ST. PETERSBURG, FL - The Tampa Bay Rays celebrate the win against the Boston Red Sox after the game. (Photo by Steven Kovich/Getty Images)
The Red Sox don't bother me. I know they're supposed to be one of the twin pillars of baseball evil, one of the few teams that can spend indiscriminately. But, eh. They have a long, fascinating history, and there's a bit of an enemy-of-my-enemy thing going with the Yankees, who can really spend indiscriminately. The Red Sox are probably as annoying as everyone thinks, but I don't see a Boston cap and become incontinent with rage.
But this is a piece about why I'm hoping the Rays can win their next five, six, or seven games. Keep the above in mind. Just know that it's not because I'm a drooling Red Sox hater. There are two reasons to root for the Rays, and they are pretty good ones.
The first is that there just aren't a lot of races to follow in September. This is a strange season for pennant races, as all but one of the divisional races have been decided. Without a Rays/Red Sox showdown, it's Angels/Rangers. Rangers/Angels. Eventually the world of baseball would succumb to Bourjos burnout, or Neftali fatigue. There's only so much Rangers and Angels we can all take, and without the Rays climbing back into the race, we'll be treated to Mark Hamburger features when the writers run out of real features. Do you see that hyperlink? That's a real name. You would know more about Mark Hamburger than you would ever want to know.
The second reason is that every team will be in this situation at some point1, especially with the unbalanced schedule. Teams will be mostly out of the race, and then a three- or four-game series will pop up against their direct competitor. The nagging voice in the back of your head will start up. "But if they sweep, things get interesting!" That's so silly, though. So unrealistic. You can't just root for everything to go right in a short series, and the difference between a sweep and a series win is two full games in the standings. It's sweep or nothing, and it's really, really hard to sweep a good team. Like, oh, the Red Sox.
The Rays did it. They swept their weekend series against the Red Sox and climbed right back in the race, just 3-1/2 games out of the Wild Card race. It's still a long shot, but there are more head-to-head match-ups ahead. Maybe if they sweep that series ... It can happen, and it's a reminder that the silly and unrealistic can happen in baseball. It happens every day, every week, every season. And if the Rays can come back from ridiculous odds, maybe your team can too, when you need them to. A couple of those comebacks every decade go a long ways toward your future unrealistic hopes.
That's all. There's nothing poignant to add, no battle of good vs. evil that should tell you to root for the Rays. This is just in the best interests of interesting baseball. It's not like the Red Sox are a super-rich team with all sorts of advantages, whereas the Rays are the plucky, low-budget underdogs. It's not like the Rays are making things interesting with a payroll that's similar to what Daisuke Matsuzaka, J.D. Drew, and John Lackey make together. It's not like the Rays lost one of their best players in franchise history to the Red Sox, who were willing to offer private islands and sacks of gold ingots, whereas the Rays were offering hundreds of thousands of "RayBucks," which can be exchanged for merchandise and food around Tropicana Field. And even if those things were true, they wouldn't make a comeback seem like the universe has a functioning justice system.
I mean, no. It's all about having an exciting race to follow, and watching another team overcome improbable odds.
The best part, though, is that there's more exciting baseball to follow. That Angels/Rangers thing was going to be a drag, especially if one team started to run away with it. The Rays and Red Sox are in a bit of a race. And with any luck, the Rays will get even closer before the four-game series in Boston later this week. After that ... I'm not terribly concerned with what happens. But for now, let's be thankful for the Rays coming back and giving us something more to watch for the next week at least.
1. Offer does not apply to the Pirates. I checked.