Results tagged ‘ American League East ’

When Will the AL East Sorting Begin?

Starting to wonder if the American League East has hit a bit of parity amongst the division. I know we sample from this buffet every year at this time as all 5 members of the division sit at or near the top of the table. No matter if their respective records illustrates a first taste of divisional morsels like the Red Sox devouring the Tampa Bay Rays during their recent road trip, or the New York Yankees falling prey to the Rays in a season opening series. Every season at this juncture we wonder if our team is that good, or if they are still shaking off the Winter rust.

You want to think it is just that sampling point in the season where teams come together as they begin their yearly journey to either the penthouse or the basement, but something tells me this season this division might be a closer race, have some interesting plot twists and maybe even an unexpected divisional leader heading into May. Sure all 5 teams in this deemed “hardest division in baseball” have met their own shares of adversity already this early in the season, but will someone separate themselves from the pack soon, or will this group maintain their equality for a few more weeks before either their respective balloon bursts, or they rise to the top.

I want to thrust out my chest and paraphrase American Idol’s Randy Jackson That “The Rays are in it to win it!”, or just “gotta have it!” I truly feel we have the right stuff to post up in the top tier of this division, but we are only a tad over 10% completed with the season. Looking at the standing and seeing Boston 4 games back as the rest of the division sit comfy at 10-7 is a bit perplexing considering each of us have only sampled a bit of our divisional team’s offering so far in 2012, possibly we will know more by mid-May on who truly wants to hoist the 2012 AL East banner next Opening Day.

The Toronto Blue Jays have seen their own version of the Rays young guns come through on the hill so far in 2012. Posting up impressive wins and stats early on with the young talent they have either home-grown or acquired in trade. The Jays offense has shown power and prowess, but has not shown their true muscle yet. It seems like a yearly tale that the Jays sit a top the AL East early before they begin to string together losing streaks that take them down further in the standings. I somehow think the Jays are for real, and might sit near the top until the end of May…if not longer.

Baltimore is beginning to mold its own home-grown hurlers like those ripe and juicy offerings from Earl Weaver’s tomato patch, but will they ripen too fast and fade in the Summer heat, or maintain a bit of consistency and strike some fear in the usual top tier threesome of the Rays, Yankees and Red Sox. Even as the Rays reconfigure their offense’s timing and their pitching staff mellows out, this division is not a 1 or 2 trick pony anymore. Teams will have to work for the free pass via the AL East title now, and the extra Wild Card berths do not have a pre-stamped AL East invite.

That could play big into the Rays, Red Sox and Yankees plans as in September when the division does their yearly last gasp in-fighting, the loser of the seasonal series could find themselves seeking help, or possibly be eliminated by one of their own divisional rivals. There has been a rumor the extra Wild Card slot was devised so a Boston or New York doesn’t miss the Fall party, but I have a feeling in 2012, it will all come down to the last few weeks.

Sure I’m rambling on a bit, but I do that at times to fuel the furnace or cool the jets. I truly think the Rays have the tools and the machinery in-house right now to contend and go far this Fall, but only 17 games out of the shoot, I’ll let the teams in the Northern parts of the country spout that logic. The AL East divisional winner will not boast over 100 wins, they might actually be closer to 90 than the century mark. But these 5 teams will decide more than just who can thrust their hands into the air, but first we got to find out who is for real, and who is just riding luck’s coat tails until they fall from grace. Got an odd feeling it might not be the obvious choices this season.

Rays Ready For a 30-Day Battle


Something tells me this is going to be a long 30 days for the Tampa Bay Rays as they march towards determining their post season fate. Little voice in the back of my head is telling me that this surge of the Tampa Bay Rays towards their third possible slot in the post season in 4 seasons might have a few unforeseen surprises, and a chance for them to ambush their opponents who underestimate this young Rays brigade.

Hope the Rays clubhouse leadership can firmly make their comrades aware of the many pitfalls and land mines still hidden from their view on their quest. Some around baseball have said this Rays aggressive march could end up be a suicide mission, that every member of this team will have to leave everything they have within themselves nightly out on that diamond fighting tooth and nail to their last swing or toss to bring about October glory again.

The Rays still have enough games against the New York Yankees (6 games) and Boston Red Sox (7 games) to make their September campaign work to their advantages. This well thought out and aggressive maneuvering of Rays Field General Joe Maddon is going to encounter a few incredibly steep inclines with a slippery and icy slope. In other words, it is not going to be a walk in the park if the Rays want to celebrate in October.

This same Rays squad has shown this season they are up for the challenge, and have succeeded when their backs have been against the wall. That kind of mental toughness and commitment could be instrumental over the coming weeks, especially when the darkening shadows try to overtake Tropicana Field during their 15 home contests.

If the Rays want to truly make it into those meaningful games in October, they will have to earned it with sweat, hustle and a little hemoglobin upon the AstroTurf. Not trying to throw a irrepressible dark cloud upon the Rays march towards October, but there might be a few things  the Rays Republic might want to consider before buying your celebration champagne.

The Rays have an all time record of 133-209 or a less than joyful .389 winning percentage during the month of September. To put an even bigger haze on the prize, September has been the Rays worst month to garner wins in the franchise’s short history. In their previous 13 Major League Baseball campaigns, the Rays have never even hoisted a single “W” above the .500 mark for the month.

The only other times the Rays have even come close to the “even-Stephen” mark was during their two previous romps towards the post season. In 2008 and 2010 the Rays had to post 13-14 marks during the month to even get a chance to celebrate along with the fans.

But it will take a few lucky breaks, a 4-leaf clover or two, and possibly each and every member of the Rays Republic frantically rubbing their rabbit’s foot to get the Baseball Gods into letting this same Rays team parade into the October sunlight. Considering how they started their  2011 season, this would be a colossial achievement for this team. Some have already said it will take a perfect storm, a universally aligned divine intervention for the Rays to stay above that .500 horizon during this grand march towards their 2011 destiny. Doubters beware of the Rays magic.

