FORT MYERS — The 19 spring wins don't really get them anything, unless there's a call from Gov. Charlie Crist for being the best in the Grapefruit League or maybe an afternoon toast of salty dogs, greyhounds, sea breezes or some other grapefruit juice concoction.
But if you listened to the Rays talk during and after the 10-3 win over the Twins that gave them a team record total of exhibition victories — and, at 19-7-2 a "magic number" of two for the majors' best mark — it could mean everything when the games count starting Tuesday.
"It's great to come off the spring with that feeling of being winners and just keep it rolling; I think it's perfect," first baseman Carlos Peña said. "That's why I think this winning record in spring is just going to serve us well. An object in motion already, it's easier to push in the same direction. … So this momentum, that's what it's all about. Get it all going in a positive direction. I'm pleased with it. And I think we're poised to keep it going."
"We've said we want to have a great spring training, we want to play well in spring training," Ben Zobrist said. "That's what we've done as a team. That makes a big difference going into the first game. We talk about the importance of getting off to a good start. This is about as good as we could have expected spring to go to be ready for that first game."
It's typical for teams to frame the importance of their spring based on how it goes — win a lot and say it matters, lose often and say it doesn't.
But the Rays do have some recent history to draw on:
In 2008, they went a team-record 18-8-2 in the spring, had a winning April and went to the World Series.
In 2009, they went 15-16-1, had a losing April and went home.
With that in mind, Peña said, the players met before the start of the exhibitions to discuss the importance of winning in the spring, of their intent and expectation to make winning a habit. And they continued their interest, with veterans sticking around to see how games turn out and, if they were off, asking the next day how it came out.
"It's just a habit. And that habit carries over into the season," Peña said. "Yes, it happened in '08, that's a perfect example. You don't turn it off and on. That's just the way we play, that's our intent, that's what we come out to do."
Playing without a switch is one of the concepts manager Joe Maddon preaches throughout the spring. Another is focusing on individual improvement and team concepts, and he likes what he has seen. Wednesday was illustrative as they pitched well, got clutch hits in key situations, made dazzling plays.
Not that he doesn't like the winning either, but Maddon, noting that many spring games are decided in late innings by minor-league players, is more pleased with the overall nature of their performance.
"I love the way we're playing," he said.
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.