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Thursday, Jul 10, 2014

Meek exit heading into strange off day

Published:   |   Updated: March 19, 2013 at 01:15 AM

It was just another ballgame. My postgame elevator operator wore a sidearm. The doors opened. Two bomb-sniffing dogs got off. They checked this column, thoroughly. Moved some paragraphs around.

The Republicans are coming! Tropicana Field is surrounded by steel barricades, which is kind of like the Rays lineup at times. Today begins the beguine: The Republican National Convention's opening bash, on the same field where the Rays lost 4-2 to drop two of three to the wild-card contending A's.

There was word there could be trouble in the game Saturday from protestors. Trained, ever-watchful eyes searched for any sign of agitators, anarchists or Todd Akin.

The assembled force was under orders to detain anyone in a Red Sox uniform and trade him to the Dodgers.

All kidding aside, these guys are the pros. They do it right. They make you feel safe.

But there were no disturbances. The Rays didn't put up a fight, either.

They went meekly into their strange, RNC-induced coma, a Sunday day off. Jeremy Hellickson threw 41 pitches in the first inning, one for a two-run homer, putting his team down 3-0. The bats couldn't answer.

Suddenly it's a two-game slide as Joe Maddon and the lads head for Texas. Suddenly it's what did the Yankees do ahead of them, what did the Orioles, Angels, Tigers do behind them.

We know how the A's did. They dropped the first game of this series, then came a haunting with an ex-Rays flair, a two-run homer by good guy/party dog Jonny Gomes to win Saturday, plus consecutive saves by boomerang baby Grant Balfour as Oakland pulled within a half-game of the Rays in the wild-card race.

Funny, but it seems everyone has been waiting for the A's and the Orioles to go away, but they keep not doing exactly that. And the Rays are nearly looking in a mirror when they see the A's.

Both teams have great pitching (The Rays have the lowest ERA in the American League, the A's are second), both teams have worrisome hitting (the A's have the lowest batting average in the AL, the Rays are third worst).

Both have small payrolls, both have lots of empty seats (the Rays have the worst average home attendance in the majors, the A's are second worst), and neither can get out of aching stadiums and into new ones.

"There are some similarities," Balfour said with a smile.

Hey, wouldn't it be nutty if the A's wanted their new ballpark in Tampa, too?

Where were we?

Gomes said these generally young A's remind him of the young Rays of 2008.

"A lot of our guys are so young they don't worry," he said.

"I remember in 2008 (with the Rays), Game 6 in the ALCS. We were up 3-1 on Boston, then we lose and suddenly it's Game 7. But there's music blaring in the clubhouse. Game 7 was just another game, just like it was June."

Now it's August, going on September.

"Those guys aren't going away," Gomes said of the Rays. "We aren't either. The name of the game is pitching. They have it. We have it. We got no problem at all winning 1-0."

"We do fight until the end," Balfour said.

Sound familiar?

It seems strange, a Sunday off. Not that the Rays are complaining, having just finished up 19 games in 19 days, going 14-5 to remain baseball's hottest in August.

"Guys have been playing hard, no days off," Maddon said. He doesn't think an idle Sunday is so strange. "When you're in baseball, you don't know Monday from Sunday, you don't know Tuesday from Saturday," he said. "Today feels like Sunday. Everybody feels like it's Sunday."

Yes, it was just another day of baseball. Pay no attention to the tightening playoff race — or stadium security sweeps.

Right, boy?