There are only 26 Rays contests left in 2011, and  with the Rays squad hovering between 7.5 and 9 game back of their Northern rivals, defying their past September history would be an epic achievement. The Rays still have 13 games against the 2 teams above them in the AL East, and these same rivals have 4 more battles between themselves that could make the AL East standings a little more interesting come the final weeks of the season.

By the conclusion of the Rays and Red Sox 4-game battle ending on September 11th, the Rays should have a more realistic view of their fate, destiny and dreams. It is going to be a rough road as the Rays battle their own AL East members during 22 of their final 26 contests, even playing host to the always aggressive Texas Rangers for a late season 4-pack. Road doesn’t get easier for the Rays, but that is what good teams do…Win when they are suppose to lose.

To say this is an extreme uphill climb would be diminishing its full effect and intensity. We all know that this Rays team has pulled more than its share of magic out of their caps this season, especially during the last few home stands. With 15 of their final 26 contests at home, the Rays have a chance to firmly determine their march towards their goal of meaningful October games.

Rays Republic got to experience that “Magical Season” in 2008, and again revel in the madness and celebration with another AL East title in 2010. This final push for the Rays will decide more than just their fate in October, it could be the last time a few of the Rays players ever  have a chance to play as a team on the Trop’s turf.  26 chances in the next 30 days to survive and play again in October. I am beginning to like the Rays odds.

The mission will be tough, but somewhere deep within me I know this is also a team that strives to be the underdog, enjoys being overlooked by their opponents. This is a team hungry to again win the battle before embarking on an October war. Who knows, if the Rays are successful in this campaign maybe Rays Manager Joe Maddon will wear a military helmet into a post game Press Conference. Maddon might even quote General George Patton or Sun Tzu. Either way, it is time for the Rays to suit up because their 30-day campaign begins today with full gear with October on the horizon. 

What is Your Favorite 2010 Rays Moment?

 


 

As I was waiting for the Tampa Bay Rays plane to arrive Sunday evening at St. Petersburg/Clearwater Airport Rays game day emcee Rusty Kath was asking a few smaller Rays fans an important question for possible bobbleheads and assorted prizes. It was a simple question: “What was your biggest Rays moment in 2010?”


The question seemed so simple at first thought, but instantly there became a avalanche of special Rays moments throughout the season, including about 10 Rays moments that kept appearing again and again in my mind based on their place in the Rays scheme of things this season, and their importance to the overall Rays clinching their second American League East title in three seasons. And I guess the best place to start is in April and work our way back towards today.

 

April 6th

This was the Rays home opener against the Baltimore Orioles, and was set with pomp and circumstance normally associated with the first home game, but something felt different this year. It was not the two-colored flaming spirals in the Rays infield before the game, it was something brewing beneath the surface of this contest.

It was Carl Crawford’s eight consecutive Opening Day spot in the line-up, and possibly his last as a member of the Rays. But it was his play on the field that separated this day from any other this season.

Crawford sealed the Rays victory with a 2-run walk-off double that tore the feathers from the Orioles for a 4-3 loss. It was classic Crawford, and instantly this image came to mind as the reason I am going to miss C.C.


 

 April 17th

Was a special moment in Rays history as the day I truly began to believe that Rays closer Rafael Soriano was going to be something special in 2010. Not only did Soriano help save the Rays completion of the prior night’s suspended game, a 3-1 Rays victory. Soriano also got his second save of the day in the Rays 6-5 win in the high cap of the unexpected doubleheader . To win one game in Boston is a great thrill, to win back-to-back within 12 hours of each other is a moment to remember.


 

May 2nd 

This game evolved into a special home moment for the Rays Republic as Rays starter Wade Davis and Royals starter Zack Greinke both threw 7 scoreless innings each with Greinke only making one mistake. But that one mistake ended up being the only run scored in the ballgame when Greinke left up a fastball to Evan Longoria that he deposited in the Leftfield stands for a 1-0 Rays victory.


 

June 8th

This contest displayed the versatility of the Rays as a great offensive and pitching team as Rays starter Jeff Niemann 2-hit the Toronto Blue Jays in a 9-0 shutout of the birds at Tropicana Field. The night was highlighted by 2 Home Runs by Carlos Pena., one a Grand Slam. Niemann has his bid for a No-Hitter broken up in the top of the sixth inning by Toronto shortstop Mike McCoy.



 

June 19th

This road game during the InterLeague schedule will be remembered for a lot of reasons. First it was an away contest against the Florida Marlins in which 15,000 Marlin Air Horns tortured the Rays players eardrums for the entire contest. But it might have been the true signal that the Rays patience at the plate was beginning to return dividends as the Rays got 4 walks in the 11th inning, including 2 with the bases loaded to secure a 9-8 win.


It was also the night that saw the debut of Rays usual starter James Shields as he came in for one scoreless innings of relief and picked up the win on this night. Rays reliever Andy Sonnanstine also got his first Major League Baseball save on this especially extra noisy night (I am bringing my Marlins Air Horn to Game 1 of the ALDS tomorrow).

 

July 26th

This date will probably be set in stone by many among the Rays Republic as the most important night in Rays pitching history. On this night, Rays starter Matt Garza produced the Rays first No-Hitter against the Detroit Tigers. More amazing was the fact Garza and Detroit starter Max Scherzer were trading No-No bids until Rays slugger Matt Joyce hit a Grand Slam to provide the needed punch to seal Graza’s gem.


Garza threw 120 pitches on the night with 6 strikeouts and one lone walk to Tigers Rightfielder Brian Boesch in the second inning to eclipse the chance for a Perfect Game. The entire night Garza seemed on a different plane and was constantly bombarding the strike zone pushing 80 of his 120 pitches across the plate for strikes.

 

August 1st

This extremely exciting Sunday afternoon game against the New York Yankees where Alex Rodriguez was still hunting for his 600th career Home Run. He did not start in the contest, but came on as a pinch hitter and was struck out looking to end the 7th inning by Rays starter James Shields. It also signaled the coming drama between the Yankees and the Rays as the Rays pulled within one game of the Yankees after this 3-0 victory at Tropicana Field.


