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Rays' clubhouse chemistry 'makes us so special'

Snell: 'We just enjoy playing with each other a lot'
@juanctoribio
October 10, 2019

HOUSTON -- Every season is different. The results change every year, but most importantly, the dynamic of a clubhouse changes as front offices make moves every offseason. For the 2019 Rays, the biggest key to their success has been a pitching staff that led the American League with a 3.65

HOUSTON -- Every season is different. The results change every year, but most importantly, the dynamic of a clubhouse changes as front offices make moves every offseason.

For the 2019 Rays, the biggest key to their success has been a pitching staff that led the American League with a 3.65 ERA in the regular season and has stepped up in the postseason, holding the Astros to four combined runs between Games 3 and 4 of the AL Division Series. Timely hitting and the development of young players like Austin Meadows and Willy Adames have also played into their successful season.

Game Date Result Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 4 HOU 6, TB 2 Watch
Gm 2 Oct. 5 HOU 3, TB 1 Watch
Gm 3 Oct. 7 TB 10, HOU 3 Watch
Gm 4 Oct. 8 TB 4, HOU 1 Watch
Gm 5 Oct. 10 HOU 6, TB 1 Watch

But while the performance on the field and the talent on the roster usually dictates how well a team performs from year to year -- and the Rays certainly have talent -- an underrated aspect of why Tampa Bay is so tough to beat is because of the camaraderie inside the clubhouse.

“We just enjoy playing with each other a lot,” Rays pitcher Blake Snell said. “I think that’s what makes us so special and so dangerous because once one thing happens, I feel like it just leads to where we can get hot pretty quick. And then the dugout is going insane and then the bullpen is locking it down. And that’s kind of how it happens, honestly.”

Talent is what the Rays front office ultimately looks for in its evaluations of players, but the Tampa Bay brain trust also emphasized adding quality personalities to its young core over the winter. Guillermo Heredia, who wasn't on the roster for the AL Wild Card Game or ALDS, was acquired from Seattle last November. He leads the way with his energy, dances and dugout celebrations.

Adames greets his teammates outside of the dugout whenever they hit a home run. Seemingly everyone on the roster has a unique way of greeting their teammates, which isn’t unusual for a baseball team. But the fact that the Rays have sustained the camaraderie despite having 57 players appear for them this season is impressive.

“It was that way during Spring Training,” Brandon Lowe said. “We kind of had to mesh together in Spring Training and get to know each other. A lot of it was new people getting called up and trades and stuff like that, but we came together really quickly and I don’t think this is a surprise to anyone in our locker room, and I don’t think we’re done playing yet.”

The Rays enter Thursday’s winner-take-all Game 5 against the Astros with plenty of experience in elimination games. Just over a week ago, there were questions about how a young Tampa Bay club would handle the postseason stage. Now, the Rays are 3-0 in elimination games this postseason and look as dangerous as any club still playing.

“I think that’s the exciting part for us,” Snell said. “We’ve played in an elimination game already. We’ve been doing it, actually. So, for us, it’s just another game that we’re excited to play.”

The togetherness of the group has played in the Rays’ favor over the last week. Most people expected the Astros to sweep the ALDS behind their trio of impressive starting pitchers -- Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Zack Greinke -- and when the Rays fell behind 2-0 in the series, the conversation turned into the potential Astros-Yankees ALCS.

Lowe and Snell both admitted that they heard the chatter, which isn’t new to them. The Rays weren't picked to make the postseason, then they weren’t picked to beat the A’s in the AL Wild Card Game, and they’ll still enter Thursday’s Game 5 as an underdog despite outscoring the Astros 17-13 through four games.

But somehow, that’s exactly how this Rays team prefers to play.

“For us, we don’t know if everyone is going to be back or that core will be,” Snell said. “We know young guys will, but with [Travis] d’Arnaud and Avisaíl García and the other guys, we don’t know if they’re going to be back. So we want to make this a moment we’ll never forget.

“We have to beat Houston. We’ve got to beat New York and then whoever in the World Series. But we don’t want to stop, and I think that’s the coolest part because all of us really do love playing the game with each other.”

Juan Toribio covers the Rays for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @juanctoribio.