Friday, 10 October 2008

The Rays and the Red more time

The Rays and Red Sox have played a lot of games since 1998. The Red Sox have won most of them. There's been some important ones (mostly for the Sox). There's been some controversial ones. And there's been some fighting ones.

But there has never been one as big as tonight's game.

8.37 EST, Tropicana Field, St Petersburg. The Rays will start playing for a place in the World Series.

It is almost unbelieveable.

And it's fair to say that as excited as I was throughout the regular season, and for the ALDS, I am even more pumped right now. Gametime is 1.37 AM here in the UK, but you can bet your house that I will be staying up to watch it. James Shields against Daisuke Matsuzaka for the first step towards the American League pennant. How could I miss it?!

And it is only right that, after all the battles (with the bat and ball, and with the fist) this season, the Rays' route to the World Series should come down to a final matchup with Boston. It was the fight for the toughest division in baseball all season long, and it was hard-fought. Not to mention close. 8-1 to the Rays at the Trop, 7-2 to the Sox at Fenway. I think it is fair to say that the two teams are pretty evenly matched.

Actually, typing that last sentence still makes me laugh a little. I mean, if you look at the two rosters there's no question that in terms of name recognition, the experience, and perhaps even the individual talent, the edge goes to the Red Sox. Yet somehow the Rays have kept up with (and indeed ahead of) them all season long. It's almost beyond belief. And now we just need to continue defying belief four more times, and we'll be in the World Series.

The fact that we are four wins away from the World Series also almost defies my own belief, hence the fact that I have typed World Series so many times - if I say it often enough, I might actually start believing its true!

Rays' roster news is that Joe Maddon has decided to bring in an extra pitcher for the longer series. And, perhaps surprisingly, Edwin Jackson is the man. E-Jax was unlucky to miss out on the fourth starting spot for the postseason, and now will be in the 'pen for potential long relief situations. I'm happy he's going to get to be part of things, but I'm sure he will understand when I say I hope we don't see him pitch at all - as it will likely mean one of our starters has been knocked out early!

Making way for Jackson will be Eric Hinske, which must have been a terribly tough decision to make. Hinske has been a bit out of form recently, and didn't get any play in the Division Series, but he has been a key part for the club all season long. Unfortunately as things stand Gabe Gross is the preferred choice to start in right, and Fernando Perez and Willy Aybar offer more possibilities off the bench. Still, it's tough when someone who has been a big part of us getting here has to miss out. Also still out are Troy Percival and Shawn Riggans. Perci has been pitching well in instructional league, and would almost certainly be the one in line should anyone get injured. Meanwhile Riggans has recovered well from the surgery that ended his regular season, but just not quite quickly enough to make it for this series. If we get to play another one though...

Talking of which, I've been trying to work out what I think is going to happen in the series. You know, hoping to give you some kind of prediction. But while you can all guess what I hope will happen, the truth is I just don't know. I haven't got a clue. The Sox could put their experience to good use and overcome the Rays. The Rays might use their lack of fear and battle past the Sox. It might be one-sided. It might be nip-and-tuck. I literally have no idea. I'm massively excited. And incredibly nervous.

And I can't wait for it to get started.

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