Who Are You...

...and what have you done with the Devil Rays? Maybe simply taking the name "Devil" out of their name gave the Rays some divine intervention. Whatever the reason, the Rays are the talk of the baseball world and yet most people know very little about them.

Stuart Sternberg headed a group that purchased a 48% share in the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 2004. At the time, Sternberg promised change and promised to put a winning team on the field; nothing earth-shattering for a new owner to profess.

With young players coming through the ranks, Sternberg's team continued to develop and actually figured to be half decent this season. During the offseason, Sternberg dropped the "Devil" moniker from the nickname and unveiled new uniforms for the club, but the change didn't seem to be all that significant.

For much of the season, Tampa Bay had themselves right around the top of the NL East and ended up winning the division by two games over the Boston Red Sox. From there, it was an ALDS win over the Chicago White Sox and a meeting with Boston in the ALCS. After jumping out to a 3-1 lead, it figured that the Rays were a shoe-in for the World Series, but they let the Sox back in the series with a big comeback in Game 5 and a follow-up win in Game 6, forcing Game 7. The Rays responded and beat Boston 3-1 to give the franchise their first American League pennant.

So, who are these guys and what makes them so good?

Joe Maddon, the manager of the Rays is an interesting character. Joke all you want about his Drew Carey glasses, the guy knows how to win. The Hazleton, Pennsylvania product took over the Angels for parts of two seasons (1996 and 1999) and did a respectable job with both clubs, finishing with an overall 27-24 record, but the folks in Anaheim (sorry, L.A.) didn't recognize just what they had and hired other guys rather than sticking with Maddon. Big Mistake.

In his first two seasons with Tampa Bay, Maddon compiled a 127-197 record and had two fifth place finishes. After losing 101 games in 2006 and 96 last season, there was reason to believe that the Rays would continue to get better, but nobody predicted that they would get to this point.

The players are quick to point out that Maddon has been a key part of the equation. The level-headed and generally even-tempered Maddon simply kept working with what he had and kept impressing on them that they had to do all the right things to be successful. Eventually, it all worked and the Rays were spraying champagne on each other.

Here's a look at some of the players that make the Rays shine:

  • RHP Matt Garza was named MVP of the AL Championship Series for going 2-0 with a 1.38 ERA, winning Games 3 and 7. In the finale, he limited Boston to one run on two hits in seven-plus innings. At 24, he is the youngest pitcher to win the ALCS MVP honor.

    Garza and SS Jason Bartlett came to Tampa Bay from the Minnesota Twins last November in a deal that sent Delmon Young and two other players to the Twins.

  • CF B.J. Upton tied three records: His seven homers in the postseason matched the AL mark (Troy Glaus, 2002 Angels). His four homers in an LCS matched a record shared by seven others (including teammate Evan Longoria), and his 11 RBIs tied the LCS mark (David Ortiz, 2004 Red Sox).
  • OF Rocco Baldelli, whose health and career were in jeopardy when he was diagnosed this spring with a mitochondrial disorder, knocked in the go-ahead run in the fifth inning.

    "It's beautiful man, it's so beautiful," manager Joe Maddon said.

    Perhaps no other player signifies the struggles of the Rays as does Baldelli. He's a guy that always had plenty of promise, but never put anything together, primarily because of injuries.

  • Rookie LHP David Price stepped into the closer's role to get the final four outs, and he was dazzling. He struck out three of the five batters he faced in earning the save. While his future is as a starter, with Troy Percival somewhere under 100%, Price could be a key part of the World Series for the Rays, if for no other reason than the fact that he held Major League left-handed hitters to a .158 average in his late season stint with the club. Overall, opponents hit just .176 against him.
  • Evan Longoria completed his first season in the majors in 2008 and turned 23 during the postseason. With a 27-85-.272 line for the regular season, Longoria figures to garner more than a few Rookie of the Year votes and should be a cornerstone with Tampa Bay for years to come.
  • Scott Kazmir came to the Rays in a deal with the Mets at the 2004 Trade Deadline. The key piece that went to the Mets was Victor Zambrano, who had a decent season-and-a-half with the Mets before self-destructing in 2006. He split 2007 between Toronto and Baltimore and didn't pitch in the majors in 2008. Not a tough job to figure out who got the better part of that deal.
  • The Rays have assembled a fine group of young players through the draft, but have also traded well and found veterans like Cliff Floyd to fill key spots on the roster. Floyd was very much a calming influence in the clubhouse through the postseason, especially when the Rays stumbled in Games 5 and 6 of the ALCS.

    It's worth mentioning that Chuck LaMar, who is now the Phillies Director of Pro Scouting, was the GM in Tampa Bay and brought many of these players into the organization. Lamar spent ten years (1995-2005) as the GM in Tampa Bay and was the guy that put together the inaugural Rays team that started play in 2008.

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