Baseball: The Rays & the Importance of Avoiding Collapse

by Hayden Alfano

The Tampa Bay Ray's 3-1 victory over the Boston Red Sox in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series (ALCS) was undoubtedly the biggest win in the Rays' history. By virtue of that triumph, the Rays — a team that prior to this season hadn’t even recorded a winning record since joining Major League Baseball in 1998 — advanced to the World Series, where they’ll attempt to win their first-ever championship while facing the Philadelphia Phillies.

This win, however, meant a lot more than getting that opportunity this year.

Just three days earlier, in Game 5 of their seven-game series with Boston, the Rays led 7-0 in the seventh inning, seven outs away from their fourth consecutive victory over Boston and a trip to the World Series. Inexplicably, almost surreally, the Red Sox (the once-cursed franchise that has made a habit in recent years of improbable postseason resurrections) won that game in dramatic fashion. When the Red Sox (the World Champions in 2007) took Game 6 on Saturday night to even the best-of-seven series at three games apiece, they had all the momentum heading into Sunday’s decisive contest.

Had the Rays lost that seventh game on Sunday, it would have marked the completion of one of the most spectacular collapses in baseball postseason history. And it could have cost Tampa Bay more than just their shot at a title this year. Such a collapse can alter the fortunes of a franchise forever.

Take the Portland Trailblazers of the National Basketball Association (NBA). Leading by 15 points in the fourth quarter of the decisive game of the 2000 Western Conference finals, the Blazers were ultimately beaten by the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers went on to win the NBA championship that year and each of the following two; the Blazers, a group talented enough to have pulled off the three-peat themselves, essentially self-destructed, mixing off-court incidents with a poor attitude on the court and a tendency to underperform in the biggest moments.

In a sense, that fourth quarter affected NBA history well beyond deciding which team got to play for the title that year.

If it wasn’t for Sunday’s win, we might be saying the same thing about the final three innings of Thursday’s Game 5 between the Rays and Red Sox. Tampa Bay is baseball’s most talented young club, and whether they beat Philadelphia, this probably won’t be their only World Series appearance in the next five years or so. But who knows what would have happened had they lost to Boston in such dramatic fashion?

(For more on the Rays, please see "Baseball: Brewers, Rays Lead Small Market Revolt." FOX Sports will televise the first game of the World Series, beginning Wednesday, Oct. 22 at 8 p.m. EDT.)

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Turk said...

Fortunately for the Rays, I think they would have been OK given the ridiculous amount of young talent on that team. For my sake, though, I hope your theory doesn't hold true for the Indians after our spectaular loss to the 2007 Sox...

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