Game 162, September 2011. The comeback of all comebacks. Everything from the timing to the execution made the final game of the Tampa Bay Rays’ season magical. Legions of die-hard Tampa Bay fans had been standing up for several innings, holding their breath each time the players attempted to swing their bats. A faint mumble began spreading among the crowd. A moment later, the large screen at Tropicana Field lit up with the final score in the Baltimore Orioles vs Boston Red Sox game; the Red Sox lost! Once the entire crowd was in-the-loop, cheers began ringing off the rafters. If there is one thing that both a Yankees fan and a Rays fan have in common, it’s their mutual dislike for that wicked team from Boston. Seconds later, Evan Longoria hits one deep to left field…. it’s over the wall. The Rays came back to win the game. The Rays were going to the Post Season! Boston was out. Magic. It was magic!
The 2012 season opener between the New York Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays picked up right where the 2011 regular season ended. The series was nothing short of amazing for baseball fans in the Tampa area. New York had their ace CC Sabathia up against Big Game James (Shields) slated for game 1. Both pitchers found themselves in trouble early. This could have been the potential game changer. If CC was on-point, that could have been the difference-maker for the Yankees. If Shields was on-point, that could have made the difference for the Rays. Carlos Pena has been a fan favorite in Tampa for years and the fans rightfully had high expectations for their beloved first baseman’s return. CC loaded the bases and like any other super hero, Pena fearlessly stepped up to the plate for his first appearance back and did the unthinkable—he hit a GRAND SLAM! The final score for game one was 7 to 6 - Rays.
Saturday and Sunday also saw the Rays swipe games two and three from the Yankees. Saturday’s score was 8-6 and on Sunday, Jeremy Hellickson showed the baseball world exactly why he was named the American League’s Rookie of the Year for 2011. Hellickson remained in the game for 8 2/3 innings. Maddon called in Rodney to get the final out, and just like that…. the Rays shut out the Yankees 3-0. Tampa’s bats were on fire which is a very promising sign for the club since it has been no secret that the team has struggled offensively in the past.
Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times tweeted a stat last night that I think speaks volumes: “Rays needed 63 innings to score 15 runs last season, have done it in 16 this year.”
If this ball club can stay on track, big things are going to happen for them. They have a solid rotation and arguably the best defense. All I know is that I am incredibly fortunate to have witnessed another great weekend of baseball magic at the Trop. Three games in and I have already had goosebumps, “OMG!” moments, and several jump-out-of-your-seat-shut-up-no-way occasions.