Appreciate how the Rays got here

Tampa Bay RaysForget the magical, out-of-nowhere season for just a second. Instead, take a moment to appreciate how the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays got here.

No big name free agents. No blockbuster trades. No big payroll. The Rays’ built their success through years of phenomenal drafting, patience, and unlike most MLB teams, had the foresight to resist overspending on overpriced talent.

The Rays’ roster is littered with examples of how a baseball team should build success.

Take Matt Garza, the starting pitcher who limited the Red Sox to just two runs in 13 innings in the ALCS. He was the top prospect in the Minnesota Twins’ organization entering the 2007 season, and the 21st-best prospect in Major League Baseball according to Baseball America. But he couldn’t crack the Twins’ starting rotation out of spring training and the team began to grow impatient. The Twins felt that they could get a quality bat in return for their star prospect, and they eventually did.

In the 2008 offseason, Minnesota packaged Garza along with Jason Bartlett and Eduardo Morlan, and sent them to Tampa for Delmon Young, Jason Pridie and Brendan Harris. And while Garza only had a smattering of success in the regular season this year (he went 11-9 with a 3.70 ERA), he saved his best work for Boston in the postseason and wound up earning the ALCS MVP.


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Experience pays off for Sox in Game 1 win over Rays

Boston Red SoxAs play-by-play announcer Chip Caray said during the final inning of Boston’s 2-0 win over Tampa in Game 1 of the ALCS Friday night, “Experience trumped exuberance tonight.” (I can’t believe I’m quoting Chip Caray, but the comment was spot on.)

For six innings, Boston ace Daisuke Matsuzaka was un-hittable. Literally.

The Rays didn’t record their first hit until Carl Crawford singled to lead off the top of the seventh. But once Crawford reached, Cliff Floyd followed with a single of his own, moving Crawford to third and all of a sudden Tampa was in business despite trailing 1-0 since the top of the fifth.

This is the situation where good teams – World Series contender or other – score that runner from third with less than two outs. But the Rays failed to do so as Dice-K got Dioner Navarro to fly out to left, then struck out Gabe Gross before finishing off Jason Bartlett with a fielder’s choice to the shortstop.

Inning over.

Again the Rays struck in the bottom of the eighth after the first two batters reached safely to start the inning. Yet once again they came away with nothing as the Boston bullpen got Carlos Pena to fly out to right and Evan Longoria to ground into a double play.

In nine innings Friday night, the Sox showed what it takes to be a champion. They’ve still got a long way to go in their chase to defend their title, especially with how good Tampa is. But great teams separate themselves in these types of games and the performances by Matsuzaka, Dustin Pedroia and the BoSox bullpen were outstanding.

That said, Rays’ starter James Shields was phenomenal and on a normal night when the Rays’ bats are on, he walks away from such a masterful performance with a victory. And Tampa will learn a lot from a game like this and it’ll be interesting to see how they respond in Game 2 on Saturday night.

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