COMMENTARY | For two innings Friday night in the ALDS opener against Boston, the Tampa Bay Rays looked like the team to beat in the MLB postseason. For the next seven innings, they looked like the Bad News Bears before the Bad News Bears got good. The result was a 12-2 drubbing for the AL Wild Card team.
The fold was atypical of Tampa Bay (most recent West Coast road trip aside – had the Rays performed up to par on their late-season swing through various Left Coast destinations, all the one-and-done playoff madness would have been avoided; then again, so would the drama which, given the way the Rays opened the Boston series, may be the best postseason thrills Rays fans are going to get).
Tampa Bay simply looked overmatched. Was Boston starter Jon Lester brilliant? Oh, yes. One might have had the same expectations of Rays starter Matt Moore.
But as Boston sent ripper after ripper to the plate, the Rays countered with late-season additions OF David DeJesus and DH Delmon Young, neither of whom were likely candidates to be involved in postseason play until a few weeks ago. Tampa Bay also rolled out LF Sean Rodriguez and his .246 BA and C Jose Lobaton and his .249/7/32 line.
Method to Maddon’s Madness
There is always method to manager Joe Maddon’s madness. Early on, he looked like a genius, when Rodriguez opened the scoring with a long shot over the Monster. Even smarter when 2B Ben Zobrist did the same thing two innings later.
Zobrist has been a wonder since the All-Star break, especially through the stretch run and early post-season. His defense has been game-saving. At the plate, he’s been (no surprise) a reliable, consistent presence with a penchant for coming up big in the clutch. It’s hard to overestimate Zobrist’s second-half importance to the Rays, and how he steps up will as much as anything determine how far the team goes in these playoffs.
But as smart as Maddon looked early on with a 2-0 lead and Matt Moore seemingly on his game, a few disastrous innings later Papa Joe looked like a doofus.
It wasn’t his fault. Things fell apart when RF Wil Myers let drop a fly ball I could have fielded in Little League. Unlike Little League, Capri Sun and orange slices were not the stakes. It was all downhill after that. Balls were hit. Balls were missed (though no errors were assessed). Runs scored. Lots of runs, none of them by the Rays after the first two.
“Twenty-four Hours Can Make a Huge Difference”
TBS has been plugging the Rays as a “magical” team in promotional spots. You have to wonder: Where was the magic Friday night? More importantly, how quickly can Maddon find out where it was hiding in the series opener?
The opening drubbing isn’t the end of the world. The Sox were daisy fresh after four days off. The Rays, meanwhile, haven’t been home seemingly since Roosevelt (either one) was president.
This is a tired team. Not worn-out tired, just temporarily gassed. They’ve been living in a whirlwind, emotionally and physically.
But they got a chance to buy fresh socks and underwear on a day off in Boston. They’re pumped. They’re confident, with good reason – they’ve got game-changer David Price taking the mound in Game 2.
“Twenty-four hours can make a huge difference. That’s just one game, baby. That’s just one,” Maddon said in his postgame press conference. “We’ll be back tomorrow, I promise you. We’ll be ready to play. We will not be affected mentally by tonight’s game.”