On Opening Day the Tampa Bay Rays had the second lowest payroll in Major League Baseball and after losing a number of key players from 2010 they weren't supposed to be a factor in the rugged AL East.
Surely a team with a payroll of just over $41 million couldn't compete with the $200 million Yankees or the $161 million Red Sox. This became even more evident after the Rays promptly dropped eight of their first nine games of the season. Carl Crawford was in Boston. Matt Garza and Carlos Pena were in Chicago. Manny Ramirez was in hiding. Well it was a nice three year stretch from 2008-2010.
But if the Rays weren't supposed to be competitive somebody forgot to tell them.
At the All-Star break the Rays were eight games above .500. However the Rays stumbled to open the second half and on August 2 they were 56-52. It had been a nice run but Tampa Bay was 11 games behind Boston. Hopelessly behind. Then came a five game winning streak. Then another.
September 3 and the Rays were nine games behind the Red Sox for the AL wild card. Nine back with 25 to play. No chance. And then the Rays swept the Red Sox in St. Petersburg. One week later they took three of four in Boston. On Monday the Rays pulled into a tie with the Red Sox. Bringing us to the regular season finale. In the 8th inning against the Yankees Tampa Bay was down 7-0. Hopeless. No chance. One inning later: tie game.
Then in an incredible two minute stretch the Red Sox blew a ninth inning lead to Baltimore while Evan Longoria hit the game winning homer in the 12th. The Tampa Bay Rays...the wildest of wild cards.
To do what the Rays did this season was nothing short of unbelievable but perhaps the most impressive accomplishment was proving once again that size of payroll does not always correlate to number of wins. Spending $200 million isn't necessary when you have a fertile farm system, quality starting pitching and a first-rate manager (plucked from the Mike Scioscia family tree I might add.) The playoffs begin Friday and the $41,053,571 Rays will be there.