Do you want to know when the Rays developed the mojo of a championship caliber team?
I'll give you a hint; it involves Shelley Duncan and a Spring Training Game! Yep, that's when the Rays started their season out with such a focus that it was contagious.They stood up to the Yankees and made a statement that they were going to play them hard every single pitch in every single game!
It carried on because of Coco Crisp and the Red Sox's arrogance. When Coco bum-rushed James Shields after a brushback pitch, the Rays seemed more determined than ever to make the Red Sox pay whenever they could.
Sure, Tampa is talented and deeper than most organizations in baseball, but brawling made them have a steely focus.
When Shelley Duncan came in with his spikes high Johnny Gomes came in from right field to fight and stand up for his teammates. It was an amazing moment that solidified that Tampa was a team.
Those moments might have seemed insignificant, but in the grand-scheme of things it proved that the Tampa Bay Rays have character and heart. They proved to the bullies on the block that they would punch them in the mouth if they tried to bully them! Boston and New York were put on notice after that the Rays were for real!
Also, what helped the Rays develop the team to contend with Boston and New York was trading away Delmon Young and getting rid of Elijah Dukes. The Rays wouldn't even sniff the World Series if these two guys were on their team. (Even if Matt Garza was gift-wrapped for the Rays in another way, I would still make this statement!)
Dukes and Young were low-character guys. Sure, they were athletic as all-get-out, but because the baseball season is a long grind, character eventually wins out! Not all the time, but character proves itself out over the life of the season. The teams that have had character throughout the years have won a lot more than they have lost. (Think New York Yankees in 1998, Boston in 2004.)
They also got Matt Garza in that deal! When Garza is on he is comparable to Josh Beckett. He's the truest type of ace an MLB can have. He can dominate with his fastball. Like Beckett, all he needs is to work off of that one pitch to dominate.
Lastly, what is great about the Tampa Bay Rays is they have shown that you can win in a tough division with minimal payroll if you have intelligence. They have won with smarts, great drafting and amazing player development. That is a trait that runs all throughout the organization.
The Yankees and Brian Cashman can learn from the Rays' success! Money doesn't solve all of your problems. Drafting and developing your players for a long-term paradigm are much better than flushing money down the drain with guys like Giambi.
Now, the Rays could be scary for years!