Rays fans have now had almost a week to ruminate on the team’s loss in Game 6 of the World Series. It stung, and the ensuing (and I fear long-lasting) conversation regarding certain decisions in that game have been frustrating, mostly because this was such an amazing year to be a Rays fan.
Don’t believe me? Or do believe me but still stuck in a “Cash pulled Snell” rut anyway? Here’s a list of some of the best things to happen for Rays fans this year:
Not Ranked (because frankly it’s too important to be trivialized by a ranking): The Rays response in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the ensuing increase in attention to the Black Lives Matter movement
The rest of this list will be focused on things the Rays did on the field, but arguably their most impressive moment came on June 2.
Following the murder of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer, we have engaged in conversations with community leaders and our Diversity and Inclusion Committee.— Tampa Bay Rays (@RaysBaseball) June 2, 2020
The Rays and Rowdies are issuing the following statement: pic.twitter.com/FxCmKn8Jll
The Rays (and Rowdies) had quite possibly the strongest response of any professional sports team to the murder of George Floyd, using direct language and promising direct action, with financial banking.
No other sports franchises did this, and of all the things the Rays organization did in 2020, this is the one that made me most proud to be a Rays fan.
Since then, the Rays also made good on their promise, paying out $100,000 to local groups pursuing social justice in the Tampa Bay area.
If that doesn’t make you proud to be a Rays fan, you didn’t deserve the rest of this list.
7) Discovered a potential MVP
This is how you know the Rays had a crazy season. The found a rookie—in fact, they found a pre-rookie, because he will be rookie eligible again in 2021—who had arguably the best postseason any position player has ever had. Easily arguable just by using counting stats!
Randy Arozarena was by far the breakout star of the 2020 MLB postseason, shattering rookie records, and then later, just stone cold postseason records. There’s almost no way he’ll be able to live up to the hype in 2021, but that doesn’t mean the future isn’t brighter than a pair of sparkling cowboy boots.
6) Became the first team to ever blow a 3-0 lead and then win Game 7
This was very nearly at the very bottom of the list of the things the Rays did in 2020, as they took a commanding 3-0 lead over the Houston Astros in the ALCS, only to see Houston take three in a row themselves and force a Game 7.
This was only the second time in baseball history that a team had even come back from a 3-0 deficit, so just to clarify, that whole part wasn’t great.
The mental fortitude needed to blow such a large series lead and then come back to win a Game 7—aka the biggest pressure cooker of an environment that professional sports has! That’s incredible.
5) Eliminated the two most hate-able teams in the postseason
I mean, really. In hindsight, could you have drawn up a sweeter, more satisfying road to the World Series than dispatching both the Cheatin’ Astros and the Evil Empire Yankees, themselves?
Speaking of which...
4) Experienced arguably the best “Revenge is best served with a long ball when it really matters” moment of the past quarter century
Let’s have the images do the talking:
[Jordan Peele in Wanderlust voice] Cut to:
I wish I could get Chapman’s pained face as my phone background.
3) They won the American League East for the first time since 2010, finishing the regular season with a .667 winning percentage, the best in franchise history
Of course that winning percentage comes with a bit of an asterisk given the shortened season, but their Pythagorean winning percentage was still the best in franchise history, and there’s a good argument to be made that this iteration of the team was the best in franchise history.
They dominated the regular season with an offense that ranked ninth in baseball by wRC+, a pitching staff that ranked third in baseball by xFIP, and a defense that ranked first in baseball in FanGraphs defensive WAR. (Fun fact: The Padres were the only other team in baseball to rank in the top ten in all three of those categories. Yay, West Coast Rays!)
Winning the American League East is never a small feat, and the winning didn’t stop there.
2) THEY WON THE AMERICAN LEAGUE PENNANT!
Ok, this is groundbreaking news or anything, but can we just reiterate
THE RAYS WON THE 2020 AMERICAN LEAGUE PENNANT
1) They gave Rays fans two absolute franchise pantheon games in an amazing playoff run
For the longest time, it has been Game 162, the first game in franchise history, and Aki holding down the top spots in Rays Games lore. Now, however, there are two more entrants—and both have a good case at the top spot.
The first nominee has been noted in passing already, Game 5 of the ALDS, a game capped with the most cathartic moment imaginable, but the rest of the game was a barn burner in and of itself. It’s probably the loudest I’ve ever gotten over a Rays game.
In final moments of Game 4 of the World Series, the Rays became a Salvador Dali painting come to life—with Brett Phillips (quite possibly the most loveable human alive) as its hero. It was the type of game, capped by the type of moments, that guarantee Phillips airplane and Randy’s slap of home plate will appear in World Series’ montages for the next 25 years.
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All of that, and the Rays now get to add the number one prospect in baseball, a player who arguably fits their biggest need (a hitter with extreme contact skills who can play third base). Something tells me 2021 may be a pretty good year for the Rays too.