Bumpy ride of 2014 marked end of several Rays eras
Challenging year included tribute to Zim, farewell to Price and Maddon's departure
By Bill Chastain
ST. PETERSBURG -- Most Rays fans would be hard-pressed to come up with memorable moments from the 2014 season, given the disappointment of seeing their team endure its first losing season since 2007.
The Rays saw a remarkable streak of six consecutive winning seasons snapped when they finished with a 77-85 mark.
Tougher to swallow was the fact the team left Port Charlotte, Fla., with the wind at their backs. In the clubhouse, the players, coaches and manager believed they had a winner. And many members of the media agreed. Some picked the Rays to win the American League East and others went so far as to suggest an appearance in the World Series.
At the very least, the Rays expected to mint their seventh consecutive winning season and their sixth season in seven with 90-plus wins.
Alas, all good things must come to an end. But the 2014 team did leave several memorable moments.
5. Rising to the challenge
After losing 1-0 to the Cardinals at Tropicana Field on June 10, the Rays dropped to 24-42. At 18 games under .500, they appeared to be cooked with more than half a season to go.
Despite the long odds, the Rays did not quit, making a 26-7 march from June 25 through July 26. On Aug. 15, the Rays defeated the Yankees, 5-0, at Tropicana Field to move to 61-61 on the season.
By reaching the .500 mark, the Rays became the fourth team in Major League history to get back to .500 after being 18 games under.
4. R.I.P., Zim
On June 4, Don Zimmer died at age 83, ending the life of a baseball legend and a baseball lifer.
A tribute to "Popeye" took place at Tropicana Field on June 7, when the Rays played the Mariners.
Prior to the game, both teams stood outside their respective dugouts, all of them wearing Zimmer's No. 23 Brooklyn Dodgers jersey. A video tribute showed highlights of Zimmer's career, a reminder of the incredible journey he took during his 66 years of professional baseball. The ceremony was short, simple and touching to anyone familiar to the baseball icon.
In a word, said Tom Zimmer, Don's son, the 20-minute ceremoney was "perfect."
"This has been something else," added Zimmer's wife, Soot. "I know he's up there looking down. He said, 'I started on the ball field, and we were married on the ball field.' And he ended up being celebrated ... on the ball field. I can't think of a better way to go."
3. Nice effort from the new guy
Drew Smyly joined the team on July 31 in a five-player, three-team trade that sent David Price to the Tigers.
While Rays fans were disappointed to see the team's long-time ace move elsewhere, Smyly did a nice job of giving them hope for the future.
He made seven starts for the Rays, going 3-1 with a 1.70 ERA. During that span, the left-hander led all Major League starters with a .155 opposing average and led the American League with 6.80 baserunners per nine innings.
On Aug. 22 at Toronto, in his fourth start in a Rays uniform, Smyly twirled a two-hit shutout -- the first complete game of his professional career. He faced one batter over the minimum and retired the final 19 batters in order, with no walks and 105 pitches.
2. Capping Price's run
Price entered the 2014 season knowing that it might be his last with the Rays.
Given Tampa Bay's payroll constraints, Price had to deal with speculation about getting traded. That speculation finally proved true when the Rays dealt him to the Tigers at the Trade Deadline.
To Price's credit, he never let the question of whether he would stay become a distraction. That fact was particularly evident during a stretch from May 30 to July 30, when he posted five consecutive games with double-digit strikeouts.
Rays fans will long remember Price, who compiled an 82-47 mark with a 3.18 ERA in 175 games. Count the 2012 American League Cy Young Award among his many accomplishments with the team.
1. A new order
Shortly after the end of the season, Andrew Friedman dropped the first bombshell when he announced he would be leaving for the Dodgers. The Rays handled that by shifting Matt Silverman from his duties as team president to those of Friedman's old job, president of baseball operations.
Equally surprising came the news about Joe Maddon, who ended his nine-year tenure with the team by exercising an opt-out clause in his contract before agreeing to a five-year, $25 million deal to manage the Cubs.
After a lengthy search to find a replacement for Maddon, the Rays hired former catcher Kevin Cash to become the fifth manager in team history.
Despite the loss of two key components to the Rays' success, the feeling within the organization is that the transition to the new order will be seamless while they embrace the newness brought about by change.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.