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Change in Direction

I began writing this blog entry in the middle of the seventh inning of last night's Game 5 between the Red Sox and Rays. I started to compare Tampa Bay's domination of the Red Sox to a four-game series in September of 1978, when the Yankees arrived at Fenway Park on a Thursday, left on a Sunday and outscored the Red Sox 42-9 en route to claiming a share of first place in the AL East.

I went on to say that the 1978 series the worst beat-down the Red Sox had ever suffered at Fenway -- until this year's ALCS. And I even referred to myself as a goof ball for predicting earlier that Tampa Bay's fourth win of the series would be its most difficult to come by. I still might be a goof ball (certainly the wife and kids think so at times), but incredibly, the Rays are still without that fourth victory.

How this happened I'm not exactly sure. The Tampa Bay Rays manhandled the defending World Series champs so thoroughly for so long that the only legitimate Fenway cheer came during player introductions -- on Monday. The Rays had not trailed since the fifth inning of Game 2, and to give back a seven-run lead with nine outs to a World Series berth is almost unfathomable.

There had been talk about the Red Sox obtaining some sort of dynasty status should they win the World Series again. But all I saw for the first 4 games and 6 and one-half innings of this series was a dynasty in the making. Take a good look at the Rays. They're young. They're fun. And they aren't going away anytime soon.

Evan Longoria, who seemed to have MVP of the ALCS all but wrapped up, is 22 years old. All-world center fielder B.J. Upton is 23. Fleet-footed Carl Crawford is 26. All-star catcher Dioner Navarro is 24. The Rays' top three pitchers -- James Shields, Matt Garza and Scott Kazmir -- are 26, 24 and 24. The Red Sox and Yankees will be looking up at this team for years to come.

But you after to wonder -- in the short term, at least -- if the Rays will be able to rebound from such a disheartening loss when Game 6 is played tomorrow night. Are they so young they'll be able to blow it off, not fully realizing what they just let slipped away? Or will they come out flat -- much like Boston did in its first two home games after a crushing extra-inning loss in Game 2?

Either way, it's Major League Baseball that is certainly the happiest today. Had Tampa Bay finished off the Red Sox like it should have, there would have been no baseball for six days until the start of the World Series on Wednesday night. As good a story the Rays are, and as championship-starved as the fans from Philly may be, six days between games is way too long at this time of year and people would lose interest.

At least now, we have a Game 6 tomorrow night and a Game 5 that will be talked about for a long, long time.

By Tom Heleba  |  October 17, 2008; 3:12 AM ET
 
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