"...Well they'll Pass you by, Glory Rays"

Ryan Roberts’ walk-off grand-slam in the bottom of the tenth at Chase Field last night was pure silliness.  I must of watched the replay on my computer 10-15 times.  For a second, I almost got choked up watching it cause I thought it was so awesome.  As Roberts looks to the dugout, he points, and multiple times whips out the Gibby fist-pump.  Classic.  In a 2011 that saw the Arizona Diamondbacks win every way imaginable, last night’s victory took the cake for them.

You also got two wild-card chases, deadlocked on the final day of the regular season – which could incorporate a monumental collapse at the hands of the Boston Red Sox, one the baseball’s most fabled franchises.  Both of these are two, humongous stories.

But for me, with all that being said, the Tampa Rays are “the story” today.  This wasn’t supposed to be their year, and they are right on the door-step of a postseason spot with one game left.  It’s remarkable.

(Pause)…..Apologies. {just one more view of the D-Backs walk-off.  Ahhh, sooo good.}

Tampa Lost a Gold-Glover and a Silver slugger, that chipped in 19 homers, 47 swipes and 90 RBIs this past offseason in Carl Crawford.  They lost 45 saves and a guy with a .802 WHIP in Rafael Soriano.  They lost last year’s most dominant set-up man in Joaquin Benoit.  And finally, they also traded away Matt Garza.

So how the hell did they come this far, with the wilder beasts of the AL East breathing down their necks on a regular basis?  New York and Boston practically have the ability to print their own money, and buy whoever they want. And the Rays are standing here with a $39.1 million payroll.

Well, first off, they had the starting pitching to compete on a nightly basis.  David Price and James Shields are two quiet super-stars, and the rookie Jeremy Hellickson grew up very fast.  Bullpen wise, they pieced together a back end with the 35-year-old vets Kyle Farnsworth and Joel Peralta.  They’ve been rock solid.

How the offense came together is another story.  They had the stones to sign the aging 37-year-old Johnny Damon to a $5.25 million deal.  They plugged him in at DH, and found to an extent, the guy is still productive.

They got an off-the-charts first month and a half out of Sam Fuld.  Essentially a “throw in” piece in the Garza trade from the Cubs, Fuld lit it up at the plate, and helped carry the offense for the first stretch of the season.

In 2009, Tampa made a real interesting trade with my Detroit Tigers.  They sent a promising arm in Edwin Jackson to Motown, for at the time, a fourth outfielder in Matt Joyce.  In his limited time playing for the Tigers, he flashed the ability to hit the baseball on the nose, but in real small doses.  In 2011, the move started to pay high dividends, as Joyce became one the Rays’ leaders on offense.  Now Joyce did cool off in September, but he hit a monster home-run last night in a big spot.

You’ve got the talented home-grown center fielder in B.J. Upton, who everybody expected the Rays to deal at the dead-line, but they never did.  Perhaps, did the Rays front office feel their was a chance Boston would fold late in the season, and Tampa would have a small window to crawl back?  Maybe.  Maybe that’s why Upton stayed.  Once again, Tampa did something weird that panned out.

Finally, you have Evan Longoria and the recently called up mega-prospect Desmond Jennings.  Great players.  I’ll assume I don’t need to say much about them.

The Rays front office continues to look like wizards even after we figured 2011 would be a chilled out year for them.  If the Rays squeak into the postseason, that would make three playoff appearances in the last four years, including a World Series birth.

Even with the tiny payroll.  Even with baseball’s two biggest organizations chugging along in their face, the Rays are building themselves a little dynasty.  And the best part is, nobody really understands how their doing it.

Maybe this is the future of baseball.  Prior to every season, just maybe, when we’re talking baseball with friends, we’ll say things like “Well, you know the Rays will be good this year….”

Tags: David Price Desmond Jennings Jeremy Hellickson Joel Peralta Johnny Damon Kyle Farnsworth Sam Fuld Tampa Bay Rays

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