 

August 10th

During this road game start the Rays Republic got to see some of the immediate future for the Rays on the mound. Rays rookie Jeremy Hellickson took the mound in this contest at Comerica Park against the Detroit Tigers and gave up a lead-off hit to Austin Jackson before he then retired 18 straight Tiger hitters enroute to his second straight Rays win. Hellickson threw 7 inning and got 7 strikeouts and the Rays countered by getting 8 runs on 9 hits, including 4 doubles, to defeat the Tigers 8-0.


 

August 28th

This game was the contest at Tropicana Field against the Boston Red Sox that saw both Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria flirt with a possible cycle in the same game. It was also the game that B J Upton hit a tying Home Run in the 8th inning, then Dan Johnson hit a walk-off Home Run that pushed the visiting Red Sox to 5 ½ games behind the Rays for the American League Wild Card. It signaled the beginning of the end for the Boston club as they never got closer than 5 ½ game again to the Rays in 2010.


 

September 13th

In this premier contest we saw two of the American League’s best left-hander going against each other to try and prop each other up as favorite for the 2010 American League Cy Young candidate. Both Yankee starter C C Sabathia and Rays starter David Price traded zeros for 8 innings each before each left the ballgame.

It wasn’t until the bottom of the 11th inning when pinch hitter Reid Brignac sent a solos shot into the Rightfield stands that either teams blinked in this 1-0 walk-off victory.


So there are 10 possible candidates for my greatest moment in Rays 2010 history. I truly think Garza’s No-Hitter is the top pitching moment of 2010, but as a team, there is still another moment I truly feel has to be added to this list.

October 3rd, might be the biggest team based moment of 2010. As a team the Rays stood solid and would not break after going down early to a 2-0 deficit. With the bases loaded, Rays reliever Chad Qualls got a well deserved double play ball that got the Rays out of the inning without further damage.


The Rays ended up scrapping together an impressive top of the 9th inning rally when pinch hitter Rocco Baldelli single to leftifield, then stole second base ( his 1st SB of 2010). Rays catcher Kelly Shoppach then put down a great ball down the Third Baseline that Royals Third Baseman Wilson Betemit misfired a throw to First Base for an error and Baldelli scampered in to score. Rafael Soriano then converted his 45th save of the season as 8 Rays pitchers combined for the 3-2 victory.

 

The win cemented the Rays clinch of the 2010 American League East title with an exclamation point needed going into the playoffs instead of question marks. The victory solidly put all discussion to bed that the Rays backed into the post season as A L Champs, plus gave the Rays Home field Advantage throughout the American League segment of the post season. 

The gutsy extra inning win completely embodies the Rays mantra of “WIN- What’s Important Now”. It also helped send the Rays homeward so they could host the Texas Rangers instead of travel straight to Minnesota to begin the American League Divisional Series tomorrow afternoon.


Those are my special Rays moments of 2010 so far. With the post season about to get into full swing in 24 hours, possibly more fantastic Rays moments could be added to this list before the Rays take their last at bats, or final place in the field in the 2010 Playoffs.

Hopefully I have 3 more champagne celebrations to cover, and a parade downtown to photograph. The time is upon us for greatness to arrive. It is time to show the rest of the country what Rays Republic fans have known all season long, it is never over against the Rays until that last Umpire’s call.

 
 
 
 
 

Rays Airport Celebration was Amazing!

 
 

I began my stroll through the doors of the far terminal of St. Petersburg /Clearwater Airport just at the same time that dinner was delivered to a few of the Tampa Bay Rays interns and staffers who had gotten their early to erect the skeleton of the maze that the Rays player would waltz through on their way to their buses. I was the first fans (same as 2008) to wander into the concourse a few minutes after the Rays clinched their second American League East title in three seasons.


 

Immediately there were a bucket load of high-5’s and even a few screams of “Go Rays!” from a few of the assembled Rays employees as I got into a prime spot with a direct shot at the door the Rays players and staff would bust through on their way back into Tampa Bay’s hearts. This moment was definitely the calm before the storm as the Rays plane would not land for another 4 ½ hours, giving me more than enough time to catch up with some people I had not seen in a while.


 

People like my old Pepsi boss, who along with her new Special Events coordinator (my old job) were starting to set up free Aquafina water and natural Sierra Mist soda stations all over the concourse to keep the Rays fans hydrated in the upcoming close quarters celebration commemorating the Rays first thrust in the 2010 post season. I had come early to get a bit of fodder for a future post, but within the next half hour small strands of Rays faithful were slowly assembling and in high spirits to see :their boys ” one more time.


 

Even had an insider (Rays ex-charter flight attendant) who kept me informed of the charter flight’s status and a few funny text messages she got from some of the people still celebrating in Kansas City. It wasn’t until 10:30-ish that the Rays plane finally touched the tarmac at St. Pete/Clearwater Airport, and by that time the crowd had multiplied 20-fold. But in that down time before the Rays plane landed, the Rays kept the crowd energized and excited with the antics of our favorite sea dog Raymond, game day emcee Rusty Kath and the Rays (dance) Team.


 

But what really got people fired up was the hundreds of balloons that were blown up hours earlier and then pushed into the crowd to form a balloon volleyball match that lasted for a half hour or more. It kept our minds off the wait, and on our toes as blue and yellow balloons constantly were pushed towards the white gating and needed to be pushed back into the ever increasing mass of Rays Republicans’ who turned out to welcome the team back home.

Trivia questions for bobbleheads and kid’s batting helmets, Raymond dance-off contests, and even some great mixes by D J Fresh, who is an ex-Rays bat boy turned DJ, provided easy ways for the crowd to forget the time on their feet and stuffed like sardines. But suddenly it was time. You saw the Rays stadium staff go out to the tarmac quickly followed by the Rays team photographers, and you knew the moment had arrived. You knew it was time to scream, yell, thrust signs skyward and cheer for your champion Rays.


