ATLANTA – I tell you, the more I see this Tampa Bay Rays team, the more I like them. Having been a National League fan all of my life, this is one of those rare post seasons where I find myself rooting for the American League team. BJ Upton is one of the more exciting young players in the game. And what about Evan Longoria at age 23?!? He hammered Boston pitching.
I have to admit, coming into this series against the Red Sox, I was worried. The Red Sox are a wonderful franchise, with a wealth of postseason experience and incredible balance throughout their roster. They have one of the best postseason pitchers of this generation in Josh Beckett. Daisuke Matsuzaka is coming off of an amazing regular season, having gone 18 – 3 with a 2.90 ERA. Jonathan Papelbon is one of the best closers in the game. And they have a strong, disciplined lineup. I thought for sure the Rays spark would fade and the Red Sox would march into their 3rd World Series in 5 years.
Futher, after the devestating loss in Game 5 and an upset in Game 6 at Tampa, I thought the Rays were dead in the water. No team has had more Game 7, backs-against-the-wall experience than these Boston Red Sox. The Red Sox have a lot of heart and a lot of fight for a veteran team that has done this plenty of times before. You have to admire them. I thought this series was over once it got to Game 7.
But not so! These Rays, anchored by a very deep five man rotation and timely, balanced hitting, are for real. This team is no fluke. They went toe-to-toe with the defending champs and bested them. I think they will have an easy time with the Phillies in the World Series.
I respect the Red Sox immensely, but the city of Boston has been blessed far too often with sports success in recent years. Thus I dub the city the new “Evil Empire.” They have (thankfully!) beaten New York into submission and supplanted them in baseball dominance in recent years. While they weren’t so successful in doing so in football last year, they still came close and have plenty of football championship rings to cry on after their loss to the Giants.
Tampa Bay hasn’t had anything to get excited about in sports in a long time. And with this effort, the Rays are building an entirely new fan base. This will be a boon to baseball for years to come. The excitement they bring to the field and amazing story that they have become reminds me so much of the Atlanta Braves in 1991. All I have to say is that I’m a believer now and I’m a fan.
Go Rays! Beat those Philadelphia Phillies!