For the first time since the Tampa Bay Rays franchise came into existence someone other than the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox have been crowned the Champions of the toughest division in baseball – the AL East. That team is our loveable group of blue collar grinders the Tampa Bay Rays!
The Tampa Bay Rays have had a remarkable year to say the least. At the end of last season the “Devil Rays” were in the cellar just begging for the season to come to an end. Their record at that time was 66-96 and they stood 30 games behind the Beantown Bullies. The RFO made some changes including having the “devil” exorcised, changing the team colors and filling in a few pieces of the puzzle with guys that were considered “throw aways.” It was clear beginning in spring training that the changes made would have a major impact on the approaching season. The Rays showed an explosive offense and improved pitching potential from starters and relievers alike. They also showed a changed culture that was evident when they literally ran over the Yankees. They were now a team and they believed in each other.
Then it began, the regular season. The Rays broke out with a good April. They finished in second place for that month with a record of 15-12. They were only trailing the Boston Red Sox. From there it just got better! From the months of May through September the Tampa Bay Rays finished each month atop the AL East. Many games won on walk off hits, defensive gems and outstanding pitching from the most improved bull pen in baseball history. A bull pen who the previous year had given up 52 games in which the “Devil Rays” had a lead had now learned how to pitch effectively late in a game. Some of that turnaround must go to the acquisition of veteran Troy Percival. Percy had an outstanding first half of the year saving 19 out of 21 games. But that is only half the story. His veteran presence made him invaluable to others sitting next to him in the BP. They watched, asked questions and took notes. He made the BP better!
The Rays were bit by the injury bug all season long, Scott Kazmir, Troy Percival, Al Reyes, Gary Glover, Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, Evan Longoria, BJ Upton and on and on. The goods news is those “throw away” guys were able to call on their veteran leadership and step in to fill the needs of this team. Eric Hinske, Cliff Floyd and Willy Aybar walked right between the lines and did the job beyond all expectations I think. They flashed the leather, made the throws, stole the bases and got the hits. Newcomers like Gabe Gross, Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett also proved more valuable than anyone could have imagined when they were traded for. When called upon our AAA players filled in for injured players like they had been here all season long. Dioner Navarro was challenged by Manager Joe Maddon to step up his game, especially on the defensive side of the game. Boy did he! With a fielding percentage of .994 and having thrown out 28 attempted base stealers he earned his right to participate in the All Star game. Oh and by the way, he has led the Rays in hitting most of the year!
Enough cannot be said of the changes made by the Rays front office and Manager Joe Maddon. They rid the clubhouse of negativity and brought in guys who wanted to win. And that’s just what they have done! Win, win, win! These Rays are not satisfied with just making it to the playoffs. Joe Maddon has made it clear this is just the first step of their ultimate goal. Their sights are set on the World Series – not just playing in it but winning it!
I will be there at The Trop for every playoff game! I would never miss an opportunity to enjoy such a precious gift the Rays have finally given their long suffering fans!
Congratulations Tampa Bay Rays and we’re all behind you!