On March 9, at a meeting in West Palm Beach, Fla., Major League Baseball owners officially welcome the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Arizona Diamondbacks as the 13th and 14th expansion teams in Major League history by a vote of 28-0 and on April 17, the Devil Rays and the City of St. Petersburg agree on a 30-year lease for the team to play their home games at the ThunderDome. In July the Devil Rays name Chuck LaMar as senior vice president of baseball operations and general manager and on Sept. 26, the Devil Rays sign their first player - Adam Sisk, a 6-4 right-handed pitcher from Edison Community College in Fort Myers, Florida. On Nov. 2 they unveil their official 1998 game uniforms during a special "fashion show" at the Florida Aquarium.
The Devil Rays announce they will host Spring Training in St. Petersburg in 1998 on May 7, becoming the first team in the "modern era" to host spring training in their home city. The National League's St. Louis Cardinals will leave after training in St. Petersburg since 1946.
Outfielder-first baseman Paul Wilder becomes the Rays' first ever draft pick on June 4 as the team participates in its first free agent amateur draft. Devil Rays Managing Partner Vince Naimoli announces the selection while in the team's "war room" at the Stouffer-Vinoy Resort in St. Petersburg. The Rays eventually select 97 players, the fifth highest total ever taken in the 32-year history of the June draft.
A Gulf Coast League record crowd of 7,582 are on hand at Al Lang Stadium on June 19, as the GCL Devil Rays host their Yankee counterparts in the first Devil Rays game. A 10-1 loss doesn't dampen the festive atmosphere nor the unbridled affection that is showered down on the young Rays. News Radio 970-WFLA and SportsChannel Florida broadcast the game live. Eighteen-year-old right-hander Pablo Ortega throws the first Devil Rays pitch (a ball).
On June 20, the Gulf Coast League Devil Rays earn the first win in the history of the organization with a 4-3 triumph over the GCL Astros. Eighteen-year-old Jose Rodriguez from the Dominican Republic gets the win.
Tropicana Field is born on Oct. 3. The Devil Rays and Tropicana Dole Beverages North America, of nearby Bradenton, Fla., announce an agreement to rename the ThunderDome. The City of St. Petersburg receives more than $13 million as a result of the agreement. Vince Naimoli and St. Petersburg Mayor David Fischer preside over the official groundbreaking ceremony On October 7, for the 15- month, $63 million Tropicana Field renovations.
Durham (NC) officially becomes the Devil Rays Triple-A franchise for 1998 as that city was awarded one of two expansion franchises for Triple-A by the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues on Nov. 21. The Devil Rays and Capitol Broadcasting Co., Inc. jointly own the new Durham franchise that will continue to be called the "Bulls."
On January 16, the Major League Baseball owners, at their meetings in Phoenix, Arizona, place the Devil Rays into the American League by a vote of 28-2. The Devil Rays become the American League's 15th franchise.
John Kaufman, Tom Bergan, Matt Williams, and Jamie Ybarra combine to throw a no-hitter as the Rays defeated the Phillies, 6-0, in the team's first ever minor league Spring Training game.
The Devil Rays name Florida Marlins pitching coach Larry Rothschild as the club's first manager on Nov. 7 and on Nov. 18 select 35 players in the Major League Expansion Draft, held in Phoenix, Arizona. The Rays select left- handed pitcher Tony Saunders from the Florida Marlins with the first pick in the draft. At the conclusion of the draft, the Rays trade four of their selections and wind up with four frontline players: first baseman Fred McGriff, right- handed pitcher Roberto Hernandez, shortstop Kevin Stocker and catcher John Flaherty.
On Dec. 6, individual tickets for the 1998 season go on sale to the general public. Opening Day sells out in 17 minutes, and on Dec. 9 sign free agent third baseman Wade Boggs.
On Feb. 15, fifty-one players, including 41 pitchers, take the field at 9:35 a.m. at the Devil Rays Spring Training Complex, as the team's first Major League Spring Training camp opens. The players work out for three-hours. On Feb. 26, in their exhibition Spring Training game, the Devil Rays defeat Florida State University at Al Lang Stadium.
