Baseball: It can lift you up

I am one of the DRB writers who lives in the Tampa Bay area, and therefore has been impacted by Hurricane Irma. I have, I hasten to mention, suffered little. My house has power; the branches that fell can be cleared away; and the fence that came down probably needed to be replaced anyway.

But I did spend a pretty unpleasant 23 hours total on the road as part what turned out to be an ill-advised evacuation, and shared the stress of the event with all my neighbors, so I haven’t been entirely unscathed.

I say all this to offer my bona fides as part of the affected community.

And as such I know I’m supposed to say that events like these make baseball seem rather insignificant. With property and even life on the line surely we can acknowledge that there are more important things than mere games.

But that’s not what I want to say.

Instead, let me offer the opposite observation: that stressful times make the diversion of sport, of fandom, feel bigger.

I know this isn’t rational, but as I packed my insurance documents, a few photo albums and far too many granola bars into the car en route to Atlanta, I had this thought that maybe the Rays would somehow put the community on their backs and pull some kind of miracle reversal of fortunes as the hurricane threatened and through our recovery. We’d be cheering them on from our evacuating cars, we’d be listening to the excited home runs calls of Dave and Andy as we put up and then took down our hurricane shutters, we’d be fishing our Rays shirseys out of the hamper while waiting for power to be restored.

But sometimes it doesn’t

But those admittedly unrealistic hopes have been dashed. The Rays lost two of three in Boston, and have now lost two of three against the Yankees.

And today’s deciding game had so much bad. You had your disappointing offense against a generally mediocre starting pitcher. You had a very shaky Chris Archer start. You had the occasional defensive lapse. The comeback efforts in the eighth and ninth felt more doomed than hopeful.

You even had the magical moment that didn’t happen, as Lucas Duda came up in the bottom of the 9th with a chance to tie or win the game for the Rays had he been able to get a handle on Chapman’s 103 mph fastball. He struck out.

Here’s what happened today

I don’t think this dispiriting game needs a blow by blow recap, so here are some observations:

  • Archer was not sharp. His pitch count was elevated; he was hit hard. Brian Anderson said he was hanging some of his breaking stuff. He pitched four innings, giving up three runs on six hits and three walks with five strikeouts. He also had two wild pitches.
  • His poor performance does make one wonder about nagging injury, except that his fastball was a hot 98 mph. Is there an injury that allows a guy to throw 98 but makes him hang a slider?
  • Archer seems incapable of getting Jacoby Ellsbury out (athough he did manage to get him once today) – this is one match up where the batter seems to have the advantage. It’s almost an Andy Sonnanstine vs. Ben Francisco situation. I assume it’s only Archer’s pride that stands in the way of just walking the guy each time he’s up.
  • Rays threatened a few times but seldom delivered. They got one run on a Kevin Kiermaier solo shot. Adeiny Hechevarria, who continues to swing a hot bat, drove in another off Chapman in the eighth.
  • The Rays bullpen was for the most part quite good, needing to cover a lot of innings this series. Sergio Romo managed to get into some deep trouble (bases loaded with one out) but then got out of it with a pop-up and a strike out. There’s something so sad about the Rays having assembled such a good bullpen, addressing their big early season weakness, just to see their offense regress.
  • Brad Boxberger also created a bit of a mess for himself in the top of the ninth but, like Romo, managed to wriggle out of it.
  • We saw a rare batter’s interference call, when Chase Headley’s back swing clipped Curt Casali’s throwing arm as he sought to catch Brent Gardner stealing. Because of the interference call, Gardner was called back to first and thereby not able to score when the next batter singled. Casali definitely earned his major league per diem catching Boxberger today, as the righty missed bigly with a few pitches.
  • I’ve stopped trying to distinguish the Yankee Fraziers. Also since the Yankees refuse to have names even on their visitor uniforms I am not even sure who pitched relief for them (other than the familiar Betances-Chapman duo) except they were both quite good.

And a few other grumpy thoughts:

About that “home field”….I can’t say it made a difference to any final scores, but I remain irked about the Rays playing “home” games in New York as a “neutral location”. I get that this was not planned this way, that it’s not easy to find a baseball stadium and book the 80 or so hotel rooms needed for team, staff and media, and options were limited.

But please don’t try to tell me that playing a game in New York in front of 20,000 Yankees fans against players who got to sleep in their own beds is a home game because the Rays got to wear their white uniforms. Just admit that the Rays have the disadvantage of having fewer home games this year. Maybe make it up to them by giving them an extra home series next year.

Ever since the Rays needed to spend the World Series commuting to Philadelphia from Wilmington I’ve developed a sense of grievance about how the Rays are treated, perennially seated at the kids table. And note that during that weather-impacted World Series, no one suggested moving the Phillies home games to a better weather location and pretending that this would be the same as playing at their home stadium.

Rays get to come home to face the Red Sox this weekend. It’s great news because it is an indication that the hurricane impacts have not been unduly severe in St. Petersburg, and because my blood pressure was rising as MLB floated the idea that the Rays would play in Fenway as the “home” team if the Trop was not ready for baseball.


Article first appeared on www.draysbay.com