Joy, Jubilation, and the Sheer Exuberance of Victory


Our correspondent Jordi Scrubbings was at the game last night. Here is his report. You can also here Jordi tonight on “The Sully Baseball Show” which can be heard HERE

When I was a younger, I rooted heart and soul for the New York Mets. My dad was a Mets fan and I followed in his footsteps. One of my fondest memories of my dad and I’s shared fandom was when Mookie Wilson’s grounder rolled through Bill Buckner’s legs in Game 6 of the World Series. Being young and skinny, my dad gave me a big hug and swung my around the living room. Although I was a happy new fan, he was overjoyed. The Mets lived to see another day.

Here I am today the roughly same age my dad was in 1986.  The Rays have in many ways replaced the Mets as my true heart’s desire. The Mets are my first fan love and I will never forget them, but since 2007 day-in and day-out I’ve ridden with the Rays.

Although the Rays have made the postseason three of the last four years and although I have been to several playoff games and even their only World Series win, they have never given me a moment of sheer unadulterated joy like the Mets gave my dad had on that late October night.

Last night however I threw around hugs like they were free. It was the most amazing night of my baseball viewing life.

That’s a heavy statement admittedly, but before last night I had never been to a game where so much was on the line, where every pitch weighed so heavily on the future, and where collective exuberance felt so good.

Those who follow me on twitter know that I am an avid tweeter during Rays games I attend. I’m there so I feel like I owe it to those who aren’t to express the feelings of the fans in the seats. I’ll justify the boos, question Joe Maddon, and announce when DJ Kitty makes an appearance. It’s fun and it’s enabled me to make more than a few friends along the way.

Unfortunately, last night my phone died in the seventh inning. My tweets leading up to my phone’s death were very pessimistic, very disappointed, and very downright negative. As a matter of fact, my last tweet was this poem:

“Its raining, its pouring, the Orioles need scoring. The Rays could’ve lead, but shit the bed. Now they get to play golf tomorrow morning.”

I thought that was rather cute, witty, and creative.

What I didn’t know is that I would never be able to take back those words until long after the game was over.

But to be honest, my phone dying was a blessing in disguise. Because I didn’t have the temptation to tweet every little detail and carry on a conversation with however many twitter followers I have who care about my Rays tweets, I was able to uninhibitedly ride the wave of emotions that was quite possibly the greatest regular season Rays game in franchise history.

I attended last night’s game with not only the two friends I usually attend my games with, but a group of four others. Although two of us started in the Party Deck, we all eventually settled in Section 129, in the lower level 20 rows up from the visiting bullpen.

That’s where we witnessed David Price’s struggles, the Rays’ anemic attempts to get runners home in the early innings, and the parade of arms the Yankees were warming up and shuttling to the pitchers mound. From the Yankees point of view, the game had a Spring Training-like feel. Ironic, I guess then that they were playing the team from the same geographic area of their spring locale.

But a funny thing happened in the top of the eight inning. After Johnny Damon singled and Ben Zobrist doubled, one of our crew was tossed from the ballpark for excessive (drunken?) celebration. I’m not sure of the details, but when security moves in on you, they are usually judge, jury, and ejector.

Of course, after our friend was shimmied from the ballpark, the Rays began clawing back. With every run we felt his sacrifice was not in vain. He was trying to light a spark in a fanbase that eventually became ablaze with excitement. When Evan Longoria hit his first home run of the night, a three-run shot that turned the deficit to one, the Trop exploded with excitement.

Then, in the bottom of the ninth, Dan Johnson. Some call him The Great Pumpkin. Perhaps it’s fitting that as we all sat for seven innings as disappointed as Linus in the Peanuts TV special, Dan Johnson, Tampa Bay Rays Hero of Heroes, would arise from the dead to lead us to jubilee yet again.

Incredible. Amazing. Spectacular. Orgasmic.

Hands were slapped, clapped, and raised in not-yet-triumph. Hugs were passed from person to person. There were even a few kisses exchanged.

It was all the thrill of victory without actually being victorious. The Trop was alive like a rockin’ New Year’s Eve Party. Even the yellow lights that light up the dome on the outside were turned on.

