The Rays are on the verge of more history. They'll soon win their 71st game, erasing the franchise record of 70 wins by the 2004 squad that has been considered their best team. (Which is to say, the only one not to finish last in their first 10 seasons.)
Although it was only four seasons ago, only six of the 50 players from that juggernaut are still around: Carl Crawford, Scott Kazmir, B.J. Upton and Trever Miller (who left and came back), plus Rocco Baldelli (coming back from injury) and Jonny Gomes (just sent to Triple A).
That was the team — managed by Lou Piniella — that, keyed by a remarkable 12-game winning streak, did a few historic things in a season that started in Japan and ended with a champagne toast in Detroit: • The Rays were the first team in major-league (or NBA or NHL) history to get over .500 after being 18 or more games under .500. They were a major-league-worst 10-28 on May 19, then went 26-7 to get to 36-35, and eventually to a season-high two games over at 40-38 on July 3, before going 30-53 to finish 70-91.
• They were the first to win 12 straight after getting off to as bad a start as they did (21-34) and to do so coming off a 99-loss season.
• They were the second team in history to have a 12-game winning streak and a 12-game losing streak in the same season, joining the 1987 Milwaukee Brewers.
• And they were the third to have a run of 30-10 or better (from May 20 to July 3) and still finish under .500.
The Rays tentatively are slated to kick off the 2009 season at Boston on April 6, then open at home a week later vs. the Yankees. Interleague guests are the Phillies, Nationals and Marlins; they visit the Rockies, Mets and Marlins. … Unless ordered by MLB (which likely wouldn't happen until the World Series), the Rays don't plan to take the tarps off the 4,000 unused Trop upper deck seats for the playoffs. … In a (clearly) related note, fans who make deposits on 2009 season tickets get priority in buying 2008 postseason ticket packages. … After giving OF Ty Morrison a $500,000 bonus, matching the most for a fourth-round pick, the Rays are optimistic about signing No. 2 LHP Kyle Lobstein by Friday's midnight deadline. … According to some reports, the only reason Boston claimed San Diego OF Brian Giles was to keep the Rays from trying to get him. … ESPN's Jerry Crasnick ranks the Rays' bullpen ninth best in the majors. … RHP Travis Harper, who last pitched Aug. 1, 2006, told a Virginia paper that continued shoulder problems prevent him from pitching and at 32 he's happy as a full-time dad.
Off to the races
The week ahead for the AL East contenders, ranked easiest to hardest:
Red Sox: at Chicago (today-Monday), vs. Texas (Tues.-Thurs.), vs. Toronto (Fri.-Sun.)
Total remaining games: 25 home, 20 road
Rays: at Seattle (today), at Oakland (Tues.-Thurs.), at Texas (Fri.-Sun.)
Total remaining games: 19 home, 27 road
Yankees: at Los Angeles (today), at Minnesota (Mon.-Wed.), vs. Kansas City (Fri.-Sun.)
Total remaining games: 19 home, 26 road
Who were those guys?
This was the most common alignment in 2004:
C Toby Hall 1B Tino Martinez 2B Rey Sanchez
SS Julio Lugo 3B Aubrey Huff LF Carl Crawford
CF Rocco Baldelli RF Jose Cruz Jr. DH Huff/ Robert Fick
SP: Mark Hendrickson, right, Victor Zambrano, Dewon Brazelton, Rob Bell, Doug Waechter
RP: Danys Baez, Trever Miller, right, Lance Carter, Travis Harper, Jorge Sosa And their leaders:
Avg. Huff, .297
HRs Huff, 29
RBIs Huff, 104
Runs Crawford, 104
SBs Crawford, 59
Wins Hendrickson, 10
ERA Hendrickson, 4.81
Saves Baez, 30
Also worth mentioning …
The 2004 Rays didn't get back-to-back wins until their 40th game (the longest such streak since 1988). … They played a doubleheader at the Trop after having three games postponed or canceled due to weather and another under a curfew. … After starting 10-28, they went 28-10. … They won a game on an inside-the-park walkoff homer and another on an interference call. … It was a big deal that they spent nine days in first place. … Biggest win of the season? Getting Kazmir, right, from the Mets in a trade July 30 for Victor Zambrano.