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Boroski embarking on familiar territory as playoffs begin

Stan Boroski — like all others affiliated with Major League Baseball — experienced numerous firsts during the course of the truncated 2020 season.

The 1981 Buckeye South graduate and OVAC Hall of Famer is now, however, embarking on what’s becoming familiar territory.

Boroski, who serves as the bullpen coach for the Tampa Bay Rays, will embark on the baseball postseason for the fourth time as a coach today when they open the best-of-three wild card series against the Blue Jays.

“I knew (when we resumed in July) that we had a chance to be pretty good, but I don’t know if I thought we’d be this good,” Boroski said during a phone interview prior to the Rays workout Monday at Tropicana Field. “I just hope we’re able to keep it going.”

The Rays – with a strong bullpen and impressive starting pitching leading the way – have been the American League’s best team throughout the season, which was delayed by COVID-19 and then back-and-forth labor negotiations.

“I don’t think anyone (who really follows baseball) is shocked by how we played,” Boroski said. “There may be some who are shocked that we won the American League East and that we’re the top seed.”

Actually, there are probably a lot of people who find the latter portion tough to believe, especially since the A.L. East is home to the Yankees, who were seemingly most prognosticator’s pick to win the East.

Determining who the actual best team in either the American or National League would be tough because not only was the regular season just 60 games, but those games were played only against divisional foes and the cross-over division, meaning the Rays tangled with the N.L. East. For what it’s worth, the Rays are favored in Las Vegas to come out of the American League.

“We played one third of our season against Jays and Yankees,” Boroski pointed out. “It was definitely a unique schedule, so I do think it’s tough to gauge who the best team or favorite is, but right now we’re worried about getting the job done (Tuesday).”

The Rays and all 16 teams who qualified to the newly expanded postseason had to navigate all sorts of different things to get to this point. And those stretched way beyond who the opposing pitcher was.

Whether it was the universal designated hitter, a team starting extra innings with a runner on second base, restrictions on the road and at home due to pandemic and quite simply trying to play an entire season while avoiding a rash of COVID cases on the team.

“Our guys have been consistent through it all,” Boroski said. “We were 5-7 to start, but since then we’ve gone 35-13. We’ve been able to do with that consistency and everyone playing hard. Everyone is contributing. I am not sure we’ve had the same lineup twice. Whether it was the different lineups, pinch hitters coming through, working our bullpen in different ways, it didn’t matter. Our guys bought in and have all done their part. That’s been one of the most fun parts of this team.”

The entire wild card series will be played in Tampa and, according to Boroski, for the first time all season, the Rays will play in front of some fans.

Not many and they’ll be familiar faces.

“The actual games weren’t very different even without fans,” Boroski said. “That was something everyone got used to. I will say there were probably some games that didn’t have the intensity due to the lack of fans, but once the games started, everyone was playing to win.”

So, when the Rays and Jays look up and see people this week, that could cause another adjustment.

Tampa Bay is hosting immediate family members of players, coaches and front office employees and staffers.

“We’re talking maybe 500 people there,” Boroski said. “There won’t be any outside fans, but there will be people here.”

Should the Rays win two against the Jays, they’ll advance to take on the winner of the Indians and Yankees series at a neutral site, which is also an MLB Playoff first. The possible sites are Houston, Arlington, San Diego and Los Angeles. Those sites will be set up as ‘bubbles’ to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

That is something that MLB added after the season started and it’s also something that Boroski isn’t a huge fan of.

“When we started (playing), we were told the higher seeds would be the home team,” Boroski said.

“I can’t say I am a real fan of the bubble idea. I feel like if we’re fortunate enough to advance, we’ve earned the right to play in our ballpark. There’s just a comfort level of playing at home. Plus, selfishly, it deprives my family the opportunity to come to the games.”

Boroski, however, isn’t putting the cart ahead of the horse by any means. He realizes that Tampa must still win twice before any concern needs to be paid to the MLB bubble. And Toronto is a quality club that’s really come on in the last few weeks to earn its spot.

“They’re solid with a good lineup from one to nine,” Boroski said. “They have a lot of speed and power. The fortunate thing, for us, is they’re heavy right handed (in the batting order) and we have some guys in our pen who will match up well. We have had 10 tough games against them this year. We won some games late and we got punished a few times, too. It should be a good series.”

While some talking heads have mentioned that whoever wins the World Series will have an asterisk placed by their name in the history books because of the season. Boroski isn’t buying any of that.

“If someone wants to put an asterisk by it, then so be it, but whichever teams wins will have done what they needed to do to win,” Boroski said. “Every team was playing under the same circumstances and rules. We won the East because we earned it and the same will be said for whoever wins the World Series.”

SETH’S SCOOPS

THE PLAYOFFS will be played under mostly normal baseball rules of years gone by. The only change from the regular season that’s being continued in the postseason is the use of the designated hitter in both leagues. Should a game go into extra innings, no runner will be placed at second base.

“I like the DH in both leagues and because of the limited pool of players we had and fewer off days (for the regular season), the extra inning rule wasn’t a bad thing, but I am glad to see it back to normal,” Boroski said.

FIRST PITCH is slated for 5 p.m. today and the game will be broadcast on TBS. Actually, every game of the Ray-Jays series will be on that network. Wednesday’s Game Two will begin at 4 p.m.

Staskey can be reached via email at sstaskey@timesleaderonline.com or at twitter.com/TLSportsSeth

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