By R.J. Anderson //
History is not kind to human beings supernatural tendencies. We – the human race – burned Joan of Arc on a stake, labeled and expunged many as witches, and even accused Jay Z’s flow of Illuminati roots. Allegations of extraordinary abilities lead to bad things. That’s why I’d like to accuse Cliff Lee of being the antichrist. Not really, but Lee’s abilities and performance in this series were almost biblical.
When the Rays lost to Lee in game one, my emotional state was upbeat. Yeah, Lee beat us. Lee beats almost everyone and when someone beats Lee, it’s just so to throw the torch-bearers off his trail. Game two was the turning point. My face flamed after Michael Young’s home run. My soul and heart grew heavy towards the season. Ryan Glass and I traded baseball-quitting barbs. The game was stupid and pointless and whatever. Late Thursday, reality hit. This could be it. I made a joke on Twitter about listening to Limp Bizkit for a week straight if the Rays won the series. I never expected a near-Durst experience within days that followed.
Then they won two straight and maybe I felt too cocksure about winning game five. Yeah, they fell behind 3-1, and so what? The Rays won these games repeatedly. A blooper here, a blast there, some ridiculous stroke of luck mixed in. Did I believe? To believe is in part to lie, so sure, I believed. I wanted to believe. The bad feelings about game two went away for good on Friday with the realization that the season could enter its final day. The same attitude that flowed through my veins before game five of the World Series pumped over the weekend. Win or lose, just make it an event.
The Rays did. Carl Crawford made a few more signature plays, Carlos Pena clapped his thunderous paws in between gashing and slashing the Rangers’ belly, and nearly everything went the Rays’ way. It was all becoming real. Then game five happened. Ian Kinsler hit a home run and skipped down the first base line during an uncharacteristically poor Rafael Soriano inning and that is when the season ended. The dream of winning a World Series this season ultimately remains a dream, one that can continue until someone does win the title. Then admitting to having such dreams becomes a little weird.
Everyone around the team wanted the World Series. Admitting otherwise is being dishonest. Winning the division was almost an afterthought. This team was built to win the title. Not because there’s a way to build a team to win the title – other than to build a good team – but we already did the first two rounds of the playoffs and the division title experience. We wanted the final chunk of the puzzle. The lacunae in the legitimacy of this team; rightly or wrongly, people consider World Series championships a product of talent more so than division crowns or regular season victories.
I wanted it more this year than 2008 because I liked this team more than 2008. That’s saying a lot, because anyone who knows me is aware how much I liked players like Gabe Gross, Eric Hinske, and Cliff Floyd. This team had more talent, more purpose, and more personality than that team did. Rafael Soriano, man, if I knew now what I knew then, I would disown myself for questioning whether the money should be spent elsewhere instead of on him. He pitched extremely well and he also has the aura of a criminal kingpin. I might have understood one of every five words he said in interviews, but they were riveting television. He has a presence about him that is surreal to be projected from a baseball pitcher.
Joaquin Benoit showed his inner Joaquin Phoenix and pitched to his 98% percentile. Dan Johnson hit more timely home runs. Jeremy Hellickson debuted and turned us all to swooning frat boys thinking about what if. Sean Rodriguez, Reid Brignac, John Jaso, and Matt Joyce displayed how deep and prosperous the farm system really is, and even bit players, like Hank Blalock and Mike Ekstrom were somewhat memorable. I told a few people during the final month or two of the season that in 15 years people will realize how underrated B.J. Upton and Ben Zobrist were to this team and I think that will still be the case.
I also told people that I wanted this team to win so those in the future would have reason to celebrate and remember this team. The ultimate goal for a creation is immortality. The stories of Soriano’s swagger and Johnson’s stump would live on beyond any of the physical properties. That’s how much I liked this team. You could probably say I loved it. Sadly, as I found out, being a lover means you are always one L from the end.
If all these pending free agents were under contract for one more year and all these players about to get expensive took the same salary to stick together for one more year, then I do not think this loss would sting as bad. Change is coming and change is scary. I could get all kinds of emo and corny and say the World Series title could’ve changed everything – or at least would’ve given us something to feel good about before entering the uncertain night surrounding this organization. I won’t, though, because this team is too good for that kind of hyperbole and sensationalism.
We are about to experience something new, something cold, something bitter. The expectations are about to drop and the doubt level will raise. This team is going to remain talented – make no mistake there – just in different ways. The names are going to change and the games will not be won exactly the same way. Other teams are about to get their shot at signing Crawford and Soriano and others. Seeing them in other colors is going to cause hurt feelings and we’re going to forget that the game is all about entertainment and fun anyways.
Some forgot that during this postseason. The baseball community did not look at the Rays as the American League sweetheart. They did not ignore their flaws and look at their inner beauty. They did not relent on snark. They may have overdosed on jaded milkshakes and sardonic pills. Relentless attacks on everything about the team got old quick, but that’s the price of success. It means going from the most beloved to the most hated. Get used to it: the Rays will be back soon. I’d offer the same to those who enjoyed hating the Rays because of their success.
Be disappointed that there will be no parade. Be disappointed that Crawford is heading elsewhere. Be disappointed that the Yankees won’t get taken to the max. But be proud about the division title. Be proud about how hard the team worked. Be proud about a ridiculously good baseball book coming out marketed to Rays fans in the spring. Be proud of Joe Maddon. Be proud of the scouts, the statistical analysts, and the rest of the organization. And be thankful for them all too.
Take this quote by Alfred Sloan (CEO of General Motors during the roaring 1920s) to heart: “Take my assets – but leave me my organization and in five years I’ll have it all back.”
Because we’ll be back soon.