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I was sitting at the computer this morning trying to pick out a second possible winning moment in 2008 for the Rays when it dawned on me that there are too many to even count. So I have decided to instead list all the important events, as per my opinion, that have made 2008 so great for Rays fans. I mean I truly sat there after deciding on number 3 yesterday, and decided that one was the easiest pick of the bunch.
If you get to go to the big show, it has to be a top 3 moment in your team’s flight that season. There are a huge bunch of moments that helped define 2008 for the Rays. Be it a event in 2007 at shaped the look and feel of the franchise again, or the elimination of a curse in another stadium that served as a mental block to the team. 2008 was the Year of the Ray, and it is one I am glad I got a front row seat for all year long.
I decided to run this in chronological order from the first event in 2007, up until the final out in Game 5.5 of the 2008 World Series.
So let’s begin with the first order of business way back in November 2007, when the Rays held a rally in Straub Park near the waterfront in St. Petersburg, Florida. The event was the unveiling of the teams new logo and colors. The Uniforms were fashioned to represent the old style of baseball with a new Rays logo on both the home and away jerseys. The “R” on the uniform front posed a new sweeping motion for the bottom of the letter, plus the sunburst between the lettering also brought about a new look and feel to the organization.
The ray of light was a new focal point of the team, which abandoned the former Ray on the cap and also on the team’s official logo. But the Rays did get to stay for 2008 on the sleeve of the jersey, but might be retired in 2009. The event was to showcase the new look and feel of the team. And with it came a new spirit of winning and posting new attitudes for the team. And one of baseball’s biggest supporters came out and celebrated with us. Kevin Costner and his band, Modern West came out and entertained the masses after the unveiling and rocked the house all the way up to the fireworks display.
Then came the last Spring Training reporting for the pitchers’ and catchers’ to the Ray Namoli Complex in Northwest St Petersburg. The team came out onto the field and Rays Manager Joe Maddon had a small speech in which he wanted to stress fundamentals and team work and chemistry in 2008. That was the day he unveiled his famous “9 =8 ” formula for the world to decipher for the rest of the season.
Then came the first event that molded and formed this band of players into friends and bonded them for the rest of the year. In the day prior to this event, the Rays Elliott Johnson had made a hard charge into Yankees’ minor league catcher, Francisco Cervelli a few days earlier. The event did not sit well with the Yankees’ staff and during the March 12th rematch at Progress Energy Field, Yankees enforcer Shelly Duncan decided to take matters into his own hands.
Duncan was hustling on a hit into the outfield when he turned and made a move towards second base. It was apparent to almost everyone but Duncan that he would not be able to make it to the base in time to beat the throw. During his slide, Duncan brought his cleats up towards Akinora Iwamura and struck him mid-thigh with his metal cleats. Duncan came up immediately and contested the action before right fielder Jonny Gomes came into the action and leveled Duncan to the ground. It was an event that brought the team together for the first time in 2008.
Then two weeks later, the Rays said farewell to their present Spring Training home when the team played it’s last game at Progress Energy Field ( Al Lang Field, Waterfront Park). The game was met with sadness and joy because of the memories of teams playing on these grounds since the 1940′s in this present stadium. The event also was a visual point for the team to showcase the new proposed stadium that might some day rise on the same grounds.
Or could moments like Eric Hinske missing a cycle by a single. It is amazing to me that he went 3-4 on the night and got his triple and homer early in the contest at the Walt Disney complex, but could not get that elusive single. Hinske ended up being one of the true bright spots for the Rays in the Free Agent market. He signed for a low number, but produced high energy and some pretty impressive offensive displays during the 2008 season.
Then we have the first sweep of the Boston Red Sox at home this season. That would only be the icing on the cake as the Rays would send the Red Sox faithful home as losers in 8 of the 9 games at the Trop this year. The first series at the Trop. would end with a hard fought 3-0 shutout by James Shields.
Then comes the moment where Rays Manager Joe Maddon thinks the Rays season began to turn into its championship run. It was during a road trip up to Toronto when the Rays battled back from a possible loss. Edwin Jackson left the 8th inning with a Ray lead before Troy Percival gave up 4 straight singles to let the Jays tie the game at 3-all. The teams battled back and forth before Dioner Navarro, who went 3-6 on the day hit a screamer into the stands for a Grand Slam homer and sealed the victory for the Rays.
On May 13th the Rays got to celebrate for the first time in club history as the team officially took over first place in the American League East. It was the latest point in any Rays season that the team had enjoyed the top spot. The game produced one of the first moments in the Rays 2008 history for celebrations when pinch runner Jonny Gomes came on for Cliff Floyd after he singled in the bottom of the 11th inning. Gomes stole second, then sprinted home to seal the victory for the Rays 2-1.
Then came the L A Angels first visit to Tropicana Field, and the Rays shut them down to also sweep that series. Then came in the mighty Chicago Cubs for a three game Inter-League series that was deemed by many to be a possible World Series matchup. During this series, the Rays finally began to get some national exposure for maybe being a true team that could win it all in 2008.
