The Rays have been at this now for 25 seasons, plus three years of prep work between the awarding of the franchise and first pitch.
From the early euphoria through the dark green Devil Rays days, through the missteps of original owner Vince Naimoli and the missed fastballs by the Hit Show, to the remarkable transformation of the Rays under Stuart Sternberg’s group, with the two World Series reached.
Through 3,946 regular-season games (and 1,912 wins), 17,522 runs scored (and 4,075 home runs), 35,138 innings pitched (and 29,145 strikeouts). Plus eight trips to the postseason, with two American League pennants, four AL East titles, seven playoff series (or wild-card game) celebrations, 28 October victories total.
With 45 All-Star selections, four AL rookies of the year, two two-time managers of the year, a pair of Cy Young award winners and a couple of AL Championship Series MVPs. (Also, two Hall of Famers from their inaugural game lineup.)
And one official no-hitter (while being on the other side of six), an MLB record-tying six stolen bases in a game, a half-dozen homers three times. And from this, we picked the 25 greatest moments. Even that phrase is a bit nebulous, in whether the definition is most significant, most dramatic, most surprising or just most, well, great.
We’re sure of only two things: We probably left something out, and you won’t agree with the rankings.
25. Here’s the catch
July 14, 2009
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. (The next year was pretty cool, too, as three Rays were in the AL All-Star starting lineup, with David Price on the mound, Evan Lon- goria at third and Crawford in left.)
24. Start of something
June 22, 2021
There’s a chance time will prove otherwise, but the date Wander Franco made his big-league debut, at age 20, after two years as the game’s top prospect, seems like something worth commemorating. Maybe one day from Cooperstown. Franco, who pulled into the Trop parking lot in a Rolls-Royce, delivered a three-run home run, a double and a walk. The Rays certainly saw enough that season, as five months later they signed him to a record contract for a guaranteed $182 million over 11 years and up to $223 million over 12.
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23. Daring dash
Oct. 7, 2021
Randy Arozarena raced into the postseason spotlight again in the 2021 AL Division Series by stealing home in the opener against the Red Sox. With lefty Josh Taylor on the mound and the Red Sox defense in an exaggerated shift, Arozarena took advantage of being unchecked to record arguably the first straight steal of home in a postseason game since Jackie Robinson in the 1955 World Series. Having gone deep in the fifth, Arozarena also became the first player to hit a home run and steal home in a postseason game.
22. No average Joe
Nov. 15, 2005
Under new ownership after eight dismal seasons, the Rays made a bold move in hiring Joe Maddon as their next manager after parting ways with Lou Piniella. Maddon, known for his creative mind, progressive thinking and funky glasses, had never managed full time at the major-league level, having spent 31 years in the Angels organization. All Maddon did was lead the previously cellar-dwelling Rays to four playoff appearances in six years (including the 2008 World Series) and win two AL manager of the year awards, with a .754-.705 (.517) record over nine seasons.
They made another surprising, and successful, choice when Maddon left, hiring Tampa native Kevin Cash to take over in 2015. Cash has led the Rays to four consecutive playoff berths — including 2020-2021 AL East titles and a second World Series trip — and became the first to win back-to-back AL manager of the year awards, posting a 640-554 (.536) record over eight seasons.
21. Hello, World, again
Oct. 20, 2020
The Rays made a second trip to the World Series 12 years after the first, but there was little pomp and extremely odd circumstance given the pandemic that delayed and cut short the 2020 season. The Rays, after eliminating the Jays and Yankees, clinched the pennant by surviving a seven-games-in-seven-days ALCS against the Astros played in San Diego, then flew to Arlington, Texas, to face the Dodgers in a neutral-site Series. They lost in six games, with a controversial decision by manager Kevin Cash to remove Blake Snell in the sixth inning of Game 6 a factor.
20. Hello, World
Oct. 22, 2008
The community that spent 20 years trying to get in the game was now the center of the baseball universe, as a real, live World Series game was played in St. Petersburg. The Rays, who eliminated the White Sox and Red Sox along the way, went down early and lost the opener with Scott Kazmir on the mound, but got to play again the next day and beat the Phillies behind a strong James Shields outing. It was anything but sunny in Philadelphia as the Rays, playing in miserable weather conditions and an extended delay, lost three straight and were eliminated.
