Borrowing from A. Bartlett Giammati:
It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops. Today, October 12, a Tuesday of rain and broken branches and leaf-clogged drains and slick streets, it stopped, and summer was gone.
I did not see the final two innings of tonight’s game thanks to mechanical issues on my Delta plane, but the loss does not sting any less. I have felt this way three other times in my life – when the Houston Cougars were upset by Jim Valvano’s Wolfpack, when Marcus Allen shredded the Redskins in Super Bowl 18, and when Jesse Orosco struck out Kevin Bass to end the 1986 NLCS. At the time of the last event, I was in the 9th grade and watched that game from my living room and proceeded to run off to my room and cry into my pillow. I am not ashamed to admit I may have done the same thing tonight if I were not on a plane.
The Rangers were the better team in the series and tonight, beat the Rays at their own game of hustle and defense. The difference in this series was Cliff Lee – a player the Rangers acquired by giving up their top position prospect. That was a price the Rays were unwilling to pay and in the end, it ended their season. Of course, maybe the Rangers knew they would have their massive new television deal coming down the pipe which would give them an excellent chance at bringing Lee back for 2011 while the Rays would clearly be in a rental situation. In the end, the Rays fell short because their bats fell silent and it was a persistent condition throughout most of the final four months of the season and into the playoffs that seemed to have no antidote.
While I may have been quite vocal about my displeasure concerning the umpires in this series, their performance did not lose this series for the Rays. The Rays had home field advantage and they had a lot of history on their side heading into the game tonight and came up empty. They were anywhere from fooled to completely overmatched in most of the at bats I saw tonight and the same defense that prevented many runs this season gave away a few tonight at inopportune times. When facing a pitcher like Lee, the opposing team has to capitalize on his mistake while limiting their own and the Rays did neither.
What stings most about this loss is that we’ve seen the last game in a Rays uniform of Carl Crawford, who for many of us was the face of this franchise. On my home desktop, I still have his 2007 wallpaper of “Watch It Happen” and that same poster up in my office. Carlos Pena is also likely gone and despite his disappointing 2010, was still a pleasure to have over the past four seasons. Rafael Soriano was fun to watch for this season but he too will be off to greener pastures as could his set-up man Joaquin Benoit whose numbers this year are going to be in demand and possibly out of the Rays’ budget. So I won’t miss the Rays paying Pat Burrell to play for the Giants but the 2011 Rays’ roster is likely going to require a lot of name badges on opening day and a media guide for fans to figure out who all of the new faces are.
You know what? I’m excited about 2011 and I am already looking forward to the team reporting to Port Charlotte in February of 2011 to defend their American League East title. I am excited for the plans we have at ESPN 1040 for Rays coverage next season, I am excited to have Jonah Keri’s book, The Extra 2% come out and be at his book signing, and I’m very excited about some Tweet-Up events at Tropicana Field next season that we are planning with the Rays’ marketing group. Until then, I will stare out the window and wait for spring.
The season may be over, but this is a year-round blog. We will continue to post stories throughout the off-season as we review each player and their 2011 possibilities and whatever other off-season news comes to be. If you have any requests for stories you would like to see us cover, please let us know.