ANAHEIM, Calif. – When the Tampa Bay Rays gathered Thursday afternoon in their clubhouse here, there was again reason for optimism and merriment.
After all, it had been hours since they'd last been no-hit.
Of the many whimsical turns and occasional complexities that have ridden with the Tampa Bay Rays (nee Devil Rays) over their short lifespan, not the least of which being their rise from perennial doormat to annual contender, what may be most curious is their tendency toward fattening the historical resumes of pitchers.
Not theirs, generally. Other people's.
Born just more than 14 years ago, the Rays have been no-hit five times. Three have been perfect games, those coming in the past two years and one month, or over the course of 345 regular-season games.
To put that in perspective, from Cy Young in 1904 to Felix Hernandez on Wednesday, Major League Baseball has seen 21 other perfect games. That's about one every five years. On average, the Rays alone go one every less-than-five years. Only one other franchise – the Dodgers – has been the loser in three perfect games. They've had a team since 1884.
"It's not the kind of legacy you really want as an offensive player," Rays infielder Ben Zobrist said with a sheepish grin. "What are you going to say? The guy was really good."
That guy being Hernandez. Though, one supposes, he could have been talking about Mark Buehrle from July 2009 or Dallas Braden from May 2010. Edwin Jackson no-hit the Rays between Braden's and Hernandez's perfect games, though Jackson walked eight that night, leaving the Rays to wonder at the end, as Zobrist said, "We didn't get any hits?"
The common thread in the perfect games was they were played in the afternoons on get-away days. The other thread: B.J. Upton, Evan Longoria and Zobrist were in the starting lineups, as they were against Jackson. And Joe Maddon was the manager.
The Rays have not fielded great offensive teams. Those cost money. But neither have they been atrociously bad. It simply seems a pitcher on his game, the sun in the sky and an idling airplane on the tarmac have been a lethal concoction. As they say, the game will find you.
From experience, they've arrived at the conclusion that little must be made of being the peripheral player in these historic moments. In that way, they are to baseball what the astronaut who holds the door for Neil Armstrong was to science. They pick up the phone when Alexander Graham Bell calls. They LOL when Steve Jobs says knock-knock.
"Man, you know what, it doesn't even really faze me that much," Longoria said. "It's cool for [Hernandez]. I mean, it sucks right now. But 20 years from now I'll be telling my kids I was able to be a part of something like that. … If it's going to happen I'm actually not that upset we were able to see it."
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The Rays had gone 34 batters without a baserunner by the time Zobrist homered in the second inning Thursday night against the Angels. But, hey, it happens. Mostly to them.
"I don't know if it's easier to regroup," Zobrist said. "You just kind of have to forget quickly and laugh about it a little bit and look forward to that first hit today. I guess we have been through this before. It becomes less of a big deal the more times it happens. There's been a few of them around here."
After a pause, Zobrist added, "We're planning on making it not happen today."
A worthwhile goal. These things have not proven traumatic for the Rays. After Buehrle's perfect game, the Rays won eight of their next 12 games. After Braden's, they won 10 of their next 12 en route to their second AL East title in three years.
"Sometimes I think this team is just dumb enough to forget the things we need to forget," Longoria said.
Maddon can do them all one better, as he was in the opposing dugout as a coach when Texas Rangers lefty Kenny Rogers pitched his perfect game against the then-California Angels in 1994. Along with that comes perspective. You let the man have his celebration, move along and hope the game finds someone else next time.
"Why poor us? I don't know," Maddon said. "I'm just thankful it only counts as one loss and not five."
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