Can the Rays be saved?


Rays closer Grant Balfour blew another save Thursday, then took aim at those he deemed the real culprits: fans who booed.

Like most of his offerings this season, Balfour was off target.

“Everybody’s got to be pulling for the team,” he said. “You can’t be back and forth like that.”

So said the closer who’s been back and forth all season. The Rays are last in a bad division, and Balfour is a big reason why. He’s walked 18 batters in 18.1 innings, given up 12 runs for a 5.89 ERA, blown two saves and compiled a .740 OPS against. That makes him untrustworthy in middle relief, forget about a game’s last three outs.

Thursday he took a 1-0 lead into the ninth against Oakland, and lost it in four batters. He preserved a 1-1 tie after loading the bases with one out, but was given less than a standing ovation as he left.

“The fans can boo me and all that (stuff), but that’s fine,” Balfour said, according to ESPN.com. “It’s not going to help me out. It’s not going to help the team do anything out there when you do that (stuff). The feeling is, the team’s behind you and everybody’s behind you — the crowd, the whole nine yards. Things are going to go right.

“But when you start pulling that (stuff), it’s not a good vibe. The team’s pulling for the team, so the fans got to be pulling for the team. . . . . That (stuff) doesn’t work. So I’ll just walk away positive from it.”

Because what could be more positive than throwing high and tight at your own fans? If only Balfour could substitute strikeouts for walks as simply as ESPN.com did (stuff) for what he really said.

Balfour should be happy fans cared enough to boo — the Rays don’t have many more of them than they do wins. The Rays are next-to-last in the MLB in attendance (really northern Ohio? The Indians are 4,000 fans per game behind a team whose fan base is nearly as old as the Phillies’ starting lineup?). But maybe Balfour is on to something. Maybe the Rays could attract more fans if it’s only to boo their own bad guy. It works for pro wrestling.

It’s hard to blame Rays fans for their disappointment. David Price said before the season, “I don’t know what our weakness is honestly,” but the Rays’ record hasn’t matched their hubris.

Price sounds like he has future as a TV analyst, but if he’s reassessing honestly, he might want to start at home — his 4.28 ERA is his worst since 2009 (the Rays’ biggest problem, besides Matt Moore’s season-ending injury, is lack of power. When your team leader in home runs is a utility player who has five in 68 at-bats, it’s a good guess you’re not hitting enough three-run homers. Of course, Sean Rodriguez would still be at four if Balfour hadn’t extended Thursday’s game).

Balfour returned to the Rays this year after an excellent three-year stretch in Oakland — ERAs of 2.47, 2.53 and 2.59 and a .567 OPS against. But they should have been forewarned.

The Orioles and Balfour had agreed to a two-year, $15 million deal over the offseason, but the team withdrew the offer after Balfour’s physical. The Orioles took a lot of criticism for backing out of the deal, and they’re still without a closer.

So, too, apparently are the Rays.

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