I have seen some great westerns in my time, Treasures of Sierra Madre, Hang'em High, and High Plains Drifter to name a few. But for me, the most exciting western was the Rays August 2008 trek out west to Seattle for 4 games, Oakland for 3 games, and Texas for 3 games. The Rays left Tampa with the best record in baseball at 68-45, winners of 7 of their last 8 games, and maintained a comfortable 3 game lead over the Red Sox and 6.5 games over the Yankees. The only negative surrounding the Rays was the benching of B.J. Upton in the series finale prior to heading out west for failing to run out a ground ball against the Indians. When asked about the benching Upton gave the classic quote of "I just work here."
Once out west the Rays kept winning games but losing players. In the first game of the trip Evan Longoria was hit in the wrist by a J.J. Putz fastball. Two nights later Carl Crawford heard his hand pop on a check swing and he was immediately placed on the 15-day DL. He eventually required surgery to fix a subluxation of his right middle finger tendon and was set to be out of the lineup for 6-8 weeks. The very next day the Rays announced that Evan Longoria had a broken right wrist and he too was to miss significant time By the end of the week closer Troy Percival was placed on the DL with a knee injury and was expected to miss 4-6 weeks. The triad of injuries was not the only odd occurrence on the trip, Joe Maddon elected to walk Josh Hamilton with the bases loaded and the Rays holding a 7-3 lead over the Rangers. The move worked out for Maddon Dan Wheeler struck out Marlon Byrd to end the game giving the Rays a 7-4 victory. Although the Rays finished the road trip with a 7-3 record and gained 1.5 games on 2nd place Boston, they faced a storm of uncertainty as they returned to St.Petersburg. The Rays were able to survive the injuries and win the AL East and eventually make it to the World Series.
The Rays embark on another important west coast road trip but this time under different circumstances. The Rays have won only 1-series in their last 7, which includes a pair of two-game series splits and are looking up at the Boston Red Sox (0.5 games behind) and New York Yankees (2.5 games behind) in the standings. They are looking to find themselves as they head on the road for a 4-city, 11 game road trip. The road trip starts out west against Seattle for a 4 game series and Los Angeles for 3 games, returns back east to Baltimore for 3 games, and finishes up in the mid-west for a 1-game make up game against the Detroit Tigers. Thanks to the make up game in Detroit the Rays don't have an off day prior to taking on the Boston Red Sox and Florida Marlins. Similar to the road trip in 2008, the Rays are going to find out a lot about themselves on this road trip. For some players, this road trip may be a last chance effort to prove they belong or else Joe Maddon and Andrew Friedman may have some decisions to make upon returning home. How important is this road trip?