Sunday, June 22, 2008

Is This Team For Real Or What?

For an entire decade, the local Major League Baseball team here in the Tampa Bay market accomplished an art of consistent losing. The Rays -- they were known as the Devil Rays for 10 years before this one -- lost with anonymous players and high-priced ones. They would be blown out or they would blow leads in the last inning or two. They finished last in nine of their 10 years and popped champagne when they actually hit 70 wins and finished second to last.

Which is why it's easy to think the earth has fallen off its axis when soaking up last night's scene of Kool and the Gang capping a post-game concert with its signature "Celebration" song 90 minutes after the Rays scored two runs in the bottom of the ninth to pull out an amazing 4-3 victory over the Houston Astros.

The Rays are 14 games above .500 and would be in the playoffs if the season ended today -- which is so disorienting in light of the team's legacy of a losing that was so predictable. The other thing is the team was so utterly irrelevant to the rest of the country that I'm not sure that fans across the nation actually knew we had a big-league team here.

Last night, Jennifer remarked that the Rays celebrated this regular-season win as if they won the World Series -- which was true. The team has lost for so long that dramatic wins are treated as post-season triumphs. There were two crowds of Rays celebrating on the field last night; one around the runners who scored the tying and go-ahead runs in the bottom of the ninth inning and the other around Gabe Gross, who stroked a flare down the left-field line that caught the line and drove in the tying and winning runs with that one stroke of the bat.
Can you say, "Rays victory donut?" at Dunkin' Donuts today? It's free donut time, my friends.

Fans get to their feet in the middle of the game and scream their brains out at crucial times of the game.

People now dress up in wacky outfits.

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