Sunday was a chance to be greedy. It came and went, passing like a 95-mph fastball that catches the outside corner on a 3-2 count, freezing the Tampa Bay Rays before they jetted south to the Lone Star State for the final stop on their three-city trip.
At this point, with the Texas Rangers waiting as the American League’s worst team, a winning record on this 10-game jaunt should be expected. Perhaps the Rays, now at 57-60, should expect to climb back to .500 later this week. They stand at 3-3 on this trip after stops in Oakland and Chicago, and the Rangers, a shell of those teams that gave the Rays fits throughout postseasons past, don’t figure to put up much of a fight.
Still, Tampa Bay could have left Wrigley Field on Sunday with a sweep of the Chicago Cubs. The Rays were the better team leading into the day. They were the better team when they earned a 1-0 lead in the top of the fifth inning. They were the better team when reliever Grant Balfour was given a 2-1 lead when he entered in the bottom of the seventh.
Then a near-victory became another all-too-real loss, this time a 3-2 heartbreaker in 12 innings, snapping a brief three-game winning streak. Goodbye, possibility.
That’s baseball, and in many ways, that has been this Rays season. It has been almost, but not quite. It has been nearly there, but lofty postseason goals appear out of reach (for now).
Still, Tampa Bay enters play Monday with a chance for the AL’s second wild-card spot. Winning at least three of four games in Texas should be the target to chip away at a 6 1/2-game deficit in the race. If the Rays receive help from the Kansas City Royals and other contenders, anything is possible.
The time for greed remains now.
Here’s a look at the upcoming Rays-Rangers series …
Ben Zobrist (Rays): He hit .375 (9 for 24) with one RBI in six games from Aug. 4-10. He had three multi-hit contests in the span, including two games with three hits each in victories over the Oakland Athletics on Aug. 6 and Cubs on Aug. 8. He has hit .285 with nine home runs and 33 RBI this season.
Shin-Soo Choo (Rangers): He hit .400 (10 for 25) with two home runs and two RBI in six games from Aug. 4-10. He had at least one hit in each contest in the span, part of a month when he has hit .289 with two home runs and three RBI. He has hit .247 with 11 home runs and 37 RBI this season.
Kevin Kiermaier (Rays): He hit .158 (3 for 19) with seven strikeouts in six games from Aug. 4-10. He was held hitless in three contests in the span. He has hit .282 with nine home runs and 29 RBI this season.
Leonys Martin (Rangers): He hit .067 (1 for 15) with five strikeouts in five games from Aug. 4-10. His lone hit in the span was a single in a loss to the Houston Astros on Aug. 8. He has hit .251 with five home runs and 29 RBI this season.
2003: Last time the Rays played a series at Wrigley Field before their most recent three-game set from Friday-Sunday. Tampa Bay and the Cubs have faced each other just nine times overall, with the Rays winning six of those games.
11: Number of pitchers used by both teams in the Rays’ 4-3 victory over the Cubs in 10 innings on Friday at Wrigley Field. Right-hander Chris Archer and relievers Joel Peralta, Jake McGee, and Brad Boxberger made appearances for Tampa Bay.
6 1/2: Games that the Rays trail the Royals for the AL’s second wild-card spot entering play Monday. In addition to the Royals, the Seattle Mariners, Toronto Blue Jays, New York Yankees and Cleveland Indians all lead the Rays in the race for the AL’s second wild-card spot.
”It was a classically well-played game on both sides. I can see why they like a lot of their young players.” — Manager Joe Maddon, after the Rays’ victory Friday. It marked their first instance of consecutive victories since beating the Milwaukee Brewers from July 28-29.
”The first at-bat itself I felt like I was throwing it where I wanted to, and once it carries over to the next batter, you kind of know you have that going today.” — Right-hander Jake Odorizzi, after the Rays’ 4-0 victory Saturday at Wrigley Field. He allowed just three hits with nine strikeouts in six innings.
”Spectacular.” — Maddon, when describing his team’s pitching in the Cubs series after a 3-2 loss to Chicago in 12 innings Sunday at Wrigley Field. Right-hander Alex Cobb allowed one run and six hits in six innings in a no-decision for him.