In Baseball, Red Sox Live To Fight Another Day
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Melissa Block.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris. The city of Boston feels a little better about itself today. Shortly after the clock struck midnight, the Red Sox concluded a remarkable comeback in Fenway Park, to live another day in the American League Championship Series. Stefan Fatsis join us Fridays to talk about sports, and since he stayed up really late to watch that game, we're going to talk baseball stuff, and are you sleepy?
STEFAN FATSIS: No. I'm awake now.
NORRIS: So, in the seventh inning, the Tampa Bay Rays led seven to nothing. They needed just seven outs to advance to the World Series for the first time, and they wound up losing eight to seven. How on earth do the Rays recover from that?
FATSIS: Well, they forget about it, which is what athletes do. The media loves to talk about carry-over effects, and inexperience, and intangibles, because they make good narratives. But athletes become pro-athletes in part, because they can forget about yesterday and focus on today.
But it is true that the Rays have not been here before, and if they do manage to blow this series after leading three games to one, psychologists will be summoned. So, we'll see. The Rays get to return home to their dome tomorrow night for Game 6. One of their best pitchers, James Shields, is expected to face Boston's Josh Becket, who has not been particularly sharp in the postseason.
NORRIS: Now regardless of whether Tampa closes the deal this weekend, they've had a truly remarkable season for a team that was formerly known for finishing last.
FATSIS: Yeah, last nine out of their first 10 seasons, they lost 96 games last year. They won 97 this year, and that is just an absurd turnaround, but it was expected to some degree. This all began in 2005, they brought in a new owner, Stuart Sternberg, a Wall Street executive. He installed two very young executives to run the baseball and business sides of the team.
On the baseball side, he put this kid, Andrew Friedman, who was 28, but he paired him with a baseball lifer, Gerry Hunsicker, and he didn't give either guy the title of general manager. The result was this blend of old-school scouting, with new-school, quantitative analysis, and through the draft, through some free-agent signings, and some really great trades from mid-level players, suddenly you've got a terrific team.
NORRIS: And I'm guessing that the emphasis on youth there, means that they didn't exactly have to break the bank to assemble the team.
FATSIS: No. The Rays' payroll was the smallest in the American League this year, about $44 million, and that was an 80-percent jump from last year, and what's overlooked here is that the Rays just a couple of years ago were among a group of teams that were criticized for failing to spend the money that they were getting from wealthier clubs in baseball, as part of the revenue-sharing program.
At one year, they got as much as $33 million, and they were criticized because they weren't spending it directly on Major League payroll. Now, you look back and you say, boy, looks like they invested that money pretty wisely, and they've built an organization that's going to endure, regardless of what happens this weekend in Florida.
NORRIS: Well, now, whoever wins this series is going to wind up facing the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series, that starts next Wednesday, and I'm interested in your take on the Phillies.
FATSIS: Well, I think the Phillies have been kind of overlooked this year. They did not have the best record in the National League in the regular season. They didn't make any dramatic trades late in the season. In fact, the same eight position players who started on opening day on March 31st, started on Tuesday when the Phillies beat the Dodgers to win the National League Championship Series four games to one, and that is impressive.
The line up is filled with bonafide stars, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley. They've got a pitching ace named Cole Hammils, he's 24 years old. He was not even alive the last time the city of Philadelphia won a championship in any sport.
NORRIS: Always good to talk to you, Stefan. Have a great weekend.
FATSIS: Thanks, Michele.
NORRIS: Stefan Fatsis talks to us on Fridays about sports and the business of sports.
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