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Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Rays year in review
By MARC TOPKIN
Published October 1, 2006
They stay in some of the finest hotels, fly on chartered jets, get $83.50 a day in meal money, are driven to and from the ballpark and have virtually every need taken care off.
But the Devil Rays just don't like being away from home.
Of all the things that can define the 2006 season, it is the one without definition - or explanation - that will stand out the most: Why a team with a winning record at home (41-40) can't hardly ever win on the road (20-60).
The Rays haven't been just bad. They have, over the past three months, been historically bad.
Like no-one's-ever-been-this-bad-before bad.
The Rays have won three - yes, three - road games from July 1, one a month. That has left them making a strong challenge to Connie Mack's 1945 Philadelphia A's (who were 52-98 overall) and Walter Johnson's 1909 Washington Senators (who were 42-110) as the team with the worst road record over that span:
Year Team W-L Pct.
2006 Rays 3-32 .086
1909 Senators 6-38 .136
1945 A's 6-38 .136
1935 Braves 8-48 .143
1943 A's 7-38 .156
The three road wins after the All-Star break match Mack's 1943 A's (49-105 overall) for the fewest ever, and their 20 overall road wins are the third fewest since baseball went to the 162-game schedule in 1961. The Rays are the first team in history to lose 100 games overall while having a winning home record.
The differential between their home and road winning percentages - 256 points (.506 to .250) - is significant, though it's not even the largest in the majors this season (Milwaukee's is 268, with a home mark of .593, 48-33, and road mark of .325, 26-54) and barely in the top 10 over the past 20 years. But that's because most of the other teams are better at home.
Manager Joe Maddon attributes the breakdowns to inexperience, and the statistical differences show up clearly in some key spots - such as their batting average with runners in scoring position, and team ERA:
W-L 41-40 20-60
Avg. .259 .251
RISP .262 .217
HRs 100 88
Runs 373 313
R/PG 4.60 3.91
ERA 4.67 5.24
Sv/Opp 23/35 10/17
Errors 55 61
Between injuries and trades, the Rays had their projected starting lineup together for only about a month. But it was a good month. From the time Rocco Baldelli returned June 7 until Aubrey Huff was traded during the All-Star break, they were the .500 team some people expected them to be (though they also played 15 games against NL teams, going 8-7):
Dates W-L Pct.
Before Baldelli (4-3 to 6-6) 24-35 .407
With both (6-7 to 7-9) 15-15 .500
After Huff (7-14 to Saturday) 22-50 .306
CHANGE IS GOOD?
With new ownership and management this was going to be a season of change, and injuries and trades made it even more so as the Rays used 49 players (eighth most in the majors), including 25 pitchers (ninth most), and had nine players (sixth most) make their major-league debuts. The number of players who were on the opening day roster and stayed there all season: five! Otherwise, the Rays barely resemble the team that stood on the third-base foul line in Baltimore on April 3.
Out and back
Did not finish
PAINFUL TO WATCH
It didn't take long to realize what kind of season the Rays were in for. Shortstop Julio Lugo was hurt in the first inning of the opener, and by the eighth game, five had left with injuries. At one time, their top shortstop (Lugo), second baseman (Jorge Cantu), third baseman (Aubrey Huff) and centerfielder (Rocco Baldelli) were all on the DL. They didn't go more than three days during the first month without making a roster move and didn't get their projected top lineup on the field until June 7 - their 60th game. Three pitchers in their opening-week rotation were hurt at some point (and the other two were demoted). And so were three closers - Shinji Mori, Dan Miceli and Tyler Walker. Overall, the Rays put 17 players (third most in the majors, according to Stats Inc.) on the DL 18 times (sixth most) and they missed 960 days (sixth most).
Taking an early lead wasn't necessarily a good thing. The Rays blew a major-league-high 93 leads and set an American League record by losing 59 games in which they led - 15 more than the next closest team this season. Overall, they led in 120 of their first 161 games and won only 61.
