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Rays owner tries to sell two-city concept, fails

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Last week it was reported the Tampa Bay Rays planned to explore becoming two-city team, playing early-season home games in the Tampa Bay area and finishing the season in Montreal. The plan would require not one but two new open-air stadiums. As I wrote then, the plan seemed to be a fantastical one, aimed at creating leverage in either Tampa or in Montreal to build a permanent, full-time stadium than in actually resulting in a workable plan.

Today Rays owner Stuart Sternberg held a press event in which he argued for the two-city plan. You can get most of what he had to say via the tweets of Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times and Eric Fisher of Sports Business Group, each of whom attended and live-tweeted the presser.

The biggest problem: he didn’t really make an argument for such a plan. Indeed, he just made what seem to be baseless assertions about how cool and good the idea is while doing very little to dispel the notion that all of this is aimed at either (a) getting people in the Tampa Bay area to build him a full-time ballpark; or (b) providing a basis for saying “hey, we tried” if, later, he gets Montreal to build him one and he moves the team.

Sternberg, after touting what the Rays have done given their limited resources, noted that his team is near or at the bottom of most economic measures in the game. He said that, as a result, he was “hard-pressed” to see a long-term future in which the Rays played in the Tampa Bay area full time, saying, “I don’t see it happening in St. Petersburg and would be hard-pressed to see it working in Tampa from what I know.” At the same time he said the Rays were “champions of Tampa Bay” and that “this is about Tampa Bay keeping its hometown team and Montreal having one too.”

So how does that work? How does he plan to get two cities to build him new open-air stadiums for several hundred million dollars a piece when he couldn’t get one city to build him one stadium? No word on that. Which makes this assertion seem about as empty as Tropicana Field on a Monday afternoon makeup of a September interleague rainout:

When the Braves and Rangers and any number of other teams got new stadiums, they just went out and got new stadiums. Or they got the deals in place most of the way. That’s how a stadium solution occurs when a team is not trying to leverage anyone (at least publicly). When you have no plan — and Sternberg has no plan right now — and you come out with a press push like this, you are most certainly trying to create some sort of new reality and to leverage public sentiment somehow.

The question, then, is what is Sternberg trying to leverage?

The most typical and straightforward manner in which baseball owners have talked up two cities as possible destinations for their teams is to pit one against the other. This has happened over and over again in baseball history and it’s a very successful game plan when the conditions are just right.

What Sternberg says he’s truly proposing — a two-city thing — is not typical and does not logically flow with more or less everything we know about how baseball, the business of baseball and baseball fandom works. That does not mean it is an impossible thing to pull off or that Sternberg will not, in fact, try to pull it off. But it does mean that the burden is on him to prove that this isn’t all just bluster in service of the more typical play of baseball owners when two cities are involved.

Sternberg did nothing today to show that his plan has any bones to it or that it’s at all plausible. He has given no reason to believe that he can convince public and/or private interests in two cities to build him ballparks. He has not said how he plans to get around the Rays’ iron-clad lease for Tropicana Field with St. Petersburg. He only glibly addressed the very basic and logical questions people have about how a two-city team would even function, simply alluding to how cool and good it would be when it happens.

Until there is any kind of meat on those bones, I’m not willing to go with the idea that his two-city plan is what he and the Rays actually hope will happen on the other side of all of this. Rather, I’m going to choose to believe that this is all a gambit to get one city or the other to build him a full-time ballpark.

And That Happened: Wednesday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here’s where we stand:

  • The Cardinals won and the Brewers and Cubs lost, putting St. Louis’ lead in the NL Central back up at three;
  • The Twins lost and the Indians won, dropping the Twins lead in the AL Central to four;
  • The top three teams in the NL Wild Card race lost and the next three all won. That means the Nationals are in top Wild Card position, a game and a half ahead of the Brewers and Cubs, who in turn are both three games ahead of the Phillies and Mets. The Diamondbacks are four and a half back; and
  • The A’s, Rays and Indians and Rays all won, keeping the AL Wild Card race at status quo with Oakland two games over the Rays who are a half game ahead of Cleveland.

Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Cardinals 5, Nationals 1: Adam Wainwright allowed one run over seven, out-pitching Max Scherzer. Dexter Fowler robbed a home run too:

The Cards beating the Nationals reduces the Braves’ magic number to clinch the NL East to two. Which means that, for one of the first times in 16 years, the Braves trading Adam Wainwright to the Cardinals actually paid off some for ’em.

Mets 7, Rockies 4: The Mets were down 4-2 in the eighth but rallied for five runs in the final two frames for the win. The rally was pretty much all small ball too, with Pete Alonso — who had homered earlier — walking with the bases loaded and runs coming on ground outs and double play balls and a couple of singles. Jeff McNeil also homered for the Mets who passed their single season team record for dingers with 225. Something like half of all of the teams will set new home run records this year.

Athletics 1, Royals 0: Homer Bailey and Danny Duffy traded zeros for seven innings and the their relievers continued to do so into the eleventh. Jurickson Profar led off the bottom of the eleventh with a walk, however, stole second base and then scored when Mark Canha hit a walkoff double to end it. When the dust settled, A’s pitchers had gone 11 shutout innings striking out 19 Royals batters in all.

