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Rays pull triple play, but nobody's out yet

They talked contracts. They talked coaching staffs. They even talked about what kind of Devil Rays team they would like to assemble.

Only two words were left unsaid:

You're hired.

Larry Rothschild, Ted Simmons and Larry Parrish met Tuesday with managing general partner Vince Naimoli and general manager Chuck LaMar for their second round of interviews for the Tampa Bay managerial post.

By nightfall, Parrish was back in Haines City, Simmons had returned to St. Louis, and Rothschild was in New York. And all were hoping to be back in St. Petersburg in the next 72 hours as the first Rays manager.

"It's a feeling of excitement right now, not anxiety. It's nice to feel this way," said Simmons, an Indians scout. "It's almost like being a teenager waiting on a blind date your buddy set up. You're excited, you can't wait to see how it turns out because you're sure you'll have a good time."

The Rays conclude the interview process when Marlins bench coach Jerry Manuel comes in Thursday evening. Manuel will attend his father's funeral today. The fifth finalist, Orioles hitting coach Rick Down, had his second interview Monday evening.

Tuesday, the three candidates, who awakened in three cities, converged at Tropicana Field with this singular goal:

To convince the Devil Rays they are manager material.

It was their initial opportunity to speak in depth with Naimoli, and all hoped they made a good first impression.

"You like to feel like it went well," said Parrish, Detroit's bench coach. "I just think it was a chance for Mr. Naimoli to sort of get a read on what kind of guy I am make-up wise, and would he be comfortable with me running his club."

Naimoli appears more than comfortable with all of the finalists.

"This is a very difficult decision. These candidates are all eminently qualified," Naimoli said Tuesday night. "It's tough. You can't go wrong at this point."

None of the five finalists has previous experience as a big-league manager, which leaves plenty of room for discussion of philosophies and expectations. The second round of interviews also has touched on what role a manager would play in the community.

"I left the room confident they knew what I was about and I understood the organization," said Rothschild, the Marlins' pitching coach.

Rays officials will confer after Manuel's interview and are expected to name a manager Friday or Saturday.

"I've done the best I can to convince them I'm qualified, I'm healthy and I'm the right choice," Simmons said. "I feel good about everything I've said and done. There's nothing I'm going to look back on and say I wish I had said this or said that, or approached this differently."

IT'S OFFICIAL: For the record, Tampa Bay goes big league Thursday.

The official closing of the Devil Rays franchise is set for Thursday in New York with Naimoli in attendance. The final payment of the $130-million franchise fee was made last week.

Among other things, the closing gives the Rays the right to sign players to major-league contracts and place them on the 40-man roster. All current Rays players are signed to minor-league deals.