The Tampa Bay Rays opened the celebration of their 25th anniversary completely counter to the way they began in 1998. In fact, their difficulty of finding success lasted a full decade.
Perhaps its a coincidence that once they dropped ‘Devil’ from their nickname the baseball gods smiled upon them. Their sustained success is a credit to the infrastructure and personnel that has made the Rays a product of ingenuity despite being restrained by cash flow and being seen by smaller than average crowds in a park that doesn’t necessarily reflect the ideal baseball setting.
The First Game: March 31, 1998
The birth of an expansion franchise in that region of Florida came after several near-miss tries to lure an existing franchise. The long-awaited arrival of a major-league club came before 45,369 at Tropicana Field as the Devil Rays hosted the Detroit Tigers. The Opening Day lineup had many familiar names, including future Hall of Famers Wade Boggs and Fred McGriff. Former All-Star Wilson Alvarez got the start but was tagged for nine hits and six runs in an 11-6 Detroit Tigers victory.
Mr. 3,000: August 7, 1999
Boggs became a perennial batting champ in Boston, won a World Series in New York, but his milestone moment occurred at home. The Tampa native was the 22nd player in history to reach 3,000 hits and the first to do so with a home run. After he connected off Cleveland left-hander Chris Haney for just his second homer of the season, Boggs savored the occasion. As he rounded the bases, he pointed up to honor his late mother who was killed in a 1986 car accident. Then he dropped to his knees and kissed home plate.
Not Your Average Joe: November 15, 2005
It’s standard for organizations to replace a type of coach or manager with the complete opposite. To counter three failed seasons under hard-nosed Lou Piniella, the Devil Rays went with newcomer Joe Maddon. The Angels bench coach was laid-back and unorthodox. He was creative and made decisions that weren’t necessarily by the book. In other words, it was a brilliant choice. Maddon helped alter the fortunes of the franchise, guiding Tampa to four playoff appearances in six years and won the AL Manager of the Year award twice.
Rays the Pennant: October 19, 2008
Tampa Bay completely changed its identity — not to mention its name — with its run to the World Series. AL Rookie of the Year Evan Longoria hit 27 homers and drove in 85. The rotation, headed by Scott Kazmir and James Shields, posted the second-best ERA. The Rays won 97 and beat Boston in a seven-game ALCS. David Price took the ball in the top of the eighth and got the final four outs of the deciding contest. The glass slipper broke in Philadelphia in a five-game Fall Classic defeat, but for a franchise that finished last in nine of its first 10 years (and fourth the other year) this began a string of four postseason appearances over the next six seasons.
Garza’s No-No: July 26, 2010
The Rays had been on the wrong end of no-hitters. Four times in the last eight years and twice just in the 2010 season. They are also the victim of (to this date) the last perfect game in August 2012. At least they were on the right side of history once and Tampa Bay has Matt Garza to thank. The right-hander faced the minimum, allowing only a second-inning walk that would be erased on a double play. Garza threw 120 pitches and struck out six Detroit Tigers while out-dueling a 25-year-old named Max Scherzer, who held the Rays hitless for five innings.
Game 162: September 28, 2011
Tampa Bay’s charge from 9.5 games behind Boston for the Wild Card at the start of the month brought them tied on the season’s final night. The Rays fell behind 7-0 to the Yankees while the Red Sox held a lead over the Orioles. There would be one more comeback for Tampa and a final collapse for Boston. The Rays’ rallied for six in the eighth and tied it on Dan Johnson’s two-out ninth-inning homer before Evan Longoria walked it off in the 12th. Three minutes later in Baltimore, the O’s won a game-winning hit that sent Tampa to the playoffs.
Revenge is Best Served Deep: October 9, 2020
On September 1, Mike Brosseau saw a 101-mph pitch from Aroldis Chapman nearly drill him in the head. The Rays understandably took exception with the Yankee reliever. Brosseau found the optimum way and time to retaliate. Facing Chapman in the eighth inning of Game 5 in the ALDS, Brosseau battled from down 0-2 and worked through a 10-pitch at-bat. His one-out drive over the left-field wall at Petco Park snapped a 1-1 tie and was ultimately the series-winner.
The Days of Randy: October 11-17, 2020
The Houston Astros would’ve been made four straight World Series appearances if not for Randy Arozarena. The rookie played 23 games during the regular season before his star brightened in October. In the expanded postseason (which comprised of 20 games), he hit .377 with a record 10 homers and 14 RBIs. Four of those homers came in the ALCS and he locked the MVP when he started Game 7 with a two-run blast to give Tampa a lead it wouldn’t give up.
A Fall Classic: October 24, 2020
It was a play that’s still hard to believe no matter how many times you’ve seen it. The 2020 World Series was already unique because of its neutral setting and partially-full crowds. Game 4 took it to a whole different level. Brett Phillips got the two-out ninth inning hit that initiated the wild sequence that brought in the tying and winning runs and saw Randy Arozarena somehow reach home plate safely. Even as the Dodgers won the final two games, for most fans this moment remains 2020’s lasting memory.
13-0: March 30-April 13, 2023
A 13-game winning streak at any point in the season is impressive. A 13-game winning streak to start a season is historic. The Rays matched the ’82 Braves and the ’87 Brewers as the only teams in the modern era to reel off a baker’s dozen at the beginning of their schedule. Tampa didn’t just scratch out victories, it romped opponents to the tune of a 71-run differential and 32 homers. Following a brief down-to-earth moment, when they lost their first two to Toronto, the Rays proceeded to take three of the next four. They’re showing no signs of slowing down.