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Young Rays eye promising future


Young Rays eye promising future
PHILADELPHIA (AP) - J.P. Howell wept, while some of his teammates spoke barely above a whisper. Through all of the disappointment, the Tampa Bay Rays made one thing clear: They arrived this season.

"It's powerful what we got done this year," manager Joe Maddon said after the AL champions bowed out of the World Series in five games Wednesday night. "And I know, from my perspective, this is just the beginning."

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, Tampa Bay won 39 more games than in 2007.

The team dropped the "Devil" from its nickname, took on new team 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.

Not only did they outlast the big-spending Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees to win the division, but they belied their inexperience to continue prospering in October, 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.

Howell, 0-2 in the Series, gave up the go-ahead run in the seventh inning, and Philadelphia's bullpen closed out Game 5, which picked up in the bottom of the sixth following a two-day suspension because of rain.

"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, playing with three less outs, giving up the homefield advantage - they felt extraordinarily confident that they were going to bring this back to St. Petersburg ... and win this thing."

The Rays did not play as well as they expected in the World Series, 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 ground outs and scoring one each on a sacrifice fly, safety squeeze bunt and throwing error delighted the manager.

"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.

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, giving the Rays the youngest starting rotation to make 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.

Cliff Floyd, one of the veterans signed last winter to bring leadership and stability to the clubhouse, believes the Rays have a chance to be good for a long time.

Still, he cautions 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
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: October 30, 2008

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