Wednesday, December 13, 2017
Tampa Bay Rays

With another high-wire act, Rays live to play another day

They survived.

Did you?

On the last day of the season, once again, the Tampa Bay Rays showed enough heart to make it to tonight's game 163. The shame was the stress they put on yours along the way.

By surviving Sunday's dramatic 7-6 win over Toronto, the Rays advance to tonight's tiebreaking game against the Texas Rangers.

It took 162 games, and it may have taken years off your life. It took 91 wins, and it took patches from your scalp. It took another ninth inning on another high wire, and probably one more ulcer. It took rises and falls and slumps and streaks and twists and turns — just the way it felt in your stomach as you watched them play this year.

Some teams kick in the doors to play extra games. Some teams seem to clinch in early August and spend September worried about their rotation. Some teams skip the drama.

Then there are the Rays.

Along the way, they wreck your health.

The Rays got their "one more game" Sunday, but, as usual, the victory came with stress included. The Rays were ahead 7-0, and then it was 7-3, then 7-4, then 7-6. How else would you expect Team Turbulence to finish the season?

As a team, they are 162 games of bad road. You never know when the latest slump is coming, and never know how long it is going to last. They are a hard team to watch. You end up with bags under your eyes, and a nervous tic in your cheek, and arm troubles from throwing the remote control. There are times you are certain they will cost you your mind.

How much sleep have you lost as you stewed over this team? How many of your fingernails have been your late-night snack? How much grayer is your hair than it used to be? How many of their 71 tiny deaths did you make it through?

And now?

Now you get to do it all over again.

Once again, Sunday's game was harrowing, and it was maddening. And, until the final out, you could smell defeat in the air.

For the Rays, this is the grand tease. No lead is safe. The Rays always look like a wobbly fighter hanging on the ropes.

Still, they won. Somehow, they won.

And now come the Rangers, the undertakers to so many past Rays seasons. If they win that, they get a shot at Cleveland. If they win that, it's on to Boston.

A baseball season is built a brick at a time, but always, it seemed as if this team was going to collapse on itself. There were too many four-inning starts. There were too many three-hit efforts. There were too many times when the focus of this team seemed to wander away from the business at hand.

As much as you may be invested in their success, the truth is that this is not a great team. Evan Longoria hit 31 home runs, but no one else had more than 18. James Loney hit .301 and rookie Wil Myers hit .293, but no one else hit more than .277. Matt Moore won 17, but no one else had more than 12. No one was anywhere close to 100 RBIs.

As a team, they weren't very powerful (ninth in home runs), and they weren't very fast (12th in steals). Fernando Rodney was second in the league in blown saves. David Price has fewer than half the wins he had in 2012.

The result was the Tampa Bay Scream Machine, a team to bless and a team to blame. They were a wild ride that left you wondering if anyone could stop them, and if anything could help them.

Yet, they survived. Alex Cobb was hit in the head by a batted ball, and they survived. Something was tight in Price's arm, and they survived. Jeremy Hellickson could not make it to the fifth inning, and they survived.

There is something to admire about that. This team had enough nights when it flipped the switch and the juice flowed to make it beyond the regular season. For the fourth straight year, it won at least 90 games. For the sixth straight, it had a winning record. That doesn't happen everywhere, and it especially doesn't happen on a team that counts nickels as carefully as this one does.

There were enough nights when James Loney went deep against the Orioles, when David DeJesus drove in a winning run in the ninth, when Jason Bourgeois singled in the winning run against the Twins, for this team to shake off all of the bad stretches. There was Longoria's two-run walkoff home run back in May, and Matt Joyce's solo homer back in April, and Jose Lobaton's back in August (two nights after his walkoff triple).

By the end, this season was a jigsaw puzzle, and the Rays put the final piece in long after you were convinced it was lost in the couch cushions.

Somehow, some way, this team made it to the great beyond.

And now comes (at least) one more game.

Just wondering, but how are your nerves?

 
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