Without Wander, could Rays enter annals of most overachieving teams?

For nearly three weeks now, the Rays have managed — even flourished — without the 22-year-old cornerstone of their franchise.

Entering Wednesday’s game vs. Miami, the Rays were 10-4 without All-Star shortstop Wander Franco, who has been placed on administrative leave by Major League Baseball amid investigations regarding alleged relationships with one or more minors. They’ve also carried on quite admirably minus left-handed ace Shane McClanahan, winning 15 of 22 since the two-time All-Star — who has opted for Tommy John surgery that will sideline him the rest of this year and all of 2024 — last appeared on the mound.

All of which suggests the team might — just might — be poised to weave its adversity into history.

While much can transpire over the season’s final month, the Rays have galvanized themselves — with equal parts resolve and resilience — in a way that elicits memories of other teams that achieved legendary status by winning championships only after suffering seemingly insurmountable setbacks.

Here are a few that defied the odds (listed in ascending chronological order). September (and perhaps October) will reveal whether Kevin Cash’s club joins this elite pantheon.

1984 Gators football

This season appeared sabotaged before it even started. First, starting quarterback Dale Dorminey suffered a season-ending knee injury the week of the opener against Miami, forcing redshirt freshman Kerwin Bell to make his college debut against the reigning national champs. Bell had a breakout performance in a 32-20 loss, but coach Charley Pell was forced to resign two games later after an NCAA report detailed numerous recruiting violations on his watch. Behind Bell and interim coach Galen Hall, the Gators — 1-1-1 at the time of Pell’s departure — won their last eight games for the program’s first SEC title (later vacated due to the prior violations).

1986 LSU men’s basketball

One of the most depleted Final Four teams ever. By Christmas break, all three 7-footers on the Tigers roster either had left the program, had been declared ineligible or had suffered a season-ending injury. Two other players (including eventual NBA draftee Nikita Wilson) also ultimately were declared ineligible. Even worse, a chickenpox outbreak left the team quarantined for several days in February. But behind 6-foot-7 sophomore Ricky Blanton — who switched from guard to center out of necessity — the Tigers snuck into the NCAA Tournament as an 11-seed, then upset the Southeast Region’s top three seeds in succession to reach the Final Four. Blanton, who neutralized the likes of future NBA standouts John Salley and Kenny “Sky” Walker in the tourney, became a Baton Rouge folk hero.

1989 Michigan men’s basketball

The Wolverines were 24-7 and seeded third in the Southeast Region of the NCAA Tournament when a staff implosion threatened their championship hopes. Just as the team was departing for Atlanta to begin tournament play, news broke that highly successful coach Bill Frieder had agreed to become coach at Arizona State. Infuriated athletic director Bo Schembechler fired Frieder on the spot with the immortal quote, “A Michigan man will coach Michigan.” Assistant Steve Fisher was named interim coach, and the Wolverines reeled off six consecutive wins, capped by an 80-79 overtime triumph against Seton Hall in the title game.

1999 St. Louis Rams

Still the gold standard of teams that galvanized themselves after a devastating loss. Hollywood even crafted a movie about this squad, which seemed destined for mediocrity after starting quarterback Trent Green (who had signed a four-year contract that February) suffered a season-ending knee injury in the preseason. The rest still seems too schmaltzy to be true, even a quarter-century later. Unheralded backup Kurt Warner — an Arena football alumnus who briefly stocked shelves at a grocery store after being released by the Packers — led the Rams to a 13-3 record and triumph in Super Bowl 34, earning NFL MVP honors.

2014 Jesuit High baseball

Locally, this makeshift lineup may represent the greatest collection of overachievers ever assembled. The 2014 Tigers began the season teeming with Division I signees and draft prospects, only to have their roster gutted when nine players were suspended in March for a team-rules violation. Leaning on the remaining varsity players and a host of junior varsity call-ups, coach Richie Warren somehow fostered cohesion and confidence within his revamped clubhouse. Jesuit won 13 of its last 16 games, capped by a 5-2 win against Green Cove Springs Clay in the Class 5A final. “The expectations never changed,” Warren said shortly before the title game. “They didn’t allow anything they couldn’t control to affect how they practiced and played every day.”

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