Jon Gruden had his Super Bowl title, and he wanted another one, so he invited Lou Piniella to talk to his team before the start of the 2003 season. That got a few chuckles around Tropicana Field, what with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays headed toward another losing season. What could Piniella tell the Bucs about winning?
Well, Sweet Lou won a pair of World Series titles with the New York Yankees and managed the Cincinnati Reds to another World Series title, so the former Rays manager knew a few things about the art of repeating.
Here is what he told the Bucs: “You get a little bit confident where you think you can turn it on just about when you want to. All of a sudden you get beat up a little bit, and you say, ‘Hey wait a minute.’ But ‘Hey wait a minute’ might be a little too late.’ ”
The Rays are trying like heck to say, “Hey, wait a minute.”
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They didn’t do such a good job of that Tuesday. They did Wednesday for seven innings and then again in the bottom of the eighth.
And so the Rays head into tonight’s series finale no closer to the wild-card-leading Red Sox than they were when the series began Tuesday. That is a tough way to make a run at the playoffs.
Stu Sternberg is in town for the big series. Before Wednesday’s game, the Rays owner spoke.
“The goal was to get to September and play meaningful baseball games,” Sternberg said.
He said the Kazmir trade was not a salary dump. He said he has no interest in moving the team out of the area.
We can believe this: The Rays are playing meaningful games in September. The question is, For how long?
They appear to lack a sense of urgency, and that is fine with manager Joe Maddon. Mr. Positive is not frustrated with the losing because he is pleased with the effort.
“I’ve always been too Pollyannaish,” Maddon admitted before Tuesday’s game
Andy Sonnanstine, who couldn’t get an out in the fifth inning of Tuesday’s loss, said he took some positives from his four-plus-inning outing, sounding more like a guy pitching for a spot in next year’s rotation than a guy who helped pitch a team to the World Series.
It’s almost as if they refuse to recognize how close they are to playing golf this October.
At this point, a team is not judged on effort, and positives only come with wins.
Last year the Rays learned how to hold on to first place.
This year they are learning how tough it is to chase down a playoff spot.
“It’s going to be an uphill battle,” left fielder Carl Crawford said. “In our minds we can do it.”
They are paying the bill for that poor April. A World Series hangover, perhaps, or the result of taking things a little too slow in spring training.
Whatever, it seems as if someone should have yelled, “Hey, wait a minute,” a while ago.
Because it looks as if it might be a little too late for the defending American League champions.
Roger Mooney, sports writer, can be reached at 745-7080, ext. 2112.