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Rays raise expectations for future

Rays raise expectations for future
PHILADELPHIA (AP) - One remarkable ride is over, and the Tampa Bay Rays are already planning another.

No stepping back to savor what they accomplished over the past six months. The AL champions want to make winning and going to the World Series an expectation.

"Our minds have been stretched. Everything about us has been stretched," manager Joe Maddon said. "I don't think our guys are ever going to be satisfied going home in October again."

A year after finishing with the worst record in baseball, the young Rays pulled off one of the most improbable turnarounds in major league history. On the way to a franchise-best 97 wins, Maddon's bunch showed it doesn't take a large payroll to field a winner.

Including the playoffs, they won 39 more games than in 2007.

The team dropped the "Devil" from its nickname, took on new colors and uniforms and said goodbye to a decade of futility in which Tampa Bay finished last in the AL East in nine of 10 seasons.

"We made a powerful statement," Maddon said. "It's just the beginning."

Players began clearing out their lockers at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg on Thursday.

"I'm having a tough time today. But seeing the guys eases the pain," slugger Carlos Pena said. "The reason it hurts too much is because we were having too much fun. It was amazing. We were kids just living a dream. We're hungry for more. This year is one we'll never forget."

Pitcher James Shields said it hurt to fall short of their ultimate goal, but echoed his teammates sentiments that the future is bright.

"It hit me this morning when I woke up. But I woke up all smiles," Shields said. "What a crazy season. Absolutely amazing."

Not only did the Rays outlast the big-spending Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees to win the division, they also prospered in the playoffs, long after skeptics figured they'd run out of gas.

"They kept believing in themselves to the point they were disappointed they didn't win this thing," principal owner Stuart Sternberg said after Wednesday night's 4-3 Series-clinching loss to the Philadelphia Phillies.

"They never counted themselves out at any time from the month of February on," Sternberg said. "They really believed, even down three games to one ... they felt extraordinarily confident that they were going to bring this back to St. Petersburg ... and win this thing."

The Rays did not play well against the Phillies, however they didn't make excuses for the shoddy defense, shaky pitching and lack of timely hitting.

Instead, Maddon focused on what they did well, and how that ties into a promising future.

In Games 2 and 3, the Rays scored eight runs, just one of them on a hit. Pushing four runs home on groundouts and scoring on a sacrifice fly, safety squeeze and throwing error delighted the manager.

He's going to put out an instructional video and use it in spring training to reiterate how much small details mean to winning. He plans to the spread the message to players in the minor league system, too.

"We need to continue to grow. There are a lot of things we have to do better," Maddon said. "I'm into the little things. ... This series really validates a lot of the concepts we have put out there."

Madden, who spent 31 years in the Angels system before taking over as Rays manager in 2006, grabbed players attention with his "98" speech on the opening day of spring training and sold them on the notion that nine players playing hard for nine innings every day could equal one of eight playoff berths.

"Again, I think we validated and created the Ray way of playing baseball," he said. "I'm very proud of that, and we have to make it better."

Solid pitching, strong defense and timely hitting were a winning recipe. And, the Rays have every reason to believe they can sustain their success.

All-Star left-hander Scott Kazmir is only 24, and he's already the team's career wins leader. He's also the youngest member of a rotation whose average age of 24.6 gave the Rays the youngest set of starters to get a team to the playoffs since the 1986 New York Mets.

What's scary is 23-year-old David Price, who has yet to make his first big league start, may turn out to be the best of all the young pitchers.

"I think we're going to be pretty good for a while," said rookie Evan Longoria, who started the season in the minors but wound up hitting 27 homers in 122 games and being selected to play in the All-Star game.

Maddon addressed the team after Wednesday night's game, telling them how much he enjoyed their growth as people, not just baseball players.

"I thought the way we handled this entire month for being as inexperienced as we are, and as young as we are, that was remarkable also," he said. "I wanted them to know it goes beyond a lot of different components of playing baseball."

Cliff Floyd, one of the veterans signed last winter to bring leadership and stability to the clubhouse, said the Rays should be able to contend for years.

Still, he cautioned his younger teammates to beware, citing the Detroit Tigers as an example.

"They had a great team, a great bunch of guys and added even more depth to their team and didn't quite get over the hump (in 2008). But the year before, they were an outstanding team," Floyd said.

"If you want to look at anything, you look at that team and see how quickly it can turn. The Colorado Rockies, how quickly it can turn. You have to come prepared for spring training, know that this year is completely over, you're not the champions, and if you're going to be champions we got a taste of what it takes to do that."


Author:Fox Sports
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Added: October 30, 2008

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