Bob Dylan once sang "When you ain't got nothing, you got nothing to lose."
It's a situation the Tampa Bay Rays have been in for awhile, perhaps ever since their 1998 advent. Compared to their MLB postseason brethren, the Rays have no history, no "superstars," and, as their detractors may gleefully tell them, no stadium, as the cavernous Tropicana Field can become a warehouse full of opposing fans upon their squads' visits.
Yet, Tampa has had things go their way on a great deal of baseball happenings this season. Homegrown talent has teamed up with veteran castaways (Ji-Man Choi, Tommy Pham, Travis d'Arnaud) to create one of the most memorable campaigns in team history. Trapped in a division that forces them to face both The Bronx and Boston at least 30 times a year, the Rays ventured to 96 wins.
Opening up their postseason with a win over the Oakland Athletics in the AL Wild Card Game (their first playoff advancement since 2013) was enough a win. But what they're doing now is simply extraordinary for a team in their demographic.
Facing off against a side that has become the odds-on favorite with the elimination of the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Rays were given few nods against the mighty Houston Astros. A team built on a big budget and two years removed from a World Series, Houston seemed to be a team simply killing time until an inevitable ALCS showdown with the New York Yankees. But the Rays have pushed them to the brink of baseball oblivion.
It's a shame to see the suns of St. Petersburg blocked out by The Trop's dome (which, to its credit, can change color during celebrations) and catwalks, but the Rays were able to create a party-like atmosphere for the two games in the Southeast. Any obstacle the Astros threw at them in their dome was deflected.
Perennial All-Star George Springer? Batting .117. Justin Verlander on the mound to start the Game 4 would-be clincher? He got tagged for four runs and seven hits in just shy of four innings. A ninth-inning comeback in that latter game? Stifled by All-Star Blake Snell out of the bullpen for the save.
Obviously, the Rays are going back to Minute Maid Park on Thursday night fully intending to shock the world and face the mighty Yankees. But, from a certain view, they've already won.
This team is hope the small-timers in baseball can survive amongst the titans. A reminder that the ball is pitched outside of New York, Boston, Houston, and Los Angeles. If, say, Boise State football or Gonzaga basketball had a baseball equivalent, the closest contender would be these Rays.
Of course, if moral victories, we'd all be undefeated. The Rays, however, have made such a win closer to reality than we've seen a small team take it in quite some time.