Something kind of strange and unexpected happened late in Game 2 of the Rays-Rangers division series in St. Petersburg. As if all hope were lost with their team on the verge of falling 0-2 and headed to Texas, the Rays faithful filled cavernous Tropicana Field with a full-throated chant of "CAR-L CRAW-FORD... CAR-L CRAW-FORD..."
"I heard them,"
You know what happened next. Two days later, the Rays lineup came back to life and rallied to win Game 3; the next day, Longoria homered and hit two doubles to power Tampa to a Game 4 win; and the Rays had done precisely what the Longoria said they would: improbably, they brought the series back to Trop.
And so here we are, the stage set for baseball's first opening-round, winner-take-all game in five Octobers. What's been a gripping opening round of baseball ends tonight with a rematch of the first-round's marquee pitching matchup,
Over this past weekend deep in the heart of Texas, football, for once, wasn't on the minds of the giddy record crowds that packed the Ballpark, ready to celebrate baseball for the first time in October. Under clear blue skies, the fans in the stands were rocking, wearing the blue and red claw and antler T-shirts; suddenly anything seemed possible for the only franchise that has never even won a postseason series. Now, though, all that love and hope from the long-suffering faithful would go up in smoke with the completion of a Texas-sized collapse tonight.
With new ownership and a staggering TV deal (reportedly $3 billion) now in place, the Rangers are built to be an American League superpower for years to come. But for a team with Texas' sad postseason history, to flame out like this -- the 2010 Rangers would be the first team since the 2001 A's to blow a 2-0 lead after winning the first two games on the road -- would simply be devastating. "We're not really worried about what the franchise has accomplished, what's happened in the past,"
The stakes for Tampa? Even higher. The end of the Rays this October will be the end of the Rays as we know them. There is little chance that the All-Star trio of Crawford,
That's not to say that the Rays will be punting on 2011. It's possible that
"The truth is, no one knows what's going to happen after this season," Longoria said last week. "There's probably going to be some changes. We're probably not going to have some of the guys we have here. So there is definitely a sense of urgency to win with this group of guys."
The Rangers have the edge in Game 5 with their Mr. October, Cliff Lee, taking the mound, but really there's only one certainty tonight: One team will move on to face the New York Yankees. For the other, a long, long offseason awaits.