When the Boston Red Sox closed a five-game gap in a hurry to end the first half of the season, overtaking the Rays who stumbled into the All-Star break losing seven in row, you got the feeling that first place might be theirs for a large percentage of the second half.
But after only one day, the Rays took back their half-game lead in the American League East and looked to run away from the rest of the division, playing inspired baseball through the dog days of summer.
Even in the midst of injuries to their most notable star, Carl Crawford, and their MVP candidate in waiting, Evan Longoria, the Rays pulled out win after win from the most miraculous of places.
The Rays found themselves three games up in the division at the trade deadline and rolled the dice by, well, not casting the dice at all. Meanwhile, the Red Sox traded in a monster card for a chance at a better hand. (I may have stretched that analogy a little far…but hey…it’s my post.)
For most of August, it didn’t look like standing pat at the deadline would be a decision laden with any “what ifs” for Rays fans. They stretched their lead over the Red Sox to five-and-a-half games by the end of the month. Mind you, that same Red Sox team went 18-9 in August only to lose two-and-a-half games in the standings. The Rays were that hot.
Once again, however, the Red Sox would make a five-game lead disappear in a hurry as they opened September with six wins in seven games while the Rays would lose five of six heading into a weekend showdown.
With two games left in their head to head series at Fenway Park, the Red Sox stood only a half game back. Of course, we all know how that turned out as the Rays would leave Boston back up two-and-a-half games.
With the Toronto Blue Jays coming to town for four games and more talk about the Jays making some noise in the Wild Card race than the Red Sox in the division, the Red Sox put the series loss to the Rays and a season’s worth of trouble with the Jays behind them and played like a team readying for a postseason run.
At the same time, Red Sox fans may have found themselves in the odd position of smiling at the linescore featuring a Yankee win, make that two against the Rays.
Now, following a dismantling of Scott Kazmir last night in Tampa Bay, after 52 games looking up at the Rays above them in the standings, the Red Sox have finally climbed back to the top of the mountain in the American League East.
The question now is can they stay there over the next 13 games?