ST. PETERSBURG — Manager Kevin Cash paused, smiled, then pretty much passed on the bait of responding to Yankees counterpart Aaron Boone calling the Rays the “big, bad No. 1 seed” in their upcoming American League Division Series.
“Sure, yeah, that’s interesting,” Cash said Friday.
Yeah, sure, it was.
The Rays were the better team this season by far, finishing with an American League-best 40-20 record. Their 8-2 domination of the Yankees was a big part of the seven-game spread between the teams.
But Boone’s spin game aside, the Rays know from experience they are very much the lesser attraction — among the network TV talkers, national media, out-of-market fans and bettors — in this best-of-five matchup that starts Monday night with an 8:07 p.m. first pitch.
“That’s just the way it always is,” Rays veteran centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier said. "You know, that’s okay. We’re a small-market team with a low payroll, not a whole lot of household names, but with a lot of very good, above-average, quality major-league baseball players. One through 28, or however many roster spots we’re allowed, we know we can play with anyone. We know we can beat anyone.
“They’re a big-market team. Everyone knows the Yankees. Huge payroll. And we’re just here trying to go and play our game. I feel like we’re always that team just waiting in the weeds. Don’t get a whole lot of recognition for the most part. But it’s okay with us because at the end of the day we win ballgames. We know we’re darn good at that.”
Getting overlooked is one thing.
Getting slighted and/or misidentified is another.
Reliever Pete Fairbanks called out ESPN last week for on-screen graphics from the playoff opener that referred to him as Patrick and 2018 AL Cy Young award winner Blake Snell as Ian.
“I feel like Pete kind of nailed it,” said second baseman Brandon Lowe, whose last name (which he pronounces to rhyme with “wow”) is often said incorrectly. “It’s just what we expect at this point. … It is what it is now. … We kind of laugh at it and move on.”
With Monday’s opener in prime time, and other games expected to be, the Rays may have a chance to make a name for themselves.
“To go out there, there’s always that opportunity to show people we’re a legit contender, and we’ve been good for quite some time. It’s not a shock to anybody in our clubhouse,” Lowe said. “But maybe it will get out there with the nationally televised games.”
Fifty Rays minor-leaguers are back on the field in Port Charlotte for a modified instructional league camp after spending most of the past 6 1 /2 months on their own.
The group includes all six 2020 draft selections, led by first-rounder pitcher Nick Bitsko and infielder Alika Williams; and top 2019 picks infielder Greg Jones and pitchers J.J. Goss and Seth Johnson. Also: mlbpipeline.com No. 4-ranked prospect infielder Xavier Edwards, No. 15 outfielder Moises Gomez, No. 16 outfielder Nick Schnell, and No. 21 infielder Pedro Martinez, recently acquired from the Cubs. Of note, Ford Proctor a 2018 third-round pick as an infielder, is working as a catcher.
Intrasquad games will start around Oct. 12, and there will be some games against other teams working around COVID-19 protocols. Some top prospects are not there as they are either with the big-league team as part of the postseason player pool (like Wander Franco, Vidal Brujan, Shane McClanahan, Brent Honeywell, Ronaldo Hernandez, Josh Fleming) or were working out the past two months as part of the 60-player pool (Joe Ryan, Josh Lowe, Taylor Walls, Kevin Padlo).
Interesting thought as players finished Friday’s workout at Tropicana Field: Who and how many won’t be back on that field next spring as a Ray? ... Looking for an NL team to root for? Going by the number of ex-Rays, it could be the Marlins (Jesus Aguilar, Brad Boxberger, Corey Dickerson, Matt Joyce, Ryne Stanek) or Padres (Wil Myers, Emilio Pagan, Tommy Pham, Jake Cronenworth). … Besides eating whole doughnuts in one bite, Fox Sports Sun pre- and post-game analyst Doug Waechter showed another skill, predicting in a preseason segment that the Rays would finish 40-20. (His wife, Kristin, posted the clip on Facebook with the addendum: “For the record … he is not always right.”) … Postseason games move exclusively to network TV, but remain on local radio, so Andy Freed, Dave Wills and Neil Solondz will still have the call, though remotely again for the division series. … So long to the Princeton (W. Va.) Rays, as the whole rookie-level Appalachian League was dropped by Major League Baseball and will become a collegiate summer league. Kiermaier and Snell were among the current Rays to play there. … Sad news with the recent passing of Jerry Oliver, who was the first general manager of what is now called Tropicana Field and led the effort to bring in the 1999 Final Four.