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20 years of the Rays: The 20 weirdest moments

20/20 Vision: The 20 weirdest moments in Rays history.
The Devil Rays and Red Sox are on the baselines as fireworks go off at Tropicana Field before the start of the 1999 home opener. [Times files (1999)]
The Devil Rays and Red Sox are on the baselines as fireworks go off at Tropicana Field before the start of the 1999 home opener. [Times files (1999)]
Published Mar. 25, 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.

Here are the team's weirdest 20 minutes.

• Joe Maddon with black hair, as a prelude to the Johnny Cash-themed road trip was a little disturbing. But Lou Piniella with blonde highlights? That was quite the sight. Keeping a promise to his players if they strung together three meager wins in his first 2003 season, Piniella was fit to be dyed, and sat through stylist Wilber Bonilla's 45-minute procedure.

• A 15-game losing streak in 2002 was traced by radio broadcaster Paul Olden to horror novelist Stephen King being at the Trop for the first loss. It escalated into a jinx-breaking ritual of Rays players sticking push pins into a copy of his aptly titled book, Misery. King's reply? They should have used The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, which he considered his "jinx book."

• Coincidence, you decide? The final plays for the Rays and Red Sox in their Game 162s in 2011 featured Evan Longoria homering for the Rays over the left-field wall that was lowered so Carl Crawford could make more leaping catches, Crawford not being able to make a sliding catch for the Red Sox, allowing Baltimore's winning run to score.

• The Rays got what they thought was the final out in a May 2000 game against the Orioles and headed to the clubhouse. Some players had already started to take off their uniforms when they got word that the call at first base had been changed. They had to get dressed, go back out and get the third out again.

• The Rays and Red Sox have had a long history of brawls, but nothing has matched the wild Aug. 29, 2000, game when eight Rays — five players, two coaches and manager Larry Rothschild — were ejected. All while Pedro Martinez, who hit leadoff man Gerald Williams to set the ugly tone, took a no-hitter into the ninth.

• Outfielder Jason Tyner was optioned to Triple-A a few days before a scheduled 2002 bobblehead giveaway — yes, Jason Tyner had a bobblehead, which teammate Steve Cox was already calling "the only life-sized bobblehead." — and though a few got out as collector's items the team eventually donated them for use at Enterprise Village, a hands-on economic education learning experience for students. The Rays had a similar situation, but more lead time, when catcher Toby Hall also was sent down.

• The first-time World Series experience wasn't quite as thrilling for the Rays as some others. Consider that they had to deal with the hostile treatment by Philadelphia fans and brutally cold and wet weather conditions. The start of Game 3 was delayed, then there was the 46-hour interruption before completing Game 5, during which they had to find new hotel space, ending up in Wilmington, Del., which was good work by travel director Jeff Ziegler given limited options.

• Promotions whiz Mike Veeck was so excited to have fireworks inside the Trop before the 1999 home opener. But it didn't seem like such a bright idea when the Rays lost in part because two runs scored on a third-inning fly ball their outfielders couldn't see — due to the lingering smoke.

• Upset the Red Sox weren't playing any music during batting practice at Fenway Park in 2012 in escalation of some silly tit for tat drama, Rays outfielder B.J. Upton brought out a boom box hooked up to an extension cord run from the dugout.

• Pitcher Andy Sonnanstine got to bat in a May 2009 game at the Trop when the Rays submitted a lineup card with both Ben Zobrist and Evan Longoria at third, meaning they lost their designated hitter.

• No team had led a game by eight runs and ended up losing by at least nine until the Rays did so in 1999 against Cleveland, turning a 10-2 advantage into a 20-11 loss. Then they did it again in 2005 against the Yankees.

• When Tropicana Field opened for baseball in 1998, stadium officials and architects said the catwalks that ring the stadium would never come into play. In 20 seasons, they've been hit 161 times by fair balls, including five that got stuck. Minnesota's Miguel Sano in 2016 hit a ball that struck the roof.

• The Rays won a 2004 game on an odd obstruction call, Crawford waved home from third when the umps ruled Seattle shortstop Jose Lopez intentionally blocked Crawford of leftfielder Raul Ibanez's catch. Odder, Crawford had bluffed tagging up and was heading back to the base.

• Pitcher Dewon Brazelton nearly missed a 2003 start at Yankee Stadium when he got on a subway headed the wrong direction and first went to Brooklyn rather than the Bronx.

• Three Rays minor-leaguers in St. Petersburg for 2000 instructional league were leaving Tyrone Square Mall when they ended up apprehending a man who robbed a nearby bank.

• Typically business-suited boss Vince Naimoli created quite a stir when he showed up at a 2001 news conference in a Hawaiian shirt and said with the hiring of a chief operating officer he would be stepping back and spend time traveling and skiing. Respected baseball exec John McHale Jr. was hired as COO but it didn't last as Naimoli soon announced he would reassume full control. McHale was gone in less than a year.

• In a span of less than a year, the Rays were no-hit three times — perfect gamed by Mark Buehrle of the White Sox on July 23, 2009, in Chicago; perfect-gamed by Dallas Braden of the A's on May 9, 2010, in Oakland; no-hit by ex-mate Edwin Jackson of the D-backs on June 25, 2010, at the Trop.

• One of Piniella's most public outbursts wasn't caused by what one of his players did, but what he didn't, specifically that Ben Grieve didn't contest an obviously bad third-strike call on a Mariano Rivera pitch to end a 4-3 loss with the tying run on third. Worse, when Piniella confronted Grieve in plain view in the dugout, Grieve said, "It doesn't matter," which was clearly the wrong answer. "After we busted our (butt) out there for nine innings trying to win a baseball game, and it doesn't matter?" Piniella said. "It matters to me, and it matters to a lot of damn people in this clubhouse."

• Reliever Wayne Gomes wanted a job in spring 2003 and figured the Rays provided the best chance, so he pulled into the parking lot of the Naimoli complex around 5:30 and waited — nearly four hours — for Piniella to make a personal appeal. It worked, initially, as he got signed to a minor-league deal, but was released about a month later.

• Besides all the beer and champagne spilled in their four trips to the playoffs, there were two noteworthy toasts in team history. The first, led by Piniella in 2004, when they won 70 games for the first time. The other, a motivational ploy by the always calculating Maddon, who eschewed the big words that led the team PR staff to compile a Joe-cabulary list, to respond to their 0-5 start by using a bottle of Charbay whiskey and a sleeve of plastic cups to acknowledge "the best" winless team in baseball history. They lifted glasses again in October as the first AL to make the playoffs out of that big a hole.

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