Diamondbacks 5, Marlins 4: Abraham Almonte and Christian Walker homered and Mike Leake bent but didn’t break in six and two-thirds mostly effective innings to give the Snakes the win. But who cares about a Marlins-Dbacks game? What you really should know is that I watched season 2, episode 1 of “Columbo” last night and it was great. John Cassavetes was the killer. I love him in everything. Blythe Danner played his wife. She was pregnant with Gwyneth Paltrow during the filming of this one and it aired ten days before Paltrow was born. They put Danner in bulky sweaters and stuff to hide it. The great Myrna Loy, from “The Thin Man” movies, was in it as Danner’s mom. Pat Morita had a bit part as the “house boy” even though he was like 40 when it was made. Racist much? Yeah, well, it was the 70s. George Gaynes — the guy from “Punky Brewster” and the “Police Academy” movies was in it too. The director of the episode was Nicholas Colasanto, who later played Coach on “Cheers.” And the mansion Cassavetes character lived in was the “Benson” mansion:

And yeah, that Jag served as a plot point too. Lovin’ “Columbo” these days, you guys.

Indians 2, Tigers 1: Death, taxes, Columbo acting befuddled, getting under the hubristic murderer’s skin with his constant questioning and then, just as the episode is about to end, putting it all together and catching the criminal in their web of lies and deception, and the Indians beating the Tigers. This time in extras with Yasiel Puig hitting a walkoff RBI single.

Angels 3, Yankees 2: CC Sabathia only lasted two and two-thirds innings in what was his final regular season start in Yankee Stadium. Maybe even his final game there period as there’s no guarantee he makes the postseason roster. He allowed two and Adam Ottavino gave up an unearned run in the sixth, but it was via his own throwing error and that was the difference in the game. The Angels bullpen tossed five shutout innings.

Mariners 4, Pirates 1: Four M’s pitchers combined to allow one run on six hits while Kyle Lewis and Tom Murphy each homered. The M’s have won four in a row.

Blue Jays 11, Orioles 10: Baltimore led 7-1 heading into the sixth, the Jays rallied to make it close, the O’s scored a couple more to make it 9-5 heading into the ninth but the Jays rallied even bigger, scoring six in the final inning — four of which came on a Randal Grichuk grand slam with two outs — to take an 11-9 lead and then held on 11-10. All of that offense saved Clay Buchholz‘s bacon. He allowed 10 hits, seven for extra bases, in three and two-thirds innings but got the no-decision. His ERA on the season is now 6.48 in ten starts. His nice 2018 season in Arizona seems like it was a hundred years ago. His heyday in Boston seems like a million.

Giants 11, Red Sox 3: The Giants win gave Bruce Bochy his 2,000th victory as a manager. That puts him in pretty exclusive company as he’s only the 11th guy to do that. Every single guy ahead of him on that list is in the Hall of Fame as Bochy will be too one day. Giants starter Jeff Samardzija took a no-hitter into the sixth inning while Boston pitchers for tagged for 15 hits. The Giants scored two runs in the eighth and five more in the ninth to make it a laugher. They go for the sweep this afternoon.

Phillies 4, Braves 1: Zach Eflin allowed only an unearned run while working into the seventh and was backed by homers from Bryce Harper and César Hernández. Jean Segura drew a bases-loaded walk too. The Braves have dropped three in a row.

Padres 2, Brewers 1: Padres starter Dinelson Lamet, who missed all last season with Tommy John surgery — struck out 14 dudes in six one-run innings and got just enough offense behind him — in the form of a two-run homer from rookie Seth Mejias-Brean — to make that stand up.

White Sox 3, Twins 1: Eight Sox pitchers took a combined no-hitter into the sixth inning and ended up allowing only one run on three hits in all. Zack Collins homered and Yoan Moncada doubled twice. And check out this play-off-the-wall and throw to third by Adam Engel, cutting down Eddie Rosario who was trying to stretch a double into a triple:

Worth noting that Rosario would’ve made it if he didn’t take a moment to admire what the initially thought was a homer. And, of course, if he stays on second he’s fine and the Twins have a chance to draw closer in a tight game.

Reds 3, Cubs 2: The Cubs came into this series having won five straight but the Reds have dropped them twice in a row. That’s not idea. Here José Iglesias smacked an RBI double in the top of the tenth to give Cincinnati the win. Reds pitchers played a big part too, of course, with five of them, led by Tyler Mahle, combining on a four-hitter.

Rays 8, Dodgers 7: An eighth inning Cody Bellinger homer gave L.A. a 6-4 lead but the Rays rallied for two runs off Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen in the ninth. Which sort of resets the recent “Jansen is back!” narrative that had begun to form. Austin Meadows led off the 11th inning with a homer and Ji-Man Choi hit a sac fly for an insurance run that, thanks to one more Dodgers run in the bottom half, ended up being needed, as the Rays held on for the victory. Just one more thing: eighteen more pitchers used in this one, which went four hours and forty minutes. At least this one was closer, seemingly more riveting baseball than the previous night.

Astros 3, Rangers 2: Gerrit Cole struck out ten and allowed only two runs in eight innings to pick up his 18th win. And, en route, picked up his 300th strikeout on the season. Cole has not lost a game since May 22, you guys. Yuli Gurriel and José Altuve each homered, supplying all of the offense.