When Angels manager Mike Scioscia took the reins in Anaheim prior to the 2000 season, general manager Bill Stoneman gave the newly anointed skipper a little advice.

Stoneman wanted Scioscia to think about keeping then-bench coach Joe Maddon, a man who had steadily worked his way through the Angels' Minor League system before his promotion to bullpen coach in 1994. A man who had served as interim manager for the Halos on three separate occasions. And a man who despite having interviewed -- and been passed over -- for the job still wanted to see the Angels' vision through.

Ten minutes into that initial hour-long conversation, Scioscia didn't need any prodding. He was sold on Maddon's philosophy, one he deems "right in line" with his own.

"I thought all along he could be a good manager," Scioscia said. "No question. I could see how bright he was, how he saw the game, what he believed in."

Early Saturday morning, Maddon's belief came full circle, as the Rays were crowned American League East champions following the Red Sox's loss to the Yankees.

But Tampa Bay's rise from obscurity to division winner wasn't just about Maddon believing in his young squad, it was about getting them to believe in each other.

Steering a ship that had gone a Major League-worst 66-96 in 2007, it would have been easy for Maddon to set his sights on a .500 season. With baseball's second-smallest payroll, no one could have skewered the third-year skipper had Tampa Bay merely finished out of the AL East cellar, a feat it had accomplished only once in an 11-year existence.

But Maddon didn't concede, and he certainly didn't settle. Instead, this spring, he believed.

And the innovative biking enthusiastic was willing to go public with his idea that nine players, playing together for nine months, could be one of baseball's eight teams with an invite to October.

9=8.

"If you are going to come out with a statement that's a little complicated and bold like that," reliever Trever Miller said, "you better back it up and you better make it believable."

After Miller recorded the final out in the Sept. 20 playoff-clinching win, Maddon and the Rays had made believers out of everyone.

Still, the champagne-soaked skipper insisted there was more work to be done. Clutching a celebratory bottle of 1999 classic Dom Perignon, Maddon already had sights set on the next occasion for bottle popping: the division.

"This," he said, "is the beginning."

Because a team that had turned a deaf ear to doubt all season still felt like it had something to prove.

And his Rays went to work, following that Sept. 20 victory with wins in four of their next seven games to secure a franchise-first AL East crown.

Forget the Dom Perignon. This was classic Maddon.

"He is a very gifted manager, and maybe [with the clinch] he will start getting some due," closer Troy Percival said. "He had to deal with a lot and he knew right away it was going to take them three to four years to get this organization down the path he wanted.

"He changed the whole organization's philosophy. I mean, look at how much fun this clubhouse has every day."

And how much more the October-bound Rays have coming.

"Joe is a builder," Scioscia said. "And you could see it taking shape. That's an exciting team; they play the game the right way."

They play the game Maddon's way: with a little patience and a lot of belief.

"Out of everything that I've done, I'm glad that I struggled to get here," Maddon said. "I'm glad it took so long. I'm very pleased about that. I feel that I've earned it and that I was ready for it."

Funny, the same can be said about his Rays.