PORT CHARLOTTE — The Rays put considerable effort and emotion into winning the 2010 American League East title, battling to the final day of the season then rallying in extra innings to beat out the Yankees by one game.
But Sunday, New York GM Brian Cashman said his team wasn't trying — and that the championship "really meant nothing more than a T-shirt and a hat."
Rays officials, who take great pride in the two division championships they consider the ultimate measure of success, were limited in their response.
"Our focus," team president Matt Silverman said, "is on 2012 and the challenges and opportunities that it will bring."
Cashman, speaking as Yankees camp opened in Tampa, was talking about the potential new playoff format that adds a second wild-card team and puts a considerable premium on winning the division, since the two wild cards would meet first.
He said since that wasn't the case in 2010, his team was more concerned with getting ready for the postseason — and facing the Twins rather than the Rangers, and was willing to give up homefield advantage to do so. (Yankees manager Joe Girardi, for what it's worth, had previously refuted this.)
"We conceded the division two years ago cause of the previous setup," Cashman said. "I'm not taking away from Tampa Bay's Eastern Division title, but we didn't try to win the division. We tried to line up ourselves for the playoffs, and that worked.
"We wound up sweeping Minnesota and going to play the Texas Rangers two years ago because we got our guys healthy and ready to go. Because, the division title, in essence — the way the wild-card situation was sitting, it was rendered meaningless the way the setup was. Whether you're a wild card or division champ, it really meant nothing more than a T-shirt and a hat."
The Rays obviously felt differently, going 12 innings on the final day to win the title outright (though they had the tiebreaker when the Yankees lost earlier), then celebrating it. "It meant a whole lot to us," manager Joe Maddon said then. "Just to validate the whole thing, to get one more win than the other team."
MLB officials have until March 1 to announce if the new format will take effect this season.
BANNER DAYS: The Rays will add a banner marking last year's wild-card berth to the two AL East banners that hang at Tropicana Field. The design has not been finalized, but it is likely to be similar.
TICKET INFO: In advance of Saturday's launch of single-game ticket sales, the Rays are offering an "early access" presale starting at 10 a.m. today via raysbaseball.com, with tickets available for prices "that start" at $10 above the regular cost. There is also a Friday presale for season-ticket holders and Rays Insider subscribers.
MISCELLANY: Maddon and executive VP Andrew Friedman will hold their spring-opening media session at noon today. … The 30 pitchers and eight catchers on the spring roster are due to check in at the Charlotte Sports Park today in advance of Tuesday's first official workout. … LHP J.P. Howell was the only unexpected no-show at FanFest.