Random thoughts from the press box at Tropicana Field while watching Game 4 of the series between the Rays and Red Sox.
The Red Sox beat the Rays fair and square in this American League Division Series. When you lose three out of four, you don't have much cause to whine about anything. But surely the Rays' offseason will be spent thinking about how some of the biggest Red Sox hits in this series were either routine flies that should have been caught, popups that became extra-base hits because of the Green Monster at Fenway Park, or dribblers. It figures that the hit that scored the series' winning run was a weak tapper to short off the bat of Shane Victorino that traveled all of 75 feet.
The Rays bullpen was, for the most part, a solid outfit in 2013. After all, a team can't win 92 games and get into the postseason with a leaky pen. But you just couldn't ever get comfortable watching them pitch, could you? Whether it was Jake McGee or Joel Peralta or Fernando Rodney, you always had the feeling each of them was about to step on a trap door. And as far as Tuesday's loss, it would be easy to blame Peralta's wild pitch that led to Boston's two-run seventh inning that won the game and the series, but the real culprit? McGee's one-out walk to Xander Bogaerts that started the rally.
A long offseason
Next season can't get here soon enough for Rays stars Ben Zobrist and Wil Myers, just so they can put this series behind them. Myers went 1-for-16, with the lone hit being of the infield variety. Zobrist went 2-for-14. You can't have two of your best three sluggers go a combined 3-for-30 and expect to win.
Wow, that was quick. Everyone said Rays manager Joe Maddon would have starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson on a short leash. But man, did you think it would be that short? Hellickson retired the side in order in the first. But he was pulled after starting the second inning with two walks and a single to load the bases. Jamey Wright came on in relief, and with the help of first baseman James Loney and a double play, he got out of the bases-loaded, no-out jam with no runs allowed. But it now leads to an uncertain time for Hellickson, the 2011 AL rookie of the year who is now a giant question mark going into next season.
The Rays have had plenty of slick-fielding first basemen over the years — Carlos Peña, Casey Kotchman, Travis Lee. But my vote for the best glove ever at first in a Tampa Bay uniform goes to James Loney. Not only is his glove quick, but so his brain when playing defense. Being good enough to snag Stephen Drew's liner with one out and the bases loaded in the second was impressive enough, but to be alert enough to whip the ball to second to double off Mike Napoli was something else. Oh, it also should be noted that Loney before the game was practicing that off-balance throw he made to second to double off Napoli.
Two things you see at the Trop you won't see at Fenway Park. Or Yankee Stadium. Or Wrigley Field. One, an in-house DJ. Two, begging fans to cheer before a game so the national television audience thinks you have passionate fans.
Best or worst look
The Red Sox have a bunch of players growing long, thick beards. You know, if you win, that looks cool. If you don't win, it just looks stupid. For now, I suppose it looks pretty cool.
Most tired subject
Longtime baseball writer and broadcaster Peter Gammons took a shot at Tropicana Field on Twitter, calling it a joke. TBS made fun of it. Really, baseball fans across the country love to pick on the Trop. Enough already. It's not like the Rays are content to play there. They're trying to get a new ballpark. In the meantime, the rest of the country needs to shut their yaps. Every ballpark has its nooks, crannies and quirks. The Trop has a catwalk. So what? It comes into play a few times a year. Other than that, it's a ballpark. The bases are 90 feet apart, the pitchers mound is 60 feet, 6 inches from home, the fences are a normal distance from home plate. As far as how the place looks, what do you care, rest of the country? Go to your ballpark and we'll go to ours.
Three things that popped into my head
1. It was shocking to see how many fans started to file toward the exits after the eighth inning with the Rays down only a run and Wil Myers, James Loney and Evan Longoria due up in the ninth.
2. Three players the Rays should absolutely bring back, if they can afford them, that is: James Loney, David DeJesus and Delmon Young.
3. Biggest reason the Rays lost this series? It's simple: The team that deserved to win did.