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More and more, Rays officials are blaming this season's disappointing finish on their poor start, a 9-14 April they consider the product of a 2008 hangover.

The Rays knew such a thing was possible - manager Joe Maddon lived it with the Angels after their 2002 championship - and thought they had it covered, in their work schedule and their words.

In retrospect, they're not sure all the boys believed them.

"Through your own life experience, or as a parent dealing with your kids, you know that most of the time, regardless of all the good information or advice in advance, people still have to live through the moment to figure it out," Maddon said.

"So in spite of all the good intentions of averting what happened, it happened anyway. But now I'd like to believe having gone through that process that we'll be better suited to handle it in the future, where people are going to say, 'Listen, that's right, we just can't expect it to be the same way all over again.'"

There were a few moments, Maddon said with no details, where he had to "intervene" as players were too caught up in last season's success.

But the specific point is the most obvious - having the sense of urgency from the beginning of the season. Sixteen games in, the Rays already were 5 1/2 games out of first, more than at any point in 2008, and they never got caught up.

"I really believe with a better April, we would have shown better toward the end right here," Maddon said. "If you're in a better position toward the end, you're going to find that energy that you need, where at least you're even or close.

"The thing we're finding out is that if you're constantly fighting from behind, it's difficult to catch up and then surpass, because there is so much energy involved in catching up itself. So I think the lesson to be learned for this year, hopefully for all of us, is the importance of getting off to a good start."