Feel… The Heat… RAYS.

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This could be the game which defines this magical season, and hopefully turns the recent woes of the Rays around. After being shut out 2 games in a row, the Rays finally scored some runs- but not many. As his been the case most of the year, they manage to score enough.

So it was tonight, the night of what many considered the franchise’s most important game to date. They needed a win, as all of the sudden, the Red Sox closed a sizable 5.5 game lead to .5 a game. This one was for the lead, a lead that had been the Rays’ for months. Dan Wheeler, one of the more dependable pitchers in the bullpen came on in the bottom of the eighth. The unthinkable happened. Jason Bay launched one over the Green Monster. Goodbye 3-2 lead. Goodbye game. Goodbye division lead. We didn’t even have to worry about Troy Percival this time.

Not so fast.

Enter Johnathan Papelbon, one of the most reliable closers in the league. The way things have been going for the Rays lately, they seemed destined to lose another heart breaker, perhaps begin the closing chapters of a season tragedy instead of a romance.

Enter Dan Johnson. Briefly played earlier in the year due to some injuries, but has been down in the minors. He was supposed to be in the starting lineup for the Rays. He was late due to flight delays and that dreadful Boston traffic. Talk about a home field advantage. Manager Joe Maddon had no choice but to leave him on the bench, but he told him to be ready.

Calmly and coolly, he faced Papelbon. Calmly and coolly he delivered a deflating blow to the sold out crowd at Fenway, where fate always seems to bite the team that lets the Sox hang around.

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Silence. 4-4. Tie ballgame. Eduardo Perez, then delivered another drive off the top of that Green Monster. He was on second before the ball hit the cutoff man. Then Dioner Navarro finally drove in the first man of the night who was in scoring position. The Rays went 1-15 in that category tonight. The one that counted the most, making the difference.

It was then left up to the veteran gunslinger Troy Percival, looking to avenge a blown save from the day before. He walked the first man, and all of the sudden the winning run at the plate. Who wasn’t thinking walk-off?

Bend but don’t break.

A timely strike out and a skyscraper of a pop out by David Ortiz put the Rays one out away from finishing the fight. A hit and it was tied. Do or die. And Percival finally delivered a shut out inning for the first time in, well no one can remember. But it doesn’t matter right now. The job was done.

Boston’s dominance in Beantown is dead and the division lead is still in tact.

Most importantly, hopes for a division crown live on.

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“Damn Yankees”

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Just in case you have YET to check out the Rays page for all you vital information, here are the current American League East standings.

Rays 75 – 48           – GB

Red Sox 71 – 53     4.5 GB

Yankees 66 – 58      9.5 GB

Blue Jays 64 – 60     11.5 GB

Orioles 60 – 63       15 GB

According to ESPN’s crazy calculations, the Yankees have an 8.1% chance of making the playoffs this year as of today! And well, the Rays? 91.1%. I like these odds. So, in celebration of the possibility of the Yankees NOT making the playoffs since the 90’s, I present to you Yahoo!’s list: 10 Reasons Why the Yanks Won’t Make the Playoffs!

By Bob Birge
PA SportsTicker Staff Writer

Writing off the New York Yankees is always a dangerous proposition. Until the Yankees actually miss the playoffs – something that has not happened since 1993 – they never can be counted out.

However, here are 10 reasons why the Yankees could be facing the prospect of no postseason baseball in their final season at the House That Ruth Built:

1. A ridiculously difficult schedule over the final two months of the season that includes two 10-game road trips – one in August and one in September – 10 games against the Angels and, starting on Monday, a stretch in which they will play 16 of 19 games on the road.

After John Lackey came within two outs of pitching the first no-hitter against the Red Sox at Fenway Park in 50 years on Tuesday, the Angels improved to 7-1 against Boston this season. But following Wednesday’s game, the Red Sox won’t see the Angels again in 2008 – unless they meet in the playoffs.

