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Longoria, Price put Rays in playoffs
If recent history is any indication, Evan Longoria and David Price won’t enjoy tearful retirements — together — with the Tampa Bay Rays, the way Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte did in pinstripes a few days ago.
The Rays’ payroll and revenues are such that they trade stars who aren’t signed to long-term extensions. Longoria will stay a while, since he’s under contract through 2022. Price, on the other hand, is on track for free agency after the 2015 season. It’s conceivable that Price will be traded this winter, with the same two years of control James Shields had when he was shipped to the Royals last December.
So if Longoria and Price are going to win a World Series as Rays teammates — as Rivera and Pettitte did five times in New York — this might be their last chance. And they don’t intend to give up their dream easily.
The Rays have at least one game left in their 2013 season, and it is because of what Longoria and Price did Monday night at Rangers Ballpark. Longoria, extending his usual Game 162 heroics to Game 163, homered and finished a triple shy of the cycle. Price threw a complete game in the Rays’ 5-2 victory over the Texas Rangers — earning them a bid in Wednesday’s American League Wild Card Game and realizing a vision Price had when he awoke Monday morning.
Price said he imagined recording the final out and then finding Longoria at third base to celebrate — rather than the customary embrace with his catcher. When Price fulfilled the prophecy by retiring Nelson Cruz for the 27th out, he had tears in his eyes. Price remembered crying in exultation on a baseball field only twice before — once in a game against Michigan during his junior year at Vanderbilt, and again when he recorded the final out of the 2008 American League Championship Series.
Longoria didn’t find out about Price’s clairvoyance until after the game. Price said he thought about telling Longoria before the bottom of the ninth, but let’s be honest: With all the superstition in baseball, was there any chance of that?
"I didn’t want to jinx it,” Price said.
As for Longoria’s consistent success in the big moment, Price remarked, “He’s not scared of it.”
And so the Rays play on, with two superstars in their primes. Not many postseason entrants have elite, under-30 tandems of a bona-fide ace and lineup keystone. At this point, it hardly matters that the Rays finished the regular season with the lowest winning percentage of any AL postseason team. They have Longoria. They have Price. And they are, in the words of manager Joe Maddon, a “very dangerous” team to play in the postseason.
A few more thoughts from Texas:
• The Rangers face a complicated offseason. General manager Jon Daniels told me after the game that there’s “not a question” manager Ron Washington will be back in 2014. That settles that, but Daniels has many more decisions to make. How will he address an uncharacteristically meager offense, to say nothing of the Ian Kinsler/Elvis Andrus/Jurickson Profar middle infield logjam? Nelson Cruz and A.J. Pierzynski are pending free agents; if they depart, their production must be replaced. And this was not a particularly good year for the Rangers’ long-heralded farm system.
• Major League Baseball is lucky the Rays won. Otherwise, the postseason would have begun with more carping about umpiring blunders. The six-man crew made a blatant error in the seventh inning, when Delmon Young’s liner was incorrectly judged to have been caught by Texas center fielder Leonys Martin. Replays showed it bounced before Martin trapped it. “I get my eyes checked every year by the team,” Young told me afterward. “I could see it jogging to first.”
This type of play is expected to be reviewable once MLB expands instant replay next year. But it also bears mentioning that umpires are put at a disadvantage when they go from four-man crews (regular season) to the six-man alignment (tiebreakers and postseason), in which umpires are situated on the outfield baselines. Umpires aren’t expected to make calls from those angles all year long; then they are asked to do so in the biggest games of the season, as left-field ump Bruce Dreckman was Monday. (Atlanta fans saw the peril in this with the infamous infield fly in the NL Wild Card Game last year.)
MLB has good intentions with the six-man crew. They want to be as thorough as possible, and the umpires’ union loves the fact more of their own are rewarded with postseason assignments. But recent mistakes by outfield umpires — including Phil Cuzzi on Joe Mauer’s fair ball at Yankee Stadium in 2009 — make me wonder if the six-man crew is optimal for postseason play.
• Cruz received a thunderous standing ovation before his first plate appearance since the 50-game performance-enhancing drug suspension — proving again that hometown crowds are willing to forgive most any sin of their sports heroes. Maddon refused to take issue with the fact Cruz was back in the lineup.
“We just played A-Rod,” he noted.
In the end, it didn’t matter. Cruz went 0 for 4. He made the last out. Now he’s about to be a free agent. This might have been hello again and goodbye for good on the same night.
• Finally, two major congratulations are in order for Rays outfielders: David DeJesus is in the playoffs for the first time, after 1,277 regular-season games. He began the season with the Cubs and was traded twice — first to the Nationals, then the Rays. Meanwhile, call-up Kevin Kiermaier made his major league debut as a defensive replacement in the ninth inning. That’s right: Kiermaier has played one inning in the big leagues, and it ended with him celebrating a postseason berth in a mob with his teammates. The beauty of September roster expansion — and a manager who isn’t afraid to trust his players, however inexperienced they may be.