Comeback Was Magical, But So Necessary For Rays
By Joe Henderson | Tribune StaffBOSTON - You're not going to believe this if you didn't actually see it yourself, and maybe not even then. There were 37,573 fans at Fenway Park on Tuesday night who didn't believe it either, judging by the shroud of silence that suddenly covered this grand old ballpark.
Published: September 10, 2008
Published: September 10, 2008
They had seen the kind of miracle that has marked this magic summer for the Rays, only that's not supposed to happen here - not in this place, not at this time. But there it was, after the Rays had seemingly been stuck with a two-run dagger just moments before by Boston's Jason Bay to fall behind entering the ninth.
We'll turn it over to Hollywood from here.
Two guys who weren't even with the club a week ago combined in ways that are basically unfathomable to give the Rays a 5-4 win, a victory that simply cannot happen. But happen it did, because of Dan Johnson and Fernando Perez.
If you don't know them, don't worry. Perez has only been here a few days, and Johnson arrived just shortly before the game, imported from Durham because B.J. Upton got hurt. Johnson - 0-for-15 lifetime as a pinch-hitter - homered off Jonathan Papelbon to tie the score.
"I want to thank USAir for getting Johnson here on time," Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
One out later, Perez doubled off the Green Monster and scored the eventual winning run.
To do something like that with regulars would have been a miracle anyway against a beast like Papelbon. To do it like this was stretching the limits of believability.
It was exactly the touch from the baseball gods the Rays desperately needed. They were so very close to falling out of first place in the AL East, but now they'll leave town still on top - no matter what happens tonight. It broke a four-game losing streak. It was their first win at Fenway this season.
It was magic, all things considered.
And it was so necessary.
"Who else we got?"
Maddon had just briefed the scribes on the Rays' daily injury report, an exercise that is anything but brief these days.
"Longo, he's taking some swings today - I haven't heard back," Maddon had said. "Riggo, his knee is pretty sore. That one's indefinite. B.J. is still pretty sore today."
Maddon talks in shorthand a lot, so we'll translate.
There is Evan Longoria (wrist). Shawn Riggans (right knee). Upton (strained quad). Who else they got? Well, there's Carl Crawford (hand). Jason Bartlett is hobbling but has to hobble out there anyway because his backup, Ben Zobrist, is shoring up the outfield.
It's not an excuse for the way the Rays have struggled lately, but it is a reasonable explanation. That's a lot of their offense, two-thirds of their outfield, their rookie of the year candidate at third, and their backup catcher. It's also a reasonable rejoinder to those who say the pressure of a pennant race is getting to them.
It becomes less about pressure and more about holding the fort until the cavalry arrives. It's the only game plan that makes sense for the Rays right now. They aren't the same team that raced to the best record in baseball, but they might be eventually. Until they are, they'll have to scratch any way they can.
"When you're faced with all the dilemmas we have trying to piece it together, I really don't want to look further along," Maddon said. "Win tonight's game and then we'll figure out tomorrow. We've been able to fight through some difficult moments already this year, and I believe we can continue to do so."
Fought Through It
Then his team went out and made Maddon a prophet.
The Rays were 0-for-14 in this game with runners in scoring position before Dioner Navarro's ninth-inning double sent Perez home. They had left two runners on four consecutive innings and five of six. And when they finally did take the lead, Boston took it back with a two-out homer in the eighth by Bay.
There are moments in any pennant race that transcend the ol' "one game at a time" bromide. Some wins really are bigger than others, just as some losses are as well. This is one of those moments.
A loss that would have been devastating turned instead into the kind of moment that validates what the Rays have been saying all along. They've been knocked down and beaten up, but a baseball team such as this is rare. This team with the pint-sized payroll showed its 10-gallon heart again Tuesday night.
The silence never spoke louder.