We all knew this was coming, but it didn't make the celebration any less sweet.
I'm trying to come up with words to adequately capture what I'm filling, but it's proving difficult. When we made the playoffs in 2008, things were simple: I was ecstatic with joy, with no room for any other feelings. We were a surprise team that came out of nowhere to shock the world; with so few expectations, every achievement along the way was worth getting excited over. Now, things are more complicated.
Ever since the Rays got eliminated from the 2008 World Series, I've been waiting for the Rays to go back. This year especially, the team is weighed down with expectations. Many players will be leaving and the core of the team won't be the same again, so I find myself expecting great things from this team. Making the playoffs? Damn straight they'd better make them - I want them to go as far into October as possible.
That said, I didn't expect myself to get excited at the end of the game. The Rays beat the Orioles - so what? It's just one win and anyway, I'm still waiting to see if we will win the AL East. And yet....the ninth inning came, Rafael Soriano entered the game, and my heart started beating in my throat. Rafi got that final strike and I was as giddy as a schoolgirl - giggling and bouncing around our apartment, and making my wife give me odd looks. It was an incredibly powerful emotion, especially for one I was not expecting.
The Rays celebrated hard last night and well they should - they've just played 157 hard-fought games, and they now stand at the cusp of their season-long goal. This is the culmination of months of effort...and heck, for first-time players like Reid Brignac and Matt Joyce, this is what they've been dreaming about since they were a child. I doubt the Rays will consider this year a success unless they have a couple more of these celebrations - I think four more would do it - but at the same time, this is a huge step for a franchise that's still getting its feet under itself.
Five years ago, we were the bottom of the barrel - the laughingstock of the American League East. Yesterday, we had our homegrown ace throw eight innings, strike out eight, walk none, and lead our team to a playoff spot. Our defense was impressive, our offense had a few big hits (including homeruns by Carlos Pena and Carl Crawford, and a clutch double by Dan Johnson), and one of the best relievers in the majors slammed the door closed for us. We're going to the playoffs for the second time in three years: how many other teams can say that?
The Yankees won last night as well, so the Rays are still only a half game ahead of them. Their magic number for winning the division is now four, so here's hoping Jeff Niemann can continue the good vibes today. I will long remember the celebration last night, but this fight isn't over yet!