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Rays owner Sternberg prepared to help in playoff push

NEW YORK — When principal owner Stuart Sternberg last saw the Rays 2½ weeks ago against Houston at Tropicana Field, he wasn't sure how solid their status was as legitimate contenders.

But after the latest surge, he said he now believes, and is seeking to help.

"The last three weeks, I was personally pointed toward the All-Star Game and I was not going to look past that until we got through this stretch and see how we performed, and the team has answered the bell, I think, in a dramatic fashion," Sternberg said before Tuesday's game.

"The beauty about baseball, at least during the game, is that the clock never runs out, you always get your three outs. But when you talk about a season, it does run out: There are only 162 games.

"Most of the time, at least every time in the Rays' history, you're sort of looking toward the end, and it's the inevitable. Right now, we almost can't wait for us to get here fast enough. But I'm enjoying it along the way."

Sternberg understands there are skeptics — and Red Sox — who don't think the Rays will be able to hang on. He sounds determined to prove them wrong.

"As a fan, I would be waiting for us to fold," he said. "As the owner, I'm doing everything possible within my small powers to give us the greatest opportunity to continue this."

Sternberg said that includes "always looking" at potential improvements. He has said since the spring the Rays would be willing to add payroll for the proper fit, and he added Tuesday that though he "didn't expect a lot" of activity before the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline, the Rays are "going to react and be as aggressive as we can be to give us the greatest chance to succeed."

He says his focus is on getting through July, and he doesn't want to answer the question of being disappointed if they don't make the playoffs until the end of August. But he sure sounds like an owner planning to be busy for a while.

"I think things favor us," he said. "We just have to continue to do what we're doing, do everything we can to just continue to do what we're doing. And then you hope for the best."

BUSY NAVI: C Dioner Navarro can only wonder how hectic the actual All-Star Game will be given how the first 48 hours after being selected were, considering the volume of phone messages, ticket requests and attention.

"It's been kind of crazy these two days," he said. "I didn't know being an All-Star was going to be that crazy. But I'm enjoying every single minute of it."

MISCELLANY: SS Jason Bartlett is working out with the team and said his sprained right knee feels better and he expects to return July 18, the first game after the break. … Reliever Al Reyes, rehabbing from right shoulder tendinitis, pitched a 1-2-3 first for Class A Vero Beach. … Montgomery LHP prospect James Houser will be out of action for a while due to minor left knee surgery, according to the Montgomery Advertiser. … There has been no official announcement, but the Aug. 23 game at Chicago is listed on the team Web site as a Fox national game with a 3:55 p.m. start.

>>FAST FACTS

Longoria still leads

Rookie 3B Evan Longoria retained a slim lead in the online voting for the 32nd spot on the AL All-Star team.

Longoria's margin over the White Sox's Jermaine Dye and the Yankees' Jason Giambi was just more than 200,000 Tuesday evening, and each had received more than 2-million votes.

Longoria said it was "awesome" to be in the race and joked that he didn't have to ask his friends to vote for him because they had already started on Sunday. (Which was good since until being corrected Tuesday evening, the stats listed for him with the online ballot were grossly understated.)

Longoria is also picking up some unlikely support: a Red Sox fan site, bostondirtdogs.com, is urging fans to vote for him as a way to keep Giambi from making it.

Balloting continues through 5 p.m. Thursday. To vote, see mlb.com, or text vote to 36197 from a cell phone and vote A4.

Rays owner Sternberg prepared to help in playoff push 07/08/08 [Last modified: Thursday, July 10, 2008 9:38pm]
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