Tampa Bay’s Mike Brosseau homered off Aroldis Chapman to break a 1-1 tie in the eighth inning, Diego Castillo pitched a 1-2-3 ninth and the Rays eliminated the Yankees in the decisive fifth game of their ALDS on Friday.
To make a geopolitical comparison, this was marginally less dramatic than if Grenada had repelled the U.S. invasion in 1983.
Tampa-St. Petersburg is home to the most remarkable team in North American pro sports, and that’s not the Lightning, which this month won the Stanley Cup inside the Edmonton bubble.
The Lightning is owned by Jeff Vinik, a legend in the financial investment world and so committed to his team that he is basically surrounding Amalie Arena with its own village off the water in Tampa.
The Rays? Money’s so tight they had to lay off people early in the pandemic shutdown. They went 96-66 in 2019, reached the postseason for the fifth time (now sixth) since 2008, and sold 1,178,735 tickets to Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg.
Sports fans in Tampa look at the Frankland Bridge to St. Pete as East Germans did the Berlin Wall.
The business model doesn’t work for CEO Stuart Sternberg and his partners, not with the paltry revenues inside a dump of a stadium, but two regimes — first, Andrew Friedman/Joe Maddon; now, Erik Neander/Kevin Cash — generally have made it work on the field.
The Rays continue to have front-office personnel raided, must move top players before they near free agency, but they keep inventing new angles for survival in the standings.
Example A: “The Opener’’ was first offered by the Rays in spring training 2018, and now even the big spenders are doing it.
The Rays have needed all their pitching creativity, since they lost six significant pitchers — righthanders Yonny Chirinos and Chaz Rose, lefthanders Jalen Beeks, Jose Alvarado, Colin Poche and Brendan McKay — prior to or for most of this 60-game season.
And here’s my opinion on the Rays’ success:
It’s impossible. I have no hint as to how an unappreciated, underfunded, often-raided baseball operation can remain the smartest people in baseball’s big room of brainiacs.
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• MLB had a balanced schedule when the (Devil) Rays arrived in 1997. They played Red Sox/Yankees a total of 24 times a season. The imbalanced schedule started in 2001, meaning the Rays now play the AL’s Big Two 38 times annually.
• The combination of commanding personality, decisionmaking and innovation makes Kevin Cash baseball’s best manager.
• Rays’ bullet-throwing lefty Shane McClanahan is the first pitcher to make his MLB debut in the postseason. Drafted 31st overall in 2019.