In Praise of the Rays:

Not to take attention away from pressing matters like the collapse of the world economy and the end of life as we know it here on earth, but . . . even those of you who are, like me, casual Red Sox fans gotta love those Tampa Bay Rays, who may be on the verge of pulling off one of the remarkable worst-to-best turnarounds in sports history. For those of you not following the developments, the story, in brief, is this: Tampa Bay has had the sorriest franchise in baseball for a couple of decades — hardly any fans, an awful stadium, and a terrible team, year after year after year. With a roster of no-names (and a payroll of around $40 million — one of the lowest in Major League Baseball), they started out strong this year, but everyone — and I mean everyone — was just waiting for them to collapse into their usual mediocrity.

But this year, they didn't. They actually won the American League East division race, beating out the big boys from NY and Boston, and then they went on to clobber the White Sox in the division series, earning the right to meet Boston in the AL Championship series. In the first game, things seemed to have caught up with them; they (finally) had that deer-in-the-headlights look, and they were shut out, 2-0, at home. So once again, everyone figured this had to be it for them, the World Champs would mow them down, restore the Old Order, and we'd get back to baseball as usual.

But the Rays won Game 2 in a thriller (12 innings), and then went up to Boston where, in the last two games, they have murdered - humiliated, really - the Red Sox, winning by lopsided scores (9-1 and 13-4) before Boston fans who are getting quieter and quieter with each passing inning.

It's an amazing performance by a bunch of 24 year old kids taking on a very talented veteran team and, so far, kicking their butt. It's pretty hard to root against them. They seem to have come up with a new team-building strategy; in the spring, they announced that they had signed Evan Longoria, their young third baseman who had just a few months of major league experience, to a 6-year, $36 million dollar contract. It seemed insane, at the time -- you're giving $36 million to who??? Evan Longoria - who the hell is he??

But it turns out to have been a sublimely brilliant move. Longoria looks like a superstar in the making -- already, given his performance in the postseason (five home runs in 7 games!), he could probably command more than $6 million on the open market, and it is quite possible that in a couple of years he'll be a $15 million per year (or more) player. But they've locked him in. It was a good deal for Longoria, too -- he's got a whole bunch of money in the bank and lots, lots more coming, guaranteed. So everyone's happy, and the Rays could be a very good ballclub for a very long time.

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