Since the start of spring training, the focus in the Rays clubhouse was to get back to the World Series and complete the task that eluded them last fall.
Not only will the Rays fail to return to the Fall Classic, but their season ended with a 5-4 loss in Game 4 of the American League Division Series in Boston on Monday night.
The defeat came only eight days after wrapping up the winningest regular season in team history.
Rays fans have seen their team battle back time and again, especially the past six months when late-inning uprisings and come-from-behind heroics helped fuel a club that won 100 games.
On Monday night, 24 hours following a 13-inning loss in which they were on the wrong side of MLB’s rule book, the Rays were at it again and in the ultimate backs-to-the-wall scenario.
After falling behind 5-0, Tampa Bay pecked away before a two-run eighth tied the game. Suddenly, it looked as though there might be a winner-take-all Game 5 at the Trop on Wednesday night.
“That was a pretty telling example of what this team’s character is about,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said of the comeback.
Alas, the Red Sox celebrated another walk-off win, and they, and not the Rays, advance to the ALCS.
“Very proud of what was accomplished in the regular season, but we had high aspirations to get deep in (the playoffs),” said Cash. “We ran into a Red Sox team that just beat us. No other way around it.”
Game 3 will forever be remembered for Kevin Kiermaier’s fluke ground-rule double in the top of the 13th that prevented Yandy Diaz from scoring and the Rays from taking a 5-4 lead. The score remained tied and the BoSox won the game in the bottom half on Christian Vasquez’s two-run homer.
It appeared as though there would be no such drama Monday night when the Red Sox scored five runs in the third inning off Game 1 starter, Shane McClanahan, who was in relief of opener Collin McHugh. But Kiermaier, who said after Game 3 that his team needs to “put our boy pants on” and do anything it can to win Game 4, was at the heart of the Rays’ comeback.
The center fielder doubled twice, scored twice and threw out Alex Verdugo attempting to advance to third on a fly ball off the bat of Hunter Renfroe in the eighth. The double play squashed a threat, though the Rays went down meekly — Garrett Whitlock retired the side on seven pitches — in the ninth.
About 10 minutes later the Red Sox were celebrating after Kike Hernandez’s sac fly delivered the series-clinching run.
“We had all the pieces to do great things and hoist that trophy at the end of the year,” said Kiermaier. “It is easier said than done, but we were defeated and there is no more playing for us.”
Indeed, there will be no more Rays baseball in 2021. That’s the sad truth and the abrupt exit from the postseason derby comes after so many memorable moments were accumulated in the regular season, not the least of which was the sparkling play of Wander Franco (.368, 2 HRs in ALDS) after he was called up in June.
“We would have loved to get to the next step and get back to the World Series,” said Kiermaier. “It just wasn’t our time.”
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