Have the Rays Woken Up?

By David Hill

The Rays slide since August 24th has been painful. After being first in the American League East and seemingly on their way to the playoffs, the Rays have seen their grasp on a postseason berth become tenuous at best. Even worse, the Rays did not appear to be playing with that same fire and intensity that so often typifies their performance.

It appeared as though the bottom fell out during their four game set with the Rangers. From mental mistakes to what seemed like a lack of urgency to take control of their playoff fate, the Rays appeared to be playing through a malaise that was threatening to knock them out of the playoffs entirely. This was especially evident when the Rays got down early against the Rangers, as it appeared as though all their fight was removed by the early deficit. At a time of year when contending teams typically increase their focus, the Rays seemed to be losing theirs.

However, the Rays appeared to have gotten their intensity back last night. Perhaps it was due to the realization that the season is winding down and that they could find themselves on the outside looking in. Or perhaps it was just as simple as getting back to facing divisional foes, as the Rays started a three game set against the Orioles.

That change was evident early. The Rays came out last night on fire, taking good swings and hustling on the basepaths. Jose Molina typified that hustle when, after hitting a leadoff double, he reached third after tagging up on a fly ball to right, beating the throw from Nick Markakis, who may have one of the best arms in the game. That play directly led to a run, as Molina would score on David DeJesus‘ sacrifice fly.

The hustle did not end there. Wil Myers hit a routine groundball to second in the bottom of the third, and was out by only a step as he ran hard down the line. Defensively, the Rays seemed crisper, and much more focused than they had been. Even after falling behind, the Rays fought back to tie the game in the bottom of the seventh, and refused to give in. In turn, that energized performance got the crowd going, as the Trop was louder last night than it had been in a long time.

Even when the Rays fell behind in the top of the seventh, they did not give up. DeJesus had the game tying and game winning RBIs. Jake Odorizzi, just two days after starting the AAA Championship game, picked 3.2 innings of relief. Jeremy Hellickson earned the win with a 2.1 inning performance. Coming back and winning a marathon such as last night’s 18 inning game may have been what the Rays needed.

For one game at least, it appears as though the Rays have woken up from their slumber. Hopefully, that focus will continue as they seek a playoff berth.