This morning, the Red Sox and their fans are still scratching their heads. No, it wasn't a dream, although it probably feels like one.
Tampa Bay defeated the World Champions in Game Seven of the ALCS. They are on their way to the World Series for the first time ever.
As I watched the young Rays celebrate on their field Sunday night, I had to admit that I never thought they would make the playoffs, let alone win the AL pennant.
Since their inception 10 years ago, the Rays have been the laughing stock of the AL East and most of baseball. Their teams were always full of young players that probably should've stayed in the minors for a longer amount of time, but due to the fact that there were no other players to fill the positions, the youngsters were treading water in the big pond.
The teams also had a few veterans that were usually at the tail end of their careers, trying to stretch it out for a little bit longer.
The Rays seemed like a lost cause. Even a successful manager like Lou Piniella felt that he wasn't given the tools to work with in order to make a good team. So what changed?
Since the Rays always finished last in the standings, they almost always had the ability to get good draft picks (like Rocco Baldelli, Carl Crawford, B.J. Upton, and Evan Longoria). Over the past couple of years, the Rays have stockpiled their good young players and worked hard to develop them. They hired Joe Maddon as their manager, who was a successful coach in the Angels' organization.
They made some killer trades—they gave up Victor Zambrano to the Mets and ended up with Scott Kazmir (it's obvious who was on the better end of that trade). They sent Delmon Young, a highly-touted prospect to the Twins and in return got Jason Bartlett and Matt Garza. Garza almost single-handedly beat the Red Sox by holding them down in both games that he pitched, and as a result was named the MVP of the ALCS.
At the start of the 2008 season, the Rays stood at the top of the AL East, which most people, myself included, thought was a fluke. The rest of us knew they had talented players, but something would happen like it always did, and soon Tampa Bay would be back to the bottom and order would restore itself.
Except that never happened.
The Rays never slipped below second place this entire season, and they spent more days in first place than the Red Sox or Yankees. They had a bunch of serious injuries to Carl Crawford, Evan Longoria, and Troy Percival. In addition, Rocco Baldelli was diagnosed with mitochondrial myopathy, and it was uncertain if he would ever play baseball again.
Injuries didn't slow them down. Willy Aybar filled in while Evan Longoria was recovering from a broken wrist, and he showcased his talent. When the regular players returned, they picked up right where they left off. Even Rocco Baldelli, who made his return to the majors in August, started contributing right away, and most notably let his presence be known in Games Four and Seven of the ALCS with some timely RBI.
The American League will be represented in the Fall Classic by a group of virtual no-names. Some people are already saying that this World Series won't be watched by as many people as it would if the Yankees or Red Sox were the AL champs. They say that the Rays resemble frat boys more than baseball players, but maybe there is something to be said about that.
I'm no expert on fraternities, but the concept of brotherhood is prevalent in most or all of them, and that is exactly what the Rays exemplify. As they celebrated on their field, jumping around, smiling and yelling in excitement, there was no doubt every emotion they were showing was genuine.
They stuck together through all the bad times and managed to take the AL and the rest of baseball by storm this year. Maybe the other clubs should take a lesson from Tampa Bay. Brotherhood is all it's cracked up to be. This band of fraternity boys is heading to the World Series and proving that Cinderella most definitely gets her (his) day.
Now let's see if they get the rest of their fairy tale.
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