ST. PETERSBURG - In years past the Rays and their fans have always been looking for that proverbial light at the end of the tunnel only to be disappointed year after year after year. Not so in 2008.
A fresh new look with uniforms, colors and name and a 3-3 road trip in Baltimore and New York have some buzzing about the possibilities.
A little offense in the final two games against the Yankees and you might have been looking at five wins in six tries but as manager Joe Maddon said before the game with the Mariners, it is a continuation of spring training, one he was very pleased with.
With the game sold out, the fans got their first look at what many believe is the best team ever assembled, even though there are some parts out of service, so to speak.
Before batting practice there are usually a lot of media gathered in front of the dugout, however, there was an unusually high number of onlookers Tuesday. One would say it was due to Opening Night but the truth was the featured attraction, Scott Kazmir on the mound throwing to live hitters.
The catcher's mitt popped on balls that were not hit, which were few and far between. Fastballs clocked in the low 90's consistently, curves and some very good changes.
"He threw the ball well," said Maddon. "We were very encouraged by what we saw today."
As he headed up the runway to the clubhouse to see what the next phase of his recovery will be, the answer to the big question will come tomorrow: how will he feel after throwing today.
"Right now we have another live BP session scheduled," Kazmir said. "Besides that, I'm just happy that I got back out on the mound facing some hitters. Everything felt good, everything felt strong."
Meanwhile, James Shields will hold down the fort as the #1, which is not too bad a place to start on any staff.
IT'S THE PITCHING STUPID: According to skipper Joe Maddon, the reason for the Rays relative success on the road has been about the pitching. "I thought we pitched pretty well throughout," he said. "Much better strike throwing, we didn't walk as many people and made pitches when they had to." Maddon thought the defense was terrific and the hitting the final two game was somewhat affected by the weather.
AGING GRACEFULLY: For many years the Rays were usually ranked as one of the youngest teams in the majors but that is beginning to change. Entering this season the team has an average age of 28.58, seventh behind the Diamondbacks, Athletics, Twins, Marlins, Braves, and Angels.
A GRAND NUMBER: Carl Crawford is approaching a career milestone as he is six hits away from 1,000 entering the homestand. Of the 994, 74 of them are triples and according to the Elias Sports Bureau, over the last 60-years there are only two players to have that many when reaching the thousand mark: Gary Templeton (76) and Lance Johnson (74).
JONNY BE GOOD: His two round-trippers on the road trip gives Jonny Gomes 60 for his career tying him with Greg Vaughn for fourth on the rays all-time homer list. Only Aubrey Huff (128), Fred McGriff (99) and Carl Crawford (62) have more.
INTERESTING FACTOID: In their last 254 games the Rays have had just one pitcher start a game who was in his 30's. Since June 26, 2006, Jae Seo was that pitcher and he did it on his 30th birthday. Prior to that is was mark Hendrickson.
MINOR MATTERS (Organizational Record: 8-12, .400)
DURHAM (2-3): The Bulls won their second game of the season knocking off Columbus 11-5. Lefty Mike Prochaska allowed just one run and four hits over five innings. Evan Longoria broke out of his slump with three hits and RBI after starting 0-15. Fernando Perez was 3-6 with a pair of triples and four ribbies.
MONTGOMERY (2-3): The Biscuits dropped a 9-4 decision to Chattanooga Monday. Pitching was not a strong point as the staff combined to give up seven earned runs, 13 hits and walked ten. The offensive star was Josh Asanovich who was 3-4 with two-RBI.
VERO BEACH (3-2): The Devil Rays dropped their second straight as Daytona won 4-3. Brandon Mann worked five innings and was charged with one earned run and five hits. Cesar Suarez was 2-4, an RBI and run scored.
COLUMBUS (1-4): The Catfish were hooked by the Rome Braves 8-6. Jeremy Hall was touched up for five runs and six hits over four frames. Henry Wrigley was 3-4 with a two-base hit.