I started taking notes in the middle innings last night. Notes on things I wanted to write about after the Rays sealed the series. I hadn't taken notes on a baseball game since late April, but in half an hour I filled up an entire page. I knew exactly what I was going to write. Then David Ortiz went deep. The notepad's still sitting in front of my TV.
I'm not a big believer in momentum. I'm not a big believer in nervousness or mystique. But after Ortiz hit his home run, I imagined that we'd be in for a ride, and after Drew hit his home run, I felt like I knew beyond a reasonable doubt how the game would end. We probably all felt like that. It's not that I'm a fortune teller, but I've seen enough disappointment in my life as a fan that at this point the script basically writes itself.
Jeff: humble protagonist
Anywhere Jeff is watching sports
God: ahahahaha fuck you motherfucker
I watched a living nightmare play out in front of me, everything spinning out of control quicker than you can say "where's Chad Bradford!" There wasn't anything I could do. I couldn't get up and leave, because I had to watch. But I couldn't watch and enjoy it, because the end result was so obviously inevitable. Aching to take some sort of action, I muted the TV. JD Drew hit a single. I can't say for sure but I imagine Chip Caray probably took off his pants.
I'm not a Rays fan. I mean, I'm rooting for the Rays, but they're not the Mariners. If these playoffs have shown me anything, it's the true nature of bandwagon emotion. Bandwagon success isn't nearly as fulfilling. I watched them beat Chicago, then I watched them win three games against Boston, and it made me happy, but it didn't make me ecstatic. I didn't go to bed thinking about it. I didn't wake up laughing. It was more like, "hey, neat, this is working out." It's been pleasant, and nothing more.
Bandwagon success isn't as good, and bandwagon collapse isn't as bad. I felt awful after the game last night, but twenty minutes later, I was fine. I dunno, maybe it was the frozen yogurt. But half a day later, I can reflect on that game in a way that I'm not sure I could ever do had that been the Mariners. The Red Sox just pulled off an unbelievable comeback. Unbelievable. Their odds of winning in the seventh dropped below one percent. They were behind 7-0 with seven outs left in their season. And they rallied. In the span of 15 hitters, they put ten people on base and scored eight runs. I hate the Red Sox, and I hate pretty much every single person on the planet that roots for the Red Sox, but still, looking back, I am in awe. Just when I decide to mock the ideas of experience mattering and the Rays falling apart under pressure, the Red Sox go and do that. It's impressive is what it is. It's horrible and impressive. There aren't many other teams in sports that I want to see rally like that less than the Red Sox, but they did it, and that's amazing. That was a comeback for the ages. For once, the broadcaster hyperbole was completely appropriate.
I'm not going to blame the Rays' collective lack of experience for yesterday's meltdown. I don't think any amount of experience could prepare someone and make him comfortable under those conditions. Anybody that feels human emotion would've been nervous there towards the end. But that's going to be the storyline, and the Rays are going to have to deal with it. Last night's collapse was like a bucket of blood for the media sharks. People are going to be questioning Tampa's experience and fortitude more than ever before, and that's their reality. That's their reality because they fell apart when the game was, for all intents and purposes, a foregone conclusion. And the only way to undo it is to win another game. The only way.
Which, in theory, shouldn't be too much to ask. Unless you think the Red Sox have better than 70% odds of winning each of the next two games, the Rays are still the favorites. They have to win one game while Boston has to win two, and the Rays have home field. They have an undeniable advantage. And for all the talk about Boston having momentum and the Rays starting to choke, think about what happened seven years ago. Seven years ago, the Yankees seized a 3-2 World Series lead over Arizona courtesy of two consecutive Byung-Hyun Kim blown saves. The Yankees handed the Diamondbacks two of the most soulcrushing defeats you can imagine, and everything looked all set for them to bring happiness back to a city that so badly needed it. Then the Diamondbacks went home and kicked the Yankees in the crotch. The Diamondbacks didn't choke. The Diamondbacks lost three games. They won four.
The Rays are in a better situation. They don't have to win both these games. They just have to win one, and the odds are in their favor. But the fact that we even have to talk about this instead of looking ahead to a Tampa/Moyer World Series...they have no one to blame but themselves. In the greatest playoff game of the year, they gave away a massive lead and wound up on the wrong side of the score. That's a tough pill for them to swallow, and if they don't shake it off, things are only going to get worse. Much, much worse. Unimaginably worse.
Yesterday happened. I hate it. I love it. About God damn time for things to get interesting.