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Rays 4, Blue Jays 8: Another Win Bites the Dust

Going over .500 is literally impossible, apparently.

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Kevin Cash breathed a sigh of relief. The curse surely had been broken.

He had felt unsure at first, of course, as the symmetry of the early game seemed eerily familiar. His boys and the Blue Jays (two teams, he couldn’t help but notice, that donned the color blue) traded zeroes in the early innings. Not uncommon for baseball games, of course, but since last month any repeated figures or numbers had been cause for double takes and intense introspection. Chris Archer had been dealing, and Francisco Liriano had seem shaky, yet both scoreboards were full of goose eggs. The average fan might chalk it up to an under-performing offensive showing by the hometown team. Only Cash knew the real reason.

But in the fourth inning, the Rays finally broke through. Although an umpire review threatened to dramatically overrule it, Daniel Robertson’s one-out home run still counted. That run was enough to break the fearful symmetry. And seemingly untethered from their mirror selves (Cash wished it was something as simple as a shadowmaster or a tulpa) the Rays continued to pile on. Like water rushing over a dam, the Rays continued to score. Derek Norris’s home run doubled the score, and Liriano seemed to crumble under his own weight, letting Rays reach base left and right. Tim Beckham singled on a ground ball, the night after his incredible two-homer performance that mirrored last week’s outing against the Orioles. Kevin Kiermaier reached on a HBP. Two straight walks then pushed a run home, echoing last year’s “Bases Loaded Walks Champions” Banner that still hung in the rafters of Tropicana Field, right behind the Wild Card one. The Rays seemed secure with a three-run lead.

That the Blue Jays answered back with a quick run the next inning seemed insignificant. A 3-1 lead still seemed solid, especially with Chris Archer on the mound. At this point, Chris had been dealing, retiring 8 Jays via the strikeout to start the fifth. Cash felt relieved that his ace was responding to his silent rituals. Cash would never, could never let Archer know about the animal sacrifices and esoteric chants: rituals he abhorred but knew were necessary if the team were ever to climb above .500. The Rays had been hovering right there, right at the precipice for weeks now. They had dipped below it, then caught their breath at the surface before being pulled back down below the water line. Cash tried not to think of why this was, the true reason known only to him. He remained focused on the game, and tried to forget that terrible night.

“Even if,” he thought, “it will haunt me forever.”

The Rays’ inability to climb over .500 was frustrating to the average fan. How they could not put together a string of wins since April 13 baffled pundits and sportswriters all over. No one suspected, of course, the sinister truth. No one recognized the monstrous symmetry at the heart of it all.

“How could they?” thought Cash. It would take far more than the average fan to suss it out.

But the fact of the matter that the Rays were trapped, trapped in a cycle that kept them from reaching their true potential. Cash’s countermeasures were strategic and at times brilliant, as he operated on a plane beyond that of the game. He understood that in order to break the grip of the curse, one might have to lose a game on purpose. This understanding motivated some of his more questionable decisions around the use of the bullpen and starting lineups. But Cash always had the best interests of the team on his mind. At the end of the day, he wanted nothing more to put the Rays over the edge, to break the barrier and put them on the right side of the ledger.

And so, he left Chris Archer out for the seventh inning. With fewer than 100 pitches, it seemed like the right move. Archer had previously pitched for longer, and seemed particularly locked in.

Of course, it wasn’t the right move. Archer, who had been solid all night, lost control of his fastball. Without it, he was unable to set the table for his off-speed pitches, and walked the leadoff batter. Cash remembered how in his last game at Toronto, he walked the leadoff batter in the final inning he pitched, a move that saddled him with a no-decision. Certainly the echoes couldn’t extend that far! They could not be so precise. It was impossible. They stuck to wins and losses, cancelling each other out. They had no sway over individual performance. Right?

With a two-run blast, Kendrys Morales evened the score. Cash could see the impossible symmetry, the fans once again second-guessing his choice to leave Archer in. He could sense Archer’s frustration, and rightfully understood that the problem was not with his incredible athletic ability. The deck had been stacked against him since that night in the rain, where Cash made the biggest mistake of his life.

His team, God bless them, fought back. Thanks to a couple hits and a fielding error by Chris Coghlan, the Rays loaded the bases with no outs in the seventh. With last season’s failures with the bases loaded and no outs still fresh in the manager’s mind, the Rays managed to scrape a run home on an odd fielding choice by Justin Smoak. The Rays once again led by one run.

And yet, it wasn’t enough. Cash tried not to consider the parallels between the seventh and eighth innings, wherein he would be blamed for leaving in the previous pitcher two batters too long. It was funny, if you really sat and thought about it.

Right after Chris Coghlan boots a ball at third to put a Rays at second base, Peter Bourjos drops a ball that landed in his glove to put a Blue Jay at second base. Cash tried not to laugh.

Kevin Pillar doubled the man on second home, tying the game off of the new reliever Jumbo Diaz. Diaz, who would reach two strikes to every batter he faced, would only record one out in the inning: a Jose Bautista strikeout. As Jumbo allowed wild pitches and runners to advance, Cash sat and remembered the worst night of his life.

He had been running home in the rain, something had liked to do every now and then. He liked the way the rain smacked his face, and the cool breeze of his jog made him feel as though he was running much faster than his old catcher’s knees would allow. He had his eyes closed when he bumped into that old woman, knocking her to the ground. A momentary lapse in judgement. He apologized profusely, and tried to reach down to pick her up, but recoiled in fear upon looking into her eyes.

It was night, and cars were whizzing by, and streetlamps dimly lit the alleys of St. Petersburg. But Kevin Cash knew from the moment he looked at the old woman that she was not of this world. Her eyes, dark as soot, glowed with a white-hot intensity. Her gnarled hands bent in all the wrong directions. Cash tried to run, but was locked into place. His feet betrayed him. As she effortlessly rose to her feet, she spat words at Cash, words that were not English but were ones he somehow understood perfectly. She spoke directly to his soul. Cash had never been more afraid. He understood later—much later—that the witch he met outside the stadium had cursed him, cursed him not with death or ill luck, but with something much, much worse.

Cash heard the crack, and didn’t bother to look up. Kendrys Morales’ second home run of the night was a carbon copy of his first monster shot, and it would be all the Blue Jays needed. Justin Smoak’s home run was an afterthought, a curiosity on a box score somewhere down the road. Yet again, the Rays would reach the bleeding edge of .500, yet come away unfulfilled.

The game was over. Cash walked into the dugout, past the bathroom on the right, past the crack in the concrete, past the door. It was 48 steps to his office; he counted them one day. He knew he would have to face the media, asking the same questions over and over. He would give them the same answers, and they would be satisfied. He would wake up early tomorrow to do the pregame interviews, and seem optimistic yet again. In truth, he could see the long road ahead. The Rays would finish the season 81-81, with runs allowed equaling runs scored: a perfectly mediocre team. They would not be bad enough to rebuild, nor would they be close enough to a playoff spot to consider spending more money to push them over the edge. They were a cosmically perfect entity, a perfectly balanced team with an entropy of 0. They would win as much as they would lose, and they would do it over and over again until the end of time.

As Cash looked down, he saw the imprints on the carpet his feet had made. He traveled the same path after every game. The carpet was worn down, frayed in those dark spots yet pristine all around them.

Eyes closed, he sighed, and counted his steps to the office.