Shanoff's Wake-Up Call: Rays, Lance, VY, Wells

Today's Calls: Rays vs. Red Sox, Lance vs. History, Carlos Quentin vs. Carlos Delgado, Shawne Merriman vs. Kobe Bryant, Vince Young vs. Chris Simms, Beanie Wells vs. USC D and More. ↵

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↵The Opening Pitch: I am not panicking about the Rays, and neither should you. ↵

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↵Not after last night's clutch win over the Red Sox — the Rays' first win against Boston in Fenway this season — and not even if they lose the lead in the A.L. East. ↵

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↵It speaks to the reality of today's MLB: ↵

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↵Division titles are entirely overrated; making the playoffs — however it happens — is all that matters. ↵

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↵With 19 games to play, the Rays have a 7.5-game lead on the Twins, the team behind the Red Sox among A.L. Wild Card leaders. Even the hard-charging Jays (winners of 10 straight) are 8.5 games behind. ↵

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↵Mets fans will lamentably remind you that's not entirely secure, but as long as the Rays focus on making the playoffs, rather than winning the division title, they will be fine. ↵

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↵Sure, home-field advantage in the playoffs would be great — the Rays have the best home record in baseball. But when a franchise is as historically unsuccessful as the Rays have been, any playoff spot is an ideal spot. ↵

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↵Joe Maddon's famous "9=8" mantra for the season (Roughly: "Staying focused for 9 innings every night will get the team 1 of 8 playoff spots.") was right on. ↵

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↵He didn't say "Win the A.L. East." Just earn 1 of 8 playoff spots. The Rays are nearly there. ↵

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↵Lance Armstrong is back: You can keep Tiger or Phelps or Brady. The most prominent, admired athlete in modern American history is Lance Armstrong, and his comeback will be covered with all of the enthusiasm of Phelps’ "8-for-8" or Brady's knee injury. The fact he competes in a sport as irrelevant as cycling makes it all the more amazing. ↵

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↵Shawne Merriman is done for the season: It's not quite Brady, but as one of the premier defensive players in the NFL, it's a big deal — perhaps mitigated slightly that we all knew weeks ago that this was coming. ↵

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↵More MLB Instant History: Carlos Quentin is done for the season, too! Ack! It's all falling apart! First, Brady's season! Now the Windy City World Series! ↵

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↵(Perhaps all is not lost: Ozzie thinks Quentin might be able to return for the playoffs. Um, IF they make the playoffs; the Sox were swept by the sizzling Jays on Tuesday.) ↵

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↵More: Dodgers go 2.5 up on the D-backs (Andre Ethier: 4 RBIs) as L.A. continues to surge (won 9 of last 10) and the D-backs continue to stumble (lost 5 straight). ... Cards beat struggling Cubs on walk-off infield-in grounder (Pujols: HR in 3 straight games). ... Fantasy Stud: Carlos Delgado (3-3, 2 HR, 3 RBIs, 3 R). ... More Walk-Offs: Taylor Buchholz with the rare walk-off balk. ... Angels don't clinch (yet). ↵

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↵Was Vince Young going to hurt himself Monday night? Presumably not. But based on the Titans' hysterical reaction to his MIA status, it seems like they thought he might. (And what does that say?) His agent said he was watching Monday Night Football. ↵

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↵More Titans: Chris Simms wasn't good enough to back up Matt Cassel, but he's apparently good enough to back up Kerry Collins. ↵

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↵Build-Up to USC-Ohio State: Beanie Wells "will play." Sure, he'll play, but once the Trojans’ D gets a hold of him, there's no guarantee how much he'll play. ↵

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↵NBA: Kobe Bryant will NOT have pinkie surgery after all. Based on the karma currently swirling around among the superstar athletes, I think it's a better chance than not that Kobe has some sort of substantial injury — beyond the pinkie — before the 2008-09 season ends. ↵

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↵NBA: Darko for Z-Bo, Cont'd. Is it on? Is it off? All I want is the resurrection of Darko's career — Darko 2.0 — in New York. Because you just know he could thrive in Mike D'Antoni's system. ↵

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↵The Last Word: "As I've gotten to know LeBron, LeBron isn't a Cleveland guy. LeBron only plays for the Cavaliers, and who knows if he even likes the Cavaliers? ↵

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↵"He doesn't like the Indians. He doesn't like the Browns. He's a guy from Akron who likes everybody but his hometown." -- Braylon Edwards, after LeBron James was spotted on the Cowboys sidelines in Cowboys colors before the Cowboys-Browns game. ↵

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↵I presume most Clevelanders don't care who LeBron roots for in other sports, as long as he re-signs with the Cavs in 2010. ↵

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↵(But, at least circumstantially, it still appears he has no implicit loyalty to the city.) ↵

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↵Dan Shanoff writes The Wake-Up Call every weekday morning for SportingNews.com and blogs daily at DanShanoff.com. Got any comments, questions or feedback? Email Dan at shanofftsn-[at]-gmail-[dot]-com. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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