The new millennium is already becoming crowded with major World Series breakthroughs, but room might have to be made for the work of the Rays.
This is apparently the century for major Fall Classic developments. The Boston Red Sox broke an 86-year championship drought in 2004. The very next October, the Chicago White Sox won their first World Series in 88 years.
The Rays obviously don't have that kind of historical sweep behind them. But they bring their own kind of immediacy to the process -- 10 years of futility, changing in one season to a legitimate run at winning the whole thing. There has never been anything like this in the history of baseball. It is unique, it is unprecedented, and it is compelling.
The Rays did their championship cause considerable good in Game 2 of the 2008 World Series. They evened the Series at 1-1 with a 4-2 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies.
It was an evening for the display of all things Rays, meaning all good things. Starter James Shields danced into and out of difficulty with persistent success. He was indeed "Big Game" James, always finding a way out of danger, making a pitch when a pitch absolutely had to be made.
"Shields struck out three guys there, all three of them with a guy on third with less than two outs," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "He kind of hurt us."
Shields finished with 5 2/3 shutout innings against the potent Philadelphia lineup. Rookie lefty David Price, emerging as the de facto closer, got the last seven outs. He was touched for two runs, one earned, but at crunch time the Phillies couldn't get to him, either.
On the other side of the issue, the Rays, who had been displaying considerable power earlier in the postseason, went back to a less-flashy, but equally effective offense: They produced singles and moved runners.
|The 2008 World Series is the 16th since 1969 to be even after Game 2. Six of the first 15 series have gone on to seven games, and the team that won Game 2 went on to win the Series eight times.|
|Year||Won G2||Opp.||WS Result|
|1969||Mets||Orioles||Mets in 5|
|1973||Mets||Athletics||Athletics in 7|
|1974||Dodgers*||Athletics||Athletics in 5|
|1975||Reds||Red Sox||Reds in 7|
|1977||Dodgers||Yankees||Yankees in 6|
|1979||Pirates||Orioles||Pirates in 7|
|1982||Cardinals*||Brewers||Cardinals in 7|
|1983||Orioles*||Phillies||Orioles in 5|
|1984||Padres*||Tigers||Tigers in 5|
|1992||Blue Jays||Braves||Blue Jays in 6|
|1993||Blue Jays*||Phillies||Blue Jays in 6|
|1997||Indians||Marlins||Marlins in 7|
|2002||Angels*||Giants||Angels in 7|
|2003||Yankees*||Marlins||Marlins in 6|
|2006||Tigers*||Cardinals||Cardinals in 5|
|* - Home team for Game 2|
The Rays scored four runs in the first four innings. Two of those runs were brought in on infield groundouts. Another was brought in on a squeeze bunt by Jason Bartlett. Nice. Manager Joe Maddon always says that the Rays have National League aspects. Here, they were playing National League ball better than the National Leaguers.
"I can't tell you how happy I was with that," Maddon said. "And again, this is just how I think. I'm watching that. I turned to [bench coach] Davey Martinez and I said, this is what we have to emphasize next year in Spring Training, scoring runs with outs. We've been horrid with that all year. We were not a very good team to score runs with outs.
"I really want us to understand, it's being validated when you're playing this time of year, under these circumstances, to be able to have that within your arsenal to score runs with outs, see how important it is. Go back to Game 2 versus the Phillies, boom. So when you're talking about it in the spring, all of a sudden it takes on a different light. Guys get it, 'Oh, yeah, that's what you're talking about.' So all of a sudden it's easier to sell it or push it. We want to be able to be that team. Ground ball, ground ball, bunt, three points right there, that's beautiful."
The Rays have the right components for regular-season success and for success in October as well. Their strongsuits are pitching and defense. They have speed. They do not have a frightening lineup, but they can have an effective lineup, with enough versatility in it to find a way to win.
At this point, anybody who is still surprised by the Rays' success has basically missed the six months of the regular season and the first three weeks of the postseason. North America is improving in its Rays awareness.
And Tropicana Field, hosting the second World Series game in its history, while far from a conventional ballpark, is not this global center of weirdness that some want to make it.
Its atmosphere was suitably festive on Thursday night. Much has been made of the cowbells, and they are pervasive. Clang, clang, clang, etc. It should be noted, however, that pregame messages on the scoreboard instruct Rays fans on the appropriate times to use the cowbells. No random clanging is recommended, because that would be annoying. When the Rays score? OK, clang. When a Rays pitcher gets the count to two strikes on an opposing hitter? Again, clang away. As the use of cowbells in a domed facility goes, this is downright civilized behavior.
On Thursday night, a Rays World Series championship did not seem like a far-fetched notion. That in itself is a tremendous leap forward, from the depths of defeat to the top of the game in one year. A trip to Philadelphia and three games against a dangerous Phillies club in a hitter-friendly park stand between the Rays and October's ultimate triumph. But this club has come so far so fast that the wildly improbable has now become no worse than a distinct possibility.
If the Rays were to win, it would be no miracle. But it would be an epic baseball journey.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less