NEW YORK — The Rays' stunning rise from worst to first in 2008 made for a magical tale, which even manager Joe Maddon acknowledges isn't likely to be replicated.
But that doesn't mean what they're doing this season — battling the mighty Yankees for the American League East title — isn't still an "amazing" accomplishment.
At least not according to commissioner Bud Selig.
"How do I feel about it? I feel the same way I did in '08; it's a great story," Selig said at Yankee Stadium on Monday night. "And the people in Tampa have done a marvelous job, an absolutely marvelous job."
Selig likes to point to the Rays' success as an example of how his program of competitive balance, as a result of enhanced revenue sharing, is effective.
"Clubs are spending a lot of money now, and I'll say to you again, the system is working," Selig said. "Or Cincinnati wouldn't be winning a championship, Tampa wouldn't be here fighting with the Yankees after 148 or 149 games. It's a tribute to those clubs."
Though Selig made the same mistake as others in calling the team Tampa, he wanted no part of picking sides in the ongoing debate over the location for a new stadium.
"That I will leave to the locals," he said. "I know what I think in my mind, but I'm not going to get involved in those discussions."
He didn't mind reiterating his thoughts on the overall stadium issue: "It is a great franchise, they have run it beautifully, but there is no question they need a new stadium. And I'll talk to (principal owner Stuart Sternberg) about that in the future."
BYE, GEORGE: The Yankees unveiled and dedicated a stadium monument to former owner George Steinbrenner before the game.
The timing worked out for the Rays — representing his other hometown — to be the guests, just as they were in July when there was a ceremony in the first game after Steinbrenner died.
"From our perspective it's great for us to be here and be able to pay tribute to the man," Maddon said. "It just worked out that way. It doesn't impact us in any kind of negative way. It's just a matter that we're to be here and pay our respects, too."
Members of the Steinbrenner family, former Yankees greats and the Yankees players gathered in Monument Park beyond centerfield for what Selig said was "a very emotional" ceremony.
YOU AGAIN: RHP James Shields pitched well against the Yankees on Wednesday, and now he's trying to come up with something else to show them tonight.
"I pretty much threw the kitchen sink at them," he said. "Hopefully in the bullpen an epiphany comes to me and decides to invent a new pitch and maybe I can throw something at them."
Shields is looking forward to the excitement of pitching in front of the Yankee Stadium fans. "I'm sure they're definitely going to give us a hard time," Shields said. "I don't think these fans are as brutal as the Phillies fans. But I love playing in atmospheres like that; I'm going to go out there and have some fun and enjoy the moment."
FIRST-TIMERS: Monday was the first game at Yankee Stadium, new or old, for five Rays: rookies Mike Ekstrom, Jeremy Hellickson, Desmond Jennings, Jake McGee and veteran National Leaguer Brad Hawpe.
Jennings was the only one who hadn't been to New York before, though Hellickson and McGee were limited to day trips when they played for the Hudson Valley minor-league team. "There's so many people," McGee said.
MISCELLANY: 3B Evan Longoria became the fourth Ray to have consecutive 100-RBI seasons, joining Fred McGriff (1999-00), Aubrey Huff (2003-04) and Carlos Peña (2007-08-09). … Maddon will try to get struggling reliever Dan Wheeler more consistent work in an effort to keep him sharper and more effective.
Times sports columnist John Romano contributed to this report.