(Honestly, I was scared when the “victory” lights came on. Were they to be an omen or a curse? Were we counting our chickens before they hatched?)

I’m sure it was obvious on TV, but there seemed to be a philosophical shift in how Joe Maddon managed the game. After Price gave up 6, Maddon leaned on his “low leverage” guys – De La Rosa, Ramos, and Cruz. He even had James Shields tossing in the ‘pen. But when the Rays tied the game, Maddon played to win. Out came Peralta and Farnsworth, and when they weren’t enough, out came Gomes and McGee. Maddon wasn’t about to let the game slip away. He was playing his regulars, save for the catcher position, where Jose Lobaton was inserted for Jaso who was inserted for Shoppach.

(By the way, is it just me or does Jose Lobaton look like he can’t hit to save his life? In the bottom of the 10th, after BJ Upton walked, I think everyone assumed Upton was going to steal second. But he didn’t. I think that was so Lobaton could see a majority of fastballs in his at-bat. And what did he do? He struck out. Sometimes I think I can hit better than Jose Lobaton.)

While Maddon was using his A-team, Yankees manager Joe Girardi was steadfastly refusing to use any of his top relievers. Although Mariano Rivera was in the building, and even stood up once or twice, there was no way he or David Robertson were going to see action. The game wasn’t that important to the Yankees. And that meant a heaping serving of Scott Proctor, a pitcher who hadn’t had an ERA below 6 since 2007 and who had only pitched 3 or more innings seven times in his seven-year career. Barring a Rays collapse, the game was Scott Proctor’s to lose.

(Honestly, I have a soft spot for Scott Proctor. He is a fellow Florida State alumnus. But that’s where my love for him ends.)

Prior to the twelfth inning, one of my friends mentioned that their phone said Boston had defeated the Orioles. Their game was over and the best the Rays could do was force a one game playoff Thursday. Of course, it didn’t change the fact  that we wanted the Rays to win. But it changed the outcome.

Shortly after the top of twelfth a loud eruption emerged from the luxury box level. The folks with the private boxes, with their TVs and their refrigerators were cheering loudly. Something was up. Then word circulated through the stands that my friend was wrong. The Red Sox had not won. As a matter of fact, they were now tied.

Meanwhile in St. Petersburg, BJ Upton struck out. Was it BJ’s last at-bat as a Tampa Bay Ray?

Then, only moments later, another loud roar from the luxury box level. The Red Sox lost. The wild card was the Rays to win. And our other hero, the greatest “clutch” Rays player not named Dan Johnson, the great Evan Longoria, was coming to bat. We knew if there was going to be a heroic moment for Longo, this was it. It was as close to a moment of destiny that you will ever get on a baseball field.

Following Upton’s strikeout, it appeared as if a Yankees trainer had come out to check on Scott Proctor. Everyone could tell Proctor was gassed and had nothing left in the tank. Did the trainer bring a message from Joe Girardi to groove a pitch for Longoria? Who knows and frankly, who cares.

When Longoria’s shot cleared the left field short wall, the remaining faithful at Tropicana Field (probably about 18-20,000 or so) erupted in joy. The Rays were making the playoffs! My god, the unimaginable had happened! The Rays, the 43-million dollar machine that could, the team that gets raked over the coals about how many people do or do not go to each game, the team that lost several cogs from last year, this surprising batch of underdogs, had passed the mighty Boston Red Sox on the last day of the season and were headed to the postseason!

Once again hands were slapped, clapped, and raised, this time  in triumph. Hugs were passed from person to person and there were more than a few kisses exchanged. Strangers embraced strangers and people ran up and down the aisles in joyful bliss. Simultaneously the players poured out onto the field from the dugout and celebrated with their scoring teammate. Then came the cameras, the media, and finally the champagne.

As for me, finally, after 20-plus years of watching and going to baseball games, I had the same type of moment my dad had when he watched the Mets in October of 1986. A moment that makes you want to reach for someone, embrace them (guy hug, no homo, ha ha), and say “Holy shit!”.

And on my way home from the game, after my phone was charged, I let a few concerned people know I was ok. Not only had my phone died, but I was busy enjoying the greatest game I had ever seen.

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