But not until after the June 19th game, in which Carl Crawford hit a grand slam to propel the Rays. The team had officially beat the best team in baseball all three games did the national media begin to get on the Rays bandwagon. Cub’s Manager Lou Pinella commended the Rays on their young squad, and you could see a small twinkle in his eye that he approved of the young team getting the best of his team that series.
On June 27th, Rays starter Matt Garza was on the mound in a game against the Florida Marlins and gave up a blast to Hanley Ramirez in the 7th inning to produce the only hit and run in the contest. Garza went on to shut down the Marlins’ offense the rest of the game.
According to the Elias Baseball Bureau, It was the first complete-game no-hitter or one-hitter with a double-digit strikeout total in the majors this season. There was only one such pitching performance in each of the last three seasons: by Chris Carpenter in 2005, John Lackey in 2006 and Justin Verlander in 2007.
On July 19th, the Rays won their first game back after the All Star break to break the team’s longest losing streak of the season. With the Blue Jays in town for a weekend series, the Rays went on to break up a perfectly good pitchers’ duel on a Ben Zobrist homer on the first pitch he saw tonight. Toronto starter A J Burnett was on tonight, but the Rays caught a huge break on a hanging breaking pitch to Zobrist for the victory.
While the Rays were at home on August 30th they got to celebrate a first in Rays history. With the 14-3 win over the Baltimore Orioles, the Rays posted their 82nd win of the season. Marking the first time in franchise history they were guaranteed a winning season. It also marked the night of Scott Kazmir’s 10th victory of the year.
The mystic of Fenway Park was beginning to get the better of the Rays in 2008 before Scott Kazmir took the mound on September 10th in a series the team needed to keep their lead on the Boston Red Sox. It also began one of the most storied moments in Rays history. During the contest the Rays batters went a combined 1-15 with men in scoring position and almost gave the game to the Red Sox several times. As the team fought back and forth before the Rays sent up a pinch hitter in the bottom of the 9th inning.
Dan Johnson had been summed from the Durham Bulls earlier in the day and would have started in left field if he had gotten to the ball park a little earlier in the night. But because of flight problems and transportation to Fenway Park, he arrived just moments before the game. In the 9th inning, Rays Manager Joe Maddon inserted Johnson into the game to pinch hit against Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon. Johnson worked the count to 3-2 before he hit a monster shot that cleared the right center field wall to give the Rays a 5-4 lead in the game. Jason Hammel ended up coming out in the bottom of the 9th and secured the win for the Rays. It was Hammel’s first save of his career.
With the team away for their last series, it was actually the next day when most Rays fans learned that we had secured the American League East title the previous night in Detroit. With the Rays in Motown for the last series, many players came back to the clubhouse to celebrate into the wee hours of the morning. It was a wild fact, but players and staff went to area hotels sports bars to do a bit of scoreboard watching as the New York Yankees needed to lose for the Rays to be awarded their first title in team history.
After the hard fought season, the Rays staged a airport greeting for the team at St. Petersburg/Clearwater airport on September 29th. The event was attended by almost 5,000 people who flocked into the baggage area and loading zones to greet and cheer the team as they got off their chartered flight from Detroit. People filled the airport and also the outer traffic lanes of the airport to see their new champions come in from their road trip.
On October 6th, the Rays were in Chicago facing the White Sox when they secured their first series win in the American League Divisional series. The Rays won the series 3-1, and established that they were the team to beat to get to the World Series in the American League. In that series, the Rays battled back time and time again against the tough White Sox pitching staff before finally breaking through and getting right breaks.
When the Rays faced the Philadelphia Phillies on October 23rd, they sent James “Big Game” Shields to the mound. The game showed the waking up of B J Upton and Carlos Pena at the plate as both help produce much needed offense for the Rays. In a play featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, Rocco Baldelli came across the plate for an apparent Rays run, but Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz held onto the ball.
The game came down to great situational hitting by the Rays. B J Upton scored Akinora Iwamura from third to plate the first run for the Rays. In the 4th inning, the Rays took a hold of the game after Cliff Floyd hit a single and Dioner Navarro hit a nice liner up the middle to put two men on base for the Rays. Baldelli then hit a nice shot down the third baseline, but it was gloved by Feliz and the Rays had men on the corners. Jason Bartlett then came up and executed a safety squeeze perfectly in front of Phillies starter Brett Myers to put the Rays up 4-0. It would be the Rays first victory in the Fall classic.
Last, but not least is the Game 5.5 as I call it of the 2008 World Series. No matter what happened in this game, the historical significance was more pressing at the moment. The contest was a hard fought contest and each team traded runs and hits before the Phillies finally walked away with their second World Series Championship.
The game was a true test of everything that got the Rays here in 2008. The Bullpen, which was the team’s focal point in 2008 had finally given up a run at the most critical moment in the contest. And the Rays offense could not close the gap when needed during their last at bats. with Eric Hinske striking out for the last out of the game.
All of these events made a different focal point for the Rays in 2008. I hope a few of your fond memories have graced the blog. If I forgot a moment that you found remarkable in 2008, please feel free to comment on the blog and I will check into it and might even make it my number 1 choice tomorrow. Again thank you to all the readers of Rays Renegade for their insights, comments ans readership in 2008.
Hopefully in 2009, I will have more outstanding Rays moments to record for you.