The Philadelphia Phillies, they explained, have their lineup set and waiting. The Phillies, they stressed, had played lights out against the Dodgers and the Cubs to reach their first World Series in 15 years.
Yeah, you know I had doubts too, but not anymore. The young crazy Rays have that unmistakeable aura surrounding them right now: A team of destiny.
To correct some people, no, they are not the team to go from the worst record ever in the history of baseball to bounce the next season in the Fall Classic. That would be the Atlanta Braves. But that’s not why they appear like a team of destiny.
The Rays have a much bigger advantage. They are under no pressure to win this thing. And that means they get to keep playing happy-go-lucky, against the odds baseball that emphasizes youthful exuberance over carefully designed baseball that emphasizes statistics over living human beings.
But as evidenced on Sunday night, it doesn’t always work. There was every reason to believe that the Rays meltdown in Game 5 would come back to haunt them. It didn’t. They cruised through Game 7 as if it were just another game from mid-July. No sense of tension, no look of fear, Mr. Ortiz.
And even if the Rays lacked the pounding bats of just a few games ago, they did just enough to scratch out three runs. And in a performance that will soon become baseball legend manager Joe Maddon put the franchise season into the hands of Danny Price, a rookie reliever who earlier this season was playing in the minors. With bases loaded, Price shut down the Red Sox in the eighth inning and then returned to shut them down in the ninth as well.
So the team that better have the doubts right now is the Phillies. If the Red Sox had advanced to the World Series, all the talk would have been about whether the aging veterans had enough juice to pull out back-to-back victories. Now all the talk will be about how the Rays, with their relatively cheap payroll, their young, inexperienced team, may not be able to handle the backdrop of the World Series or the dominance of the Phillies team.
That will be just fine for this team. They will keep playing they way they have been playing, doing whatever it takes to win. And in a few short games, everyone in Philadelphia will know the names of Evan Longoria and Matt Garza and B.J. Upton. And they will know about cowbells and Mohawks and all the other wonderful goofy things about the 2008 Rays season.
And you know what? They will also know it after watching “the improbable dream” claim a World Series title for the Rays.
Plain and simple: Rays in 6 games.
No doubt about it.