 

Immediately the tarmac door opened and in came Rays Manager Joe Maddon in his customized Brayser suit quickly followed by players and staff in their own Braysers. Never had the Brayser been so fashionable than at that moment, The team had coaxed MLB during the last home stand to let the team hit the field wearing the plaid billon their game day caps, and now during the celebration, the Braysers had made St. Petersburg mad for plaid.


 

Instantly the assembled Rays crowd went into a frenzy of emotions and verbal cheers along with screaming and yelling for select players as they filtered in from the plane. Evan Longoria was decked out in his Brayser complete with a white belt and white patent leather loafers in a look that would have made Pat Boone proud. And you could tell by their faces that the sounds of this enclosed terminal area kind of put a few of them back on their heels, but they quickly adjusted and got into the flow of the moment.


 

It was officially celebration time in Tampa Bay, the mighty Rays had landed home safe and sound. Maddon made a short speech then turned the microphone over to Longoria and then David Price before the team quickly made their way to the buses stopping to shake hands with the fans, read a few of the signs and look totally overwhelmed ( in a good way) by all of this Rays attention.


 

The veterans of the 2008 airport celebration knew what to expect, but playoff rookies like Matt Joyce and Dan Johnson just looked like deer in the headlights, but were into the moment as they went through the maze on their way to the exits. It was another example of the great support and admiration this club has by some of it deepest and most passionate fans. Rays players did not take a lot of time to greet fans and friends they knew along the winding white gate path.


 

Glances and finger pointing were the signals of the day as the players quickly got to the busses possibly for an extended round of celebration on tap later in the evening. As quickly as the emotions and sound has risen, it was suddenly silent and the crowd moved for the many exits, hoping to get a glimpse or wave from the Rays players on the busses before they disembarked for Tropicana Field. The Rays were finally home.


 

They had finally completed one of their seasonal goal by winning on the road, and in achieving that goal, they had won an A L East crown. It was an evening of renewed friendships, honest emotion and a buzz that seemed to stay within your body for a few hours. As the large crowd began to filter out of the terminal, local media news crews were summarizing the action and events, trying to collect the balls of energy of these great celebratory moments for those Rays fans at home.


 

As quickly as it began, it was now over. Time to go back home and personally access the moment, collect our thoughts and begin to focus on the goal at hand. The Rays had secured another A L East title. Another banner would be raised to the rafters in April, but two more still had to be fought for in the coming weeks, with the journey beginning in 3 days as the Rays kick off the playoff punch with a 1:30 start on Wednesday afternoon against the Texas Rangers.


 

Even this morning, the buzz and effect of that crowd scene last night still hums in my head, and is alive on my camera. And all of it will collect again soon as the Rays Republic ( and me) assemble again on Weds. To begin our quest for another ring, another victory, and another great moment to celebrate in our Rays brief, but fantastic history.

See you at the ballpark.

Which Path Will the Rays Follow?

 


How surreal has the last half a day gotten for Tampa Bay Rays fans. How ironic has the plot twists and turns gotten that during the doubleheader in Boston on Saturday, the Rays Republic were pseudo Red Sox viewers just hoping to push an extra wave of emotion and confidence towards the Boston bench to defeat the Evil Empire.

How wild is it that a grinding and crashing carnage of a Yankee loss has given fate another reason to deal with the Rays Republic and provide us with another chance to grasp the title when all that loomed was darkness, gloomy and heart becoming devoid of excitement. Sometimes baseball has a unique way of surprising you.

That in an instant, baseball can drive you to heights you never expected, or give you hope, then just as quickly dash those dreams and leave you shocked and amazed.


Baseball again has shown us that sometimes it is a living, breathing collection of special and heartbreaking moments that can turn in a million directions in a nanosecond before its final destination. But right now, within my mind, baseball has shown its blessing to the Rays. It has given them the ultimate task of deciding their own destiny.

Win and the Rays are in as American League East Champions, lose and it will be up to the Red Sox and Yankees to deal the last card to the Rays. Right now, ironically in the 162nd game of the 2010 season, the Rays still have a chance to hoist the prize. Emotions are so high within me right now that I will need FAA clearance to land my plane of emotions and set a course for a possible “Welcome Home” celebration at St. Petersburg/Clearwater Airport this evening.

The Rays Republic kind of had this odd feeling all season long that this A L East race might go down to the wire, but you realistically would imagine it would have been decided and celebrated long before the 162nd game’s conclusion. The Rays Republic definitely would not have fathomed this season’s high or low point coming after the last out of their last regular season game in Kansas City today.

 

But the stark and plain reality of it all is that if the Rays win today in their afternoon matinee against the Kansas City Royals, they hold the defining key to the American League East crown. With that glorious A L East key comes a chance to come back home to begin another chapter in their 2010 season in the 72 degrees of Tropicana Field, with a partisan Rays sell out crowd to begin the ALDS.


With the added kicker of another awesome night of Rays celebration throughout Tampa Bay starting with the team’s arrival at St. Petersburg/Clearwater Airport this evening. Considering the team will not probably stay in KC just to celebrate, the plane ride home will be a mixed ball of emotions with it and the players’ exploding the moment the Rays arrive and thrust their way through the tarmac door.
But that is if they win today.

There is still a minute possibility that the Rays could crouch in the corner again and maybe lose this last game of the season, which would open another can of squiggly undesired worms to filter into our noggin’s. With a loss, the Rays would be at the mercy of those pinstriped New York Yankees. But the Yankees do start their game in Boston at 1:35 pm EST and that game could be concluded before the Rays even enter the last few innings.

That will provide an extra incentive of emotion and stress towards this Rays team, but also could be the added spice to thrust them onward and upward to secure their rightful place.


 

In front of the Rays right now is the subtle reality that if they lose or falter, the consolation prize to the A L East is slipping into a plane and jetting to the Twin Cities for a few days of pondering what got away from them before they begin their second season against the Twins in Target Field. I do not know about you, but I would rather celebrate and feel fantastic about an event than have to ponder and sulk about the ” one (A L East title) that got away in the cool Fall weather of Minnesota.


