It wasn’t that long ago that things between the Tampa Bay Rays and New York Yankees were very different. The Yankees were perennial title contenders, going to the postseason every year out of the American League East, and experts from around baseball considered them to be the example teams needed to follow in order to be successful. And the Rays were known as laughing-stocks, the butt of every baseball joke, stacked with over-the-hill veterans and young players that looked like they would fall very short of expectations.
The start of that turnaround began with Elliot Johnson trucking Francisco Cervelli in a Spring Training game in 2008, and we may have seen the culmination this past weekend at Tropicana Field as Tampa Bay took two of three games from the Yankees, a series that saw the Yankees resort to plunking Rays hitters over and over — five in the weekend series, including four in Sunday’s loss — while the Rays held their heads high and understood the outburts for exactly what they were: the flailings of a bottom-dweller.
“It’s a last place team,” second baseman Brandon Lowe said after the game. “We don’t need to worry about it. We need to focus up on what we need to do down the stretch. If they lose a guy, it’s not going to be quite as big of a deal as if we lose one of our guys.”
Lowe and his teammates have learned this lesson as they prepare to make their fifth consecutive postseason appearance this year. Good teams win baseball games, and bad teams have to settle for hitting players on good teams to try and make themselves feel better.
And the tables have turned both on and off the field.
It’s the Rays that teams now look to try an emulate, so much so that big market teams have used Tampa Bay’s template to bring success, with many of them resorting to bringing in people from the front office at the Trop to run their front office. Andrew Friedman won a World Series for Los Angeles, as did James Click during his time in Houston. Even the Boston Red Sox, known for trying to rival the Yankees in their outlandish spending, realized that the path to success resided in Tampa Bay and brought in Chaim Bloom to run their baseball operations.
Meanwhile, the Yankees have held steadfast to spending lavishly, consequences be damned, and the fans in the Big Apple have been forced to watch the baseball world pass their team by. The sight they used to point and laugh at as a joke has become their reflection in the mirror.
It’s not so funny anymore, is it?