Turning 25 wasn't the only significant milestone for Carl Crawford, who is in line to lead the AL in steals and triples for the third time each. Crawford, among other things, became the first player in 76 years to have 15 or more triples in three straight seasons, the third player ever to have as many as 50 triples over three seasons, the eighth to have three 50-steal seasons by age 25, the first since Zoilo Versalles in 1963-65 to reach double digits in homers and triples in three straight seasons, the only left-hander besides Ty Cobb to have as many as 202 steals and 749 hits by age 25, the first in at least 50 years to have five hits, steal four bases and score five runs in a game (May 24 in Toronto) and the first AL player in more than 10 years to steal for the cycle - second, third and home in the same game (July 5 vs. Boston).
THE DEVIL RAYS WAY
The Rays have a way of doing things in their own, um, memorable fashion, such as the two triple plays they were involved in:
The June 11 one in Kansas City was only the third in major-league history (and first since 1937) involving an appeal play: Russell Branyan flied to center, Rocco Baldelli was thrown out trying to advance to second, and Aubrey Huff was ruled to have left third early when he tagged up. "I'm part of history; that's great," Huff said, joking. "So that's what I'll be remembered for in this game. Do I get to go to the Hall of Fame?"
Then the one they turned on Sept. 2 against Seattle turned out to be even more special, because it had never been done before: a 2-6-2 combo in which the ball never touched a bat. (It also, according to SABR, was only the second of 664 triple plays that started with a strikeout and involved only two players). After Raul Ibanez was called out on strikes, Dioner Navarro caught Adrian Beltre trying to steal second, then shortstop Ben Zobrist nailed Jose Lopez when he broke for the plate. "I just watched the ball fly around like a snowball fight," pitcher J.P. Howell said.
Among other "interesting" achievements, the Rays:
- Became the first team to lose at least 99 games while having a winning record at home.
- Went hitless in 24 consecutive at-bats with runners in scoring position.
- Lost 10 games on the final pitch (third most in the majors), including grand slam, an error and a bases-loaded walk.
- Went 20 consecutive innings without leaving a man on base.
- Had two innings of five or more runs in the same game twice in a nine-week span after doing it three times in their first 8½ seasons.
- Set team records for both most home wins (41) and fewest road wins (20).
- Gave up two runs on one wild pitch July 2 in Washington, with Nationals pitcher Ramon Ortiz scoring the second run.
- Were the first team since 1933 to walk 14 batters in 10 innings or fewer and win, beating the Yankees on April 26.
Among other things in Joe Maddon's first year as manager, he introduced the world to his hometown of Hazleton, Pa., wore funky black glasses that became a topic of conversation, canceled pregame stretching because it was more like gathering, had the players pay their fines in bottles of wine, eliminated batting practice for day games after night games, unveiled a dramatic shift against Boston's David Ortiz that featured four players across the outfield and three on the right side of the infield, arranged for Xbox video game get-togethers to help the team bond on the road, correctly used words such as ameliorate, amorphic, cower, cavort, disconcerting, paradoxical intention, thin-slicing and transmogrified, and saw "some good things" in every one of the Rays' losses.
0: Times B.J. Upton has gone more than two games without a hit.
2: Rays selected MVP of their minor leagues, Kevin Witt (Triple-A International) and Reid Brignac (Class A California).
3: Winless road trips.
5: Leadoff home runs by Rocco Baldelli, tying the team franchise record shared by Carl Crawford and Randy Winn.
9: Players before Delmon Young in the past 10 years whose first big-league hits at home and on the road were home runs.
11: Homers by Jonny Gomes in April, the 13th big-leaguer to do so.
15: Homers by Ty Wigginton that tied a score or put the Rays ahead.
21: Homers by top draft pick Evan Longoria in 69 pro games.
481/3: Consecutive scoreless minor-league innings to start the season by reliever Juan Salas.
50: Games Young was suspended for throwing a bat at a Triple-A umpire.
612: Days between major-league games for Rocco Baldelli, who returned June 7 from multiple injuries.
230,524: More fans than showed up in 2005, a 20 percent increase and a total of ...
1,372,193: Their best attendance since 2000 but still 29th in the majors.