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Lou Pickney's Online Commentary

Rays Win The Pennant

Sunday
October 19, 2008

Following a decade of failure and embarrassment, the Tampa Bay Rays beat the Boston Red Sox tonight to win the American League pennant. To say that the franchise's turnaround in 2008 would be a major understatement. Prior to 2008, the Rays had never had a winning season. They were a joke, a punchline, a team that didn't seem like it belonged in Major League Baseball.

Sometimes it was embarrassingly bad, such as the 2002 "Heart and Hustle" season (which my brother Matt and I still laugh about to this day). Believe me, I was there in person to see it several times, mostly from the luxury box seats that I'd get from time to time during my tenure at WTSP, which aired some D-Rays games on Sundays back in the early part of this decade.

So how did the team go from being a joke to playing in the World Series? A number of things happened: new ownership came in and began building a culture of winning; the team hired Joe Maddon as its manager before the season; the team dropped the "Devil" from their name and received a makeover with much nicer looking uniforms prior to 2008; years of losing lead to high draft picks (BJ Upton, David Price, etc.) who began paying off this year.

There was a time when I thought that the Rays would never win the AL East, let alone the American League pennant as they did tonight. Major League Baseball has no salary cap, nor does it have a minimum roster salary level, creating a major disparity between the large market teams and the mid-to-small market teams. And in a division with the powerhouse New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, the idea of the Rays coming out on top at any point in the AL East seemed silly. But in 2008, the Rays not only won the AL East, they're now going to their first World Series.

As if that wasn't great enough, someone managed to get a Bubba Army sign on the air on TBS when they were showing the celebration cut shots right after the Rays made the final out of tonight's Game 7 against the Red Sox.

Bubba Army sign

I'm probably happiest for Carl Crawford, who was there for some of the really lean years with the Devil Rays that I saw during my five-year run in Tampa. He endured those countless games where the crowd at Tropicana Field was sparse at best and it almost didn't seem like a real major league game was going on.

What's more, as a Yankees fan, I took extra pleasure in seeing the Rays knock off the hated Red Sox to get to the World Series. I learned my lesson in 2004 about chirping before the deal was done when I bragged on this website about the Yankees being up 3-0 against the Red Sox in the '04 ALCS. What started with taunting Pedro Martinez and taunting the Red Sox when they were down 3-0 in the series ended with this. I assure you, that was not at all fun.

So, with that in mind, I held off on writing about the Rays on here, even when they were up 3-1 in the series and leading the Red Sox 7-0 in the seventh inning. Boston rallied to win that game (the second-biggest comeback in MLB post-season history), which could have been a haunting turn for the Rays, but in the end Tampa Bay won the series and now have a showdown with the Phillies in the World Series. Go Rays!


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