The ultimate reality of the situation is that the Rays and Royals could be entering the latter points of the game when it becomes clear whether or not there will be a celebration in Tampa Bay tonight, or the team jets onto Minnesota to get a early jump on the ALDS.The Yankees are hoping for a Rays loss with their own pinstriped multitudes having an ocean of church candles flickering and dozens of prayers to higher authorities above hoping and wishing for the Rays and starter Wade Davis to somehow falter today, mixed with a Yankee win. 

 

Reality of the situation is that the Rays hold the cards right now in this fight. They have the first tiebreaker in hand, and will be hoisting the crown to the heavens if both teams win or lose together. But wouldn’t you rather seethe Rays win the last game and go out into the post season on a truly positive note than to rely and hope that their competitor falters first and makes their outcome moot.


If the Rays pull off this last second miracle, if they begin the celebrations in K C this afternoon, you can be sure I will be at St. Petersburg/Clearwater Airport when that charter flight hit’s the runway tonight. Last time there were 2,000+ of my closest Rays fans with me to welcome and celebrate the Rays stride into the 2008 playoffs. One last step by the Rays towards achieving another one of their seasonal goals. One more step back towards the postseason and another 3 Rays celebrations. All of it can be guaranteed with just a “W”.
 
 

Number Three Holds the Key for the Rays

 


 

Still remember vividly telling people in a blog post back in April that this year’s Tampa Bay Rays team needs to win a couple extra games in April through August that could be stored away for the September crunch time need. I had no idea at that time that the Rays would sprint out of the gate with  such a fantastic start to the season, but the Rays still could have won a few additional contests over their other 159 games. And you might wonder why I bring this up now?


It’s kind of simple, if the Rays would have won just three more contests at various points in this season (including 2 in the recent hone stand), then the Rays would have been celebrating a possible American League East crown late last night instead of sulking over another potential roadblock to that potential goal. A few losing obstacles or stumbling blocks along the line this year might eventually cost the Rays a real chance of hoisting another banner to the Trop’s rafters.

It is kind of frustrating to think that this AL East title is just beyond the Rays clutches right now. A few well placed victories along the way could have sealed the deal. The Rays will instead play a three game season ending elimination race with the New York Yankees with the winner being the team that doesn’t make the first mistake and lose a game (possibly). And the Rays could have provided a little cushion between themselves and the Yankees last night by winning the extra game in the Rays schedule, but a rare Rays defensive stumble saw them sulking instead of celebrating a victory.

 

This is the time of the season where the Rays have to thrust their might upon their enemies as they ready for an undecided playoff opponent. It is the time for this team to go on offensive rampages or pitching masterpieces to create a post season Rays buzz. To provide the media “Talking Heads” around the country with an optimistic reasoning to back this team.

Instead the Rays have suffered a setback that will further illustrate the general conscientious in the media circles that this Rays team might have peaked from April through June, instead of being a strong juggernaut in late September. The Rays came into 2010 as an underdog,and their leatest adventures further put them behind the eight -ball


Weird how three games spread out over 159 other dates could be so illuminating now. Three wins against anyone else all season long and this Rays team could have collectively relaxed and set their focus towards the first round of the playoffs in this last road trip. Instead the Rays have to immediately focus on a three game winning streak to end their 2010 season to potentially claim their second golden ring. Win three games and the title is theirs. Lose even one game, and it is all up to what the Red Sox and Yankees do in Fenway Park this weekend.

It could be the Red Sox, who were eliminated from the 2010 post season earlier this week, who could play a significant role in whether the Rays have a chance to grasp the A L East title. A Red Sox win gives the Rays a chance to step up and take the crown earlier than Sunday evening, but even one Rays loss puts the pressure again back on their own shoulders. All of this drama and suspense could have been avoided by somehow winning three extra games.  

 

 Three has a lot of meaning for us, it is the first prime odd number, every humans perceives color in three primary colors, and it is the numerical character that might seal the Rays 2010 destiny. The number three right now holds the ultimate golden key. Three will decide the Rays championship hopes and dreams.

Wild how three is also the number of Rays Third Baseman Evan Longoria, who has been absent during this Rays stumble through the jungle with a quadricep injury. Could he possibly be the defining moment and numerical savior to the Rays ultimately hoisting the A L East crown? 

Rays Mananger Joe Maddon had Longoria out doing agility drills before Thursday nights game against the Royals, Longoria did not play and that brought on the need for a potential thre game Rays winning streak to start another celebration. 


Ironic how the Rays 2010 mantra of “WIN- What’s Important Now”  established in Spring Training is composed of three letters which stand for three of the most important words of 2010? All this could have been avoided with three simple victories. Three straight wins, or a combination of Rays wins and potential losses by the Yankees and the Rays can claim another three words all for themselves: Eastern Division Champions.
 

Rays and Yankees, Playing For All the Marbles

 
 
Bill Koustroun/AP

You want to throw last night’s performance under the heading of “gutsy and determined” but it lacked the finishing blows needed to give the Tampa Bay Rays another shot at the top spot. The game did go back and forth playing like a simple kid’s yo-yo for innings before the New York Yankees took advantage of unusual Rays Manager Joe Maddon miscue and put the finishing touches on a solid victory.

Some sitting inside Yankee Stadium last night were wondering why these Rays would not go away and give in to the obvious conclusion. They wondered to themselves why this young team took it on the chin hard in the opening innings and still came out and answered the bell every inning by clawing and scratching their way back before being pushed back into the darkness by one simple mistake.

This game had all the nuances and dramatic plot twists of a post season contest, except for one key element. It was still September. If this is the way these two teams are going to play in a few weeks, heaven help the Texas Rangers and Minnesota Twins fans, and the makers of Pepto Bismol. Games like the last four between these two opposite ends of the spectrum teams is what will propel this new rivalry to astronomical heights min the coming years. These two team will have played 7 of their last 10 against each other, and the tally is tied at 2-2 going into tonight’s battle.

