ST PETERSBURG, FL - OCTOBER 04: Matt Moore #55 of the Tampa Bay Rays pitches in the fifth inning against the Texas Rangers in Game Four of the American League Division Series at Tropicana Field on October 4, 2011 in St Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
There are many pictures I could have picked for today's game recap. I could have gone with a picture of Sean Rodriguez barreling over Mike Napoli at the plate, scoring the Rays first run. Rodriguez was probably the star of the game for the Rays, reaching base three times and scoring in each instance.
Or I could have gone with a picture of Casey Kotchman roping a dribbler up the middle, as Kotchman has been emblematic of the Rays this season: the improbable and impossible turned into reality. Kotchman had two hits on the day -- and you guessed it, one of them #Magic'd it's way through the infield -- and drove in two runs.
Or maybe I should have chosen a picture of Evan Longoria. Even though Evan went hitless today, Longoria was one of the main reasons the Rays reached the postseason; his two home runs against New York last Wednesday night are two home runs that will stick with me forever. Despite his early season injury and subsequent struggles, Longoria never complained and never gave up. When it would have been easy to admit defeat, time and time again this year, he said "No."
But what about Johnny Damon? Maybe I should have chosen a picture of Damon diving into first base in the sixth inning, gunning his hardest for a hit even though there was no one on base. It would seem fitting, as Damon was a clubhouse leader in grit, scrap, and smiles all season long. Remember his initial press conference, when him and Manny were joking back and forth with each other and causing us all to explode with anticipation? Things may not have gone down as we all expected -- and Damon may not have been the solution to the Rays offensive problems -- but I don't regret that signing one bit.
I could have easily chosen a picture of Jeremy Hellickson, as there are many shots of him looking frustrated in the wake of allowing three home runs over four innings to the Rangers. And that's how I'm sure many of us feel: frustrated, disappointed, and sad that the season has come to such a screeching halt. But that wouldn't be fair to Hellboy, who had an impressive (if BABIP influenced) rookie season. There's no need for us to finish the year on such a sour note.
And so, I ended up choosing a picture of Matt Moore. Not only did he dominate this series, allowing only one run over 10 innings of work against the potent Rangers lineup (including three innings on short rest today), but his story is one that fits so well within that larger team narrative. As 8th round pick from New Mexico, few people expected him to reach the majors, nonetheless to morph into the best pitching prospect in all of baseball. This season alone, he jumped from Double-A to Triple-A to the majors, and at each step of the way continued to dazzle. Improbable? Unreal? Both in spades.
But even more than that, when I look at Moore, I see the future. We suffered through a long year of waiting for Desmond Jennings, Brandon Guyer, Jake McGee, etc., but finally, the future is now. This season was a reloading year; next year, we let the kids play for keeps.
This was a Rays team that was supposed to struggle to hit .500, that supposedly didn't have a bullpen and would collapse as the Yankees and Red Sox ran over them. This was a team that started the season 0-6, lost Longoria to injury for a month, and still managed to climb back in the race. This was a team fueled by #Magic and supported by #Legends. This was a team that never knew when to quit, right up until the last inning of today's game.
These are the sort of seasons that build a franchise from the ground up. And next season....well, just look at Moore up there. Next year is gonna be fun.