrow to the moon. This time though, his save was more meaningful and historically significant. Rodney broke Dennis Eckersley’s 48 save/0.61 ERA, finishing the season 48 saves and a 0.60 ERA. He, too, was on the verge of tears as the dugout emptied and the crowd chanted his name. Fernando represented everything that is right about the game; player that’s down on his luck gets an opportunity to do what he loves, for a team that truly believes in what he’s got. That belief obviously had an enormous effect on Rodney, who by and far exceeded any of the expectations that any one had in him.
Our little team from a small market ended the season with a 90-72 record. The Rays could have made it to the postseason if it weren’t for the x or y factor’s that made them fall just shy. Had they won the five out-of-the last 53 games that they lost by a score of 1-0, we could be talking about a different set of outcomes. But that’s neither here nor now. We cheered our boys on in the good times, and stuck by their side in the bad. This outcome is far from ideal, yet it is the hand that was dealt.
Spring Training is just around the corner. And before you know it, 179-days will pass and we’ll once again find ourselves under the big-top for what promises to be another heated series against the Baltimore Orioles, our new foe. (Albeit a friendly foe) Until then, let’s root the O’s and A’s on, in the postseason. I truly hope that they’ll be able to incur some damage on the old guard.
Oh, there’s this. These folks made a three minute long collection of some of Fernando Rodney’s greatest hits…urm, saves. Check it out here.