Two Games Up, Playoff Spot Within Reach

Those 2008 Rays… just when everyone wants to give up on them and leave them for dead, they storm right back in their faces.  One step back, two steps forward.  The cliches are actually coming true this season in Tampa Bay.  There is not one disappointed Rays fan right now, as they have defeated the Boston Red Sox two games to one at Tropicana Field to gain a two game division lead.  They have now won 90 games — yes, 90–win Rays, believe it or not — and are now down to a magic number of three (Rays wins/Twins losses, and we get them next) for a playoff berth.  These last two games coming back from the vicious Monday night beating usually reserved for Monday Night RAW, have been two of the most important and exciting victories ever for this franchise.

That Tuesday night game cost me about a gallon of water and a few hours of time best saved for work, but it was worth the wait.  The Rays’ Andy Sonnanstine and Josh Beckett matched last week’s pitcher’s duel with more of the same.  The Red Sox scored on a sacrifice fly in the sixth inning, an unearned run charged to Sonnanstine (after an unusual Evan Longoria error, which followed a hit that only occurred thanks to a missed third strike call).  An inning and a half later, on the very first pitch, Carlos Pena launched a hanging Beckett curveball for his 29th home run of the year, hitting the first row of left center field seats and tying the game at one.  In the ninth inning, Boston decided to call on Justin Masterson to avoid using Jonathan Papelbon.  Maybe they should have thought about avoiding defeat.  Jason Bartlett’s leadoff single fell into right field between three fielders, followed by a mildly controversial walk to Pena.  He swung and missed a fastball that would have made the count 1–2, but timeout was called before the pitch due to a stray bullpen ball entering the infield.  Out of the Red Sox bullpen, too.  Pena ended up walking on a close 3–2 pitch.  Two batters later, Cliff Floyd took an 0–2 slider to the shinguard to load the bases.  Dioner Navarro stepped up, fell from 2–0 to 2–2, then hit a hanging sinker right back up the middle.  Very far up the middle, in fact.  The ball flew over the head of a desolate Coco Crisp, Bartlett scored, the Rays won, and victory ruled the day.  The ball actually bounced over the wall, but the game ended after one base anyway… the Mets have the Grand Slam Single, and the Rays now have the Ground Rule Single.  This is what pennant races and playoff games are all about.

My vision of Rays playoff games came last night, featuring the bats big and small taking the hammer to Tim Wakefield (see, he only owned the Devil Rays, not these guys) and winning 10–3.  Matt Garza had a mediocre pitching performance drowned in offensive support, pitching 4.2 innings on three days’ rest.  Willy Aybar, Gabe Gross and Fernando Perez all homered, Aybar and Perez (normally switch hitters) doing so right handed against Wakefield.  David Ortiz’s two home runs only dented a catwalk and the stat sheet.  The Rays are now up by two full games in the American League East division, and the magic number for their first division title is now ten.  The playoff magic number is a mere three following Minnesota’s 6–4 loss to Cleveland.  This means that if the Rays win their first two games against the Twins, they will clinch their playoff berth on Friday night, on ESPN, in a game that I am attending.  I sincerely hope they can pull it off then and there — I would love nothing more than to be in that rocking house when the celebration begins.

Now it’s time for the Rays to beat the Twins back into their own dome and rightfully claim their playoff spot.  Until they finally accomplish this historic feat, go Rays.

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