Tampa Bay wins its first Major League Spring Training game, 6-2, over visiting Kansas City. Left-hander Ryan Karp is the winner as the Rays win it with a four-run rally in the seventh inning.
In the first exhibition game at Tropicana Field on March 27, the Rays beat Atlanta, 5-0, in front of 26,519. Rolando Arrojo beats Tom Glavine and Russ Mormon hits the first home run, a 380-foot shot to left-center.
It all begins on March 31. The Rays lose to the Detroit Tigers 11-6 in Tampa Bay's first regular season Major League game. Hall-of-Famers Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Al Lopez and Monte Irvin throw out ceremonial first pitches. Tampa Gospel singer Belinda Womack sings the National Anthem for a capacity crowd of 45,369. Wilson Alvarez throws the first pitch in Devil Rays history - a ball to Detroit's Brian Hunter. On April 1, the Devil Rays defeat Detroit, 11-8, for their first-ever victory. Cuban ace Rolando Arrojo earns the victory in his first Major League game.
On April 19, the Devil Rays improve to 10-6 with a 6-0 victory at Anaheim, becoming the first expansion team ever to be four games over .500 at any point in their inaugural season.
Raymond, the team's mascot, debuts prior to the Devil Rays-Red Sox game at Tropicana Field on June 21.
On July 1, Rookie Rolando Arrojo is named to the American League All-Star team. Arrojo becomes just the second rookie from an expansion team to be named an All-Star and the first Cuban pitcher since Luis Tiant in 1976.
On June 2, the Devil Rays select outfielder Josh Hamilton (Athens Drive HS, Raleigh, NC) with the #1 overall pick in the June draft.
Third baseman Wade Boggs becomes the first player to reach 3,000 hits with a home run, homering off Cleveland's Chris Haney at Tropicana Field, on Aug. 7. and on Nov. 11 announces his retirement during a press conference at Tropicana Field, ending his Hall-of-Fame career.
The Devil Rays trade pitcher Rolando Arrojo and infielder Aaron Ledesma to the Colorado Rockies for All-Star third baseman Vinny Castilla and 7-1/2 hours later sign free agent slugger Greg Vaughn.
On Sept. 17, the game at Tropicana Field between the Devil Rays and Oakland Athletics is postponed because of weather conditions related to Hurricane Gordon. It is believed to be the third game in a domed stadium postponed by weather. The others: June 15, 1976 a game between Houston and Pittsburgh is postponed when the city of Houston is hit by 10 inches of rain making transportation to the Astrodome impossible. Also on April 14, 1983 the roof of the Metrodome collapses under the weight of heavy snow forcing the postponement of a game between the Twins and Angels.
First baseman Fred McGriff homers off Toronto's Roy Halladay at SkyDome on Sept. 23, joining Frank Robinson as the only two players in Major League history to hit 200 home runs in both leagues.
On Feb. 6, the Rays unveil new uniforms at a "fashion show" at Baywalk in downtown St. Petersburg.
Larry Rothschild, who compiled a 205-294 record in three-plus seasons as manager, is fired on April 18 and replaced by bench coach Hal McRae and on April 21 earns his first victory as manager with a 6-5 win over Baltimore at Tropicana Field.
On May 22, the Devil Rays hire John McHale, Jr. as the club's first chief operating officer. McHale comes to the Rays after serving as chief executive officer for the Detroit Tigers from 1995-2001.
On Sept. 11, Major League Baseball postpones all scheduled games for a week after terrorist attacks in New York City, Washington, D.C. and western Pennsylvania.
The Devil Rays hire Cam Bonifay as director of player personnel on Nov. 19. Bonifay, who served the past eight seasons as senior vice president and general manager for the Pittsburgh Pirates, will oversee all of the club's scouting and player development as well as assist GM Chuck LaMar at the Major League level in this newly created position.
The Rays open their season with a three-game sweep of the Detroit Tigers at Tropicana Field. It is the best start in the team's five-year history, but during April 25-May 10, the Rays lose a franchise record 15 games in a row.
