ST. PETERSBURG — The Ray Way has a long-stated goal of playing meaningful games in September.
We give you: meaningless games in August.
Not only that, but with the defending world champions.
The Rays and Red Sox played at Tropicana Field on Friday night, and it didn’t matter at all. AL East next-to-last against dead last. That was an absurd thought in spring training.
“It would be hard to fathom at that point,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
The only drama Friday night was whether Rays starting pitcher and two-day major-league veteran Chris Archer would escalate what was a verbal spat and drill Red Sox sluggo David Ortiz, or if Ortiz would hit another home run and moon walk around the bases.
Alas, Papi flied to center in his first at-bat. Then he reached on an error. How boring.
Now it’s just a long stretch of deserted highway from here until the end of the season, unless you count wondering what the Rays are going to get Derek Jeter for a going-away present on his last trip into town. I’d start wrapping Yunel Escobar right now.
There are 27 meaningless games left, including an empty September, no drama, no mystery, strange surroundings for the Rays.
Shame on them.
This has been a horrible season, the most disappointing since the Rays found religion in 2008.
Remember the spring, when they were determined to “eat last”?
Remember when it was win the division?
Now it’s 27 meaningless games.
This is worse than 2009, worse than 2012, because the AL East was there for the taking, a bad division — but the Rays were worse.
Granted, I find it more ridiculous that Boston, for all its economic advantages, has now made the postseason only once in the past five years.
Then again, last season came with a Sox championship sprinkled with fairy dust, including dusting the playoff Rays.
“But you have to earn that,” Maddon said. “You have to earn the magic. The magic’s just not given.”
The Rays have earned squat.
This has been a bizarre season. There was the 1-14 streak that buried this team, then the mad, somewhat historical dash back to .500. There were injuries, yes, to three starting pitchers at once, and to Wil Myers. There were uncanny stretches of bad luck, and bad baseball, and bad, bad Balfour.
You can’t lay it all off on injuries and luck. Myers wasn’t hitting before he was injured. And Evan Longoria’s recent power and RBI surge is the rough equivalent of a solo home run in the eighth inning of a 9-3 loss. Where was he when the Rays needed him? He was in mid-lousy, along with the rest of this batting order. You can’t lay it all on Longo, but he’s the guy the Rays have banked on, and we’re a long way from 162.
It’s that nose dive to 18 games under .500 in early June — that’s this season. No way should the Rays ever have hit bottom like that. Yes, they climbed out of it. Congratulations, you’re not the Astros! Hearing “You got to love the fight” in this club (music and lyrics by Maddon) grew tiresome a while back. This has been a uniquely lousy season.
It was there in all its misery Friday. Inside of the first two innings, the Rays made three errors and Archer gave up eight runs, including four on the obligatory Mookie Betts grand slam. You would never have known the Red Sox had lost nine of 11 and were heading for a 90-loss season.
At least there was Papi’s third at-bat against young Christopher before Archer departed after just four innings. One last chance. Ortiz lashed a liner that appeared to have a chance to clear the fence in right.
Would he crawl around the bases? Would he put one foot right in front of another, as if he was measuring where the crib should go in the baby’s room?
The liner caromed off the wall. Ortiz settled for a long single.
And there were 27 meaningless games to go.
What are you getting Jeets?