The Tampa Bay Rays are in the playoffs. Let it roll off your tongue. Toss it around. Swish it a bit. Look at the sentence closer. It might be a palindrome. The Tampa Bay Rays Are In The Playoffs. Everything's freaking NUTS, people. Series Schedule Game 1: Thursday, October 2, 2:30 p.m. Chicago (Vazquez) at Tampa Bay (Shields). Game 2: Friday, October 3, 6 p.m. Chicago (Buerhle) at Tampa Bay (Kazmir). Game 3: Sunday, October 5, TBA. Tampa Bay (Sonnanstine) at Chicago (Danks). Game 4 (if necessary): Monday, October 6, TBA. Tampa Bay at Chicago Game 5 (if necessary): Wednesday, October 8, TBA. Chicago at Tampa Bay. SEVEN THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT THE RAYS-WHITE SOX SERIES 1. It's Nice That Carl Can Make It. For years, the only reason anyone has even noticed Tampa Bay has been when someone in your fantasy league drafted Carl Crawford in the first round. (Doing this has never, ever led to a league championship.) Now that the Rays are actually in the playoffs — Tampa Bay! In the playoffs! Holy crap! — it would be a shame if Crawford weren't back in time from his hand injury. But good gnus! He's on the playoff roster and is expected to start Game 1 Thursday. After six fruitless years at the Trop, he's certainly earned this.
2. That's Not Griffey, Not Really. Hey: I love Ken Griffey, you love Ken Griffey, everybody loves Ken Griffey. (Particularly when he gives hecklers jock straps.) But, despite his barely-made-it assist at home plate Tuesday night, this is not the Ken Griffey we have known. Because he doesn't take steroids, Griffey is aging like a normal person, and he hit .249 this year with just 18 homers. (Three with the White Sox in 131 at-bats.) He posted his worst slugging percentage since his rookie year, when he was 19 years old. It's still nice seeing him here, though; it's his first postseason game since 1997, and he has never reached a World Series.
3. OZZIE. Pretty much every Ozzie Guillen moment is brilliantly entertaining, but, as you might expect, I still love the Jay Mariotti feud. Guillen famously called Mariotti a "fag," and, somehow, in this day and age, Mariotti ended up being the one people hated more afterwards. (It is Mariotti, after all.) My favorite parts? 1. When Guillen's hairdresser came out to defend him as not anti-gay. 2. Guillen's "apology:" "If I hurt anybody with what I called him, I apologize, but I wasn't talking about those people. I was talking strictly about [Mariotti]. I will apologize to the people I offended because I should have used another word. Besides that, I'm still waiting for Jay. Why he's so afraid to show up to the ballpark? When you're afraid to do something, you feel guilty about something. Then tell him we'll pay his cab. Tell him to tell us where he lives, and we'll bring him to the ballpark and we'll have a conversation. But that's the way he is. He's garbage, still garbage, going to die as garbage. Period."
4. Seriously, Now: The Rays Have No Fans. It's impressive, and worthy of lauds, that the Rays have sold out their playoff games. But let's be straight here: The Rays, as nice a story as they are, still don't have very many fans. Despite the most exciting season in team history (by far) and a team that's relentlessly fun to watch, the Rays finished 26th in attendance, behind Cincinnati, Toronto and Washington. They averaged 22,259 fans a game, which is almost as many people as the Dean Smith Center holds. Everybody's happy for the theoretical Rays fan who has loyally supported the team for years and is finally being rewarded. If that person exists. Because I don't know of one. And I suspect you don't either.
5. They Have A Sweet Team President Though. It was only a year and a half ago that blogger Matthew Stiles auctioned off his team loyalty on eBay. The bidding reached $535, and the winner was ... Rays president Matthew Silverman. Seriously: He actually bought himself a fan. I have to say, Silverman definitely deserves this year to have happened.
6. THIS IS JI JIM THOME. If you haven't been introduced to the brilliance of Jim Thome on The Dugout, god, get yourself over there, immediately. My favorite is still the one where Thome shows up on "Oprah."
Devil Rays Are In The Playoffs. Seriously, guys: THE TAMPA BAY RAYS ARE IN THE PLAYOFFS. They even have home field advantage! They beat the Red Sox and the Yankees. The brain melts.
PREDICTION Oh, man, do I ever believe. And hey, Mets fans, look ... it's Kazmir! At least he gets to pitch in the playoffs. Rays in four.