19. Dan the Man
Sept. 9, 2008
Dan Johnson made quite a Rays debut after being called up from Triple-A. Slated to be in the starting lineup at Fenway Park, flight delays from Scranton, Pennsylvania, delayed him enough that manager Joe Maddon had to change plans. Serendipitously, that made Johnson available to pinch hit in the ninth. He delivered a tying homer off Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon, leading the Rays to a win that kept them from dropping out of first place at a key point in their worst-to-first turnaround.
18. Crunch time
March 8, 2008
Minor-leaguer Elliot Johnson crashing into Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli in the ninth inning of a spring game was the first sign the Rays were no longer going to be pushed around. The Rays fought back when the Yankees retaliated four days later, and flexed their muscle and new-found resolve when they got into a wild brawl that June with the Red Sox, all on the way to their first playoff berth.
17. Alex the great
Oct. 2, 2013
After getting hit on the head by a line drive in June, Alex Cobb didn’t know if he would pitch again in 2013. Much less start — and deliver a gritty and dominating performance — in one of the biggest games of the season, working 6 2/3 shutout innings in the wild-card win at Cleveland. Delmon Young and Desmond Jennings had the key hits.
16. Wild times
Oct. 2, 2019
Making it back for a cameo in the regular-season finale after being sidelined since July 22, Yandy Diaz made quite an impact in the 2019 AL wild-card game at Oakland. He homered on the fifth pitch of the game, silencing the previously roaring crowd of 54,005, then again his next time up in the third. That led the Rays to a 5-1 win in their first postseason appearance in six years (and under manager Kevin Cash) and started a streak of four straight years of playing in October.
15. Ice cream social
Oct. 7, 2013
The Rays worked hard to get into the 2013 postseason, but their chances were melting away after dropping the first two games of the best-of-five ALDS in Boston. They seemed to be licked when they blew a one-run lead in the ninth inning of Game 3, but catcher Jose Lobaton served up a walkoff homer, which splashed into the touch tank, to allow them to play another day, then enjoyed his celebratory ice cream, which became a clubhouse thing.
14. Playing overtime
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, who had eliminated them in 2010 and 2011. The reward was a chance to reach the playoffs for the fourth time in six seasons, and 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 against the Rangers by yelling, “That’s what I’m talking about!”
13. Man of steal
May 3, 2009
Carl Crawford was on the run all afternoon, tying a major-league record that still stands, by stealing six bases against Boston. He singled four times and walked once, swiping second five times and third once, and said afterward that had he been aware he would have tried to set a record: “I probably would have broken it if I knew.”
12. Helpful 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, headed by Andrew Friedman and Matt Silverman, took over and promised to do things differently and better. A re-branding and a name-shortening two years later were well received, and their onfield success even more so, as they have made the playoffs eight times in the past 15 seasons.
11. Delivery after a long labor
March 9, 1995
After two decades of trying to secure a franchise, the Tampa Bay area was finally invited to play ball. An ownership group led by Tampa businessman Vince Naimoli — having taken “a path of 10,000 steps, 10,000 phone calls, 10,000 frustrations” — was awarded one of two expansion teams that was to begin play in 1998. “I think,” Naimoli said after the announcement at the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, “this is the greatest day in Tampa Bay history.”
10. Party time
Sept. 20, 2008
It had become a matter of when, not if, but that didn’t dull the excitement. Seeing Evan Longoria cradle a foul popup by the Twins’ Joe Mauer against the stands behind third base, clinching the Rays’ first playoff berth, was breathtaking, especially for those who had been with the franchise through the dark days. The Trop crowd roared, and the party in the clubhouse raged, an impressive showing for first-timers.
9. It’s Randy’s world
Oct. 17, 2020
Having squandered a three-games-to-none lead against the Astros in the ALCS, the Rays needed something in Game 7 to change the momentum. Naturally it came from Randy Arozarena, who continued his record-smashing postseason by delivering a two-run homer in the first inning. That gave the Rays a lead they wouldn’t relinquish in winning their second AL pennant. Arozarena hit .321 with four homers and six RBIs over the week to win the ALCS MVP award, the first rookie position player to do so. And that was all part of his amazing 20-game postseason, where he hit .377 with a record 10 homers and 14 RBIs.
