BOSTON — As they seek to secure a third straight trip to the postseason, the Rays over the past week or so have been bouncing between having the top record in the American League to matching the Giants and Dodgers for the best in the game.
Last Wednesday, the TV network owned by Major League Baseball ran a graphic using an advanced metric to identify the top five offensive players in the game since mid-June. In the box for Rays second baseman Brandon Lowe, there was a photo of Josh Lowe, an unrelated, promising outfield prospect at Triple-A Durham.
The next night, MLB Network picked up the Red Sox’s NESN feed of the game at Tropicana Field. With Yandy Diaz batting in the fifth inning, the on-screen graphic identified him as Nelson Cruz, who was two spots ahead of him in the order that night.
Those mistakes came only a few days after worldwide sports leader ESPN tweeted an update on Wander Franco’s on-base streak — captured in several screenshots circulating on social media — with a photo of Diaz before correcting its error.
And that was a couple weeks after Tony Kornheiser, the longtime host of ESPN’s popular Pardon the Interruption show, delivered the T-shirt-inspiring soliloquy about how the Rays “are not interesting, nor are they charismatic in any way.”
Scroll back further, and there are other notable slights that stood out.
Last year, ESPN referred to then-top Rays lefty starter and 2018 AL Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell as “Ian” and reliever Pete Fairbanks as “Patrick.” A mistake on an MLB Network graphic a couple of years ago called infielder Joey Wendle “Mendle” — which at least spawned his clubhouse nickname.
Not to mention the occasional references to the team — including as recently as Monday on the Fenway Park video board — as the Devil Rays, which they haven’t been named since the 2008 re-branding. Or the TV talkers calling the team Tampa, rather than Tampa Bay, and/or saying it plays in Tampa, not St. Petersburg.
It’s enough to set off some members of the organization (including one uniformed Ray who recently went on an epic rant but asked that his name not be used) and amuse others.
“I want us to get the same respect the other 29 major-league teams are accorded,” said bullpen coach Stan Boroski, the longest-serving member of the coaching staff. “I want the same respect that everybody else gets. That’s all. Is that not fair?
Centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier, the longest-tenured Rays player, sees it both ways.
“As players, individually, there’s times where you want recognition and just say, ‘You know what? I deserve more respect for this or that,’” he said. “And from a team standpoint, what we’ve been doing and having these things kind of happen over and over, yeah, I mean, it’s tiresome.
“Just because it’s like, what more do we have to do to just be in that certain category of respect that other organizations earned throughout many years? A lot of other organizations have been around a lot longer than we have here. But still, at the same time, it’s not ‘What have you done for me lately?’ Well, we’ve been really freaking good lately.
“To have these things where they get the names, or people mixed up, from major networks who are doing this, you wouldn’t see that happen with other teams,” Kiermaier continued. “It’s one of the things where we’re all humans, we all make errors. But at the same time, these things happen with us more than any other team, more times then again, and here we are with one of the best records in baseball.”
Not only lately. Since the start of the 2008 season, the Rays have won more games (1,168 through Monday) than all but three other teams: the Dodgers (1,228), Yankees (1,224) and Cardinals (1,175).
But the slights — large and small — continue. When ESPN chose the Aug. 1 home game against the Red Sox for Sunday Night Baseball, it marked the Rays’ first appearance on the regular-season national showcase since 2014 — and from Tropicana Field since 2011. Even when the Rays do get on the big stage, they typically get second billing.
“I’m not surprised,” said pitcher Chris Archer, a Ray from 2012-18 who returned this year. “And I think that’s what makes us great. We don’t care what other people think. We don’t care if names are mixed up. Because we still like that underdog, that sleeper mentality. It fuels us. Teams that on paper are supposed to be way better than us, we execute a higher level and we win most of those games. So it motivates you. And it definitely doesn’t bring you down. It’s laughable at this point.”
Pitcher Michael Wacha, new to the Rays this year (after seven years with the Cardinals and one with the Mets), also has noticed.
“I definitely think that people don’t give us enough credit for what we’re doing down here in St. Pete,” he said. “But it is what it is. And we can’t force people to come watch us or take our side, but we can keep proving them wrong and keep playing the ball that we play.”
So what in the name of Rodney Dangerfield — if you’re old enough to know, you know; if not, Google him — do the Rays have to do to get some respect?
As Kiermaier likes to say, the answer is on the field.
“Our opposition knows who we are and they know what we can do,” he said. “We know we’re dangerous. Everyone in the baseball world, who has any wherewithal, or knowledge of the game, knows what we’re about and what we’ve done.”
Holding up a World Series trophy at the end of the year could help convince some of the others.
“That’s the plan,” Wacha said. “For sure.”
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