Friday, October 04, 2013

One the Hard Way: Rays

This is how you do it the hard way.

You tie one hand behind your back by keeping your best prospect and probably second-best power hitter, the guy you traded your #2 starter and a key pen arm for, down on the farm for nearly half the season to tweak his service time clock, gambling that you won't fall entirely out of the race without him.

You go into the season with first base, one of your big bopper slots, manned by a guy who never was a serious threat to hit 20 homers, and whose offense has been sliding for years. This guy, whom you signed off the scrap heap, got let go by your biggest competition when they really didn't have any other options at first base.

You take chances on guys who are, frankly, jerks, because jerks come cheap, and you need cheap, and there's nobody better at straightening them out than Joe Maddon. And so Yuni Escobar arrives and appears to remove his head from his hindquarters, and Delmon Young comes back and shuts up and just hits like he never did in Philly.  

You run a shuttle back and forth between Tampa and Durham, cycling Archers and Torreses and Odorizzis and more back and forth and in and out while your former Cy Young winner's arm starts barking and your former Rookie of the Year falls apart, all the way down to A-ball.

You enter the final series of the season needing only to take care of business against the sad-sack Blue Jays, a team running on impulse power, and you promptly woof away a couple of games. Your best defensive outfielder makes a Charlie Brown play, and a huge lead evaporates, and suddenly it's the last day of the season and you need to win -on the road - to make sure you don't go home.

And you build another lead, and that one starts to evaporate, and everyone in baseball who loves your story and wants the underdog to win is thinking "oh God, here we go again."
But you pull it out, which earns you the right to go on the road again for another must-win, against a team that thumped you thoroughly in your home stadium, and that has what seems like more money invested in its pitching staff than you have in your payroll. And you send your former Cy Young guy out there, except he's got an ERA in their ballpark that looks like a Boeing jet designation, and they're getting their big bopper back off a 50 game suspension just in time to face you. You get there, and you take a lead, and then you get hit by an epic screw job of a bad call that costs you at least one run, and you're pretty sure you're going to need that run because this place is a launching pad, and the game is a long way from over.

Except your starter gets mad and just deals. Every pitch feels like it's coming from a place of rage. And your last-guy-on-the-bench outfielder, the speed-and-defense guy whose botched pickup of a routine grounder is what led to you being here in the first place, he steals a run for you in the 9th, and you win.

Which gets you the right to get on another plane, and fly to another team's stadium, and play another must-win.

Which you do, against a flamethrowing rookie and a deep lineup full of guys who have been there before, even if the team hasn't.You run a DH out there who couldn't hack it on the sinking ship that was the 2013 Phillies, and he slams a first-pitch home run, the fifth time he's done that in the playoffs. Nine playoff home runs for Delmon Young, five on a first pitch, and yet Ernie Banks never sniffed the post-season. Life, as they say, isn't fair. This time, though, the unfairness works your way. Your kid starter scuffs and ducks and dodges and gets double play balls when he has to, and then suddenly it's done. 

You've won. You've passed the wild card stage. And that gives you the right to get on another plane, to go to another city, to stare down the barrel of another loaded gun.

But this time you get a day off first. Sounds like heaven.
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