No words are necessary to describe the shellacking the Rays just took. It's been all over the television, radio, and internet ever since around the fifth inning yesterday, when people realized that Brandon Morrow was doing something pretty incredible. We all know Morrow struck out 17 Rays while coming within one out of a no-hitter. You possibly even already know that Morrow's performance scored the highest Game Score (a measure created by Bill James to measure a pitcher's overall performance on a given day) since Randy Johnson's perfect game back in 2004. By Game Score, Morrow's performance was ranked the fourth best single-game start for a pitcher since 1920. That's saying something.
And so, you can interpret this game however you want. We all know that the Rays have been struggling offensively recently. With Carlos Pena injured and Evan Longoria and Ben Zobrist both slumping, the Rays are lacking a consistent offensive punch. There are also now reasons to be concerned about the pitching staff too, with Grant Balfour on the disabled list and Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann both experiencing shoulder soreness. All of these events happened so suddenly - all the injuries have happened within the last week and a half - it magnifies their emotional impact and makes it feel like the Rays are unraveling. In a pennant race, there's little perceived difference between a skid and a death knell.
Be pessimistic if you want. There are plenty of reasons to be nervous about these next couple of months, reasons that yesterday's performance elevates and makes more pronounced. If you want to be downtrodden, go for it; it would help you later on if the Rays flop and don't make the playoffs, keeping you from hurting as much.
Personally, I can't do it.
I can't help but look at this team and believe. Maybe it's because I'm a natural optimist, but I refuse to cut down my expectations for this team. Sure, I'm setting myself up for a bigger fall if the Rays don't get far in the playoffs, but I don't want to turn pessimistic just to save myself some emotional pain later. One of my favorite things about sports is that they give us an outlet for emotions, letting us feel strong emotions on a regular basis. Without baseball, I wouldn't feel extreme sadness or joy but for a few times a year; with baseball, though, I can oscillate between those extremes within the span of a week (see: last Monday to now). And I treasure that emotion, for better or worse.
As much as it hurt, I wouldn't trade the feeling of losing the 2008 World Series for anything. Head still in the clouds from the Boston series, it was a punch in the gut that slowly sunk in over the course of the week - a "gift" that kept on giving. To appreciate the highs, though, you need to experience the lows as well. Yesterday hurt and I may hurt more before the end of the season, but such extremes remind us we're alive, infusing our lives with excitement and unpredictability.
The season is a long one and there will be many more emotional troughs and peaks before the ending. We may not have bottomed out yet, but we also may not have hit our high-point either. No matter how you choose to interpret last night's game - as a damn fine pitching performance by Morrow, a pitiful offensive showing by the Rays, a bit of both, etc - or how you choose to feel about it, savor that emotion because that's part of the reason we become fans. The more you love something - as I love the Rays - the more pain you'll feel, but also the more happiness in the end. But even if all it brings me this season is more pain, I can't deny these Rays.