I can't feel all that bad this morning. The Rays lost the World Series last night, 4 games to 1, and they didn't look good doing it. (If you win one game out of five, I guess it's hard to look good.)
I figured I'd endure some hard disappointment, and then after awhile move on to reflecting on just how astonishing the Rays '08 season really was. Instead, I've already managed to spit the bitter taste out of my mouth. I'm proud of our St. Pete kids.
This despite some unpleasant truths: The Rays came that close to being world champs, and are now a footnote. (Quick, who lost the 2006 World Series?) They may never get here again; that's just a reality in pro sports, baseball in particular. Yes, the Rays have a great nucleus of talent, a terrific manager, and a crafty front office ... but they still play in the American League East, where the Red Sox and Yankees can go out and buy top talent. And the Rays can't.
After game 1 of the Series, the whole thing seemed somehow fated. I don't know why, exactly, but I was not nearly as emotionally engaged as during the Boston series. I've heard the same said in conversations, on talk radio, etc.
The prevailing sentiment out there is that the Rays played poorly during this World Series, that their devil-may-care attitude dried up, that the gravity of the situation got to them, that their derring-do dissipated. That's all true; it's there in the booted balls and baserunning mishaps, the less-than-clutch pitching and, especially, all that swinging through baseballs and walking back to the dugout.
But the Philadelphia Phillies had something to do with it. Another prevailing sentiment locally is that the Rays were the better team that happened to fall into some unfortunate slumps and made some badly timed mistakes. Uh, wrong. The Phillies were, are, the better team. And for reasons that go beyond their 4-1 World Series victory.
At least the Rays went down fighting. After a 46-hour weather delay, they took the field last night in their winter gear. Joe Maddon left Grant Balfour on the mound and he promptly gave up a double to a pinch hitter by the name of Geoff Jenkins. The Phillies pushed him home and, just like that, had a 3-2.
I thought: Game over. But then Rocco, God bless'm, walks up and ties it with a home run. 3-3. (Hmm, maybe this destiny thing has some juice to it after all.) The Rays had a chance to take the lead when Phillies second baseman Chase Utley made the play of the game. Seeing he might not be able to get the runner at first, he faked there and then easily threw Jason Bartlett out at the plate. (Cue sound of baloon deflating.)
After that, the Phillies bullpen took over. But even in the top of the 8th, the Rays had fast guy Fernado Perez on second, and the usually steady Eric Hinske at the plate. Problem was, the Phillies had their perfect closer, Brad Lidge, on the hill. Eric struck out.
The Phillies piled on each other. I watched for a few minutes. And then I switched over to my DVR queue.
I've said this before in blog posts and in print, but it bears repeating. Thank you, Rays. You gave a community a lot to feel good about over the last several months, especially when feel-good moments were kinda hard to find.
You turned this less-than-casual baseball fan into a rabid fanatic. Actually, that's not quite true. I'm not such a convert that I'm going to start watching the Mariners play the Twins on Saturday afternoons. I'm not so much a baseball fan as a Rays fan. When do pitchers and catchers report?