TAMPA, Fla. – When did you throw up?
Was it the sight of the cheater Houston Astros jumping for joy after Carlos Correa’s walk-off home run? Was it the idea that the team that everyone wants to lose is suddenly back in the American League Championship Series, feeling frisky, having now won twice after going 3-0 down in the series? Is it that it’s going out all across the country in living color?
Or is it just who is on the other end?
Yes, Tampa Bay, those were your Rays trudging to the clubhouse in San Diego on Thursday night after a 4-3 loss. They again failed to punch their ticket to the World Series. They didn’t do enough in Game 5. And that’s all that it took. Kevin Cash’s guys have begun to make a slight mess of our plans for Tampa Bay sports world hegemony. Didn’t they learn anything from the Lightning?
Right now, Ji-Man Choi’s bat joyous flip after his solo homer tied Game 5 at 3 is looking like the dumbest deal going. The Rays got a bit ahead of themselves, and for all that, they saw the cliff come into view after Correa ended it in the bottom of the ninth. Oh, and Correa apparently called his shot. From dead and buried to gleeful ghosts. Not the Astros. Please, in the name of Abner Doubleday, not these cheaters.
“Tough loss,” Cash said.
At least the 2004 Yankees, who choked away the only 3-0 lead in baseball postseason history, already had 27 world championships. The Rays are trying to get to the Series for only the second time, for the first time since that magical 2008 season. The magic was rolling along, quite well, through three games in San Diego.
“No one said it was going to be easy,” Ji-Man said through an interpreter.
It seems we were here just a week ago when we were in the same exact place, with the Rays facing elimination in Game 5 of the division series against those very Yankees. It seemed a shame to think about the Rays’ season-ending. They came through and won. Then they jumped on Houston out of the gate.
Now look, again.
To blow this ALCS would not be a shame. It would be an epic disaster. If Houston ties the series Friday night, can you really see the Rays winning Game 7 on Saturday? Well, can you? It would be just the Rays way if they did, but no one wants it to come down to that.
Only three times in baseball history has a team down 3-0 in a postseason series managed to win two games to prolong matters. The 1998 Braves did it against the San Diego Padres in the NLCS. The next year, the New York Mets won two games off those same Braves after going down 3-0. But both Atlanta and New York lost Game 6.
But there is that comeback in the clouds, for the ages, when the 2004 Red Sox came from 3-0 down to settle a lifetime of scores and topple the Yankees in the ALCS on the way to fulfilling their destiny in the World Series with their first championship in 86 years.
What makes this Rays situation hard to stomach is the fact that the Astros are the ones making this comeback. As far as I’m concerned, Houston shouldn’t even be in this. Baseball should have banned them from the postseason after their sign-stealing, trash-can-beating ways over recent seasons, maybe even including last year’s win over the Rays in the divisional round.
Of course, this is baseball, whose overlords once looked the other way as Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, the anabolic bash brothers, smashed home run records in the summer of 1998. So, what was a little sign stealing?
The Astros still don’t deserve to be here. It’s revolting. And did you listen to those TV bobbleheads feel sorry for Jose Altuve after he made three errors in this ALCS, or commend his bravery for overcoming them to hit a homer and an RBI double in Game 4 as Houston staved off elimination?
Dude makes $30 million a season. Dude made sure he didn’t let teammates rip his shirt off last season when he won the ALCS with a walk-off, presumably because it would have revealed the telegraph system he was wearing. Yeah, to hell with the Astros.
Granted, not all Rays are angels. Tampa Bay runs Charlie Morton out to the mound every fifth day, and he was an Astro as the cheating went on, though he says he didn’t know anything about it. Not sure I believe that.
Even so, to hell with the Astros. The Rays seemed poised to stuff them in their trash cans.
Only now, the Astros are staring hell in the face and smiling. They’re back in this. They’re trying to make a fairy tale. Their hearts still beat because the Rays have not found a way to drive the stake home. The rest of the country is counting on the Rays. And counting.
The Rays have been doing most everything right this postseason. They have been at their Ray-lentless best. Every time we looked up, rookie Randy Arozarena was adding to his budding legend, or Manuel Margot was tumbling over a wall as he made a catch, or someone, anyone, was throwing nastiness.
The Rays have done so many good things.
This is no time to end up on the wrong side of history.
There are no speeches to give. Blake Snell goes for the clincher in Game 6, with Morton in reserve.
“We’ve got to get something going, get our mojo back, and keep it going through the game,” Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier said. “We’ll be OK. We’ve been doing it all year.”
I find it hard to believe the Rays will blow this. They have come too far for their wings to fall off. Plus, the whole country is pulling for them. A lot of people would never forgive the Rays if they let the stinking Astros, sub-.500 during the season, prance into the Fall Classic. Cash and his club would sink into oblivion. It would be right up there with the Lightning getting swept by Columbus in the playoffs last year. At least the Lightning got religion.
It’s the Rays’ turn. They just need to play like it. The Astros don’t deserve to even be here. They sure don’t deserve pixie dust and to be hailed as miracle workers. That’s where the Rays come in. Don’t you dare turn cheaters into chosen ones. We’d throw up all over again.
No one said it was going to be easy.