2008 Rays celebrate for 10-year anniversary
1997 and 2008 were the years that both Florida MLB teams, the Marlins and Tampa Bay Rays, experienced the World Series for the first time. The only silver lining between those two magical years was Cliff Floyd.
After a 2007 season that looked like just another downtrodden rebuilding season for Devil Rays, Principal Owner Stuart Sternberg made a promise to add to the payroll by targeting free agents to help a young core that looked like they were ready to break out.
“We had a great run at the end of the  season to really hold our hat on going into the next season,” said Scott Kazmir during the anniversary press conference. “Picking up [Eric] Hinske, picking up [Cliff] Floyd, those guys really mentored us throughout that year and it made it fun for us. It really did.”
At the end of 2007, they knew they had two good starting pitchers in Kazmir and James Shields. Tampa Bay added a third in Matt Garza in a trade that also brought in shortstop Jason Bartlett. After accruing free agents such as Floyd, Hinske, Troy Percival and Gabe Gross, the Rays ditched the “devil” donned new, clean uniforms and flipped their record from 66-96 to 97-65 in 2008.
Each of the five starting pitchers won at least 11 games and Percival converted 28 saves in his last good season of his career. Carlos Pena led the Rays with 31 home runs but Evan Longoria was the MVP with a .272/.343/.531 slash line with 27 home runs and 85 RBI in his rookie year.
The Rays defeated the Chicago White Sox in four games during the American League division series and the defending World Series champion Boston Red Sox in an epic seven game American League Championship Series to reach the World Series. After 10 miserable seasons of baseball in Tampa Bay, 2008 turned Tropicana Field into a cowbell banging postseason party.
“In 02 with the A’s, we went to play the Twins in the playoffs and that Metrodome was so loud we couldn’t hear each other talk, and it was the same way here in 08,” reliever Chad Bradford said on Sun Sports. “It was so loud, you couldn’t talk to somebody on the bench next to you but it brought so much energy to the playoff game. It was so much fun.”
The Rays fell to the Philadelphia Phillies in six five games in the World Series, but bringing it to Tampa Bay after a decade of futility was miraculous. It was fitting that the Rays, who had the best home record in baseball that season, won their last home game in Game 2 of the World Series.
Since that season, the Rays went to the playoffs in 2010, 2011 and 2013. Infielder Elliot Johnson described that period of Rays baseball as “the golden era.” That era spawned a template that is still being used to this day. Making sure the starting pitchers were under the age of 30 and maintain one of the best farm systems in baseball so that the team isn’t being built by costly free agents but fortified by them when the time is right.
“It set the blueprint, I think, for what you’ve seen in Major League Baseball and in all of sports.” Sternberg said during the anniversary press conference. “From the franchise’s standpoint, if not for what these guys did together in 08, we would not have had the success we had since then.”
This year’s Rays team is fielding the highest amount of rookies in the American League and are above .500 while having a farm system that is ranked the 4th best in baseball by MLB Pipeline. Melvin Upton Jr., known as “BJ” at the time, sees similarities between his 2008 team and the current Rays team.
“They’re young, they’re talented, they got a little swag to them and a little bit of attitude also,” Upton told Sun Sports. “That always makes a good combination.”
Shields, who is now with the Chicago White Sox, called the 2008 team, “The best group of guys I’ve ever been a part of.” He will pitch against the Rays on Sunday.