2008: New name, uniforms, outlook, and results

Prior to the 2008 season the team unveiled new uniforms along with a name change, and the team was now officially called the "Tampa Bay Rays." The new team colors were "navy, Columbia blue and a touch of gold" and a new team logo featured a bright yellow sunburst symbolizing the Sunshine State of Florida. Following a front office promise to increase the team's payroll, it was raised to $43 million.

The Rays lineup remained largely intact from 2007, several key trades and free agent signings improved the team, additions included Matt Garza, Jason Bartlett, and veteran relief pitcher and closer Troy Percival. Top third-base prospect Evan Longoria was expected to be the starter at the hot corner while the Rays also signed the #1 pick in the draft last year, pitcher David Price, who was widely recognized as one of the top players in college baseball. Longoria was called up at the end of April.

The Rays finished spring training with a club record 18 wins and tied for highest winning percentage in the Grapefruit League. They began the season with a win in Baltimore and snapped a 7-game losing streak in road openers.

As they did during the 2007 season, the Rays played a regular season home series at Champion Stadium in Walt Disney World for the April 22–24 series against the Toronto Blue Jays. As in the Orlando series in the previous season, the Rays won all three games and followed with their first-ever sweep of the Boston Red Sox in Tropicana Field.

The Rays became the first team in modern Major League history (since 1900) to hold the best record in the league through Memorial Day, after having the worst record in the league the year before. This marked the best start in franchise history and the first time ever that the team was 11 games over .500. In June, incidents over the course of two consecutive games led to a bench clearing brawl against the Boston Red Sox.

Within the first week of July the Rays stretched their division lead to 5½ games, but then lost seven consecutive games heading into the All-Star Break. Trailing the Red Sox for the division lead by ½ game, they still led the Wild Card. Scott Kazmir and Dioner Navarro were selected to play in the All-Star Game. Evan Longoria was voted into the roster by the fans in the Final Vote giving the Rays a team record for All-Stars. In another franchise first, Longoria participated in the Home Run Derby.

Despite injuries to several key players in early August including Evan Longoria, Carl Crawford, and Troy Percival, the Rays finished August on a 5-game winning streak, compiling a record of 21–7 for the month, the best single month in franchise history. With an 84–51 overall record, the best in the league, their lead in the division grew to 5½ games going into the final month of the season.

On September 20, the Rays, with the best home record in Major League Baseball, clinched their first-ever postseason berth in franchise history and clinched the AL East Pennant shortly thereafeter.

In the American League Division Series the Rays defeated the Chicago White Sox in 4 games of the (ALDS), clinching their first playoff series victory and advance to the American League Championship Series (ALCS) where they defeated the Boston Red Sox in 7 games, to go to the World Series for the first time. Despite having home-field advantage in the series, the Rays lost to the Philadelphia Phillies, four games to one, in the World Series.

The Rays' turnaround was mostly credited to much improved defense and pitching. The Rays also stole 142 bases, more than any other team in the AL. They also had five pitchers throw over 150 innings, more than any other team in baseball: Shields, Kazmir, Garza, Andy Sonnanstine, and Edwin Jackson. While the 2007 bullpen and defense were historically bad, stats for 2008 were among the best in the majors, and the best in franchise history.

2008 World Series, Tampa Bay Rays


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