This is no longer your Father’s Rays., who were the lonesome losers and bottom dweller of the American League East. This Rays team has matured over the years and gathered a wealth of useful Yankee knowledge and experience and is now ready to dethrone the Kings of Baseball. The Rays franchise has come a long way in their yearly series against the Bronx Bombers since those lonely Rays days of the late 1990’s. New York fans still embrace and speak about their team’s dismantling of those pesky D-Rays back in 1998 when the D-Rays won only one game (at home) against the Yankees at home, and had to settle for a 1-11 dismal seasonal series mark against the Bombers.

 
Kathy Willens/AP

The 2010 yearly series mark is now set at 8-7, with the Yankees having a chance to better their Southern rivals and post another winning edge in this seasonal series. With the game pressures increasing, and the number of games decreasing, this final series of 4 games will decide more than just the yearly series. At stake is a possible American League East title, plus a nice high position in the cat-bird’s seat as we both enter the playoffs.

This is the way pre-playoff baseball should be played. Both teams are watching for every little subtle nuance or err in judgment. Every crack and crevice in their fortified armor will be attacked and manipulated to try and produce the needed firepower and run production that will provide victory in the end. This series is definitely has a distinctive “take no prisoners” attitude from both teams.

You do not need bulletin board fodder or any profound reasoning to get your emotions up for this series. It is all about the top tier, and to the winner of this last series gets the added momentum of having the edge in the first tie-breaker if these two teams end up tied at the top spot at the conclusion of the season. And that possibility does still seem bright on the horizon with the Yankees still having to entertain the Boston Red Sox six more times, while the Rays play the likes of the Orioles, Mariners and Royals in their last 10 contests.

Right now you have to systematically give the edge to the Rays based on the winning percentages of their final foes, but across from them is the defending World Champions, who will not surrender or retreat an inch of ground without a fight. That makes for entertaining baseball, and will be the essence and foundations for future baseball stories told to grandkids and anyone who will listen for years to come both in New York and Tampa Bay. These two titans from different prospective will fight to the last out.

 
Kathy Willens/AP

And even if the Rays or Yankees take a firm grasp of the divisional title and hold it close to their vest, there is still the thought and realistic expectation that these two might end up as possible 7-game series foes in a later round of the playoffs. This is not to push down the accomplishments or records of the Rangers or Twins, but for some odd reason it seems destiny is riding the wave of the Rays right now. But fate is definitely in the wheelhouse for the Yankees. It will be the endurance and stamina of these two squads that will provide an ultimate survivor.

So with that in mind, their game day mistakes will be amplified and popped under a increasing microscope no matter if accidental or intentional by nature. Fans will embrace or discard rumors, situational judgments and incite hard spoken opinions and embattlements to each team’s place in this late seasonal battlefield. Chants will be bellowed to the heights and small disagreements will ensure among usual friends. This renewable rivalry might even test family bonds in some homes.

All the odd and perpendicular angles of these two teams seem to point to a possible splitting of the four games in this series. The subtle nuances and occasional on the field changes in fate or destiny of either team’s usually reliable weapons might come quickly into the light as the deciding factors, or the weapons of their own immediate demise. This is the way baseball should be played in late September. With the same energy and hustle of April, but with a keen eye on the prize with every pitch.


 
Bill Koustroun/AP
 
This type of series is why the Yankees and Rays fans have grown to dislike each other for different reasons. Yankee fans think the Rays faithful rely on gimmicks like cowbells and flashy stadium videos while they adhere to tradition and doing their “Yankee Roll Call” during every game. The Rays fans take exception to the Yankees coming into Tropicana Field as Yankee Stadium South boasting about rings and things that will never be equal because we are 13 years old, and the Yankees started played in 1901 as one of the eight charter Major League teams.

It is more than just a battle on the field of two giants of the game today. It is a fight between the younger cousin and the feisty older brother for dominance. It is a fight of tradition forged by 109 years against a young whippersnapper that came from the cellar to contend quickly and will not go away. It is about a region fighting for respect and a chance at redemption, while the other wants to add to their legacy.

Last, but not least, it is a classic David and Goliath story where the “city that never sleeps” is being pestered and bothered by a town some think “roll up their sidewalks at 10pm and go to bed”. Some say it is the opening blows by the changing environment of Major League Baseball where money and taking the best talent doesn’t provide protection to getting the gold in the end.

Others think being smart with investments in players and matching talents to a precision game plan will bring victory in the end. Lines are drawn, gears has been obtained, now it is time for the bats and arms to do the talking and let the chips fall where they may. As ring announcer Micheal Buffer loves to say “Let’s Get Ready to Rumble!”

 

Rays need to Find their Evil,Mean and Nasty Gene

 
 
Mike Carlson/AP

It is one of those things you want your team to possess at this late season juncture. There is definitely something to that old warrior’s credo that only the strong survive. That nasty, vile and dog-eat dog mentality can be the fulcrum point that can get players through the pain and suffering that always happens around the 50-games left mark in the season. It is either transform into a meaner version of your team’s former image or you run the insane risk of defeat rather than victory. Plain and simple, it is time for the Tampa Bay Rays to take on a “no more Mr. Nice Guy” persona.


It might sound a bit melodramatic for the Rays to have to abandon their Boy Scout sparkling clean and virtuous image, but the stark reality is that each and every loss can put another dagger in the Rays heart and potentially sabotage all the hard work the team has done to this point. Sure the Rays currently look to be in fine shape only two games out against the New York Yankees, but there are foes hiding in the darkness that want that A L East and Wild Card spot the Rays hold in their pocket.

I am not saying the Rays have to become the “Ty Cobb” reincarnations and go into bases with their spikes up, or look for a fight, The things is right now the Rays do have a “Mayberry RFD” mentality posing as the kinder, gentler version of the Yankees. This has to be squashed right now before the Rays take on the Baltimore Orioles this weekend, and the Texas Rangers next week. The Rays have to instill a mentality that someone stole their lunch money and they are not going to take it anymore!
And today’s game fully illustrates just that pattern of good natured intentions that has to be nipped in the bud before the Rays are making golf tee time reservations than hotel reservations for friends and family during the Playoffs. The Rays had the Detroit Tiger’s right where they wanted them prior to the beginning of Wednesday’s matinee game. They had a chance to make some special Rays all time seasonal series history in this contest. If the Rays would have defeated the Tigers today, it would have been the Rays first ever seasonal series sweep. That’s right, the Rays would have gone undefeated against the Tigers both home and away…A major coup heading into this final stretch of the season.

