Monday, October 20, 2008
The Phillies are in the World Series for the first time 1993, and this is my first blog post since they clinched the division about 3 weeks ago. I'm feeling a lot of pressure... pressure to write the right thing, pressure not to forget anything, and pressure not to jinx a team on the verge of breaking a 25 year old "curse" in the City of Brotherly Love.
A younger, more emotional Philistine would have flooded blank pages, radio airwaves, and dinnertime conversation with torrents of premature hoopla and mockery of the upcoming opponent. This, apparently, angered the Sports Gods (See: Flyers '08, Eagles '04, Eagles '03, Eagles '02, Eagles '01, Sixers '01, Flyers '97, etc. etc. etc.) So now, while my well-compensated contemporaries write bios on Pat the Bat and King Cole Hamels in Pennsylvania periodicals, I'm going to do the unthinkable and show some love and respect for the Phillies' worthy adversary, the Tampa Bay Gays.
The Tampa Bay franchise came into existence in 1998 as the "Devil Rays." Playing their home games in a stadium named after a juice drink, in front of crowds that made Major League Soccer look good, the Rays were annually the worst team in all of baseball. The Red Sox and Yankees reigned atop the American League East every year from 1998 to 2007, and the Tampa / St. Petersburg area did little more than provide beach time and good fishing for opposing players. It seemed Major League Baseball would have been better off letting Mark Cuban build a team in Mexico City.
Then, a funny thing happened. The Devil Rays, consistently near the bottom of the standings and thus atop of the draft order every year, were able to slowly accrue a glut of young talent. Year after year, Tampa Bay filled its minor league system with prodigious weapons at an alarming rate. Boston and New York, accustomed to being able to outspend the competition, could not have foreseen the seismic shift that was about to shake the foundations of baseball's capitalist tradition. In late 2007, Tampa Bay dropped the useless "Devil" prefix and.. BOOM.. all of a sudden, had one of the lowest paid, yet most talented, teams in all of baseball. Sometimes, it's good to be bad.
The RAYS burst out of the gate in 2008, and never looked back. They won 97 games (just like the '93 Phillies) and posted the best home record in all of baseball. (Who knew playing in front of 10,000 retirees and 5th graders on field trips could be an advantage?) The rotation is headed by Red Sox killer Scott Kazmir, James Shields (got his ass beat by a man named after a breakfast cereal, but is actually a very good pitcher), and ALCS MVP Matt Garza. Their lineup features its own version of Philly's Big Four:
* BJ Upton (CF, age 24): The #2 overall pick in 2005 hit 9 homers in 145 regular season games this year. He's already hit 7 dingers in 14 postseason games. Scares me more than any other Ray.
* Carl Crawford (LF, age 27) He has been in Tampa since 2002, and is a Jimmy Rollins-type player for the Rays. Gets on base and wreaks havoc. Could have gone pro in football, basketball, or baseball (was recruited to be the QB at Nebraska). Now that's an athlete.
* Carlos Pena (1B, age 30): The #10 overall pick in 1998 hit 41 homers in 2007, and is the veteran leader of this pre-pubescent team.
* Evan Longoria (3B, age 23): This rookie stud (drafted #3 overall in 2006) is already the best 3B in baseball. Homered in 4 STRAIGHT GAMES in the ALCS. Will one day be more famous than Eva Longoria. Very scary.
Those 4 bats will be counted on to puts runs on the board for the Rays. Then, there is David Price. Drafted #1 overall in 2007, this 6'6 lefty has a devastating arsenal of pitches that turned Red Sox postseason magic into October dust. He will be called upon to get the left-handed hitting Utley and Howard out late in games.
My boozing, baseball-loving brethren: it has come down to this. The Fightin' Phils, our heroes in the red pinstripes, a franchise that dates back to the Chester A. Arthur administration, will take on the "Tampa Bay Rays" for the 2008 World Series - a team that possesses an awesome, if not quite ripe, bunch of talent.
But it takes more than talent to win the World Series. It takes timing, luck, momentum... and good karma.
Good luck, Tampa Bay.. and GAME ON, bitches.