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World Series: Tampa Bay Rays come roaring back

Carlos Pena takes to the air Thursday as he celebrates the Rays victory with, from left, Evan Longoria, B.J. Upton and Rocco Baldelli. Tampa Bay defeated Philadelphia 4-2 in Game 2 of the World Series.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times

Carlos Pena takes to the air Thursday as he celebrates the Rays victory with, from left, Evan Longoria, B.J. Upton and Rocco Baldelli. Tampa Bay defeated Philadelphia 4-2 in Game 2 of the World Series.

ST. PETERSBURG — This time, they didn't fool you, did they?

This time, you had them figured out, didn't you?

In another town, in another time, the Tampa Bay Rays might have had you worried. But not you. Not anymore.

At this point of the season, you are onto their game, aren't you? By now, you are completely aware of the Rays' dedication to drama. They are a team that enjoys the feeling of their heels as they protrude over the edge of the cliff.

By now, you had Thursday night's 4-2 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies in Game 2 of the World Series all figured out.

Of course you did.

Someone else, somewhere else, the fans might not have seen this coming. After all, the Rays had lost three of their previous four playoff games, and they had just lost homefield advantage, and another loss would have put them behind 2-0 in the World Series, which is real MacGyver Country. There were termites in the bat rack, and there were gaps in the defense.

Which, of course, is where you said, "Aha. … The Rays had the Phils right where they wanted them.''

Despite their situation, and in some ways because of it, you knew this victory was coming, didn't you? By now, you have watched this team bounce back often enough to know that they are often at their best within hours of having been at their worst.

For instance, the Rays were suddenly not hitting. In their 12 postseason games, they had scored three runs or more nine times. But not in two of their previous three games. And what happens? The Rays score two in the first and four times in the first four innings. Sure they do.

The essential quality of this Rays team, the characteristic that you should remember more than the hitting or the defense or even the pitching, is its resiliency. It doesn't seem to matter what the scoreboard says, or how the series stands. They always seem to have a little more scrap in them.

"If this surprises anyone by now, I don't know what we have to do,'' third baseman Evan Longoria said.

You want to know who these Rays are? They are the fighter who doesn't start to hit back until he tastes his opponent's boxing mitt a time or two. They are the escape artist who flirts with just enough danger to make you fear for his safety until, voila, he is standing safely behind you. Not only that, but he has your wallet.

Some teams win by the comeback. This one wins by the snapback. And because of it, the Rays seem to have regained control of the World Series. True, the Phillies still have homefield advantage, but the pitching matchups over the next two games seem to favor the Rays.

Of course, perhaps you don't want to tell them.

If you didn't know any better, you might suspect that the Rays enjoy making you nervous. Consider the way James Shields allowed the leadoff runner on base for four straight innings. If not for big strikeouts, the crisp defense and Philadelphia's inability to hit with men in scoring position (1 for 15 on Thursday, 1 for 28 in the Series), you might have been checking out the price of heart monitors. (According to reviews, there are some bargains in the $100 range.)

All season, you have seen it. The Rays would lose a big game, and everyone would figure the big kids had gotten out of school, and that the ride had been nice while it lasted. Then the Rays would bounce back. Again. At this point, it is as familiar a formula as 9 = 8, and just as hard to figure out.

"I don't know why that happens,'' said designated hitter Cliff Floyd. "Sometimes, it just does.''

They lost the first game of a big Red Sox series down the stretch … and then they won two in a row. They lost the first game of the ALCS … and then they won three in a row. They blew a seven-run lead in Game 5 … and still advanced to the World Series.

"It shouldn't be any surprise,'' Floyd said. "Shame on people who feel it's a fluke, by now, you have to start believing sooner or later this is for real. I guess three more wins would do it.''

Given all of that, why should this game have been any different? After all, the Rays had all the advantages. They had lost the night before. They weren't scoring runs. Trouble was perched on the rightfield fence.

Time was, that would have turned a casual fan into the Johnny Appleseed of doubts, sprinkling skepticism wherever he went.

It's an easy mistake to make. Down deep, most of us want to be game day detectives. We want to sift through the aftermath of defeat, and we want to find clues to what will happen next. We want to take fingerprints and read tea leaves and examine a box score as if it were a Rorschach test.

Most of the time, of course, it doesn't work. One day's loss doesn't portend another's, particularly when a team is as blessed by amnesia as this one.

That said, it is difficult to overstate just how much trouble the Rays would have been in had they lost this game. Only three times in World Series history has a team lost its first two games at home and still won the championship.

Maybe you thought about that. Maybe you considered the odds. Just between you and me, maybe you — gasp! — doubted.

Nah.

After all these comebacks, you know better. Me, too.

World Series: Tampa Bay Rays come roaring back 10/23/08 [Last modified: Friday, October 24, 2008 9:53pm]
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