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MLB

You Will Know The Rays

ST PETERSBURG, FLORIDA - OCTOBER 07: Randy Arozarena #56 of the Tampa Bay Rays steals home against Christian Vazquez #7 of the Boston Red Sox in the seventh inning during Game 1 of the American League Division Series at Tropicana Field on October 07, 2021 in St Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Rays made short, almost imperceptible work of the Boston Red Sox Thursday night, and the reason why it was almost imperceptible is because most of America still doesn’t know any of the people who did the work. The nation has clung to the quaint notion that the fourth-best team in baseball over the past 14 years are actually just family pets who escaped Uncle Billy’s farm and now wander feral but happy in baseball parks across the country.

And while their principal gifts to the sport are how to tamp down costs by tamping down other costs and trying to make the Gulf Of Mexico synonymous with the St. Lawrence River, they remain attached to their brand as Those Guys I Never Heard Of Playing In That Goofy Park Who Just, You Know, Do Stuff.

Last night in a very boilerplate 5-0 win over the Red Sox, the Rays reintroduced us to old fashioned ideas like stealing home (Randy Arozarena), brand-new ones like eating popcorn in the dugout (Nelson Cruz and Manuel Margot) and just plain weird ones like the C-ring (the catwalk at Tropicana Field struck by Cruz’s third-inning homer), not to be confused with the A, B, or D rings. They even busted out a novel concept for them, letting starting pitcher Shane McClanahan pitch five innings, almost as many as Blake Snell did a year ag—well, let’s leave that there for now, shall we?

Tampa used 13 players, nine of whom came from other clubs, though the most dynamic of the homegrowns, 20-year-old Wander Franco, doubled twice in his postseason debut to twin with his homer and double in his major-league debut in June. As McClanahan explained it with the wisdom of the itinerant 24-year-old, “I have been seeing Wander do stupid stuff since [rookie-league] Princeton.” You know, back in the day—2018, when Franco was 17.

And yet somehow, because of the way they play and the players they use, they remain a stunningly anonymous island of misfit toys, all the way from their best everyday player Brandon Lowe (rhymes with plow rather than flow) to their bullpen last night of JT Chargois (rhymes with foie gras), David Robertson, and J.P. Feyereisen, who started their seasons in Seattle, Philadelphia, and Milwaukee. McClanahan and Game 2 starter Shane Baz (rhymes with Oz) are rookies, and along with likely Game 3 starter Drew Rasmussen have a combined 39 major-league starts between them. Amazingly, none of those 39 starts have been as openers, Tampa Bay’s last gift to unconventional baseball.

Now maybe this is just them zigging cleverly to avoid the zaggings of their less thrifty competitors, but 14 years is a long time to get away with being the Team You Know Nothing About, and they just recently graduated to That Team You Know Is There Even Though You Can’t Name Five Of Them status. You don’t know who they are, quite frankly, because you’ve developed a mental block about them, like they’re SUPPOSED to be anonymous and learning who they are and what they can do will somehow spoil the illusion.

So let’s play this out. Maybe after two failed cracks at it, this time they win the World Series and threaten to become, you know, identifiable. But if they’re going to do this in the proper Rays methodology, they will win that World Series in five games, with the clincher coming a few hours after Buccaneers at Saints on Halloween night, when the family watches football until it comes time to drag the costumed and baffled offspring to snivel candy from neighborhood strangers. Maybe they’ll see the YouTube highlights after they put the kids to bed, or catch the news in the morning, under the celebratory headline “Local Team Does Thing.”