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Rays celebrate 2008 AL champs with reunion

Returning players see similarities between WS team, 2018 squad
MLB.com @wwchastain

ST. PETERSBURG -- Rays royalty came to Tropicana Field prior to Friday night's 3-2, 10-inning loss to the White Sox in the form of members from the 2008 American League champion team.

The Rays are holding a weekend celebration (Friday and Saturday) commemorating the 10-year anniversary of the 2008 team.

View Full Game Coverage

ST. PETERSBURG -- Rays royalty came to Tropicana Field prior to Friday night's 3-2, 10-inning loss to the White Sox in the form of members from the 2008 American League champion team.

The Rays are holding a weekend celebration (Friday and Saturday) commemorating the 10-year anniversary of the 2008 team.

View Full Game Coverage

Video: '08 ALCS, Gm 7: The Rays win the AL pennant

Akinori Iwamura, who touched second base for the final out of the ALCS, came the farthest, returning from Japan in a journey that took 24 hours.

All fans attending Saturday night's game will receive an "Aki" bobblehead depicting him making the final out accompanied by Dave Wills' radio call.

Iwamura, along with James Shields, Melvin Upton Jr. (who went by B.J. Upton in 2008), Scott Kazmir and Jason Bartlett, met with reporters, as did principal owner Stu Sternberg, early Friday afternoon to talk about that special season.

"Our goal was not to lose 100 [in 2008]," said Upton with a chuckle. "Because we lost [close to 100, 95 games] the year before."

Kazmir said the addition of veterans Eric Hinske and Cliff Floyd aided the cause by adding fun. The All-Star lefty noted that when they went to New York and Boston, in particular, they knew they were considered underdogs, but, "We felt like we could beat anyone."

Upton added: "We were just tired of getting beat up."

"When I grabbed the ball, I could have thrown to Jason, but at the moment, I thought, 'Hey, this is my ball,'" teased Iwamura through an interpreter. "... I think if I miss the toss [to Bartlett], maybe the game is not over."

Of course, Joe Maddon managed the 2008 team.

"Joe kind of came in and like, I think he spent his time in the years [leading up to 2008] switching the culture," Upton said. "Then once we got the veterans in there, he kind of just gave us the keys to the car."

Bartlett said Maddon's "big thing" was, "In his words, the players police the clubhouse. ... That's our deal. Joe never steps in."

"I think Joe just allowed us to become men," said Shields, who is scheduled to face the Rays as the White Sox starting pitcher in Sunday's series finale.

Sternberg said that had the 2008 team not had the successes it had, the team would not have enjoyed the success it found in the years that followed.

Several of the players said this year's Rays team reminds them of that iconic 2008 squad. When told about that sentiment, Rays manager Kevin Cash said he took that "as a huge compliment" and that his players should as well.

"Look, the 2008 team kind of set the standard here," Cash said. "They shocked baseball, they shocked the world with how they performed and how they got to the World Series. They had stars, but they didn't have a lineup full of stars. They had some really good pitching. They had some great defense. That's what we feel we do well now.

"I would never compare the 2008 team to us, because we haven't done anything even close to that yet."

Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2004.

Tampa Bay Rays