For the eighth time in as many seasons, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays are playing for pride as the American League playoff picture unfolds. According to manager Lou Piniella, that’s more than enough to motivate his last-place team.
“I told these kids, ‘We’re not going to win a pennant. We’re not going to go to postseason, but this is not rope-a-dope. Let’s get in the middle of the ring and throw some right hands, and let’s get after it.’ And that’s really what they’re doing,” Piniella said.
The Devil Rays look to continue their surprisingly strong second half as they open a three-game series with the visiting Texas Rangers.
Tampa Bay, a perennial AL East doormat since its inaugural season in 1998, has fed off Piniella’s motivational tactics since the All-Star break, going 20-12.
They’ve also had an impact on the AL wild-card race of late, taking three straight from Cleveland and two of three from the New York Yankees, including Wednesday’s come-from-behind 7-6 victory.
Tampa Bay has taken nine of 13 meetings from New York this year, endangering the Yankees’ chances of reaching the playoffs for an 11th consecutive season.
“It just shows the Yankees—with their history and with their payroll and with their All-Stars—they’re not bulletproof,” said Tampa Bay rookie Johnny Gomes. “In between the lines, there’s no salaries and no world champions. It’s nine-on-nine, plus your bullpen and bench. It just shows anyone can win.”
The Rangers are on the outside looking in at the playoff picture as well.
They fell well behind in the AL West and wild-card races with an eight-game losing streak this month. That skid ended with a 3-0 victory at Cleveland on Wednesday, but Texas was unable to gain any momentum as it lost 9-4 to the Indians on Thursday.
The Rangers are 1-9 on what figured to be a pivotal 13-game road trip. They trail wild card-leading Oakland by 10 games.