So last Wednesday night I’m at work, tossing pizza dough in the air while watching my Red Sox get knocked off by the upstart Tampa Bay Rays for the second night in a row to take a two-game lead in the AL East. Just then an elder female customer walks over to our open kitchen to ask me the score of the game.
“The Sox are getting hammered,” I tell her, referring more to the score of the game and less to the fact that Javier Vasquez, who fell over trying to field a routine groundball allowing a run to score, looks like he just stumbled out of Esox.
“Nice. They’re my team for the rest of the season,” she replies to me with a smile. The woman has been coming into the restaurant I work at for years, and I know that she is not only a dedicated Yankees fan but also a devout Christian.
“God is blessing them,” she tells me. “Ever since they dropped the ‘Devil’ from their name, he’s been blessing them.” ‘Oh Christ, Jesus is on their side,’ I think to myself.
It’s not hard to fathom that some type of higher power is working with Tampa this year. After all, since their inception in 1998, the Rays have finished last every single year but one. In 2004, they finished second-to-last. I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a banner hanging in Tropicana Field that reads, “2004 AL East Fourth-place Champions.”
So, in the famous words of Vince Lombardi, “What the hell is going on out there?!”
Here are the facts: the Rays are just 13th in team batting average, ninth in runs, eighth in homers, and sixth in on base percentage. However, they are second in base-on-balls and first in stolen bases. Basically, they are playing small ball and making teams pay when they get on base.
The real underlying factor of their success, however, is their defense and pitching. Before this year, their rotation consisted of Scott Kazmir and, well, that was pretty much it.
Now, they have five starters who basically came out of nowhere with 11 wins or more and are second in the league with a 3.78 ERA. Again, this is a team that has never even finished third in their division.
All year baseball fans have waited for the other shoe to drop with Joe Maddon’s ball club (that man wears some stylish specs by the way), but with October just a week away, it’s time to acknowledge that there will in fact be playoff games at the Trop’.
Not only that, but the Rays will have a load of bandwagon riders following their playoff run. Get ready for Crawford and Baldelli jerseys scattered across campus.
To be honest, if my team – the Sox – weren’t going head-to-head with Tampa, I couldn’t help but root for the Rays, a team without a true superstar and a payroll that barely matches J.D. Drew’s fat wallet.
Like the woman said to me at work, maybe God really is blessing the Rays.