A few Devil Rays firsts: On April 27, Derek Lowe of the Red Sox no-hits the Rays in a 10-0 win at Fenway Park. Rookie third baseman Jared Sandberg hits two home runs in the fifth inning against the Dodgers on June 11, becoming the 39th player in Major League history to do so. Even Jared's uncle, Ryne Sandberg, never hit two homers in one inning. On July 20, twenty-year-old outfielder Carl Crawford hits three triples in his first week in the Majors and becomes the first Tampa Bay player ever to accomplish that feat.
Despite being recalled from Triple-A Durham on May 28, Aubrey Huff finishes with a rush and leads the team in batting average (.313), home runs (23), slugging percentage (.520), and on-base percentage (.364). He also falls just a few at-bats short of qualifying for the league batting championship. He would have finished seventh.
On Sept. 31, Hal McRae is moved into the front office as a special assistant to general manager Chuck LaMar and on Oct. 28 the Rays give Tampa native Lou Piniella a four-year, $13 million contract to be their third manager. The Rays have to give up their only All-Star, Randy Winn, to Seattle to obtain the rights to negotiate with the Mariners.
More firsts for the young Rays: Rookie Rocco Baldelli sets the Major League record for most hits by a rookie through April with 40, surpassing Ichiro's mark of 39 set in 2001 and Chad Gaudin tosses the first perfect game in Devil Rays organization history on July 15, against Jacksonville (LA) in his first game with AA Orlando. At 20 years, 4 months, Chad Gaudin becomes the youngest player in Rays history when he takes the hill for his Major League debut at Kansas City on Aug. 1.
St. Petersburg native Doug Waechter throws a complete game, two-hit shutout against Seattle in his first big league start on Sept. 3, becoming the first Devil Ray and ninth American Leaguer since 1970 to accomplish the feat. He also becomes just the third Major Leaguer since 1970 to do it in his hometown. Jorge Sosa would follow the next night with a 1-0 complete game shutout over Seattle marking the first time in Rays history of back-to-back complete-game shutouts.
Tampa Bay outfielder Carl Crawford is awarded the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum James "Cool Papa" Bell Legacy Award for winning the AL stolen bases crown. With 55 steals, Carl became the 6th youngest to steal 50 bases in a season and the youngest since Montreal's Tim Raines in 1981.
The young Devil Rays opened their seventh season with a victory against the Yankees in Tokyo. They were 10-28 in May when they started a run in which they won 30 of 40 games, including a team-record 12 games in a row. The Rays beat the Tigers on the final day of the season to finish with a team-record 70 victories. They finished in fourth place in the AL East, the first time they have not finished fifth. Outfielder Carl Crawford, 23, really blossomed and was the Rays' All-Star, playing in the game in his hometown of Houston. Crawford won the American League stolen base title for the second year in a row, with a team-record 59. He also hit .294 with 11 homers and 55 RBIs.
The Devil Rays compiled a 28-61 first-half record in 2005, which included just eight wins on the road. But they overcame a lot of problems - many of which were injury related - to grow into a different team in the second half and finished over .500 after the All-Star break. Scott Kazmir came into his own as a pitcher; Carl Crawford continued to ripen as one of the game's best all-around young talents; Jonny Gomes, given the chance to play, proved he belonged in the Major Leagues; and Jorge Cantu emerged as an offensive force, leading the team in home runs and RBIs. Lou Piniella finished his tenure as manager of the team and at the end of the season, a group led by Stuart Sternberg, took over ownership of the franchise.
Injuries haunted the Rays from the beginning of the 2006 season when right-hander Shinji Mori suffered a torn labrum in Spring Training and Rocco Baldelli missed most of the first half with a left hamstring injury. Carl Crawford and Scott Kazmir each made strides toward becoming superstars, while the addition of Ty Wigginton instantly become one of the franchise's best-ever acquisitions.
