My wife promised me earlier in the week she'd take me to see Iron Man 3 this weekend, and come this evening, suddenly that plan had changed and instead we were to see The Great Gatsby with her sister and her friend. Not cool. While my child-like hopes and super-hero dreams had been somewhat dashed, I was able to take solace in catching most of the evenings Rays contest before we departed.
Our Rays were shooting for .500, a first since April 7th when they were 3-3, and when I left the house I was sure we would sail to an easy victory. The Rays offense had battered around a rookie pitcher in a way that you expect a professional lineup to do to a guy jumping from double-A to the majors; a six-run second inning had seen the youngster, Padres' starter Burch Smith, removed from the game and watching from the bench in shock. The Rays appeared to be clicking on all cylinders, lining base hit after base hit off the right-hander in an inning highlighted by a mammoth James Loney home run that tied the game, and left even Loney himself admiring his handy work from the batters box. Meanwhile, Rays right-hander Jeremy Hellickson, had settled in following a bumpy first inning and was in the midst of retiring a lengthy streak of Padre's and piling up the strikeouts along the way.
It was on the radio in the car on the way to dinner that I heard Dave Wills and Andy Freed call Jesus Guzman's inexplicable grand-slam that would tie the game at 6 with two outs in the top of the seventh. The same Jesus Guzman who had hit zero home runs this season, tallied only two RBI's and was slugging a measly .247; yet, here he was, pinch hitting and delivering the damage, stunning the Rays yet again. The disbelief that such an improbable thing could happen was matched only by the sinking, bitter reality that this was happening all over again; as if the scratched record was broken and unable to advance beyond the same tired track. Like in Kansas City, or versus Toronto, this team had once more blown a massive lead, and again they looked doomed to let a winnable game slip away in the later phases. Four more base-runners reached, and the go-ahead run walked home, as reliever Jamey Wright failed to find the strike zone.
At dinner my mood was sullen. The Rays are just a baseball team, a group of men wearing familiar laundry. But we all know the feeling too well. That bad loss that can ruin an evening. The thrilling victory that can ignite a spark inside of you and make life brighter. While my wife and her sister were laughing at inside jokes over cocktails, my eyes kept peeking at the LCD screen across the room. It was the bottom of the ninth, there were two outs. I was trying to not let a Rays loss effect my mood but it was wearing on me. It's only May, but there has already been far too many painful defeats, too many blown leads and blown calls. Then Ben Zobrist managed to get his bat on a tiny piece of a third strike slider from Huston Street, keeping his at bat alive and eventually drawing a two-out walk.
"If there's anyone we want up with our last chance on the line, its Evan," I said to my table mates who barely heard me.
The waitress interrupted the thought as she refilled our waters and brought me another Stella. When I looked back at the television Evan Longoria was rounding second base. The incredible had happened! My spirits were instantly lifted. It took a second for me to believe it, as I had missed the actual home run live, but a replay confirmed what I was hoping was real. Longoria had connected on a hanging slider and hammered a walk-off home run deep to left field and his teammates were now mobbing him at home plate. The camera from the first base line side of the field captured Longoria rounding first base and raising his right hand in the air in celebration, a fond and familiar image of another magical Rays moment.
"You are in such a better mood now," my wife said to me a mere five minutes later.
An evening--and maybe a season--saved by one swing of a bat.
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.