There’s an old saying in baseball that the more pitchers you use, the more likely it is you’ll find one who doesn’t have his stuff. The Rays used just about every eligible pitcher on their staff and had David Price warming up in the ninth and eventually found that it was their setup man, Joel Peralta, and closer Fernando Rodney, who didn’t have their stuff.
It hurts to lose a close game on a wild pitch, a broken bat single, and your closer loading the bases on two walks and a hit batter. That’s especially true when James Loney started two spectacular double plays to end Red Sox threats in the early innings and the Rays took a lead into the seventh inning.
It wasn’t just the pitchers’ fault, although Rays pitchers did allow the two top batters in the Red Sox lineup, Jacoby Ellsbury and Shane Victorino, to hit .500 and .429 respectively. The Rays’ big bats had terrible series: Longoria hit .154, Zobrist hit .143, Joyce, who hit 18 home runs during the season, hit .000, and Wil Myers hit .063. Myers also made some bonehead plays in right field and appeared overmatched in the batter’s box throughout the series.
There were bright spots of course: Loney hit .417 and Yunel Escobar .467, but by and large the Rays did not play their best during the series. The Red Sox were a tough opponent and they will be the favorites to win the ALCS and go to the World Series. They have great speed, hitting, and pitching, and take advantage of every opportunity. The Rays needed to play a perfect game to beat the Red Sox, and the Rays could not do that last night.
As the Rays start their offseason, we should take a few minutes to appreciate what the Rays have accomplished over the last few seasons. They won at least 90 games in each of the last four seasons. They won four elimination games in a row this year; it may be too much to ask of any team to win five of those in a row. They made the postseason despite having their three best starters–Alex Cobb, Matt Moore, and Price–on the disabled list for extended periods of time. The Rays play hard. They are also entertaining –with Joe Maddon at the helm you never know when he’ll do something like pull the DH out of the game or put four players on the infield. They have a solid core of players, and may be only one or two position upgrades away from a return to the World Series. But for now, the Rays are done playing and have to assess where their franchise stands.
Over the next few weeks Rays management will be evaluating players and making decisions about who to offer arbitration, and who to sign and re-sign as free agents. (Hint for Andrew Friedman: Re-sign James Loney). Having lived through the Devil Rays years, Rays fans can be disappointed in tonight’s outcome and still appreciate the great job that the players and management have done under the leadership of Stu Sternberg, Matt Silverman, and Friedman.
There’s one more reason to hope. A friend of mine in Orlando is a Red Sox fan. He went to Monday’s game and said that for the first time, Rays fans appeared to outnumber Red Sox fans in the Trop. The Rays may be finally developing the fan base they need to help the team get back to the World Series level. It’s still a great time to be a Rays fan. As we always said in Brooklyn, “Wait ‘Till Next Year!”