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20 years of Rays: Greatest moments in franchise history

20/20 Vision: The biggest reasons to celebrate during the Rays' first two decades.
Aki Iwamura, left, and Jason Bartlett celebrate the final out after the Rays defeated the Red Sox in Game 7 of the ALCS to advance to the World Series in 2008. [Times files]
Aki Iwamura, left, and Jason Bartlett celebrate the final out after the Rays defeated the Red Sox in Game 7 of the ALCS to advance to the World Series in 2008. [Times files]
Published Mar. 24, 2018
Updated Mar. 25, 2018

With the Rays planning a year-long celebration of their 20th anniversary, the Times is taking a look back – with 20 lists of 20 things about those first 20 seasons.

Check out the rest of Marc Topkin's coverage here, on:
20 words on the 20th anniversary
20 numbers to remember
The 20 weirdest moments
Tampa Bay's 20 'Forrest Gump moments'
20 years of Rays and 'the things we've loved' about them
Greatest moments in franchise history
Best signings, trades and deals
20 players who surprisingly finished with them
20 players you forgot ever played for them
20 most notable draft picks
20 Things we've hated over the years
The 20 best players
The 20 best quotes
Recounting the 20 most memorable injuries
The 20 worst players
Ranking every season
Here are the 20 greatest moments in Rays history:

1. ALCS CLINCHER, Oct. 19, 2008

David Price threw the pitch, Boston's Jed Lowrie hit the ground ball, Akinori Iwamura made the pickup and raced to step on second base, and the Rays — the Tampa Bay Rays  — were going to the World Series. This improbable season, as radio broadcaster Dave Wills screamed, did indeed have another chapter.

2. GAME 162, Sept. 28, 2011

Evan Longoria hit the modern-day shot heard round the world, his 12th-inning homer capping a wild comeback from a 7-0 deficit as the Rays not only won the game over the Yankees but the American League wild-card playoff berth. Longoria joined Bobby Thomson of the 1951 Giants as the only players to  hit a walkoff homer in the final regular-season game to put his team in the playoffs.

3. THE FIRST PITCH, March 31, 1998

Twenty years of trying to get a team in Tampa Bay and three years of building the franchise under managing general partner Vince Naimoli culminated with a fastball from Wilson Alvarez to Detroit's Brian Hunter — low and inside, but who cared — to the delight of a roaring sellout crowd at Tropicana Field.

4. A MILESTONE HOMER, Aug. 7, 1999

Wade Boggs celebrates after hitting a home run off Cleveland Indians pitcher Chris Haney for hit 3,000th hit. [Times files (1999)]
Wade Boggs celebrates after hitting a home run off Cleveland Indians pitcher Chris Haney for hit 3,000th hit. [Times files (1999)]

Tampa product Wade Boggs came home to make history, and that he did, reaching 3,000 hits in dramatic fashion. He became the first of the then-22 players to reach the milestone to do it with a home run. Boggs made an emotional trip around the bases, saluting his mother, who was killed in a 1986 car accident, then dropping to his knees and kissing home plate.

5. HELLO, WORLD, Oct. 22, 2008

Scott Kazmir's first-pitch strike was one of the few highlights in the 3-2 loss to the Phillies in the World Series opener, but the reality was that there was a real, live World Series game being played in St. Petersburg, Fla. And that alone was pretty amazing.

6. A NO-NO, July 26, 2010

Having been on the wrong end of four no-hitters at the time, the Rays finally got to do the celebrating as Matt Garza blanked the Tigers, walking one in a 120-pitch gem.

7. CALL HIM CY, Nov. 14, 2012

Winning 20 games was a big deal for the Rays' David Price in the 2012 season. A bigger one came when he was voted winner of the American League Cy Young award, the most prestigious individual honor won by a Tampa Bay player to this day.

8. NO AVERAGE JOE, Nov. 15, 2005

After parting ways with disgruntled Lou Piniella, the Rays took what seemed like a chance  in hiring as their next manager Joe Maddon, the Angels bench coach known for his funky glasses and creative thinking. The move turned out to be brilliant. Maddon led the Rays to four playoff appearances in six years and won two AL manager of the year awards.

