Martin Fennelly Columns
Fennelly: Tampa Bay Rays see a lot of themselves in O's
ST. PETERSBURG - The slipper is on the other foot. Not that the Tampa Bay Rays didn't have to be dragged out feet first. They won Monday, holding off the Orioles 5-3. Here's a stunner: Great starting pitching, another amazing Fernando Rodney save. They all lived to care about the late A's score, which, partly due to old mate Grant Balfour, didn't go their way. Oh, what could have been.In one clubhouse at Tropicana Field on Monday afternoon, some inhabitants wore brand new "O's for October: Postseason 2012" T-shirts. A few wore postseason caps. It wasn't enough for them. "We want the division title," Baltimore center fielder Adam Jones said. In the home clubhouse, the quiet clubhouse, they were still clinging by a fingernail to a shred of a playoff hope, still on the outside looking in. Some Rays managed a smile over Orioles daring. "We look at them like that's us, that was us," Rays reliever Jay Howell said. "We've been them." The slipper is on the other foot. There are new darlings, some of the very darlings the Rays helped create in a small way, teams that saw the miracles at work in Tampa Bay, realized there really were no excuses, and they went from there – two teams the Rays won't catch. They won't catch the Orioles, who lost 93 games last season, but now have 92 wins, along with the franchise's first postseason berth in 15 years. You can't help but think back to the 2008 Rays, who won 97 games the season after losing 96, all the way to the World Series. And the Oakland A's just keep winning wherever they go (like late Monday at home against Texas to seal the final playoff spot), with young pitching, with drama, while everyone else says "Who are those guys?" Remember when the Rays were the guys in "Who are those guys?" The Rays wasted their extraordinary pitching, and let one get away. They were asking for a lot anyway, to win out at home against Baltimore and then have the A's lose three at home, even with that late Rays zombie winning streak and Monday's win. At least those hopes were quashed early in the week. What's ironic is that some of the seeds for Baltimore success this season were planted last September, when manager Buck Showalter had everyone aboard, and it paid off large for the Rays last 162, as the Orioles completed the Red Sox collapse and helped pave the Rays miracle or miracles. "I think we kind of established a foundation for this year," Orioles outfielder Chris Davis said. "You could see it right then," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. Showalter returned the love before Monday's game: "I think the accomplishments of Tampa Bay and what they continue to do has been a great example for everybody." The Orioles-Rays comparison is bogus in some ways. The postseason-bound A's are a better attempt at mirror image: the good young pitching staff, bad payroll, bad crowds, bad stadium, walk-off magic like Rays 2008, all that. The Orioles don't have Rays pitching (who does?) but there is a 2008 Rays fairy dust quality to the O's 2012, that 53-22 record in one or two run games, 15 consecutive extra-inning wins and who in the world is Taylor Teagarden? The Rays felt the wrath of the newfound O's early this season on that first trip to Baltimore, where the Orioles won two of three games. "That first series in Baltimore, we tried to knock the belief out of them," Howell said. "And we couldn't do it." By the time the Rays arrived for a September series at Camden Yards, the Orioles were well beyond belief. The Rays were swept, a walk-off loss and 14-inning loss in the space of 24 hours. That's when we knew about the Orioles. The Rays knew all too well. They've been there. They've been that. They held out Monday night. The Rays won. Mind you, Baltimore showed us how it got here. The O's tried to rally in the ninth, with two runs on Davis' C-ring homer, before Rodney shut it down. By the way, earlier in the night, Orioles catcher Matt Wieters plopped a home run into 162 Landing, which later made you shift uncomfortably at the announcement of Monday's announced crowd: 13,666. The Rays kept another 162 dream alive, at least for a few more hours. They began waiting on the Western returns, that A's-Rangers game, only to be disappointed. Sometimes the slipper is on the other foot. That doesn't mean you give it up all that easy.