By Tumi-1983 (Own work) [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) via Wikimedia Commons
It’s less than a week after the end of the season for the Rays, and I am suffering from withdrawal. Oh, sure, there are the playoffs. Even though Tampa Bay isn’t involved anymore, I will enjoy them greatly.
But that doesn’t mean I won’t miss the Rays on the field until spring training begins. This season, a most improbable season, got right to the heart of the game for me. From an 0-6 start to 91 wins during the regular season, from “No team has ever started 0-6 and made the playoffs” to “Guess who’s the first team to make the post-season after starting 0-6?”
Over this past season, I have written a piece on the Rays roughly once a week, usually on Sunday. Generally, there was a wrap-up of the previous day’s game and a preview of the Sunday game. But I also tried to look at the big picture.
Baseball, like anything else, is about the big picture. With social media, the MLB Network, ESPN, and every other way in which we learn about every subtlety and nuance not only of every game, but also of everything anyone has said or done, plus being told exactly the meaning behind everything anyone has said or done (it amazes me part of journalism today is that the journalist must also be prescient), from throwing a hanging curve ball to tossing out an ill-advised tweet, we sometimes lose the big picture.
Manager Joe Maddon and the Rays didn’t forget about the big picture. After the horrendous start, losing six straight at home, Maddon took out a bottle of whiskey, gave the team paper cups, and toasted the best 0-6 team in baseball. From that point, the Rays faced the uphill climb of a potential post-season that ended with Evan Longoria lining a home run over the short “L” in the left field wall to realize another year in the playoffs for the Rays.
Along the way, Kyle Farnsworth became the closer many always thought he had the potential to be.
Longoria overcame two injuries, missed 29 games, and still played hard on a daily basis and put up 31 home runs along with 99 ribbies. His defense may have suffered briefly while dealing with his ailments, but no one plays a better third base on a day to day basis than Longo, and he constantly made the routine play, and dazzled with many great ones.
James Shields went from “Big Game James” to “Complete Game James” while striking out 225 and posting a 2.82 ERA in what was a remarkable season, Shields showed the mental and physical toughness that defines the best who take the ball every five days.
Ben Zobrist had 46 doubles, 20 homers, scored 99 runs, and generally showed everyone what a true professional he is by playing several positions over the year,and playing them all very well.
B.J. Upton, while enduring being on the trading block, came up with a fantastic September, and was a major cog in the success of the team over the last month of the season. Without his offense, it is highly unlikely the Rays would have made the playoffs.
And what about Johnny Damon, whose soul seemed to keep the club afloat when times were toughest?
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