Mostly Cloudy73° WeatherMostly Cloudy73° Weather

Losing Game 1 to the Texas Rangers puts Tampa Bay Rays in a deep hole

They are in a hole. The sky is a little darker than it used to be. Something nasty is growling in the distance.

So how much trouble are the Rays in?

Except, of course, a lot?

They have fallen from a plane. There are rocks below. They are trying somehow to land on the backs of very large birds.

So how do the odds against the Rays look?

Besides, of course, formidable?

The Rays lost the ever-important first game of a division playoff series to the Texas Rangers on Wednesday, 5-1, and suddenly, the road to the World Series looks as if it goes up a steeper hill. History is against them, and the odds are against them, and a darned good Rangers team is against them. The Rays are 0-1, and the situation looks a lot like this: Uh-oh.

This was not good, not in a five-game series, not in front of a filled Tropicana Field, not especially in October. From here, the Rays have to win three of four games, and two of those will be played in Texas, where the Rangers are better at home than the Ewings were. As of now, the Rays also need very, very badly for James Shields to somehow turn into John Wayne. Or, better yet, Greg Maddux.

The Rays, naturally, want to dismiss the loss as just a single stumble in a long series. Of course they do. Eight times this year, Tampa Bay lost the first game of a series, then came back to win two in a row. Nothing new there. This isn't Team Do It The Hard Way for nothing.

History is a harsh reference, however. In the last 12 division series, the team that won Game 1 won the series. If you go back to 1995 when the current division format was adopted, teams that lost the first game at home are 8-20 in the series. If you go back to 1969 and count every five-game series, the teams that lost the first game at home are 12-33.

It is so much tougher to come back in a five-game series than a seven-gamer. Remember, in 2008, the Rays lost their first game to the Red Sox and came back and won. But in a five-game series, it almost feels as if Game 1 counts double. Even if the Rays win today, the Rangers can close out the series at home.

So, yes, it's fair to say the Rays have become distinct underdogs in this series. Can they win it? Sure. Is it less likely than it was? Also, sure.

Then again, did you really think this team would do anything the easy way?

"If you're talking about the odds, who would look at our averages and RBIs and expect this team to even be in the post-season?" catcher John Jaso said. "We do kind of go against what the baseball book says is going to happen."

"It doesn't bother us to be down," said outfielder Ben Zobrist. "We don't panic. We know we're capable of coming back and winning."

Manager Joe Maddon will tell you the same. He was a coach with the Angels in 2005 when they lost Game 1 of the ALDS to the Yankees, then went on to win the series in five. They were the last team to lose Game 1 of an LDS at home but go on to win the series.

"It is a short series," Maddon said. "You've got to come back and play well (today). I have a lot of confidence in our guys. We've lost two in a row to the Yankees in New York and people thought that was it. We came back and won two difficult games after that.

"I think our guys are resilient. … I think they'll be back and play well tomorrow."

You might have had the same thoughts about Wednesday, of course. That's one reason the result was such a jolt to the possibilities. The Rays didn't pitch well, didn't field well and didn't get a big hit. That's not exactly the formula around here.

Perhaps it would have been better if the first inning had gone more smoothly. The Rays had three hits and didn't score a run. Just asking here, but wouldn't you have liked to have at least seen Jason Bartlett run on Nelson Cruz? Isn't aggressiveness kind of the trademark around here? Especially with a shutdown pitcher on the mound.

Then there was the mysterious play where Carlos Peña insisted a pitched ball hit him with the bases loaded. Umpire Tim Welke said, no, it hit the bat.

According to Maddon, Welke told him the call was delayed because Welke wanted to see Peña's reaction. Excuse me? I'm not a guy who gets on umpires, but are umpires now judging reactions rather than plays? If so, that explains Derek Jeter yelling "Medic!" loud enough so he gets to first base. Put it this way, if the ball didn't hit Peña, we would all have to agree that Jeter is a much, much better actor.

"Well, he lives in New York, where he has access to Broadway and theater groups and a lot of thespians," Maddon said.

Maddon, optimist that he is, actually referred to the Rays' hitting as "encouraging" Wednesday, which probably says a lot about where the bar is set these days. And, true, the Rays hit more balls sharply than they had in weeks. Then again, they struck out 13 times, and Rangers outfielders were playing at dare-you-hit-it-over-me depth.

Also, they had one run. And one loss. And one bad start.

How much trouble are the Rays in?

Enough. But not as much as they will be in if they don't win today.

Losing Game 1 to the Texas Rangers puts Tampa Bay Rays in a deep hole 10/06/10 [Last modified: Thursday, October 7, 2010 8:36am]

© 2014 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...