When the Tampa Bay Rays look back at the 2013 season, they may look back to Aug. 14 as a key game. Riding a six-game losing streak, the Rays trailed the Mariners 4-3 entering the bottom of the ninth but rallied to win and end the skid.
When the Tampa Bay Rays look ahead to their future, they may look back to Aug. 15 as a key date. At the MLB owners' meeting in Cooperstown, N.Y., commissioner Bud Selig and Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg addressed the media about the stadium situation in Tampa Bay, which Selig called "very discouraging."
The Rays continue to be a huge success on the field, as they have been since 2008. They also continue to struggle off the field, ranking 29th in the majors in attendance and, according to Sternberg, relying upon revenue sharing to survive.
On Thursday, the Rays beat the Mariners 7-1 as Alex Cobb returned from the DL to pitch five strong innings. Evan Longoria, who had been hitting .197/.295/.365 since July 1, delivered two hits, including a two-run homer. Wil Myers went 3-for-4 with two doubles and four RBIs.
Cobb's biggest out was his final one, striking out Nick Franklin with the bases loaded to end the fifth. The Rays broke open the 1-1 tie with four runs in the bottom of the inning. While Cobb, making his first start since getting hit by a line drive in the head on June 15 and suffering a concussion, should provide a nice lift to the rotation if he pitches like he did before the concussion, it's Longoria's bat that needs to heat up for the Rays. He was an MVP candidate the first three months of the season. They can't rely on the rookie Myers to carry the offense.
While the Rays are focusing on what they need to do on the field to catch the Red Sox, the long-term viability of the team in St. Petersburg remains a concern. The Rays would like to move, but St. Petersburg city officials have threatened legal action against other municipalities. As Sternberg told MLB.com, other owners are getting tired of supporting the Rays. "The key here is to recognize that without the revenue-sharing dollars, we wouldn't even be able to compete or do what we're doing. The other owners are looking at this and saying, 'How many years is this going to be? How much money is this going to be to a failing situation?'"
The difficult question: Would the team be better supported if the ballpark were located in Tampa or another neighboring city? Or does the region just lack the fervor to better support the franchise? Thursday's game drew 13,299 fans; as a comparison, the horrible Brewers, playing in a smaller metro market, drew more than 36,000. The Tampa-St. Pete region is larger than St. Louis, Baltimore, Denver, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati or Cleveland.
So if it's not the size of the market, it's either the ballpark, the location of the ballpark, or a community that just hasn't supported a winning team like you would expect. Trouble is, the Rays' lease runs through 2027. They might be stuck if no solution arises.
Where they're not stuck is on the field. They trail the Red Sox by two games, but are tied in the loss column. They've played fewer games than Boston, however, and have just two off days the rest of the season. It will be important for the starters to pitch deeper into games than the five innings Cobb pitched on Wednesday, or manager Joe Maddon risks burning out the bullpen. They return to AL East play this weekend, hosting Toronto, heading to Baltimore for a short three-game road trip, and then returning to the Trop to host the Yankees. They have only one series left against Boston (Sept. 10-12), so there will be a lot of scoreboard watching down the stretch.
Which is certainly more fun than ballpark searching.
Oh, the ugly this. The Rays are known for thinking outside the box. So the Rays are 1-0 with the python. New team mascot?