Friday, May 25, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Tom Jones: Rays switch from survival mode to contender

CLEVELAND

Just after midnight, the visitor's clubhouse inside of Cleveland's Progressive Field turned into a disco.

Thumping music. Dimmed lights. And champagne, lots of it. Although this champagne, mixed with a heavy dose of silly string, spent more time being poured over heads than into mouths.

The Rays were celebrating, having just won a game Wednesday night.

One game. A big game, for sure. The biggest of the season, in fact.

But just one game.

In order to win the World Series, they will have to win 11 more against three of the best teams in baseball, three teams that are way better than the one they played Wednesday night.

But this victory Wednesday night, 4-0 against the Indians in the wild-card game? That was the hard part.

Now comes the easy part.

The groundwork has been set, the foundation has been laid. The Rays have survived the scary stuff.

The rest is downhill. All the way to the World Series.

"We're not done," the Rays' Delmon Young said.

This team is set to go on the type of run that ends with a parade.

There will be more nervous nights to come, plenty of heart-stopping victories and, surely, a few heartbreaking losses to endure along the way. But after surviving a win-or-go-home game in Toronto on Sunday and in Texas on Monday and in Cleveland on Wednesday, the Rays can practically fall into the Fall Classic.

Think about that. Three wins in three cities and two countries in five days.

"When you go through something like that," Rays manager Joe Maddon said, "it has got to galvanize you, doesn't it?"

Yet, as odd as it might seem based on all that, this Rays team really isn't built for just one game.

They are better than that.

With their steady defense, deep starting pitching and versatile bullpen, they are perfectly suited for a best-of-five series, a perfect team for a best-of-seven series.

For the past six months, this was a team that frustrated, confounded and confused you. When they won, they looked as if they might never lose. When they lost, they appeared as if they would never win again.

Some days you looked at them and thought no one could stop them and other days you wondered how in the heck they could possibly make the playoffs.

Suddenly, however, they are starting to get that look, that special aura that special teams get when the calendar flips over to October.

They seem to be getting whatever they need to win, whether it's a timely double play and big strikeout or a key hit.

Take Wednesday. Rays starter Alex Cobb was in trouble all night, seemingly always one pitch away from stepping on a booby trap that would send the Rays catapulting into the offseason.

He escaped a one-out bases-loaded jam in the fourth, a no-out, two-on minefield in the fifth and, with the help of reliever Joel Peralta, a two-on, one-out tightrope in the seventh.

Meantime, Young, plucked off the scrap heap late in the season, blasted a solo homer and Desmond Jennings, coming off a tender hamstring injury, cracked a two-run double.

And when it was over, after all the fires were put out and all the jams were escaped, the Rays were booking a flight to Boston for a best-of-five series that starts Friday afternoon.

"We're not going to ease up now," pitcher Matt Moore said. "We're still going to play like there's no tomorrow."

Many teams would be afraid of heading to Fenway Park, which houses the team that finished with the best record in the American League this season.

But not the Rays.

They share the same division as the Red Sox. They've played them 19 times this season, winning seven. They know the Red Sox. And they know something else. They know they can beat them.

So, you see, the Rays have plenty going for them. They are playing outstanding defense and their best hitters — Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist and, of late, Young — are hitting like their best hitters.

But two key elements put the Rays in position to win it all:

One is pitching. They have four confident starters — David Price, Cobb, Matt Moore and Chris Archer — who seem to spend more time embracing these moments than running from them.

And they have the best manager in baseball in Maddon.

No matter what decision he makes, whose name he calls, or what hunch he plays, it's the right one.

Look, the next three weeks won't be easy. But if the Rays can win three consecutive games like they just have, all of which could have ended their season, you start to wonder what or who can end their season.

And then you start to wonder if it really will be all that hard.

Comments
Rays journal: Blake Snell, flying Denard Span finally solve Red Sox

Rays journal: Blake Snell, flying Denard Span finally solve Red Sox

ST. PETERSBURG — Having lost two straight and nine of 12 times overall to the Red Sox, the Rays needed two things to go right Thursday:First, a strong start from Blake Snell.Second, some early runs against Rick Porcello from an offense that had...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Marc Topkin’s takeaways from Thursday’s Rays-Red Sox game

Marc Topkin’s takeaways from Thursday’s Rays-Red Sox game

Home cooking clearly agrees with OF Denard Span. The 34-year-old Tampa product continues to deliver, producing at the plate, running the bases, making diving catches in the outfield, and Thursday, even going over the short sidewall twice in hot pursu...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Rays once again will ‘open’ with relievers this weekend

Rays once again will ‘open’ with relievers this weekend

ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays weren't kidding about being serious that starting relievers gives them the best chance to win.So much so, they plan to do so again this weekend against the Orioles — in all three games. The plan is for Sergio Rom...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Rays tripling down on starting relievers vs. Orioles this weekend: Romo, Stanek, Romo

Rays tripling down on starting relievers vs. Orioles this weekend: Romo, Stanek, Romo

The Rays aren't kidding about being serious in using relievers to start games.After unveiling the strategy last weekend against the Angels, manager Kevin Cash said they planned to use it again, and he made that official on Thursday, naming Sergio Rom...
Updated: 10 hours ago
For starters: Rays vs. Red Sox, with Snell on the mound

For starters: Rays vs. Red Sox, with Snell on the mound

Having lost a pair of close games, the Rays will try again tonight to beat the Red Sox, and will have LHP Blake Snell on the mound.SS Willy Adames is in the lineup for the Rays for the third and what is expected to be the final time before being sent...
Published: 05/24/18
Rays morning after: Chris Archer, David Price sure matched up like they meant it

Rays morning after: Chris Archer, David Price sure matched up like they meant it

For two guys who said they didn't make much of matching up, they sure dueled like they did in Boston's 4-1 victory that was decided after they left.Chris Archer, the Rays current top starter, worked six impressive innings, allowing one run and four h...
Published: 05/24/18
Rays journal: Could Sergio Romo be looking at pitching 3 straight games?

Rays journal: Could Sergio Romo be looking at pitching 3 straight games?

ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays' pitching rotation for the weekend series against the Orioles could have a familiar look: Romo, Romo, Romo.Manager Kevin Cash said using veteran right-handed reliever Sergio Romo as the "opener" in all three upcoming g...
Published: 05/24/18
Rookie’s error in 9th helps doom Rays against Red Sox

Rookie’s error in 9th helps doom Rays against Red Sox

ST. PETERSBURG — Willy Adames was so excited to be in the big leagues, even if was for just a three-day cameo callup. So thrilled to make a smashing debut with a homer on Tuesday. So proud to have his parents and sister fly in from the Dom...
Published: 05/24/18
Marc Topkin’s takeaways from Wednesday’s Rays-Red Sox game

Marc Topkin’s takeaways from Wednesday’s Rays-Red Sox game

In a way, the timing of RHP Jake Faria's oblique injury seemed manageable in that RHP Nathan Eovaldi is close to coming off the disabled list and can step in. But on the other hand, the Rays finally could have four regular starters. Imagine that.Ther...
Published: 05/23/18
Rays’ Jake Faria may be out until August, Vidal Nuno called up

Rays’ Jake Faria may be out until August, Vidal Nuno called up

UPDATE, 5:32: Faria is looking at at extended absence, potentially into August. Cash said an estimate of 6-8 weeks was on the optimistic side. "From what we found out he got it pretty good," Cash said.  "So it could be a little bit longer than t...
Published: 05/23/18