Nothing is easy for the Tampa Bay Rays. They don’t have much money. Their stadium is outdated. They don’t draw a crowd, in spite of quality play, and St. Petersburg is daring them to move to Orlando. Yet here they are, playing a historic Game 163 for the right to play Game 164, for the chance to get into the MLB play-offs.
It wasn’t easy to get here. The Rays had a disappointing start to the season, and August was no better. David Price ended up on the DL for the first time in his career, Jeremy Hellickson got the yips, and Evan Longoria’s feet hurt. The worst thing was Game 162.
The Rays put up a commanding early seven runs against the Toronto Blue Jays, who were minus Encarnation, Bautista, Cabrera—well, just about everyone. By the seventh inning, it was a three-run game with the bases loaded. Out came Joe Maddon to talk to beleaguered pitcher Joel Peralta, whose good stuff was left in the bullpen. He stayed there, on the mound, until home plate umpire Paul Schreiber approached. Schreiber may never hear again. Joe delivered a profanity-laced tirade about the unstable strike zone and piss-poor calls against the Rays, then cheerfully headed to the clubhouse. Peralta got a ground-out; Rays won 7-6.
That’s why the Rays never give up: Joe Maddon doesn’t, never, ever. He’ll do whatever is necessary to keep his team focused. Today he is raving about how excited he is to play the Texas Rangers, who have ended the Rays’ seasons in the past. “It’s wonderful,” Maddon says. “I love it. Let’s just go play another game of baseball.”
Tampa Bay Rays shirt—check. Cowbell—check. Antacids—check. Maddon gnome and bobblehead—check. Play ball.