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For their own good
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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The Rays wrap up the first half today disappointed with their record and last-place standing but - stop us if you've heard this one before - confident they've made progress that will lead to better times ahead. Here's a look at how it has gone so far:
By Marc Topkin
Published July 8, 2007
1. Such a deal
Executive vice president Andrew Friedman hit big on three bargains, stealing Brendan Harris, who (for now) is their starting SS and No. 3 hitter, in a minor trade with the Reds and giving low-risk deals to veterans 1B Carlos Pena, who for $800, 000 leads the team with 19 homers, and RHP Al Reyes, who for $750, 000 converted 17 of 18 saves before going on the disabled list.
2. Future is now
For all the concern that proceeded him, OF Delmon Young proved to be quite a player with a business-first attitude, an amazing arm and a pace (through Friday) for some impressive numbers: .280 average, 17 homers and 90 RBIs. In a related note, was there really that much debate in the spring about whether B.J. Upton was ready for the big leagues? His monthlong absence has been obvious, and if he hadn't gotten hurt, he might have been an All-Star.
As much doubt as was cast on Japanese import 3B Akinori Iwamura (including on these pages) during an unimpressive spring, he has been even better than the Rays expected: a defensive wizard, offensive spark plug and charismatic personality - when he's on the field.
4. Repeat performances
Even in what he admits has been an off-year, LF Carl Crawford continues to be one of the league's most dynamic players and has a date in San Francisco on Tuesday to validate it. Lost in the team's overall struggles, RHP James Shields showed last season's success wasn't beginner's luck with seven wins already, and Ty Wigginton is quietly on his way to 25 homers and 100 RBIs.
5. A matter of perspective
As infuriating as it can be that manager Joe Maddon sees no evil and says no evil, there might be some method to his madness in how the Rays have rebounded from tough losses and battled back with 22 come-from-behind wins and only 12 losses by more than five.
Five high and tight pitches
1 Of the 75 games after the break, they have 15 vs. the Red Sox; 14 vs. Yankees (including eight of the first 11); six vs. Angels; four vs. Tigers, A's and Mariners; three vs. Indians. All tough.
2 Since the start of the '04 season, Rocco Baldelli has played in fewer than half of the Rays games (263 of 571).
3 The chips available to trade in a "big" deal are dwindling as injuries slashed the value of Baldelli, Al Reyes and B.J. Upton and personal problems have made Elijah Dukes untouchable.
4 LHP Scott Kazmir has made 18 starts and is still waiting for the one in which everything clicks. At best, it has been a step back, or it could be a sign of trouble ahead.
5 Can Brendan Harris (who had 110 at-bats and hit .209 before this season) and Carlos Pena (who has made it through only one season without being sent down) keep doing what they're doing at this level? Can Dioner Navarro, whose .181 average and .501 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) are the lowest of any major-leaguer with at least 200 at-bats and 220 plate appearances, do any better?
Five wild pitches
1 Despite taking an AL-low 39.3 percent of his pitches and swinging at the first pitch an AL-high 51 percent of the time, Delmon Young leads all major-league rookies with 94 hits.
2 When the Rays were tied for second place at 14-16 on May 5, it was the deepest into a season they had been that high in the standings since 1999 (when they made it to May 8 at 17-15). Seriously.
3 In a span of six at-bats over two games, Carlos Pena hit the Tropicana Field catwalk three times (twice with fair balls).
4 Rays pitchers are on pace to be the first team in history to lead the AL in strikeouts while having the highest ERA.
5 The Rays went a major-league record 48 games before winning by more than three runs, 11-5 at Chicago on May 27.
1 An ED (Elijah Dysfunction) problem: The Rays took a risk by promoting talented but troubled rookie Elijah Dukes to the majors, and it quickly blew up on them as he caused some issues around the team and way too much controversy off the field. Now the biggest question is the color of his next uniform.
2 How do you spell r-e-l-i-e-f?: Apparently not Camp or Stokes or Fossum or Lugo. Despite talking all winter and spring about improvement, the relief work - aside from Al Reyes and sometimes Gary Glover - has been a horror show. The bullpen ERA through Friday is 5.85 (better than only the White Sox). It allowed a .298 average, given up four walkoff homers (and provided two other last-pitch losses), watched 65 of 163 inherited runners score and, in a four-game span, blew leads of six and seven runs.
3 The Big Hurt: Every team has injuries, but the Rays are always in pain. They've already had extended stretches without top CF Rocco Baldelli, 2B B.J. Upton (who is also a backup CF), 3B Akinori Iwamura and closer Al Reyes along with backup Cs Josh Paul and Shawn Riggans and troubled OF Elijah Dukes (who has personal problems). Plus, 1B coach George Hendrick had knee surgery and pitching coach Jim Hickey eye surgery.
4 More than a game: Principal owner Stuart Sternberg and the boys in the front office didn't have a good first half either with the decision to cut payroll (rather than a promised increase) and resulting poor performance retarding their efforts to rebuild the fan base. The Rays are last in the majors in attendance and behind last year's pace. But boy, you can sure see - and hear - those pregame player introductions.
5 Mis-evaluations: Ben Zobrist as the starting shortstop and No. 2 hitter? Brian Stokes as a clutch late-inning reliever? Jae Seo as a key member of the rotation? (And there's that little matter of Josh Hamilton starring for the Reds.)