Five key decisions along the way to the playoffs
1. Not trading B.J. Upton
The enigmatic centerfielder seemed headed elsewhere at the July 31 trade deadline, and the rumors mounted again at the Aug. 31 deadline for waiver deals. Whether the Rays couldn't get what they wanted, or there wasn't as much interest as they expected, they hung on to him. He rewarded them with a spectacular September — a .363 average, .464 on-base percentage, five homers, 20 RBIs and a 1.123 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in his last 24 games.
2. Signing RHPs Joel Peralta and Kyle Farnsworth to anchor rebuilt bullpen
At the time, they hardly seemed like big deals. But the Rays saw something in the two 30-something relievers and they proved to be the foundation of their late-inning success, combining for 31 saves, eight wins and a 2.59 ERA while making 134 appearances. And all for a combined salary of $3.525 million — about one-third of what former closer Rafael Soriano is getting from the Yankees.
3. Manny Ramirez "retiring"
At the time, it seemed like horribly bad and disruptive news: DH Manny Ramirez, the Rays' biggest offseason addition and cleanup hitter, tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs, and in the face of a hefty suspension he opted to go home. But his departure begat the Rays bringing up 1B Casey Kotchman from Triple A and moving Johnny Damon from leftfield to DH (allowing to him to play more or better); the emergence of Sam Fuld, who carried the Rays for a good month; and the eventual July promotion of rookie Desmond Jennings.
4. Shields asking to finish more games
Frustrated with his 11-15 record and 5.18 ERA last season, RHP James Shields worked out fiendishly all winter then told manager Joe Maddon in spring training he wanted to take matters into his own hands and finish more games. His major-league-most 11 complete games (16-12, 2.82) turned out to be a big part of the Rays' success.
5. Sending Casey Kotchman to Durham to start the season
The Rays were impressed with Kotchman's spring showing after signing him to a low-risk minor-league deal, but not enough to break their commitment to starter Dan Johnson. Rather than trade or release Kotchman, they sent him to Triple A, with the promise of giving him an opportunity if one arose. A week later, he was promoted when Ramirez retired, and a week after that he started playing regularly. Though cooling recently from a season-high .341 on Aug. 9, his contributions were invaluable — a .306 average and MLB-best .998 fielding percentage.
Marc Topkin, Times staff writer