On July 23rd, the Rays dropped a rather lifeless game to the Kansas City Royals 10-4. That put the Rays at just six games above .500 at 53-47 and 6.5 games behind the Yankees and 9.5 games behind the Red Sox in the standings. Coolstandings.com gave the Rays a 0.7% chance to win the division and a 4.6% chance to even make the playoffs. At the time, the Red Sox were the hottest and healthiest team in baseball and the Yankees were putting it all together as they had allowed as few runs as the Rays had to date while outscoring them by 97 runs.
After that loss, I felt the Rays were a team that was treading water and seemed very unlikely to make any kind of roster move to improve the situation on the team outside of the recent promotion of Desmond Jennings. Those feelings lead me to make the following comment that one reader described as, "aggressively stupid":
THIS IS NOT, NOR HAS IT BEEN, a playoff team since over the past 4 weeks. Tommy, RJ, Slow, Me, PECOTA, etc all said 86-88 wins with the team needing some breaks for a shot at the post-season. Losing your best player for 26 games and having him hobble through the rest and losing your clean-up hitter five games into the season is not catching breaks.
Once people come to grips with watching this team as a competitive team and not a playoff team, it is a lot easier to watch. I came to 100% grips with this on Monday night.
The Rays went on to go 38-24 on their way to achieve the biggest comeback in history of baseball and in the process, made me look aggressively stupid for my comments in July.
I do not regret making the statement when I did because with the knowledge at hand, it was fitting. My only regret would be if my statement took the joy out of any of the final 62 games of the season. If that applies to any of you reading this, my most sincere apologies.
I did not approach the final 62 games with any less zeal for Rays baseball as I either watched or listened to every inning the team played as long as I was not stuck on a non-connected airplane and/or below 10,000 feet in the air when you have to shut off your electronics. After the typical successful August the Rays have, the cloud of post-season pessimism that lingered as I watched games changed to something out of the Lloyd and Mary scene in Dumb and Dumber:
Lloyd the Rays fan: What do you think the chances are of a team like the Rays and a guy like me ending up in the post-season together?
Projection Systems: Well, Lloyd, that's difficult to say. I mean, with the data at hand....
Lloyd the Rays fan: Hit me with it! Just give it to me straight! I have watched this team for five months just to hopefully see them play in October, PECOTA Coolstandings. The least you can do is level with me. What are the chances?
Projection Systems: Not good
Lloyd the Rays fan: You mean, not good like one out of a hundred?
Projection Systems: I'd say more like one out of a million
Lloyd the Rays fan: So, you're telling me there's a chance.....YEAH!
With that, the team went on to a nerve-racking 17-10 September in which they dropped three games to their newest besties in the Baltimore Orioles while also taking six of seven from the "greatest team in history," and two of three from their current post-season opponent.
I did a national radio spot on Saturday after the Rays dropped a 5-1 game to Toronto as David Price provided Tom Emanski with enough motivation to do an update to his instructional videos. In that segment, I told the host that the Rays could not afford to lose another game as their playoff odds had dropped to just 3.7% and the team responded to that statement as they did my statement in July and indeed did not lose another game in the regular season bringing us this wonderfully improbable post-season berth.
In summary, I have never been happier to be so wrong about a mid-season analysis and this month's play by the team to close out the regular season eclipses nearly every sports memory I have built up in my 30+ years as a sports fan because the improbability of it all is what has made it that much more enjoyable down the stretch. As magical as Wednesday night was, September is not over and defeating nemesis C.J. Wilson to close out the month would be the perfect way to close out the most memorable month in franchise history.
This day is for guys like Topper and Sandy who called me out on the initial comment and for fans that have the ability to ignore the probability projection systems throw at them while clinging to the improbability of their wants and desires for the Rays. Today is a special moment for the entire fan base, but it is even more special for those of you that held firm to your convictions and never relented in your belief that this team would be in the post-season as you thumbed your noses at the analysts, experts, and computers that tried to tell you otherwise.
Enjoy the moment!
Throughout this ALDS, we have a lot of great content scheduled for everyone including the revival of The Podcast To Be Named Later and alumni week as R.J. Anderson and Tommy Rancel flash their Analysts Emeritus labels and come back here to do what they do best. If you can stream online from wherever you are today, I will be on ESPN Dallas radio at 10:15 ET this morning on the Ben and Skin show to discuss the Rays and the ALDS.