Something strange is definitely afoot. The Rays took 3-of-4 in Fenway in the universally accepted “biggest series of the year.” The list of bizarre occurrences this weekend is mind-boggling:
- The Rays are in a Wild Card race with the Boston Red Sox, not the Yankees, after everyone short of the Pope picked Boston as the odds on
favorite in the American League;
- Television people are discussing the unenthusiastic (and early departing) crowd at Fenway during a huge September game, not the crowd at the Trop (no word as to whether CC is going to employ the Longoria/Price tweet strategy to motivate the Nation);
- Desmond Jennings was the athletic leftfielder that helped key his team’s effort with 6 hits, 5 runs, and 3 stolen bases in the 4 games, not Carl Crawford;
- David Price has so much heart it can deflect a scalding line drive without injury; and
- Jake McGee and Matt Moore made huge contributions on the mound while James Shields and David Price were not a factor.
Heck, things are so weird, I just saw Jon Gruden say that he likes the rookie QB (Sam Bradford) better than the veteran QB (Eli Manning) in a MNF promo.
So what does that all mean? Well, if we do complete this comeback and play in October, then we can look back at this weekend as a turning point. We will remember the bizarre September run from ‘hey, those guys sure had a good year after all that turnover’ to ‘Oh Mah Gawd. The Sawx aren’t going to the playoffs?’
Can we do it? I don’t know. Two games is still a lot of ground to make up in a week, particularly without a head-to-head matchup. But, what the heck, I’m all in (the Mrs. would like me to point out that I had given up hope several weeks ago so, it is possible that my “all in” is a bandwagon “all in”). But, let’s be realistic, you cannot evaluate this comeback opportunity without mentioning that 7 of the Rays final games are against New York while 7 of Boston’s final games are against Baltimore.
Seems like Boston has the advantage. Upon further review (can you tell I watched the UF game Saturday? I think they are still reviewing plays), I’d rather have New York than Baltimore. I know what you are thinking, add that to the bizarre list above, but hear me out.
The biggest mistake the Rays (and for that matter the Sox) can make now, is to assume an outcome. In a race this close, every game is must-win. In fact, the Rays are two games back this morning because they looked past the Baltimore series that was the hole in their Boston donut. Had the Rays treated the Orioles like they were, you know, competent, the Wild Card race would be tied this morning.
Here’s the thing, Boston is capable of the same let down. One of two things happens when things are going as bad as they are for Boston. A team either bands together and turns it around with an us-against-the-world mentality, or they crumble and start making excuses. I haven’t followed them that closely but, this Sox team looks to me like an excuses bunch. The entire Red Sox dugout totally checked out of the games Saturday and Sunday once the Rays built a lead (and their fans followed suit). It was like the they had shirts under their jerseys that said “well, we won Friday and Tampa Bay needed a sweep.” Not exactly 9=8. They played half the series like they were in a B game on a back field in Fort Myers. Totally disengaged.
The Rays, as we saw at the start of last week, are susceptible to the same let down. But, they don’t have to play a bad team playing out the string, they have to play the mighty Yankees. No one lets down in or against New York. It’s not possible. The pinstripes make you focus. The money and fame makes you focus. The hostile crowd at replica Yankee Stadium makes you focus. The Yankee fans in your own ballpark make you focus. The Yankees get everyone’s best shot because they are the Yankees.
So, in a weird way, I’d rather be playing New York than Baltimore because New York will make our young roster focus on the task at hand.