8. A no-no of their own
July 26, 2010
Having been no-hit twice that season, and once the year before, the Rays finally got to do the celebrating. Matt Garza — the 2008 ALCS MVP — threw their first, and in 25 seasons, only official no-hitter, blanking the Tigers in a one-walk, 120-pitch gem. (Five Rays combined to no-hit Cleveland on July 2, 2021, in a scheduled seven-inning second game of a doubleheader, but MLB said it didn’t count as a no-hitter.)
7. In a pinch
Sept. 28, 2011
Evan Longoria’s Game 162, 12th-inning homer understandably is the bigger moment recorded in history, but Dan Johnson made it all possible three innings earlier. Down to his — and the Rays’ — last strike, with the Yankees having a 96 percent win probability, Johnson delivered another dramatic homer, stunning the baseball world in lining a Cory Wade pitch just inside the rightfield pole for a tying homer, setting the stage for the wild ending that sent the Rays to the playoffs.
6. The first first pitch
March 31, 1998
Twenty years of cruel twists and crushing turns in the pursuit of a franchise for Tampa Bay culminated joyously at 5:05 p.m. with a fastball from Wilson Alvarez to Detroit’s Brian Hunter — low and inside — to the delight of a sellout crowd of 45,369 at Tropicana Field. That the Rays lost 11-6 hardly mattered, because this was the start of something.
5. Sweet revenge
Oct. 9, 2020
Mike Brosseau didn’t want to call it revenge, which was fine because everyone else did it for him. Having nearly been hit in the head in by a 101-mph Aroldis Chapman fastball in a Sept. 1 game at Yankee Stadium, the Rays infielder struck back at a most dramatic and opportune time. Facing Chapman with the score tied and one out in the eighth inning of the deciding game of the 2020 ALDS, battling back from an 0-2 count and through 10 pitches, Brosseau blasted a homer to send the Rays to the next round and the Yankees home. “Hands down the greatest moment I’ve been a part of in baseball,” manager Kevin Cash said at the time.
4. A milestone homer
Aug. 7, 1999
Tampa product Wade Boggs came home to make history with the expansion Devil Rays, and that he did, reaching the 3,000-hit milestone in dramatic fashion. He became the first of the then-22 players in the club to gain entry with a home run, going deep off Cleveland’s Chris Haney. 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, then embracing his father, wife and son.
3. Baseball was fun
Oct. 24, 2020
The Rays were winners in one of the wildest-ever endings to a World Series game after trailing 7-6 with two outs and two on in the ninth inning of Game 4 vs. the Dodgers. A single by Seminole native Brett Phillips — who hadn’t had an at-bat in nearly three weeks or a hit in a month — scored the tying run. And as centerfielder Chris Taylor misplayed the ball, Randy Arozarena — after falling down rounding third and getting back up — slid home safely head first, slapping his hand on the plate. Phillips celebrated with an airplane run through the outfield and nearly passed out. It was just the third game in Series history won on a walk-off by a team trailing down to its final out, the Dodgers taking 1988′s Game 1 and 1947′s Game 4.
2. Game 162
Sept. 28, 2011
Evan Longoria hit the modern-day shot heard ‘round the world, his 12th-inning, one-out homer capping a wild comeback from a 7-0 deficit. The Rays not only beat the Yankees but — with the Red Sox loss at Baltimore, on one of the greatest nights in baseball history — clinched the AL wild-card playoff berth and a trip to Texas. 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.
1. ALCS clincher
Oct. 19, 2008
In a climactic Game 7 at Tropicana Field, with the Rays clinging to a 3-1 lead and a man on, 23-year-old rookie lefty David Price threw the pitch, Boston’s Jed Lowrie hit the ground ball, then Akinori Iwamura made the pickup and raced to step on second base. The Rays — the Tampa Bay Rays — won the American League pennant and were going to the World Series. This improbable season, as late radio broadcaster Dave Wills memorably screamed, did indeed have another chapter.
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