The Tampa Bay Rays clinched their first playoff birth in six seasons last night thanks to 6-2 defeat of the Blue Jays and an Indians loss at the hands of the Washington Nationals.
After delivering the final pitch of the 6-2 victory over the Blue Jays, one that sealed their fate as a team destined for October baseball, Emilio Pagan was mobbed by his teammates on the infield of the Rogers Centre. At the outset of the season, the odds that Pagan would have induced the game ending and October clinching ground ball, seemed slim.
Pagan, who was left off the Opening Day roster and sent to Triple-A Durham, has emerged as the de facto closer for a team that has won 96 games with two left to play. The right hander, who the Rays acquired this offseason, is perhaps the epitome of this team. A team that has used 57 players over the course of 160 games. 33 of whom, have taken the mound including Daniel Robertson and Michael Brosseau while 35 have stepped up to the plate.
In his previous two seasons as a major league reliever, Pagan had never recorded a save… Now he has closed the door on 20 of the Rays’ 96 victories this season. He has done exactly what they have asked him to do, and he has done it exceptionally well, striking out 96 over 70 innings pitched while pitching to a 2.31 ERA.
Pagan’s willingness to do whatever is asked of him is just one example of many on this special roster. Yarbrough has made 27 appearances this season, only 13 of them being starts. Yet, he is the only pitcher besides Charlie Morton to have at least 10 wins this season.
Diego Castillo has opened (6) and closed games (8). Chaz Roe leads the team with 70 appearances, only four more than Pagan. Charlie Morton is the only starting pitcher on the roster to have made at least 30 starts this season.
Of the 57 players that have made up the Rays active roster at one point or another there has been notable turnover both on the mound and at the plate. Pitchers Ryne Stanek, Jacob Faria, Adam Kolarek, Casey Sadler, and Hunter Wood all played pivotal roles out of the bullpen at least once this season and now find themselves spread amongst the league.
Christian Arroyo, the once prized return in the Evan Longoria trade, has since been forgotten. After making his long awaited debut, Kean Wong is no longer in the Rays organization. Erik Kratz, Nick Ciuffo, and Anthony Bemboom caught a combined 12 games this season before being released or falling victim to injury… a common theme this season.
Now with only a pair of games left to play, the Rays boast an active roster of 39 players, one that they will soon have to trim down to 25.
Of the 25 players that will go to battle with Oakland on Monday night, players like Nick Anderson, Oliver Drake, and Travis d’Arnaud will join Emilio Pagan as pivotal pieces that weren’t on the Opening Day roster just 6 months ago.
In 2008 the saying was “9=8”, meaning that 9 players played hard for 9 innings and as a result, they would end up as one of the 8 teams to make the playoffs.
Now, 11 seasons later, the saying might as well be “57=1″…57 players, unifying and disbanding with ease over the course of the season, resulting in a 1 game playoff.