9. HERE’S THE CATCH, July 14, 2009

Carl Crawford holds the MVP trophy after the American League defeated the National League in the 2009 All-Star Game. [AP Photo/Jeff Roberson]
Carl Crawford holds the MVP trophy after the American League defeated the National League in the 2009 All-Star Game. [AP Photo/Jeff Roberson]

Carl Crawford headlined the Rays' large contingent — five players, manager Joe Maddon and the full coaching staff — at the 2009 All-Star Game by earning MVP honors, primarily for a spectacular home-run-robbing catch.

10. WINNING LOSS, Sept. 26, 2008

Losing to the last-place Tigers wouldn't be cause for celebration, but the Rays came back to Comerica Park later that night, after the Red Sox's rain-delayed loss to the Yankees was complete, and popped bottles to enjoy winning their first American League East title.

11. EAST BEASTS AGAIN, Oct. 3, 2010

Postseason success gets the headlines, but the true accomplishment is winning a division title over a six-month grind. So it was fitting the Rays worked overtime to win their second in three years, getting word they had clinched with a Yankees loss but rallying to beat the Royals in 12 — "to validate the whole thing," manager Joe Maddon said — and return home to an airport greeting.

12. EXTRA TIME, Sept. 30, 2013

The Rays had to win on the final day of the season in Toronto for the right to fly to Texas for a Game 163 playoff with the Rangers to reach the playoffs for the fourth time in six seasons. Their two biggest stars stepped up in a 5-2 win in the 14th tiebreaker game in MLB history. Evan Longoria hit a two-run homer and David Price pitched a complete game, punctuating the final out by yelling "That's what I'm talking about."

13. IN A PINCH, Sept. 28, 2011

The Rays celebrate in the dugout after Dan Johnson’s game-tying home run against the Yankees. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
The Rays celebrate in the dugout after Dan Johnson’s game-tying home run against the Yankees. [DIRK SHADD | Times]

Evan Longoria's Game 163 homer understandably is the moment recorded in history, but Dan Johnson made it all possible three innings earlier. Down to his, and the Rays', last strike, Johnson stunned the crowd — and staggered the Red Sox all the way in Baltimore — with a liner that tucked just inside the rightfield pole for a tying homer.

14. DAN THE MAN, Sept. 9, 2008

Triple-A callup Dan Johnson was supposed to be in the starting lineup at Fenway Park, but flight delays from Scranton, Pa., delayed him enough that Maddon had to change plans. Serendipitously, Johnson was then available to pinch hit in the ninth and delivered a tying homer off Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon as the Rays went on to win a game that kept them from dropping out of first place.

15. CRUNCH TIME, March 8, 2008

The significance wasn't immediately obvious, but minor-leaguer Elliot Johnson crashing into Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli in the ninth inning of a spring game set the stage for a season-long effort to show the Rays were no longer going to be pushed around.

16. WELCOME TAKEOVER, Oct. 6, 2005

After spending most of eight seasons as one of the game's least successful and worst-run franchises, the Rays were under new management. The Stuart Sternberg-led group took over and promised to do things differently and better. A re-branding and a name-shortening two years later were well received.

17. STARRY NIGHT, July 13, 2010

The American League All-Star team taking the field in Anaheim, Calif., had a distinct look. Three Rays were among the starting nine: Carl Crawford in left, Evan Longoria at third and David Price on the mound.

18. PARTY TIME, Sept. 20, 2008

It had become a matter of when, not if, but seeing Evan Longoria cradle a foul popup by the Twins' Joe Mauer against the stands behind third base and clinch the Rays' first playoff berth was breathtaking, especially for those who had been with the franchise through the dark days. The party they had in the clubhouse after was pretty good, too.

19. FIRST TIMERS, Feb. 26, 1998

The Rays took the field for the first time as a team, hosting Florida State in the franchise's first exhibition game,  using 30 players in the 6-3 win. (Fun fact: Future Rays player and manager Kevin Cash played in that game for FSU.)

20. HOLA, CUBA, March 22, 2016

Chris Archer shakes hands with Barack Obama before the game between the Rays and the Cuban National Team in 2016 in Havana, Cuba. [Times files]
Chris Archer shakes hands with Barack Obama before the game between the Rays and the Cuban National Team in 2016 in Havana, Cuba. [Times files]

The Rays did their part for international diplomacy, going to Havana for an exhibition against the Cuban national team. Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro were among the 55,000 packed into Estadio Latinoamericano.