Among the many highlights of the 2007 season was the starting pitching tandem of James Shields and Scott Kazmir. Shields finished with 12 wins and became the third pitcher in team history to reach 200 innings in a season with 215. Meanwhile, Kazmir struggled with his control early in the season, but came on strong in the second half to lead the team in wins in addition to also surpassing the 200-inning plateau. Offensively, the Rays got their usual solid effort from resident super star Carl Crawford, who hit a career high .315 while disrupting opposing staffs to no end with his speed. Unexpected was the contribution of non-roster invitee Carlos Pen˜a, who won the starting first base job and proceeded to hit more home runs than any player in team history.
The Rays literally went from last to first in the toughest division in baseball -- the American League East -- and took out the White Sox and Red Sox in the playoffs to reach the World Series.
The Rays' starting pitching served as the team's foundation with all five starters -- Scott Kazmir, James Shields, Matt Garza, Edwin Jackson and Andy Sonnanstine -- winning at least 11 games. Meanwhile, a much-improved bullpen finished off what the starters began by showing an ability to prevent opposing teams from scoring late and reversing the nice work done in the early innings. Troy Percival anchored the bullpen for much of the season before the veteran went down with injuries. The emergence of J.P. Howell and Grant Balfour helped define why the 'pen improved by such a large margin to become one of the team's strengths in 2008.
Offensively, no one player, other than Dioner Navarro, had his career-best year. But the team enjoyed timely hitting galore while producing one come-from-behind win after the next. American League Rookie of the Year Evan Longoria gave the team a big offensive boost at third base, but the heroics were shared for the most part. The Rays came from behind 45 times to win games in 2008. Joe Maddon was named AL Manager of the Year for guiding the club to 97 wins and the Series, where the Rays lost to the Phils in five games.
Unfortunately for the Rays, a year after winning the American League East and advancing to the World Series, they found out in 2009 there is quite a difference between looking good on paper and being a championship team. When the Rays left Port Charlotte at the end of Spring Training, the club looked far more solid than the previous year's championship team. Unfortunately for the Rays, some of the players brought in to improve the club did not produce. The most notable of these being DH Pat Burrell, who banked a two-year, $16 million deal then fell far short of expectations. Foreshadowing a season to come, the Rays finished April with a 9-14 record then spent the rest of the season trying to make up for their less-than-auspicious beginning. Following their dismal April, the Rays posted a 16-14 mark in May before they finally seemed to hit their stride in June with a 19-7 mark. At this point of the season, the Rays seemed to be turning around their fortunes. But the Rays finished July with a 12-12 record, leaving them six games behind the division-leading Yankees. While the Rays continued to tread water in August, posting a 15-12 record, the Yankees put their foot down on the accelerator, expanding their lead over the Rays to 11 ½ games. Once September rolled around, the Yankees had pretty much locked up the division title by the time the Red Sox came to Tropicana Field for a three-game set. The Red Sox, who held a four-game lead over the Rays in the AL Wild Card race at that time, proceeded to take two out of three from the Rays to expand their lead to five games and trigger a 1-10 start to September for the Rays. In essence, the Rays followed their championship season with another quality season, but the chemistry never seemed to come about to produce the same magic seen in 2008.
Throughout Spring Training Rays manager Joe Maddon harped on the importance of the Rays getting off to a good start in 2010. And the troops responded with a 17-6 mark in the opening month, establishing the club's best ever record for April. Perhaps most significant was the fact the Rays went 9-1 on the road in April after struggling on the road in 2009. Using a lineup that had great versatility, the Rays were able to start many different lineups hitting in countless batting orders on any given night, which kept everybody fresh and sharp throughout the season. David Price would emerge as one of the top pitchers in baseball in his second full season in the Major Leagues while Carl Crawford experienced his best season. In his third season in the Major Leagues, Evan Longoria made his third All-Star team and drove in 100 runs for the second time in his career. He played in 151 of the first 152 games of the season before missing the final 10 games of the season with a left-quad problem. Despite the Rays fast start, Maddon cautioned all along that deciding the American League East would go down to the end, and the Rays skipper proved to be prophetic as the Rays and Yankees went to the final day of the season and the Rays came out on top, popping the corks on champagne bottles for the second time during the 2010 season.