2. A ridiculously favorable September schedule for the Red Sox, with only nine road games. The Red Sox have lost four of their last five home games to the Yankees and Angels, perhaps removing – or at least lessening – their aura of invincibility at Fenway Park. But even with the mini-slump, Boston still boasts the American League’s second-best home mark at 37-15 (Tampa Bay is first with a 40-16 record at Tropicana Field).

3. Tampa Bay and its stable of young pitchers aren’t going away. The Rays’ starters are young, and they still have to go through August and September in their first pennant race, which is always a concern. But they aren’t rookies. They’ve taken some lumps for the last couple years, and now they could be ready to reap the benefits. For example, Matt Garza out-dueled Toronto ace Roy Halladay on Tuesday with his first career shutout.

The Rays’ September schedule is not as favorable as Boston’s, as they play 17 of their 27 September games on the road, including the final eight. However, the Rays seem to have recovered from their seven-game swoon prior to the All-Star break. In the second half, they are 7-5.

Also, Tampa Bay has 45 wins from its starters, tied with Boston and Toronto for the second-highest total in the AL.

4. Forty percent of the Yankees’ rotation is still comprised of Sidney Ponson (whom the Red Sox battered on Sunday) and Darrell Rasner (who is just 2-7 in his last 10 starts).

5. Mike Mussina may be ready to take a second-half fall. It’s not just because he was hit hard by the Orioles on Monday; every pitcher is entitled to an occasional bad start, and Mussina has had very few this year. It’s because of his track record. Here are Mussina’s win totals in the last four seasons: 12, 13, 15 and 11. He already is at 13 this year. The Moose has not won more than 15 games since going 17-8 in 2003.

6. The injuries (no Jorge Posada, Hideki Matsui and Chien-Ming Wang) could finally catch up to the Yankees.

7. Eventually, the Yankees are going to have to pay for the seemingly indifferent manner in which they approach the first two months of the season. In three of the last four years, they have been under .500 in June or beyond: 2005, 31-32 on June 14; 2007, 43-44 on July 13; 2008, 30-31 on June 6.

8. Joe Torre, who guided the Yankees to playoff appearances in all 12 of his seasons in the Bronx, is no longer the manager, and the Steinbrenners are going to be punished by the baseball gods for mishandling his contract situation last year.

9. Nothing lasts forever. The Yankees are going to miss the playoffs at some point.

10. Given the state of the economy, a $200 million payroll doesn’t go as far as it used to.

How about that? My favorite is #10 hehe. It must be noted that the article is a little old- about half a month… when the Yankees were actually in the rearview mirror of the Red Sox, who lead at the time, and the Rays, who have lead for the majority of the season. Here’s to hoping for a miracle! Or rather, that the perennial miraculous climb up the standings does NOT occur. Rays are home for a 3 game set against Major League best LA Angels of Anaheim. Winner of the series leaves with the best record in the ML.

And now some anti-Yankees propaganda!

Saddam

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“DL” Blues

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Is it all starting to come apart for the Rays? We knew that one of the faces of the franchise, Carl Crawford, was gong to end up on the DL after an injury to a finger. Now defensive AND offensive stud rookie Evan Longoria will be joining hm on the 15 day disabled list, after Longo took a pitch to the wrist, resulting in a slight fracture. The question is, should we begin to panic? This isn’t the first time where the Rays have had tough circumstances regarding the unavailability of players. The classic Rays – Red Sox brawl back in June resulted in 5 suspensions for the Rays.

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Navarro, Kazmir, Pena and Bartlett have all had a stint on the DL this year also. So, while it may be tough that it is two of the most marketable, and well, most exciting players, its time for the bench to step in again to deliver the Rays. Most notably, you KNOW that Dominican utility man Willy Aybar is ready to play any position. He has been used to plug up any holes in the infield the Rays have had, playing four positions in the infield. He also provides a clutch, opportunistic offensive threat. The same thing with Ben Zobrist, who has recently proved he can also play outfield, though it will probably be Eric Hinske and Gabe Gross out in left. Don’t forget the return of Rocco Baldelli in right field, as he has slowly been able to recuperate from a diagnosed mitochondrial disorder. Hopefully he can provide the right-handed bat the Rays have been lacking.

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