But instead of the Rays stepping on the Tiger’s necks and twisting, the Rays seemed to go about their usual game plan and made it look interesting, but shot blanks in the end. That is not the way to “man up” at this point in the season and take the opposition for everything they give you. Sure Detroit starter Justin Verlander got into a groove in the middle of the ballgame, but the Rays let him establish that comfort zone. Winning teams that go far in the Playoffs take control of those games and dictates the outcome, not hope or look for a rally or fortunate chances to sustain anything.

 
Bill Koustoun/AP

During the last series, media members said it was going to be the “most important series of the season”. Well I hate to break it to everyone, but every series is important, since April. From that loss in Motown on Wednesday afternoon, to the final game in Kansas City on October 4th, the Rays have to fully integrate a “them or us” attitude. And it all begins when the streaking O-birds try and nest at Tropicana Field this weekend. The Rays have to come out in those three contests like a cat hungry for moist, juicy black and orange Oriole treats. They have to adjust their mentality to leave nothing to chance, that a 1-run lead will not cut it, they have to play as if October depends on the outcome.


The Rays have to take their normal “good guy” routine and toss it off the top span of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. With 28 of their final 48 games against their American League East foes, and another 16 against the always tough A L West bunch, the season could pivot right now. You can bet your stars that Baltimore, Seattle, Oakland and Toronto would love to provide some noise and angst for the Rays by dropping them lower in the standings and give someone like Boston, Minnesota or even the Chicago White Sox a chance to push the Rays down for the count.

Now is the time for a Rays uprising. It is time to toughen up and show no mercy in any of the final 48 games. I am not telling the Rays to keep pushing even if they are 5 or 6 runs up on a team, but do not get off their throats, do not let them breathe, do not let them even think they have a remote chance to survive a game. Some people talk about the Yankee persona. That image is boosted by the historic tradition of finishing the job and making the Playoff and beyond., That pinstriped army doesn’t take anything for granted and will step on your neck and twist until you are gone….every time.

 
Steve Nesius/AP

This is not a call to emulate the Yankees own credo of intimidation. But this is a call for the Rays to put away their manners and get after what they deserve this season. I respect this 2010 Rays team for their spunk and bond between all the Rays players in the clubhouse, but it is time to get physically and mentally hungry. For the Rays veteran leadership to make the young guys hungry for another taste of that sparkling champagne. I guess it is time for the Rays to quote the movie “The Program” to “put the women and children to bed and go hunting for dinner.” And if that means eating a few extra Orioles, Blue Jays and even Angels, then so be it, because you never get in the way of the big dog when he is feasting, it is bad for the digits.
 

Are You Ready for a Throwdown?

 

 

Within the next three hours Sports Radio from Manhattan in New York City to 9th Street North in the borough of St. Petersburg will begin their suggestive superlatives surrounding this upcoming weekend in Tampa Bay. Comparisons and similarities will be analyzed, scrutinized and media savvy sanitized to try and drum up any emotions still left dormant among followers of both teams. No matter if you are a card carrying member of the Pinstripe Platoon or the Rays Republic, this weekend will set the stage fully towards what might happen at the end of the 2010 seasonal journey.

This weekend will put one team in a small, but substantial advantage of having a numerical edge on their closest competitor, and the team that wants to take their dream away of October glory. No matter if you side with the Evil Empire , or the Rebel Alliance this weekend, the battle lines have been drawn, and the fun is just about to begin. In less than three hours, when the Rays Fan Hosts open the outer doors of Tropicana Field, a large segment of the baseball viewing World will be focused on this hamlet off the Gulf of Mexico eager not only for the First pitch, but the last.

This series will do more than give a little breathing room to a possible Playoff berth, it could be the difference between the Wild Card and the American League East crown. Each team thinks they are fighting the “good fight”, the fight that will deem them victorious, but the reality is that just as the Highlander, Conor McCloud once said, “There can be only one.” With the home team boasting a winning streak and the visitor’s holding onto the climax runaway game fresh in their minds, both teams approach this game as pivotal and a “must win” situation.

 

With both teams separated by only a small slip of the offense and pitching, this series, even if it is only 3 out of the remaining 10 contests between these two Major League Baseball giants. Those pesky Rays who the Yankees have not been able to get out of their rearview mirrors for most of the season have two 3-game series left in their “Pit” while the Yankees have only a 4-game slate in mid-September to their advantage. You want to give the immediate advantage to the Rays, but these are two titans who will not go down without a messy and bloody fight. No matter if it is a one-run game or a blowout, every inning, every movement, every sound could play a convincing role in the outcome of this series.


You wanted something magnificent Tampa Bay……Well, you got it this weekend. For the first time in the Rays 13 seasons, this series will be sold out, with possibly only Standing Room Only selections still left to buy at the Rays Box Office. The enveloping ticket scalpers that circle Tropicana Field will be eager and willing to project their price upon you if you did not choose wisely and pre-purchase your chance to see these giants collide. Boosted by the fact the Yankee faithful can see one of their own possibly hit a Major League milestone only adds fuel to the inferno already encircling this series. You wanted a showdown of epic proportions…..Well you got that too Tampa Bay.

Out of the loop this weekend will be attendance concerns, stadium issues and even the Trade Deadline may take a backseat to the living and breathing beat this is this American League East collision. Someone will come out of this whole series with bruises, battered emotional scars and maybe even a few less protractors. But there is also a good side. And that side is that for once this season, no matter what team you root for, the Tampa Bay area will be the center of the baseball World…period.

 

Two best teams in the game stroking it out mano-on-mano with the victor getting a leg up on their competition. This series can end only two ways. Someone will win and put a bit of distance or overtake the other, or someone will see their confidence rattled and have to rebound quickly to stay hungry for the home stretch. As always, I have my front row seat to seeing these titans battle it out just feet in front of me with each squad eager and willing to lay down personal sacrifices that go way beyond those committed using a maple bat.


