ARLINGTON, Texas — You always remember your first time, right?
So the Rays' 2008 run to the World Series — as unexpected as it was, coming off a 96-loss season that was their ninth last-place finish in their first 10 seasons — will always have a special place in team history.
But this 2020 performance, amid the pandemic-delayed and abbreviated season and its extensive protocols, is something, too.
And members of that 2008 squad, which fell in five games to the Phillies, are watching their successors with pride and admiration.
“It’s very special, because of the circumstances of this year, the difficulties of this year and the need for hope,” said Carlos Pena, the 2008 first baseman and current MLB Network analyst. "You know I am a romanticist when it comes to baseball. I appreciate all the numbers, but at the end of the day I am romantic.
“When I look at this, I’m like, Wow, the Rays' story is the one that needs to prevail at the end of the day. Where they, in the most difficult circumstances, when the world needed it the most, to hear the David-Goliath story, the smaller-payroll team still overtaking the old, powerful Dodgers, that’s the story that I think the world needs to hear. Not that the all-powerful continues to win.”
In less, well, romantic terms, other 2008 alums are also pulling for their old team.
Reliever Dan Wheeler
“Really proud of this team with everything they have had to go through. They are an extremely fun team to watch play. It has brought back some great memories of our run. I wish them the best of luck against the Dodgers. Should be a great series. Go Rays!”
Starter James Shields
“They’ve got a really good team, and a really good young team which is a good sign for the next few years, as well. The playoffs have been super exciting for them. They’ve got a fun team to watch. It seems like they have the same type of chemistry that we had in ’08, where they just all get together and really enjoy playing with each other.”
Third baseman Evan Longoria
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"I’m happy for them. To have the opportunity to play for the ultimate trophy is a dream come true. Soak in the moment. It happens fast.''
A couple ex-Rays with southern California ties have mixed feelings.
Reliever J.P. Howell
“I’ve watched those boys compete all year long. I’m relating to their vibe right now, man. So happy they knocked off past cheaters and a great team in Houston. And L.A. is having Hollywood dreams, too, man. They are strong and comfortable. Only one way to shake ‘em is for Rays to take on that role of the villain. Try to disturb throughout. My heart is with both.”
Starter Scott Kazmir
“I’m not going to lie. I have mixed feeling about this series. I’m friends with a handful of guys on the Dodgers and know how hard they’ve worked for this. I would love to see a couple of those veteran guys get a ring. At the same time, Tampa has always been a second home to me. Being a part of that 2008 World Series run, you can’t help but root for Tampa to bring it home. I just know it’s going to be a fun series to watch.”
Pitcher David Price
Price is currently with the Dodgers, though he opted out of playing this season due to the pandemic.
"I think that just really speaks volumes of that organization. I saw the other day that (Yankees general manager) Brian Cashman said that Tampa is a better organization than them right now. For Brian Cashman to say that about another organization, another organization in their division, and that ended their season, that says a lot about what Tampa has been able to do — not only with payroll, but just player evaluation, getting the right guys in that clubhouse.
“You can tell what Tampa has in that clubhouse, in that organization, is very special and guys want to be a part of stuff like that. ... This is going to be a very memorable time, a very special time for all those guys, because they’re going to be sharing this experience for the first time together. That is something unique, and I think those guys are playing with a ton of confidence and a ton of belief, and that’s what you’ve got to have at this point in the season.”