ARLINGTON, Texas — There’s not going to be a party or even a toast, especially given that the Rays are hoping for a splashier champagne celebration, or five, over the next several weeks.
But there should be at least a tip of the hat, ballcap or cowboy, this week as the Rays play their final three games at Globe Life Park, which the Rangers are leaving after 26 seasons for a cool new, retractable-roof stadium being built nearby.
(Yes, different topic, but that will be three stadiums for the Rangers since Tropicana Field opened in 1990.)
The Rays over the years have lost more than they’ve won at The Ballpark in Arlington, as it was once known, their 38-54, .413 record there among their bottom five at current AL stadiums.
But they’ve had several of their most historically significant wins there, a noteworthy debut and some hot stories unfold. Here’s a few tall Texas tales:
Everything’s bigger, including the W’s
As frustrating as it was for the Rays to be eliminated in the AL Division Series in 2010 and 2011 by the Rangers, they can at least reflect on the success they had in Texas.
In 2010, the AL East champion Rays lost the first two games at home, then went to Texas, inspired by an impassioned Carlos Pena speech, and won twice to force a deciding fifth game at home, which they lost.
In 2011, after a bit of a wild night in Game 162 in at the Trop, the wild-card Rays went bleary-eyed to Texas, made the bold move to start rookie Matt Moore in the opener and won that, but blew a 3-0 lead and lost the second game, then came home and lost two more.
Two years later, though it wasn’t technically a playoff game, the Rays finally got their revenge on the Rangers, beating them in tie-breaking Game 163, behind David Price’s pitching and Evan Longoria’s hitting, to advance to the wild-card game in Cleveland, and an eventual division series loss to Boston.
So in their last three trips to the postseason, with the literary license to include Game 163, the Rays have won four games in Texas and one at the Trop. Overall, even including the 2008 World Series year, it’s six wins at the Trop, four in Texas.
“I have great memories of that place,’’ said bullpen coach Stan Boroski, the only uniformed Ray left from 2010. “Fond memories. Good fans, tremendous support. Vocal but not the heckling type. … Whenever you go into a raucous environment like that and when you’re walking out it’s straight crickets, it’s a great feeling.’’
Now playing centerfield … Who?
One September 2013 day, Kevin Kiermaier was a 23-year-old minor-leaguer working out in Port Charlotte following a hitter’s camp after a solid season in which he advanced from Double-A Montgomery to Triple-A Durham.
The next, he was walking wide-eyed into the Arlington stadium to make his major-league debut as a stunningly surprising addition to the Rays roster for the tie-breaking Game 163, a potential defensive replacement as starting center fielder Desmond Jennings had a sore hamstring.
“I remember they had me go out early to do outfield work with (coach George Hendrick). I remember (then-manager) Joe (Maddon) greeting me and saying, “Hey, get your work in because if we have a lead you’re going in. That’s why we called you up,’ ‘’ Kiermaier said.
“So I was nervous throughout the whole day. I was like, “Oh my gosh … '' And the atmosphere was crazy. Insane. But once I got out there, when I ran on the field (for the ninth with a 5-2 lead) it felt right. I felt like I belonged.’’
The closest Kiermaier had come to playing in a big-league stadium before that was working out during the fall instructional league at the Trop. Now he was in a multi-deck stadium, under bright lights, with 43,000 people screaming.
“It was one of the most unbelievable moments of my life,’’ he said. “I can’t really remember a whole lot because it was such a blur. Obviously I was happy to be there but I wanted to do my part to help the team win. … They took a huge risk on me, and it’s something I’ll never forget. … So every time I got back to Texas obviously I think of that. It seemed like it happened a year ago, not six.’’
Kiermaier had another memorable moment after the game.
He’d already drunk a fair amount during the beer shower portion of the clinching celebration, then had a few cigars and enough of a buzz for a long, eventful day that began in Port Charlotte, then a flight from Tampa to Texas. “I wasn’t feeling too hot,’’ he said.
But catcher Jose Molina insisted, forcefully, he take a swig from a bottle of expensive whiskey. “He said “You’re drinking this right now. I’m a World Series champion, I’ve been in the big leagues a long time, this is your first day, you’re not turning me down,’ ‘’ Kiermaier recalled. “So I did. Of all the great things that happened that day, that’s one, well, it’s kind of funny now.’’
Hot, hot, hot
Worth noting, the Rays had one of their coldest ever games in Arlington, 39 degrees to start on April 10, 2013.
But it’s the heat that’s typically the story, as they’ve played four games with first-pitch temps in triple digits, and nine others at 95-99.
“It’s definitely the hottest bullpen in the league,’’ said reliever Emilio Pagan, who visited with the Mariners and A’s. “Day games there are tough. They have this giant fan you pour water into that’s supposed to make it a little cooler down there, but you still feel like you’re melting in your seats.’’
The heat is oppressive enough that sometimes they’ll skip batting practice the entire series to stay inside as much as possible. Plus, Boroski said, “it doesn’t get cooler as the sun goes down.’’
This week, the Rays may get a break in their farewell: Forecast highs are only in the mid-90s.
Contact Marc Topkin at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.