Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Rays clinch playoff spot

St. Petersburg

All that talk about the importance of postseason experience appears to be overrated. Because after the Rays on Saturday did the implausible, if not the impossible, in clinching their first playoff appearance, they acted like they knew exactly what they were doing and put on quite a show. "You know, we play pretty good," said veteran Troy Percival. "But I think we celebrate better." There was a festive and anticipatory feel throughout the day at sold-out Tropicana Field, but the party officially began at 7:22 p.m. when third baseman Evan Longoria caught Joe Mauer's foul to seal the 7-2 win. Players raced onto the field, throwing their gloves in the air and themselves at each other. A massive celebration, including a seemingly endless stream of champagne spraying and beer soaking and a victory lap around the stadium and atop the dugout to share the experience with the fans, continued for hours.

"We act like we've done it before," Jonny Gomes said. "I don't think it's that hard."

It was a special moment for so many people in so many ways, as the Rays finally put their horrid past behind them and became the second team in history, joining the 1991 Braves, to go from the worst record in the majors to the playoffs the next season.

It was for Carl Crawford, the player who has been here the longest and been through the most losing. "It feels even better than I thought it would," he said. "You think back to all the old times, but right now this one moment erases all the bad times. … I didn't know if we'd be doing this in this room."

For bench coach Dave Martinez, who was a player on the inaugural team. "From 1998 to 2008, this is unbelievable," he said. "Incredible. I played 16 years and this is probably by far the finest moment I've ever had."

For manager Joe Maddon, who has worked tirelessly to transform the team, and first thought of his father, Joseph, who died in 2002, then made a rare trip across the foul line and onto the field. "I had to get out there and hug everybody," he said. "We did the appropriate hugging in the dugout, then we took it out on the field. I had to — I'm a hugger. And I'm a cryer."

And for the new ownership group, for executive vice president Andrew Friedman, for the trainers, for the clubhouse staff led by Chris Westmoreland, for longtime PR man Rick Vaughn, for the entire organization.

"It's not like other clubs," team president Matt Silverman said. "This is something nobody thought would ever happen and we get to celebrate it. It's a fantastic accomplishment and it only happens once; you only have your first time once."

As optimistic as Stuart Sternberg's ownership group was when taking over in October 2005, Silverman said: "I'd be lying to say we expected it. We hoped it could happen. We wanted to put ourselves into position so that it could happen, But there are some things that you can't predict.

"There's some magic going on here, and we're going to ride this as long as we can."

In between sprayings and showers — they went through 200 bottles of Mumms Brut champagne and 15 cases of beer, then ordered more — the Rays insisted this was just the start of the fun.

They hope to have four more celebrations — for winning the AL East (they lead Boston by 2½ and could clinch that by Tuesday), and each of the three postseason rounds. Plus, they want to have the AL's best record.

"This," Maddon said., "is the beginning."

The Rays wore new hats and T-shirts with Maddon's catchy 9=8 catchphrase, reflecting how it would take nine players playing hard for nine innings to become one of the eight playoff teams. The clubhouse, the scene of so much frustration the first 10 seasons, was draped with banners of the team's new colors and the sunburst logo, and no one was safe from a soaking that Westmoreland said would take "an all-nighter" to clean for today's game.

"It's cold, it hurts your eyes a little bit but it's incredible," Friedman said. "It's an incredible experience."

"I don't know much, but the one thing I do know is that the Tampa Bay Rays know how to throw a party," Rocco Baldelli said. "Everyone who had celebrated before said that was some kind of celebration."

Not bad for first-timers.

Marc Topkin can be reached at

Rays playoffs tickets

Tickets go on sale to the public at 9 a.m. Wednesday at Fans can still register for a special online presale until 11:59 tonight. A random drawing will be held Monday, and winners will be able to buy tickets online Tuesday via a special link and password. 4C

More coverage

Once again the Rays took advantage of good breaks to earn the victory. They also got a terrific start from All-Star Scott Kazmir, bouncing back from the worst of his career. 3-5C, 1-2A

On the Web

More photos at And for more coverage, check out the Heater,

Today | Rays vs. Twins

1:40, Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg

TV/radio: FSN; 1250-AM, 680-AM (Spanish) Pitchers: Andy Sonnanstine, Rays

vs. Francisco Liriano, Twins

Rays clinch playoff spot 09/20/08 [Last modified: Monday, September 22, 2008 10:38am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Rays' Blake Snell erasing memories of his poor start

    The Heater

    NEW YORK — As Blake Snell strides up the mound at Yankee Stadium Tuesday night with an 10-game unbeaten streak, doesn't the miserable start to his sophomore season, when he was winless in eight starts and got demoted to Triple-A, seem like a long time ago?

    To him, too.

    Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Blake Snell (4) in the dugout during the fourth inning of the game between the Chicago Cubs and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017. WILL VRAGOVIC   |   Times

  2. Buccaneers-Vikings Turning Point, Week 3: Overreaction vs. reality


    "None of us really know how this group of 53 guys is going to come together and how we're going to play this season."

    Vikings receiver Stefon Diggs torched a porous Bucs secondary Sunday with eight catches for 173 yards and two touchdowns. [Getty Images]
  3. Jake Dotchin on rule violation: 'It's hurting me'


    While defenseman Jake Dotchin continues to practice with the Lightning, it's uncertain when - or if - he'll get any preseason action.

    Jake Dotchin violated an unspecified team rule, which is why he hasn't played in the first four games.
  4. PolitiFact: Trump's Mostly False claim that NFL ratings are 'way down'


    The statement

    "NFL attendance and ratings are WAY DOWN. Boring games yes, but many stay away because they love our country."

    Quarterback Jameis Winston is sacked during the first half of the Bucs' 34-17 loss to the Vikings on Sunday. (LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times)
  5. Bucs couldn't connect on or stop deep passes in loss to Vikings


    If two things were established as storylines entering Sunday's Bucs-Vikings game, it was that Tampa Bay was still struggling to establish the deep passes that were missing from its offense last year, and that …

    Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs (14) gets into the end zone for a long touchdown reception as Bucs free safety Chris Conte (23) cannot stop him during the second half. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]