Martin Fennelly Columns
Fennelly: Tampa Bay Rays wasting historic pitching numbers a crime
ST. PETERSBURG - Officially, it came to an end at 1:10 Tuesday morning. By then, it was out of their hands, though they're still dusting their bats for fingerprints. That's what happens at a crime scene. That was this season. Will the last one to leave please turn out the sump pump under Carlos Pena's final called third strikes as a Ray. Tuesday night at Tropicana Field was the first truly meaningless Tampa Bay game in ages, well, in seasons. The Rays had already run the gamut of playoff elimination, from A's to O's. They thought they were good enough. They should have been good enough. They were at it again Tuesday night against the all-in Orioles. James Shields glittered. With nothing to pitch for, he pitched brilliantly, throwing a complete game, just one run and two hits, oh, and a franchise-record 15 strikeouts. Rays lose, 1-0.Oakland and Baltimore are wonderful stories. The Rays are an Idiot's Guide to how you can have all the pitching in the world and an expanded postseason galaxy, and still end up biting yourself in the asteroid. This is the one that got away, all those electric Rays arms ultimately undone all those windmill Rays swings. Strikeouts vs. Strikeouts, the death match. How this club sabotaged unparalleled pitching will be a story for years. If looked at these stats separately, without knowing the outcome, you'd go cross-eyed. Gawk at the Rays historic pitching numbers and you'd ask how many games did the win the World Series by. Stare at the hitting and you'd ask if they lost 100 or 105 games. You can't waste the pitching the Rays just wasted. In baseball, as a rule, there's a word for it. "It's sinful," Rays manager Joe Maddon said Monday. He smiled to remove the sting, but he didn't. Godspeed, Rays pitchers. You led the majors in ERA. You led the AL in strikeouts. You held opponents to a .229 average. But your most amazing performance might have been biting your lips and holding your tongues as you watched the hitless wonders, The Sons of Shutout, parade by you in the dugout. In the old days, it was "Spahn and Sain and pray for rain." This season, it was "Shields and Price and pray for Stephen Vogt _ really, please pray." "When you have pitching this way, man, there's no doubt _ I firmly believe that we should have went all the way," soon to be former Rays DH Luke Scott said before Tuesday's game. He's right. There's no AL East race if the bats had shown up in any consistent way. Rays in a romp, 100 wins. That's a ringing indictment of Rays upper management that swung again and missed again on boppers, then fiddled while Evan Longoria's hamstring burned. "We would have walked away with it," Scott said. "There's no doubt about it. If Longo wouldn't have gotten hurt, if I had 600 (at-bats), we would have walked away with it. There's just no doubt about it. What else can you say?" Understand, other teams would still love to imitate the Rays formula. The A's and O's just did. And there's no way around all those games Longoria missed, where he established that maybe no other player means more to any other team, too much, in fact. This pitching, at the top of its lungs, shouted for just a little help, and more often than not it fell on deaf lineups. Cy Young contenders David Price and Fernando Rodney's microscopic numbers alone should be enough to make Rays lovers puke their guts out. We didn't get them to the playoffs? A few weeks ago, Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz and his teammates were at Tropicana Field. Ortiz pointed at the Rays pitchers. "Those guys pitch seven strong (innings) every time out. Who does that? Who?" Ortiz said. "If they go get two guys in the middle of the lineup who give them 25 homers, there's the world champs, right there, World Series champs." The Rays thought they had those two guys, but the injury-riddled Scott and the Pena's carcass became a two-headed Pat Burrell. It didn't help that Desmond Jennings didn't take a real step forward and Matt Joyce gradually took a step back, a concern since B.J. Upton's Get Out of Tampa Hell Raising Tour is nearly over. There were other problems: That leaky first-half defense, an endless string of end-of-the-bench talent _ and too many guys who looked as if they were just happy to be here. Many of them won't be next season. Next season really began at 1:10 Tuesday morning. But, in a 2012 with its head already cut off, Rays pitching pitched on. James Shields was all heart, Big Game even when it wasn't one. I wonder if it was his final turn as a Ray. He was truly magnificent. Rays lose, 1-0. It's sinful.