A few hours had passed since the Tampa Bay Rays clinched the American League East, and the business of the playoffs, and winning them, was at hand and on the mind.
The Rays expect to have an advantage in their first-round series against the Chicago White Sox because a majority of the games, including the first two, are scheduled for Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. Nobody seems to like to play there.
Nobody except the Rays, who this have the most home wins (58) of any team since the 1998 Yankees, who won 62 times in the Bronx before their World Series run.
"Wow," Game 1 starter James Shields said. "A lot of firsts with this team. You know, it doesn't surprise me. We're pretty much lights-out at home."
Ah-ha! So it's dark in there? Visitors cannot see.
"It's not dark," Shields said. "It's just not outdoors. Not many teams are used to playing indoors like that. There's a lot of intangibles when it comes to playing in a dome. It's a little faster. And not many people liked to come into the Trop with about 10,000 fans in the stands, either."
The games this time are sold out, which is going to make for a different kind of energy than an empty dome.
Shields, who went 9-2 with a 2.59 ERA at the Trop this season, says the mound almost feels "on top of the plate. The hitting backdrop, which includes a tank in right-center were actual rays swim around, is not the friendliest for batters.
The White Sox finished 5-16 in domes this season and 4-16 on artificial turf. They actually played relatively well in St. Petersburg, going 3-4. The Rays beat them twice on game-ending home runs.
Rays rookie third baseman Evan Longoria says being home is going to make a difference in his team's favor.
"It really turns in our favor that we're not playing the Twins," Longoria was quoted as saying in the Chicago Tribune.
Rookie bulletin-board material, or just the truth? The White Sox allowed 139 stolen bases and threw out only 30. The Rays run, and will look to run more with Carl Crawford back in the lineup. Defensively, their outfield is much-better equipped to shag fly balls hit into the gaps.
Should the Sox even bother showing up?
The first pitch is just a few minutes away, with Javier Vazquez opposing Shields. As Sox TVcaster Ken Harrelson would say, it's time to sit back, relax, strap 'er down and get ready for playoff baseball.
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