The Rays advanced to the postseason for the third time in four seasons, making their first trip to the playoffs as the American League Wild Card winner. In doing so, the Ryas became the third Major League team and first AL team to advance to the postseason after starting the season 0-6 and just the second Major League team to advance to the postseason after starting 1-8. The Rays went 90-63 after their 1-8 start, posting the third-best record in the AL behind the Yankees and Tigers, both at 92-61.
September became something special. The Rays began the month nine games out of playoff contention through Sept. 3, but they managed to erase a 7-0 deficit to the Yankees in their final game of the regular season to take an 8-7 win and secure a spot in the postseason when Evan Longoria hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 12th. After winning the first game of their AL Division Series matchup with the Rangers, the Rays bowed out when they lost the next three.
Even though the Rays won 12 of their final 14 games to finish with a 90-72 mark in 2012, they failed to reach the playoffs for the fourth time in five years.
Pitching led the way for the team as the Rays led the Major Leagues with a 3.19 ERA while also setting an American League record with 1,383 strikeouts. And the Rays struck out 10-plus batters in 61 games, which was the most in Major League history.
Not only did the Rays lead the Major Leagues in team ERA, David Price won the AL ERA title en route to becoming the first Rays pitcher to win the Cy Young Award. And Fernando Rodney set the Major League record for lowest ERA all-time by a Major League reliever (minimum 50 innings pitched), passing Oakland's Dennis Eckersley's mark of 0.61 set in 1990.
The Rays were the only AL team to boast five 10-game winners and joined Washington and San Francisco as the only Major League teams to do it in 2012.
The Rays continued to thrive in the highly competitive American League East, winning 92 games and reaching the postseason for the fourth time in the last six years. But Tampa Bay needed every drop of its trademark late-season magic as the club staved off elimination in the final game of the regular season, a Game 163 tiebreaker against Texas and the AL Wild Card Game against Cleveland. The Rays' season ended in the AL Division Series, where they lost in four games to the eventual World Series champion Red Sox.
Andrew Friedman guided the Rays through a busy offseason to get there, trading away James Shields and seeing B.J. Upton leave in free agency. But they also acquired AL Rookie of the Year Wil Myers and handed Evan Longoria a $100 million extension that will keep him in Tampa Bay through at least 2022. They brought in major contributors like James Loney and Yunel Escobar, who gave the Rays Gold Glove-caliber defense alongside Longoria and All-Star utility man Ben Zobrist. They also bolstered manager Joe Maddon's "swarming" offensive attack.
The highlights were plentiful, including Myers' much-anticipated debut, a 21-5 record in July that pushed them into the thick of playoff contention and the club's typically excellent defense. Longoria finished sixth in the AL MVP voting, reflecting his importance to the team. The Rays overcame injuries to ace David Price, All-Star Matt Moore and Alex Cobb, who emerged as their most consistent starter when healthy, and got a big boost from rookie pitcher Chris Archer, among others.
The Rays entered 2014 with high hopes based on the fact that most of the players from a 2013 playoff team returned, including ace David Price. But health issues bit the team early, and hard. Starters Jeremy Hellickson and Alex Cobb were injured for much of the first half while Matt Moore was lost for the season after having Tommy John surgery. Though they experienced a hot streak during the middle of the season, they were never able to recover from their slow start. That resulted in Price getting traded, the team's first losing season since 2007, and the departures of Joe Maddon and Andrew Friedman.
Kevin Cash's era began as the new manager of the team as did Matt Silverman's as the new president of baseball operations. Despite being saddled by injuries from the beginning of the season, the Rays got off to a great start and led the AL East by a game as they owned a 40-30 mark on June 20. Unfortunately, all the injuries eventually caught up to them. But the team never quit, finishing with an 80-82 mark. Memorable were the performances of starter Chris Archer, who dominated hitters in most of his outings, and center-fielder Kevin Kiermaier, who established himself as perhaps the best fielder at any position in baseball.
High hopes fueled the Rays entering the 2016 season winning 80 games in 2015, Kevin Cash's first season as manager of the Rays. Alas, those hopes were dashed, primarily by a healthy dose of untimely injuries and a simultaneous first-half slump experienced by all the starting pitchers. Ultimately, any pennant dreams were dashed by a 3-24 stretch between June 16 and July 16. Despite the disappointment, there were a number of bright spots.
