Friday, 5:30 a.m.
There was the season-opener in 1999 that left the Rays in a haze.
That day, Mike Veeck had decided that fireworks would be a perfectly swell idea. But it filled the stadium with smoke. In the third innning, Randy Winn and Dave Martinez chased a fly ball, but neither could find it, and it brought in two unearned runs.
There was the day that Elijah Dukes faxed a picture of a handgun to his girlfriend as a threat. He didn't hang around very long.
There was the Hit Show, and there was the day Bryan Rekar wrote out his post-game comments long-hand, and there was the day Chuck LaMar swore to me he wasn't going to trade Fred McGriff, which he did the next day. There was the penguin that
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crapped on the team mascot, and there was Vince Naimoli, announcing his un-retirement, and there was Pat Burrell and his constant bad mood.
Put them all in a blender. Turn on the power. Watch them colors swirl.
Now ask yourself this:
Is this the darkest time the Rays have sufferered?
There have been so many bad seasons, and so many bad players, and so many lost games. This is a team that has lost 1,613 games. But has there ever been a streak such as this one? Have things ever looked so hopeless?
This team's starting pitchers are lousy. The starters are 21-34 with a 4.83 ERA. The hitters are lousy. They managed only five hits on Thursday. The defense is lousy. The baserunning is lousy. The effort is lousy. This week, manager Kevin Cash benched Steven Souza for not running out a ball and chided his team for a lack of effort. Also, one assumes, abililty.
The trade deadline is coming, which is the annual day that Rays fans brace themselves to see who the team will give away. Odds on favorite: Matt Moore.
Then, of course, there is the future. As in Blake Snell. As in “where do we keep the Kevlar?” Poor Snell. He's 1-4, which is bringing up comparisons to Duwan Brazleton, which is particularly nasty.
In five of his first six starts, the Rays have supported him with two runs. In six starts, the Rays have committed seven errors.
Sheesh. It's going to get to a point that the Rays try to bring up a player, and he's going to decline the promotion. “Thanks for asking,” he'll say, “but I'm just fine in Durham. I like the barbecue.”
At this rate, the Rays would finish with 65 wins and 97 losses. The Rays have been worse, but not by much. In 2003, they were 55-106 and players openly wept during play.
As of this moment, the Rays are the next-to-worst team in the American League behind Minnesota, who should be getting care packages from Japan. Only three teams in baseball are worse.
How bad is it? They're 15th in hits and batting average. They're 14th in runs and on-base percentage. They're 13th in runs batted in. They're 12th in errors.
Back during the days of Hal McRae, back when Ben Grieve was in right and Vinny Castilla was at third, maybe it was worse. The brain blocks out pain, doesn't it?
But this was a franchise that had learned how to win. For four of six years, it made the playoffs. Now, it has forgotten the way back. Yeah, in a way, this is worse.
It is dark.
It is raining.
I think a hunk of sky just fell.