The Tampa Bay Rays took over first place by way of three exciting and dramatic wins out of four games against the Yankees this week at Tropicana Field. Now read the beginning of this statement again just to verify that it was said and that it’s true. The early success is happening and could pay big dividends later on. The starting rotation has pitched extremely well during these last two weeks, as well as the bullpen (though they did away with two possible Edwin Jackson wins, which the team won anyway). Jackson now has 15 scoreless innings in his last two starts. Scott Kazmir is back strong, and James Shields is as great as he has ever been. They have won games that, in 2007 or before, they absolutely would have lost. Even Derek Jeter, who should have some knowledge on this subject, said the Rays play differently now and have a new attitude of confidence. Hank Steinbrenner saw this, too–he told his Yankees to play like the Rays, so clearly they’re doing a lot of things right. Looking at the current standings further reveals this to be true. They recovered from a game-tying ninth inning home run by Hideki Matsui to beat New York. They have held on to slim leads to win games, regardless of the score or game situation. The Rays have started getting the walk-off hits that other teams have become accustomed to getting against them. It’s a winning formula that should only be improved upon for years to come. They swept the Angels right back to Los Angeles of Anaheim, then won that critical Yankees series while Boston faltered against Baltimore. Now they have gone and taken the first interleague game of the year, beating the Cardinals behind Andy Sonnanstine (8 IP, 8 H, 1 ER, 4 K; 2-3, R). And so the trend continues.
The Rays finish the Cardinals series Sunday, then go out to Oakland to face what’s left of the A’s once the Braves are finished with them. Actually, the A’s have had one of the few surprisingly good starts this season. Let’s just see that it takes a brief detour. So until next time, go first place Rays.