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World Series: Destiny seems to be looking out for Tampa Bay Rays

WILMINGTON, Del. — Honestly, it's a load of hooey.

This idea that a baseball team's fate is somehow preordained. That strings are being pulled from somewhere above, and courses have been plotted far in advance.

But then a minor-league callup gets delayed on a flight to Boston, and is scratched from the starting lineup. When he finally arrives, he is sent up in the ninth even though he is 0-for-15 in his career as a pinch-hitter. The Red Sox have a one-run lead, Jonathan Papelbon is on the mound, and a Rays loss means they fall out of first place for the first time since the All-Star break.

… and Dan Johnson hits a home run.

"You just have to take one look at what we've done this year and think, 'Wow, maybe this is destined for us,' " reliever Grant Balfour said. "We've been through some uphill battles and we've been the underdogs all year. Now we have an uphill battle again."

Really, it's a silly notion.

This concept of destiny and portents when it comes to a game with 50 unique people involved. It's just absurd to suggest that they are somehow powerless over the results.

But then the Rays find themselves in Game 7 against the Red Sox in the American League Championship Series. Only three times in history has a team lost Games 5 and 6 and come back to win Game 7. And Jon Lester, who was beaten in Game 3, has never lost back-to-back starts in his big-league career.

… and the Rays win 3-1.

"It's eerie. It's eerie in a good way," reliever J.P. Howell said. "It's like no year can be as interesting as this one … it's been incredible and hopefully we can finish it off with even more incredible feats to come."

Surely, you do not believe omens are real.

That the future can be foretold by a sign from above. Or that simple coincidences should be extrapolated into something more.

But then the Rays come within 10 outs of losing the World Series. They are trailing the Phillies 2-1 when the wind begins to kick up, the skies open and Carlos Pena gets his first opposite-field single in weeks.

… and the Rays tie a soon-to-be suspended game.

"God has always been on the Rays side," reliever Trever Miller said. "As soon as we kicked the devil out, He's always been on our side."

I will grant you this:

This Rays season has been difficult to explain. You do not often see World Series teams without a .300 hitter. Or without a 15-game winner. And you have never seen a World Series team that began the season with the lowest payroll in the American League.

And now, today, we are in the middle of the first suspended World Series game in more than a century of Fall Classics. Monday night's rain delay seemed perfectly timed for a team that had not known momentum in several days, and the Rays were taking pleasure in the absurdity of it all.

"The fact that this has never happened before," executive vice president Andrew Friedman said, "it was almost a foregone conclusion it would happen to us.

"It's been a weird year in a lot of ways for us, so why should the World Series be any different."

Maybe there is some mojo at work. Maybe, after so many years of ineptitude, luck has finally found its way to Tampa Bay.

You know, the Rays could have lost Pena when they sent him to the minors a year ago but caught a break when he was recalled hours later because Greg Norton hurt his hand.

And they could have lost Balfour in April when they put him on waivers, but not a single team put in a claim and Balfour accepted his minor-league assignment because the Rays were willing to pay him $175,000.

And they might never have gotten Gabe Gross if Mike Cameron hadn't returned from a suspension for banned stimulants and created a logjam in the Milwaukee outfield.

And they might never have gotten Chad Bradford, if the Red Sox and Yankees hadn't blocked every other waiver trade the Rays had tried to make in August.

Is it serendipity? Is it design? Or is it divine?

"I'm not a big believer in destiny, per se," Friedman said. "But I do think with the makeup of these guys, with what they've been through and, more importantly, with their talent level, that we have every chance in the world to end this thing on a positive note."

We have reached the final pages. We are near the culmination. And instead of a ballpark in Philadelphia, we are in a ballroom in Delaware. After checking out of their downtown hotel before Game 5, the Rays had to scramble to find accommodations late Monday evening.

They landed in the historic Hotel du Pont, which has counted presidents, kings, statesmen and princes among its guests, but never a World Series contender. It's a story too bizarre to make up, too funny to be believed. Who could make up this stuff?

If it really is destiny, who could have written the story of the 2008 Rays?

"I don't know," Friedman said grinning, "maybe Dr. Seuss?"

John Romano can be reached at romano@sptimes.com.

>>fast facts

Rays wild ride

The Rays' run through the postseason has included some late nights and historic moments. Among them:

Oct. 10/11: Rays beat Red Sox 9-8 in thrilling 11-inning Game 2 of ALCS that ends at 1:34 a.m. when Fernando Perez scores on B.J. Upton's walkoff sac fly.

Oct. 16: Rays blow 7-0 seventh-inning lead in Game 5 of ALCS with chance to win pennant, losing 8-7 as the Sox cap the second greatest comeback in postseason history (and best in an elimination game) on walkoff hit by J.D. Drew at 12:15 a.m.

Saturday: A 91-minute pre-Game 3 rain delay makes for the latest first (10:06) and last (1:47) pitch in Series history, and the Rays lose on the first walkoff infield hit.

Monday: Rays are party to first suspended game in Series history after rallying in sixth to tie despite horrific field conditions due to rain, cold and wind. Resumption is postponed again Tuesday and scheduled for tonight.

Marc Topkin, Times staff writer

World Series: Destiny seems to be looking out for Tampa Bay Rays 10/28/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 30, 2008 3:45pm]
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