Advertisement
  1. Sports
  2. /
  3. Rays

A tense final week awaits the Tampa Bay Rays

Martin Fennelly: Magic takes a day off against the Red Sox, with a winning streak snapped.
Rays relief pitcher Andrew Kittredge rushes to cover home after delivering a wild pitch during the fourth inning in a loss to the Red Sox. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Tampa Bay Times]
Published Sep. 23
Updated Sep. 23

ST. PETERSBURG — And so here we are in the final week of the 2019 baseball season. And here the Rays are too.

In any language — yeah, including French — it’s that time of year, time to get down to cases in the playoff chase, one last week, six games to make a mark.

The Rays are just behind Oakland and practically eyeball to eyeball with Cleveland for the wild card as they enter the final week. It couldn’t get much closer. It couldn’t get more packed with pressure, everything riding on seemingly every pitch.

Well, maybe not every pitch. At least that’s what the Rays have to hope after Sunday’s clunker, a dreary 7-4 loss to the Red Sox. No comeback. No late magic. No you-gotta-believe pixie dust. Snapped was that electrifying three-game winning streak, over the Dodgers and the Red Sox, all in 11 innings, the last two, on Friday and Saturday, on walk-offs.

Saturday, it was back to a slow crawl.

But the Rays remain in position to make this happen, after all the injuries, all the changes, all the ups and downs. They can do this. As young as they are, they know it.

It’s the Red Sox tonight, an end to this odd wrap-around series. Then the Yankees for two before three in Toronto to end it. It’s time for these Rays to step up one more time, to take up the cause, just as the Rays did under another manager, Joe Maddon, who made crunch time their time.

“I want these guys to embrace it too,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said before the game. “Joe set the tone, especially with those banners up there. He definitely thought it was best to embrace it. There are differences, but the bottom line is you don’t get this opportunity every year. It just doesn’t happen. That was the thing we talked about as a group six weeks ago, let’s embrace this. We’ve got to go. Because there are a lot of guys in that clubhouse who have not been in this situation and might not get another opportunity. We have a lot of young guys, but it’s hard to do this.”

Sunday did not help. Starting pitcher Ryan Yarbrough gave up six hits and four runs in the first inning, three on a homer, and the Rays never did catch up to the Red Sox, as the defending world champions were in full spoiler mode, capitalizing on Rays mistakes.

But maybe you’d rather be somewhere else but close to the playoffs?

“We’re all caught up in it,” Cash said. “Anybody who says they’re not is lying. I’m caught up. Scoreboard watching, whatever you want to call it. The first thing after we’re done is I get on my phone and get the scores.”

I have no idea if the Rays are going to catch Oakland or if they can hold off Cleveland. But they want you to know something.

This will be fun.

“Lots of fun,” Rays infielder Wendle said.

Here’s how much fun.

They can’t fall sleep.

Ask Rays shortstop Willy Adames, who won Friday’s game over Boston with a walk-off RBI single. Saturday night, it was Nate Lowe’s walk-off two run homer.

“I woke up at like six this morning and I couldn’t go back to bed,” Adames said. “That’s how excited I am. You know that feeling when you’re a kid? In the Dominican, we used play games every Saturday. I used to sleep in my baseball clothes. I just couldn’t wait. That’s how I felt this morning. That’s how we’ll feel all week.”

Six games, seven days.

The Rays already have 92 wins. But they can’t have another day like Sunday.

“Eventually you do run out of mulligans,” Cash said. “We’re not there. But we’ve got to make sure we don’t get to that point.”

Who knows how many chances this team gets in this town before they start signing players up for French lessons?

It won’t be easy. It almost seemed as if the Rally Rays had sucked all the energy out of themselves and their ballpark with those walk-off wins on Friday and Saturday. They had nothing Sunday.

They need to bring everything beginning tonight.

It will be fun. Probably not enough fun to sell out Tropicana Field the next three nights, though a regular baseball town might do just that. The tarps in the upper deck are safe for now. It’s just a matter of whether the Rays end up under a tarp themselves.

