Albert Einstein once said insanity is the act of doing something over and over and expecting a different result. If that is true, then baseball “experts” are insane.
On Sept. 8, the Rays lost the opener of a three game set in Fenway Park. It was their fourth loss in a row and the Rays lead was down to a half-game. To listen to the experts of the MLBiverse, the Red Sox winning the next two games and taking back their birthright—first place in the AL East—was inevitable. The next night, the Rays beat the Red Sox, getting to Jonathon Papelbon in the 9th inning and then took the final game in 14 innings.
One week later, the Red Sox visited the Trop and took the first game of the series 13-5. It was the Rays’ third straight loss and the Red Sox pulled within percentage points of the Rays in the East. Once again the experts just assumed that midnight was about to strike for the Rays. The next night, the Rays once again won in their final at-bat and then went on to take the final game of the series.
This week, the Rays lost a lead again. Only this time it was a two-games to none lead in the ALDS; they followed it with a loss in Chicago. With Gavin Floyd matching up against Andy Sonnanstine, a game four loss was apparently inevitable for the Rays, with Mark Buerhle set to win the series for the Sox in game five. Like every time prior, the Rays did what no “expert” thought they could do. They won.
In the end, the Rays won the ALDS. Let’s see how it happened…
The Bullpen: It was the bullpen doing what they have been doing all season long. One year after posting horrific numbers not seen by a bullpen in 50 years, the Rays relief corps proved once again that they are the MVPs of this squad. In 12.1 innings, the bullpen, led by JP Howell and “The Mad Australian” Grant Balfour, gave up only one run on six hits and two walks with 13 strikeouts. The only blemish being a solo home run in the 9th inning with a three-run lead. In the four games, the Rays relievers faced five inherited runners and retired every batter they faced in those situations.
B.J. Upton: Earlier this season, Upton tore the labrum in his shoulder on a swing. As a result, he was tentative most of the year, often afraid to swing the bat for fear of aggravating an injury that will require off-season surgery. The injury limited Bossman Junior to nine home runs in the regular season. Well, in the final two games of the ALDS, Upton appeared to rediscover his swing and his confidence. In his final 7 plate appearances, Upton hit 3 home runs and was on base 5 times.
Carl Crawford: Because of a finger injury, Crawford did not have a plate appearance in the final 46 games of the regular season. But there was a hidden benefit. His legs are fresh. Crawford has made no secret of the fact that the Field Turf at the Trop is hard on his legs, sapping some of his speed late in the year. But with a fresh set of wheels, Crawford returned to the lineup bringing with him havoc on the base paths, including a back-to-back steals in the decisive game four.
Andy Sonnanstine: With David Price set to join James Shields, Scott Kazmir and Matt Garza in the rotation in ’09, much has been made over who should be the fifth starter, Sonnanstine or Edwin Jackson. Sonnanstine’s performance in game four should put that debate to rest. In the last month, The Duke has made three starts with playoff-like atmospheres. In addition to game four of the ALDS, Sonnanstine faced the Red Sox twice. In those three starts, he has gone 18.2 innings and given up two earned runs on 10 hits and three walks with 16 strikeouts, proving he is a big game pitcher.
Evan Longoria: He is only 22 years old and missed four weeks down the stretch due to a broken bone in his wrist. He would have been forgiven if his bat didn’t show up in the first round. But any doubts about how he would handle the pressure of the big stage were immediately put to rest as Dirtbag became just the second player to hit a home run in his first two postseason plate appearances.
In the end, it was just the Rays being the Rays and winning games the same way they have all season. The starting pitching was strong. The bullpen was stronger. The offense overcame early inning deficits and scored five or six runs every game.
And now it is on to the ALCS to face the Boston Red Sox . Somebody might want to check that clock. It seems to be stuck on 11:59 pm.