Right now I’m watching “Three Wishes for Opie,” on a re-run of the Andy Griffith Show, while I wait for the Tampa Bay Rays to play their last game in The Bronx. My guess is, the Rays would love to have three victories in their last four games. That would clinch a Wild Card berth for the men from The Trop. Of course, a fourth win would be icing on the cake, and assure them of a home game in the one-game Wild Card Playoff.
I’ve heard about teams working to set up their playoff rotations as the season winds to an end. Tampa Bay doesn’t have that luxury. They have to play it one game at a time, and move on to the next. It would be nice if Texas lost a couple of games, there’s no question that the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim would love to keep the Rangers out of the post-season. The teams play a four-game set.
Cleveland sits a single game behind the Rays in the Wild Card hunt. The Indians wrap up their regular season with the Minnesota Twins, playing four games in the Twin Cities. Tampa Bay takes on the Yankees tonight, and winds up the 162 game grind with three in Toronto. Toronto has the potential to play anyone tough, and will provide a rough series for the Rays.
How do you approach things over the last four regular season games? First of all, you have to play ‘em one game at a time, no matter that it sounds cliché. (In their race for the AL Wild Card spot, the Rays have been using the hashtag #OneMoreGame.) And you can’t worry about setting up your rotation until you’re guaranteed to be in. Which could be the last day of the season for the Rangers, Indians, and Rays.
I recall our 1989 season when I was an assistant coach at Brevard Community College. I’m not sure when we started our countdown, but we went by innings. A sports psychologist who worked with us didn’t think it was a good idea to put that pressure on the club. No matter, we began the countdown, went through the state and regional playoffs, and made it to Colorado for the JuCo World Series.
Our players never looked at it as pressure. They wanted to “Function at the Junction” in Grand Junction, on the west side of the Rockies. They took each inning, gave it their best effort, and never quit. We had to sweep a double-header on the last day of the state tournament, playing two top-rate “teams, in Indian River Community College and Miami-Dade South Community College. I honestly believe the innings countdown helped the club stay focused. We played those innings one pitch at a time, and that took the pressure off winning the game. Stick with the process, they would say today.
Should the Rays “stick with the process,” there is no guarantee of winning four games or making the Wild Card. But it’s a better way than looking at a win here, a win there, and hope for some help from another ball club. So, for me, the Rays have thirty-six innings left to their season, not counting possible extra innings.
Play ‘em one at a time. Treasure the team concept, stay in the moment. As former major league player and manager Eddie Stanky once told me, “Keep your head up, and keep hustling, and good things will happen.” I believed him then. And I believe those words now. Go Rays!