There will be pressure. And there will be a need to decompress. For Cash, that means one thing.

“I get on a boat and go fishing.”

After the loss, Cash smiled and said, “I’m heading there right now.”

“We are so close, so close,” Adames said.

It’s just a matter of reeling it in.

Contact Martin Fennelly at mfennelly@tampabay.com or (813) 731-8029. Follow @mjfennelly



ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. The Astros’ George Springer signals foul, but the delirious crowd in the rightfield stands at Yankee Stadium knows better as the ball hit by Aaron Hicks caroms off the foul pole for a three-run homer in the first inning of Game 5 of the AL Championship Series on Friday, Oct. 18, 2019. FRANK FRANKLIN II  |  AP
    After falling behind 1-0 in the top of the first, New York slugs two home runs in the bottom half of the inning and cuts the series lead to 3-2. Game 6 is tonight in Houston.
  2. An emotional CC Sabathia is helped off the field during the eighth inning in Game 4 of the AL Championship Series against the Astros on Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019. The 39-year-old left-hander injures his pitching shoulder and is taken off the Yankees' postseason roster, thus ending his 19-year major-league career. MATT SLOCUM  |  AP
    The 39-year-old left-hander is taken off New York’s playoff roster, thus ending his 19-year big-league career.
  3. Tampa Bay Lightning center Alex Killorn (17) and right wing Luke Witkowski (28) celebrate with goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) after the Lightning defeated the Boston Bruins 4-3 in a shootout in an NHL hockey game Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019, in Boston. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola) ELISE AMENDOLA  |  AP
    Sports Day Tampa Bay: There was bad news Thursday in the Tampa Bay penalty box, for USF’s Blake Barnett, for the Yankees and the NFL’s reigning MVP.
  4. Astros manager A.J. Hinch answers questions during a news conference before Game 4 of the American League Championship Series against the Yankees on Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019. FRANK FRANKLIN II  |  AP
    A.J. Finch calls the accusations, including one of his team signaling by whistling, a “joke.”
  5. Washington Nationals manager Dave Martinez raises the NLCS trophy after Game 4 of the baseball National League Championship Series against the St. Louis Cardinals Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019, in Washington. The Nationals won 7-4 to win the series 4-0. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson) JEFF ROBERSON  |  AP
    They’re easy to like, familiar-looking and also connected to Montreal. Most importantly, they’re not the Astros or Yankees.
  6. Nationals aces Max Scherzer, left, and Stephen Strasburg have gone a combined 5-0 with a 1.71 ERA and 60 strikeouts in 42 innings this postseason. Sweeping the Cardinals in the NLCS also means they will get an extra week of rest before the World Series. ANDREW HARNIK | AP Photo ANDREW HARNIK  |  AP
    John Romano: In the age of computer models and number crunching, Washington reached the World Series the old-fashioned way. With a pair of proven starting pitchers.
  7. A rainout likely clears the way for the Yankees to pitch Masahiro Tanaka on Thursday. MATT SLOCUM  |  AP
    Northeast expected to be hit by powerful coastal storm known as ‘Bomb Cyclone.’
  8. Rays relief pitcher Nick Anderson has earned two postseason honors thanks to his stellar performance in the team's bid to reach the postseason Doug Clifford | Tampa Bay Times
    July 31 trade acquisition from Marlins named to Baseball America’s all-rookie team and wins top Midwest player award.
  9. The Rays' Tommy Pham proved to be one of the team's best players in 2019. His success is made more remarkable by overcoming a debilitating eye disease in years past that threatened his career. CHRIS O'MEARA  |  AP
    Tommy Pham spoke to more than 150 doctors in San Francisco about his eye condition, keratoconus.
  10. Joe Maddon had successful runs with the Rays and Cubs, and now heads back to the Angels. Tampa Bay Times
    Maddon gets a reported three-year deal to return to his original organization, and one that could use his help.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement