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Wednesday, September 21, 2011


Those familiar with the legend of early 20th century Russian monk Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin know the story of his death. He was stabbed, disemboweled, poisoned, shot several times, including in the forehead, bound inside a carpet, and thrown into an icy river. According to legend, Rasputin broke his bounds, but eventually drowned in the river.

ESPN’s Chris Berman brought Rasputin into the sports mainstream in the 1990s by applying the moniker to former Detroit Lions coach Wayne Fontes. Fontes Lions got off to what appeared to be insurmountable slow starts and had some bad regular seasons during Fontes’ tenure, yet often rebounded to contend for or reach the playoffs. Annual speculation that Fontes would be fired was proven wrong, seemingly, every season as Fontes seemed to find a way to hang on to his job every year, coaching the team for a total of nine seasons.

Former NFL head coach Wayne Fontes, with the Detroit Lions: sports' original "Rasputin". 1


The Tampa Bays Rays appear to be the 2011 Major League Baseball season’s equivalent of Rasputin. While much of the sports world expressed panic over the 0-6 start of the “dream team” Boston Red Sox, having acquired first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and centerfielder Carl Crawford during the past offseason. The Rays also started 0-6, but had low expectations in 2011 after having lost Crawford, slugger Carlos Peña, All-Star catcher Dioner Navarro, and reliable relief pitcher Dan Wheeler (to the Red sox) due to free agency in addition to losing outfielder Rocco Baldelli to retirement during the past offseason.

The good news kept piling up for the Rays. And by “good news”, I mean “bad news”. The Rays’ losses would continue to add up, with the team falling to1-8 through nine games. Slugger Manny Ramirez, signed in the offseason to help replace some of the lost power, retired after failing a second drug test for performance enhancing drugs. Ramirez would have faced a 100 game suspension had he chosen to remain with the team.

The media, and possibly Rays fans may have had low expectations. I am very confident that Rays Manager Joe Maddon did not! The Rays would recover, rip off 14 wins in their next 17 games and would bring their record above .500 before the end of April, surpassing the Boston Red Sox in the American League East.


The Rays, Red Sox, and New York Yankees would continue a three way battle for first place in the American League East. However, by the All-Star break, the Rays had fallen several games back of the Yankees and Rays into third place. By the end of August, the Rays had fallen 8.5 games back of the Yankees in the Wild Card race. It is rare that a gap of 8 games, at the All-Star break, is closed before the end of the regular season. Conventional wisdom would dictate that a team more than 8 games back in the Wild Card race is dead in the water for that season, but not these Rays.

Joe Maddon, from my vantage point, is the consummate player’s manager and motivator. His teams simply do not quit. Anything can happen, right? “Anything” did happen.

The Red Sox, already without starting pitcher Clay Buchholz, would lose ace starter Josh Beckett for a couple of starts due to an ankle injury. The Red Sox’s other pitchers, less than stellar throughout much of the season, became downright dreadful in the absences of Buchholz and Beckett. The Red Sox spun into a vicious tailspin, losing 14 of their first 18 games in September.

The Rays, meanwhile, had the third best record in the American League, in spite of trailing their division rivals by so many games. They remained steady and consistent, and have a record of 11-6 in the month of September – solid, not streaky, including 3 wins in a 4 game series at Boston.

Rays starter David Price takes a breather after a Red Sox line drive hit his chest in the third inning at Fenway. (US Presswire)
Rays starting pitcher David Price was hit in the chest with a line drive in Boston on Sunday. A mere projectile wasn't enough to stop Rasputin and it didn't stop Price, who finished the inning and completed the following inning. 2


I said, in no uncertain terms, in last week’s Must See sports segment, that if the Rays won the series against the Red Sox, I expected the Rays to overtake the Red Sox and win the Wild Card. The Rays closed the gap to two games with Boston. The prize is within reach for Tampa Bay.

While the Red Sox have an advantage over the Rays in their remaining schedule, with 5 of their last 8 games against the last place Baltimore Orioles while the Rays play the first place Yankees 7 times in their final 10 games, the momentum appears to have completely shifted to the Rays. With the Red Sox clinging to the Wild Card, just weeks after appearing to have the edge in the division race, I do not see the Rays letting up and therefore I do not see the Red Sox hanging on. Of course, the game is played on the field, but it is going to be very difficult to kill off “Raysputin”.

Rasputin and the Rays: if they're still walking, then they're still living! 3

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