I have a friend who’s stuck in a dysfunctional relationship. We’ve all been there before.
The problem with their relationship is that his partner doesn’t respect him.
I didn’t really know what that meant until I was there myself, in a bad relationship, many moons ago. For whatever reason, she had lost respect for me. There comes a point when it’s impossible to get that back.
This post-season, I’m not too sure the Red Sox respected the Rays. In a matter of only five days, they ended up disrespecting them by beating them three games to one, celebrating on their own turf and leaving the lower-payroll Rays to wonder what might have been if they could only string together a few more hits.
The Red Sox went into this year’s American League Division Series expecting to win. The alternative was unacceptable. I’m not convinced the Rays shared that same mindset.
The Tampa Bay Rays (92-71) were a good team this year. I would even go so far as to call them a very good team. But they weren’t a great team and that’s what it takes to win championships in Major League Baseball. The Sox, on the other hand, might not be great either but they’re pretty damn solid from top to bottom: impressive starting rotation, power bats, clutch hitting, speed on the field and on the base paths and a dugout-wide determination to remind them that last year’s 69-93 record was an aberration.
Tampa Bay has now reached the playoffs in four of their last six seasons, but they’ve made it out of the first round only once. Year after year, they yield some of the league’s best pitching, both starting and relief. They even come up with some clutch hitting from time to time, i.e., Jose Lobaton’s Game Three walk-off home run. But this team relies far too often on the bat of one man, Evan Longoria, to carry them.
There was a time during the season, right after the All-Star Break, when I thought the Rays might have turned a corner. They went on a tear. They hit the road to face Toronto, Boston and New York, all division opponents, for 11 straight games. They won nine of those. Prior to that, they won 17 of 19. It was at that point, mid-summer, that I thought they had earned their opponents’ respect in what is consistently Major League Baseball’s most competitive division. The Rays were finally to be feared.
But that was the regular season, not the post-season and in the post-season, timely, consistent hitting matters. The Rays didn’t get that. They hit .227 against Boston pitching while the Sox hit .286. The Rays’ on-base percentage was .294. The Sox was one hundred points higher. Respect!
Perhaps I’m over-exaggerating the respect factor a bit. The Sox obviously respect the Rays. But they also know they own them or at least they did this post-season. The Rays knew that too. Like my buddy, to paraphrase Jerry Seinfeld, they had no hand in that relationship.
So it’s now back to the drawing board for an organization that can only afford to spend one-third the money that Boston can. Boston is not three times better than Tampa Bay but they are better. This post-season, they were also more determined. And more respected. They demanded that.
Money can’t buy respect. The Rays will have to earn it. Unfortunately, they’ll just have to wait until next season to do so.