BITTERSWEET is probably the best word to describe events in St Petersburg, Florida, last night from the perspective of a New York Yankees fan.
The good news is that the Boston Red Sox won’t be winning the World Series for the third time in five years.
The bad news is that the Tampa Bay Rays are for real. Now the Yanks don’t have just one serious rival for the American League East pennant, they have two.
It took guts, courage and determination for the Rays not to crumble after throwing away a seven-run, seventh-inning lead in game five at Fenway.
Most impartial observers expected the Sox to complete another remarkable comeback in game seven. But they hadn’t counted on Matt Garza giving the Boston batters only crumbs to feed on.
Having overcome both the Evil Empire and Rex Sox Nation during the regular season, it would have been simply awful had the 2008 Rays been remembered for choking in the playoffs rather than going from worst to first.
Chamberlain, Hughes an embarrassment
Now they are not only looking forward to their first appearance in the World Series but they have a great chance of winning it all against the National League champions, the Philadelphia Phillies.
Major League Baseball’s big spenders, and in particular the Yankees, can learn a lesson from this Cinderella story.
Joe Maddon’s upstart Rays have the second-lowest payroll in baseball. They have spent just short of $44 million this year, compared to the Yanks’ $209 million.
Not only that, but they have invested in young talent and built a team that, if it sticks together, will be a force for the next ten years.
In fairness to the Yankees, they did give youth a chance this year. But while Garza, Evan Longoria and B.J. Upton were making the headlines for the right reasons this weekend, two of the Yanks’ young pitchers were hanging their heads in shame.
Joba Chamberlain was arrested for speeding and DUI in Nebraska while in the Arizona Fall League, Phil Hughes gave up eight runs on seven hits in 2.2 innings pitching for the Peoria Javelinas against the Scottsdale Scorpions.
That’s a real sting in the tail in a year when the Yanks weren’t even second best but third rate.
No doubt Brian Cashman and the Steinbrenners will attempt to restore the balance in the normal way: by throwing even more money at the problem.
In these days, when the checkbook dominates most sports, isn’t it great that one of the little fish can still make a splash.