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Tampa Bay Rays pitchers close in on AL season strikeout record

ST. PETERSBURG — It was only fitting that when manager Joe Maddon was told Thursday the Rays were closing in on the American League record for strikeouts in a season, he had to clarify if it was their pitchers or their hitters.

By season's end, it may be both. As it is, they are the first team in AL history to have more than 1,200 on both sides of the ledger.

But Thursday, their pitchers closed in on the record, striking out eight to move within two of the 2001 Yankees, who had 1,266.

"To have the most strikeouts in American League history, that's something to be said," RHP James Shields said. "As far as I'm concerned we're the best pitching staff in the American League, if not the major leagues. We've worked really hard this season. I think we have to give our bullpen a lot of credit for that. They've done a phenomenal job in that bullpen, and our starting rotation has done what we needed to do."

Per capita, the relievers have done more of the work, with 443 strikeouts in 434 innings. The starters have 821 in 9182/3 innings.

"It speaks to the talent of our guys and the power of our guys and also to the health of our guys," Maddon said.

Pitching coach Jim Hickey lauded their accomplishment, especially playing in the rugged AL East, but also acknowledged that strikeout totals are easier to accumulate as the game has evolved over the past few decades. "Not to lessen the accomplishment, but there is less of a stigma attached to striking out," he said.

The numbers support his theory; 24 of the top 25 AL season totals have been posted since 1996. The major-league record is 1,404 set by the 2003 Cubs.

Maddon agreed: "There was more contact back in the day, bullpens were not as physical, the matchup orientation wasn't there. There was probably less of a chance to strike people out, plus hitters did not want to strike out."

As for the hitters? The Rays ended play Thursday with 1,225 strikeouts; the AL record, set by the 2007 Devil Rays, is 1,324.

COMEBACKERS: Thursday's win was the first time since Aug. 10, 2011, the Rays overcame a deficit of three or more runs in the ninth (or later) to win. … It was their major-league-most seventh win when trailing after eight innings. … B.J. Upton got his sixth career walkoff hit.

SHIELDS UP: Shields said his primary concern in his start tonight is getting a win to keep the Rays' slim playoff hopes alive. Plus, he has already met the one goal he sets for himself, Saturday surpassing 200 innings for the sixth straight season. "It's something I'm really proud of," he said.

BUSINESS CASUAL: Maddon makes it well known that he thinks daily batting practice is overrated and unnecessary. Now he has taken aim at the routine of having players spend hours sitting around the clubhouse by canceling pregame work and allowing them to arrive at their leisure, just to be ready and dressed by 6 p.m. for a 7:10 game.

"There are only so many hours you can spend at the ol' ballpark," he said. "I like when our guys have a life, when they go out and have lunch and hang out like a normal person does. And come to the park and play a good game of baseball without grinding out all this coffee and television shows and card games. That's not really a prerequisite of being a good major-league baseball player."

MISCELLANY: Lightning coach Guy Boucher, with free time given the lockout, will throw out the first pitch tonight as part of the Lightning's 20th anniversary celebration. … LHP Theron Geith, 0-3, 2.98 in middle relief for Class A Charlotte, was sent to Houston to complete the trade for OF Ben Francisco. …The deadline on a plea offer in RHP Matt Bush's DUI hit-and-run case was extended from Thursday so the defense can receive the full evidence discovery. … The Rays trail the season series with Boston 9-7.

Tampa Bay Rays pitchers close in on AL season strikeout record 09/20/12 [Last modified: Friday, September 21, 2012 12:38am]

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