This weekend will either be fulfilling another step towards a destiny, or establishing a dominance needed to secure, insure and procure a chance again to fight for the golden chalice with 30 MLB flags upon it. To say this is for all the marbles is too cliché`. To say this series will define a team is too vague. But to say the winner of this series has an edge….Well, that is just the Rays and Yankees ways of doing things in 2010.

 

Are You Ready for a Short Skirmish!….Yankees versus the Rays

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There seems to be an overabundance of emotional waves crashing throughout the Rays Republic right now that have some Rays fans throwing platitudes and prognostication that the Tampa Bay Rays are truly the “team to beat” in Major League Baseball. And if you look only at the Rays overall wins and losses record, that fact surely fall within that comfort zone.

But the stark reality is that baseball is not played with a remote possibility of your opposing teams shaking or quaking with the fact the Rays are coming to their town. And in New York right now, there is no team within the MLB more hungry and willing to chew up and spit out the Rays with angst than the New York Yankees.


The plain fact that the Rays are going into Yankee Stadium for a two game series against their bitter rival, the Yankees, might seem as motivation enough to get fans of both team’s blood boiling and ready for action. But the Yankees are reeling a bit and might be just on the verge of biting back at someone after having a recent one game setback at the hands of those ruthless Boston Red Sox.

And even if Yankee supreme starter C C Sabathia threw last night in bean town trying to secure a series victory, this Yankees team is ready, willing and able to thrust a “L” upon the Rays without a moment’s notice.


And even with the sudden injury and Bullpen implosion situations befalling the Pinstriped ones lately, this Yankee team just seems to be able to reload their arsenal every night. This is not to forecast any sense of doom or gloom, or the remote possibility of the Rays not taking both critical games. But the reality is that both of the Yankees probable pitchers, A J Burnett and Andy Pettitte have their own unique versions of humiliating the Rays hitters. Most Rays fans might remember in the finals games of 2009, it was this same duo who took the wins in the last two Rays home games and it left a bitter taste in all of our mouths.

Mark O”Meara/AP 

Do not let the fact be quickly dismissed that a series in Yankee Stadium is not a venture into extremely hostile territory on the field as well as the stands. The Pinstripes currently hold a 71-29 overall win advantage against the Rays in Yankee Stadium. And the Yankees easily walked into Tropicana Field during early April and handed the Rays two quick losses to provide some extra Rays incentive for this series. It is going to be a fight from the First Pitch tonight until the very last one on Thursday night to gain either some extra breathing room, or provide some cramped space towards the top of the American League East division.


But one interesting side note of this series is that even if the Yankees were to take both games, they could not regain the top spot in the AL East before the Rays leave because they are currently 3 games behind Tampa Bay. And the image is still fresh that the Pinstripes went 11-7 against the Rays in 2009, and have always played the Rays tough, even in lop-sided affairs.

The Yankees have currently won 9 out of the last 12 overall games played between the two foes. In 2009 contests at Yankee Stadium, the Rays went 6-3 and handed the Yankees their 11th home series crown in the last 12 years. In that 2009 span of games played in the Bronx, the Yankees lost their first three against the Rays, then sparked 6 straight wins at home against the Rays to secure their 4th straight seasonal home series victory at Yankee Stadium.


And even with the aspect of last night’s game in Boston possibly played out under protest, this Yankees team is still itching to get some residual payback at someone else’s expense for them losing a series to Boston 2-1. And the Rays might be entering the grounds of Yankee Stadium at a time that some might venture is a pitching debacle waiting to happen after Yankee closer Mariano Rivera and his set-up men suddenly looked mortal a few nights ago, but the reality is that this Yankee team is just like the Rays in that their memory is short when it comes to losses and they quickly prepare for the next butt-whooping instead of dwelling.

And do not think the Yankees will be looking too far ahead to their inner-city tumble against the New York Mets during the upcoming weekend. The team knows that their focus has to be securely on gaining some ground the AL East race before they put their ducks in a row to fight for the NYC bragging rights. But there is a lot at stake right now for the Yankees with the Rays coming into town. But the Rays can also do a lot of their own residual collateral damage to the Yankees Playoff hopes during this short series by posting up a win or two along the way.

Scott Audette/Reuters 

And with the MLB season almost a ¼ of a way done, any movement up or downwards in the American League standings is critical to both squads ultimate goals.


And it might seem that I am trying to dispel any hopes or positive energy here with these facts and figures. In reality I want to post the severity and the possibilities that this series could change the outcome of the final standings. I have always thought of each win against an AL East foes to be worth two wins, and each loss two losses. That is because it will take two wins against anyone else within the 162 games schedule to hopefully erase a single loss in the AL east division. But winning a series or even two games against your divisional foes can elevate your chance to landing in front of them two-fold ( in my thinking).

You only have to look at 2008 to see the instant ramifications of this thought process. In that season, the Rays 7-11 against the Yankees during the seasonal series and those four additional losses made the Rays final American League East record closer to Boston ( 2 games) than if they would have won two more games and boosted a four-game lead over the Red Sox.

In comparison, if the Rays had not gone 10-8 against Boston and split their seasonal series, the Rays would have then tied with the Red Sox for the AL East title. So to me, a win against a divisional rival takes on a double sense of victory and could play into the ultimate decision making process of this year’s AL East race, or a possible Playoff berth.

RRCollection 

I guess the main message in all this rambling of words and phrases is that you can not take anything for granted this season. Not a single win or loss might tumble either of these teams to the possibility of not fulfilling their dreams, but a multiple effect of constant wins or losses could be beneficial or destructive to either teams march towards October.
 
I am anxious to get these game over with and see the Rays speed off to Houston where the complications are less extreme, and the losses less likely. But you can bet I will not be the only one sitting on the edge of my seat contemplating or even on the verge of hyperventilation during every play and pitch. This might seem only like a May match-up between divisional rivals, but these two game could become a pivotal point to either team’s destiny come October. And there is no harm in stockpiling Rays wins…ever.

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