Evan Longoria put away any talk about having his best days behind him en route to establishing a new career high for home runs while having perhaps his best offensive season. Brad Miller arrived via a trade with Seattle ostensibly to take over the shortstop duties. While that didn't work out, Miller proved to be a positive injection into the team's offense --hitting 30 home runs and finishing the season as the team's first baseman. Alex Colome stepped into the closer's role without a hitch, converting 37 of 40 save opportunities, and Jake Odorizzi put together one of the best second halves of any starter in the American League by going 7-1 with a 2.71 ERA after the All-Star break. The right-hander went 10-6 with a 3.69 ERA for the season, making him the only member of the starting rotation with a winning record.
Kevn Kiermaier continued to excel in center field with his second consecutive Gold Glove season. The single-most impactful event of the season came when Kiermaier broke his hand in a game at Detroit. Prior to his injury, the Rays were 20-19. They went 14-35 when he was out. The Rays hit more home runs (216) than any team in club history. Unfortunately, most of them were of the solo variety. So despite the rise in home runs, the team had problems scoring runs.In the second half, the Rays managed to right itself to a certain extent, but that proved to be too little, too late. However, the Rays were able to find out a lot about the players who did play. Some of whom would not have accomplished what they did had openings not been created.
The 2017 season stoked the hopes of Rays fans to make the playoffs for the first time since 2013. Quality pitching and the long ball fueled those hopes.
Leading the starting rotation, Alex Cobb made a strong return in his first full season since Tommy John surgery, going 12-10 with a 3.66 ERA and 128 strikeouts in 179 1/3 innings. And Chris Archer gave the Rays another 200-inning, 200-strikeout season. Meanwhile, closer Alex Colome led the Major Leagues in saves with 47 to highlight a stellar bullpen.
Logan Morrison led the team in home runs with 38 while Steven Souza Jr. (30), Corey Dickerson (27), and Evan Longoria (20) gave the Rays four players with at least 20 home runs for the second consecutive season.
From all appearances at the Trade Deadline, the Rays were headed to the playoffs, prompting the teams to make several trades to help them down the stretch. Unfortunately, the Rays cooled considerably after that.
From the beginning of August through the final game of the season, the team went 26-29 to finish at 80-82, which was good for third place and represented a 12-win improvement over 2016.
Few expected the Rays to contend heading into 2018, and at first, they didn't. A winter spent trading key veterans (including face of the franchise Evan Longoria) turned into a spring full of injuries, which left the Rays with a skeletal rotation, without their gold glove center fielder and a 4-13 record by the middle of April.
The roster shuffling never stopped. The injuries didn't, either. But as the calendar turned, something happened. The Rays kept winning anyway, despite sending away Chris Archer, Alex Colome and Wilson Ramos, despite losing half a season of Kevin Kiermaier, despite powerhouse years from the Yankees and Red Sox, despite needing a franchise-record 31 pitchers over the course of a single summer.
Though they missed the postseason, Tampa Bay finished with a 90-72 record, their best since 2013. They were perhaps the sport's surprise team and one of it's most talked about, given the ways in which they got there.
Much of the conversation centered on the Rays' blending of pitcher roles, most notably their invention of "the opener." Tampa Bay was 22-22 and sporting one of the poorer pitching staffs in baseball on May 19, the day they sent Sergio Romo to the mound to start against the Angels, and and the idea was hatched in real time: a reliever summoned to record the first few outs, with a more traditional starter-type to follow. The Rays went 68-50 after debuting the born-of-necessity strategy, which was meant to maximize matchup potential, limit starter exposure, and was subsequently adopted by other teams. Tampa Bay finished the year with AL's second-best team ERA, and having set Major League records for starter no-decisions and reliever wins.
Their unorthodoxy worked in tandem with a traditional ace atop Tampa Bay's rotation: Blake Snell. The 25-year-old lefty lead all AL pitchers in wins (21), ERA (1.89) and struck out 221 in 180 2/3 innings, eventually capping his breakout year with the second Cy Young Award in club history.