Smells like Team Spirit
Oh now that was fun. That was the kind of series I have been waiting for the entire year. You know the kind of three game set that shows you the grit, determination and the moxy that is still beating in all 25 members of the Rays roster during a three game festival of ray-dom. Sure you might say that it took a few extra innings to get one of those wins, and it took some last inning heroics to get another, but isn’t that considered a character-building moment that you dream you team would have before they make a run at their division’s top chair?
And so after the Rays sweep of their divisional menace the last few season, the pesky Blue Jays, we have another fly coming in tonight that could buzz the Rays tower a few times and make for another extremely exciting series, the Oakland A’s. And do not be disillusioned, there is an elephant on their team logo for a reason. This is another team that never forgets, never lets down, and is carrying a hot hitting Adam Kennedy at third base right now. Hmmmmm, didn’t that guy used to wear a Rays jersey? Oh yeah, before we traded him for the Dillon-aire.
But getting back to the last three cardiac-filled series, the Toronto-Tampa Bay series again showed who wants this right now, and who is about to have a drastic Fire Sale to maybe unload some older talent ( Rolen) or mis-guided youth that is not hitting, fielding or might already be dead inside ( Rios). I have to admit, after the power outage, the kid invasion of the Trop., and the constant numbing pain in my index finger from submitting votes in the All Star Game Sprint Final Vote ( last free ad promo of the year) I almost missed an ace coming of age finally.
Sure we saw the best pitcher in the American League take the mound in the bottom of the first inning in Roy Halladay, but we also got to see some of the magic and excitement that David Price will have in store for us for the next……… well, a long time. Seriously people, the kid showed why we have so hyped up about him getting here this year. He cut back dramatically on his walks yesterday, which is a great aspect all in its own little world. One solo stroll to first is all that King David gave up to those eyeballing Jays. Oh, and they did try and test him a few times, but the strikezone was his real friend yesterday afternoon.
And that will put a smile on even the most frugal and cold-hearted Rays fan. But people forget, we have had promising young hurlers before who have dissolved in front of our eyes. And even this season we have seen the trio that helped us land our first playoff berth go a bit south with no run production, or untimely meltdown of an inning or two and cost us a chance to see the orange lit dome from the Sunshine Skyway bridge to the Howard Franklin. Just because the team is having their second best record ever is not enough right now.
But seeing Price embrace and go back to some old thinking, like not even over emphasizing the scouting reports but going out there and throwing “his” game, it might have been a major break through for him at this level. We all know the kid has a million dollar arm, but like “Nuke” LaLoosh in “Bull Durham”, we were starting to think he might have a bit of a ten cent head on the mound. I am glad he proved us wrong. He needs to keep proving us wrong the rest of the way through the season, or at least for the next 5 years.
But it was no passing of the torch moment people. Halladay just doesn’t have the energy in his arm and body right now to beat the Rays. You seem to forget that he is 10-3 this season, and two of those great losses have come to the guys with the sunburst on their jerseys. And that is a major coup for the Rays. Beating the best is the way to regain this division and also set the tone for people to think twice before playing us right now. And that might be a better weapon for the Rays right now. The fact that team have begun to again question this team in a positive way is an indication that maybe we are finally over the hump and striving for the top of the hill again.
The last three games have given me this renewed feeling of the team getting it at the right time. Think about it here. Going into the break it was a disaster in 2008 after a 7-game losing streak to the Yankees and the Indians, people all around baseball were questioning the Rays staying power and mental toughness. Well, if we can gain some great ground in the next 3 games, with some help of either New York or Boston slipping a bit, we could be within 3 games of the top spot just coming out of the All Star break.
And with a possible 6-game winning streak still on the stove, it would make them one of the hottest teams in baseball since the end of April. Did you know that we are only one win off the top spot since April 30th for wins in the entire MLB. From that date until today the Rays 39 wins are only second to the Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers 40 wins apiece. That mean the Rays have fought from their 8-14 record on April 29th to a stellar 39-25 mark as of today. Let’s see, a 31-11 mark and we are worried about this team.
Heck, maybe we are wearing those dark-colored glasses a bit too tight on our faces. There are 27 other teams that are envious of that mark. Even the Boston Red Sox have only gone 37-17 since the end of April. With the Yankees finally catching the Red Sox, you can bet some of their eye glances will not be towards the Rays scores right now, but to see what the pinstripes are posting. That is a great thing for the Rays. We snuck up on the Jays and then put them in a vise and they lost 5 out of 6 against us in the last few weeks.
That thrust them down below us to wallow with the worry that the Orioles might get hot and pass them for the cellar spot. But do not get lost in the fact that two of the Rays recent win have come in Walk-off fashion, which is an emotional rollercoaster of its own here. The Rays have done it by timely hitting by Pat Burrell, Carlos Pena and Ben Zobrist. The three guys they need to get hot again to make any charge at the top spot again in 2009. But then again, maybe this team is starting to believe in themselves again.
Some times I find that hard to believe, but as Rays Manager Joe Maddon likes them to think about a game for 10 minutes after it is over, maybe the mindset is finally drilled into their brains to not cherish a win, or discount a loss into bits and are finally “living in the moment” of the games. That can be a great weapon, that tool of selective memory and association. It can make you put your best food forward and forget the past within moments. It instills a eagerness to fight as if it was the last game, plus gives you the added confidence of not holding onto the past.
Ahhhhh, The last few games have had a certain scent to them that reminds me of something. It has that tart bitterness of realization, the after aroma of blood,sweat and tears left on the turf and the sweet sme
ll of victory. But to go along with all of that is certainly the aspect of winning their eighth straight game at home in yesterday’s matinee. Yes, that is it, that smell of Dome Field Advantage. The knowing and yearning of going to a contest and having that flowing fragrance of a possible blow-out or one-run win in the atmosphere even before the First Pitch.
The Rays have manufactured the second longest winning streak at home right now behind the 11-game streak set April 22-May13th of 2008. In all, they have won 22 of their last 27 in the confines of the dome, which translates to the best record again in the MLB at home passing both the Dodgers and the Red Sox with yesterday’s win. The smell rising off that 29-13 record is again the basis of the Rays winning streaks, but it is also a indication that their earlier falls from grace when they played most of their games on the road were just figments of the real Rays team.
Most people when they come to a baseball game smell the freshly made popcorn, the meaty aroma of hot dogs roasting on circular rollers. Me, I smell something else. I can smell the faint odor of fear right now in the visiting teams. The anticipation in their sweat of a long night with cowbells and loud vocal responses from the crowd. I love the smell of a ballpark. Not for the human smells or the food, but for that perfumed air of winning and confidence can just intoxicate you like a few $ 9 beers, but doesn’t leave you with the mental pain the next day of hops and barley.
It is the smell of victory, and it is still just on the tip of my tongue. It has no aftertaste or even a hint of regret. Like the 1980′s icons Kiss said so effectively in one of their great songs, I just want to “lick it up” and come back for more. Maybe this three game series against the A’s will also intoxicate you, and want you to again feast at the Rays table. Hopefully he does, and if not, we will get you soon enough…..trust me.