ST. PETERSBURG -- Rays closer Fernando Rodney had been practicing his archery skills all season, pretending to launch an arrow into the sky each time he finished off a Tampa Bay win.
Rodney probably never imagined that end of the season awards would be in his sight, but he claimed the Rays' Most Valuable Player Award at a team luncheon on Tuesday.
"I know it's probably a difficult choice to make, but Fernando right now is on the verge of having the best year of any relief pitcher in history, statistically speaking," Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
The Tampa Bay Chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America voted and recognized Rodney for his accomplishments that saw him earn a team-record 47 saves and a 0.61 ERA entering Tuesday, currently the lowest mark in Major League history for relievers with more than 50 appearances.
"Team MVP for me, I've never had it," Rodney said. "I think the most important is MVP. I think I put up the numbers, and they gave me the MVP."
Past winners of the club's MVP award, which was presented by Chapter Chairman Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, include pitcher James Shields, outfielder Carl Crawford and utility man Ben Zobrist.
The ceremony, which was emceed by Rays radio broadcasters Andy Freed and Dave Wills, was hosted by the Clutch Hitters of Tampa Bay. The organization, which is comprised of business leaders in the Tampa Bay community, also presented a $12,500 gift to the Rays Baseball Foundation to help the community.
Other players were recognized for their achievements on the field, including lefty Matt Moore, who earned the Outstanding Rookie Award, joining the likes of Jeremy Hellickson, Evan Longoria and Shields as past recipients of the award.
Righty Chris Archer and outfielder Todd Glaesmann were named the organization's top Minor League Pitcher and Player, respectively.
But off the field, Shields was recognized for his contributions. He was named the Paul C. Smith Champion Award, given to the player who "best exemplifies the spirit of true professionalism on and off the field."
The award was presented in memory of Smith, a Rays beat reporter for MLB.com, who passed away in 2005.
The Clutch Hitters of Tampa Bay also presented the Clutch Hitter Award to Bob Stewart and Rick Dodge for their contributions to bring a Major League Baseball franchise to the area.
Tuesday's festivities concluded with the Clutch Hitters presenting the Children's Dream Fund a $5,000 gift in memory of Ben Topkin, Marc Topkin's son, who passed away during the season.
Julianna Zobrist, Ben's wife, wrapped the day up by singing "Take Me out to the Ballgame" to the crowd of 420 people.
Rodney on verge of breaking Eck's ERA mark
ST. PETERSBURG -- After a scoreless ninth inning Monday night in a 5-3 win over Baltimore, Tampa Bay closer Fernando Rodney put himself on the verge of making history.
The righty is in line to break the all-time best ERA by a reliever with 50 or more appearances record after he lowered his mark to 0.6053, passing Oakland's Dennis Eckersley's 0.6136 ERA in 1990.
Rodney, who was also awarded the team's Most Valuable Player award Tuesday, actually became the ninth-inning stopper because of an injury to 2011 closer Kyle Farnsworth. But after a successful offseason before signing a deal with the Rays, Rodney got his chance and proved his worth.
"I think it started in the offseason last year in the Dominican winter ball," Rodney said. "I did the same kind of job I've been doing here, a lot of strikes, a lot of confidence. When I came in Spring Training, I said, 'I feel ready to go. If I have a chance to pitch like I did in the Dominican, I think I'm gonna do a very good job.'"
Entering Tuesday, Rodney also held a team-record 47 saves, which he credited to the pitchers that set him up for the opportunity.
"I think it started with the starting pitching -- they got six, seven innings every night," Rodney said. "When you have two innings, you don't have to worry too much. [Joel] Peralta can do a very good job, and I come in and shoot the arrow and close the door."
With the ERA record in the balance, there was the possibility Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon could withhold Rodney in the team's final two games to preserve his current mark.
But Maddon, who had a normal lineup Tuesday, said that as long as the games mean something, he won't change anything, and that means putting Rodney in for a save situation.
"We'll see how these next two games play out," Maddon said of his plan for Rodney. "We're gonna try to win the game [Tuesday night] as we normally would, so if there's a save, he'll be out there. If the game does not mean anything tomorrow possibly and he's already wrapped up, then I probably would stay away from him.
Maddon didn't watch A's victory Monday night
ST. PETERSBURG -- Following the Rays' 5-3 win over the Orioles on Monday night, Rays manager Joe Maddon told reporters he would not wait up to see how the Athletics fared, even though the outcome of that game determined whether the Rays would remain in postseason contention.
The Athletics defeated the Rangers late Monday night, thereby eliminating the Rays. Nevertheless, Maddon stayed true to his word.
"I went back [home after the game] and I watched some of the football game," Maddon said. "It was not a good game. Titanic was on. I always watch the part right up until the boat sinks.
"The fifth chamber was breached and they could no longer stay afloat. So our fifth chamber was breached over the course of the last couple of weeks. And I could not remember that if I had not just watched the movie."
Despite not watching the Athletics game, Maddon found out the outcome when awakened from his sleep.
"Honestly, I was sleeping and [my wife] Jaye's phone gives that little bing, bing sound," Maddon said. "And the other wives had had some kind of group texting. So she reached over and checked it out.
"I'm thinking they're texting because Oakland had lost, but it was not. So I found out about it, like 1:30 or 2 o'clock in the morning. That's when I found out."
While the Rays indeed were eliminated, Maddon noted, "I'm really not going to sit here and cry about it."
"I'm going to try and get out of here Saturday night, get back to California and hang out for a bit," Maddon said. "I promise you I'm not going to be watching baseball games. And I'm going to be doing my normal thing. And about in a month or two [Rays executive vice president of baseball operations] Andrew [Friedman] and I are going to begin talking about next year like we always do. But I'm not going to sit here and cry about what we did not accomplish."
Entering Tuesday night's game, the Rays had won 11 of their last 12 games.
"Overall this group has been great, not just good, they've been great," Maddon said. "I don't even know the last time a team won 13 out of 14 games at the end of the season, which we have a chance to do."
Maddon congratulated Orioles manager Buck Showalter for clinching a playoff spot by sending him a bottle of wine.
With wins in the team's final two games, the Rays could become just the fifth team in the modern era to finish 13-1 or better to close out the season. The last team to achieve the feat was the 2007 Rockies, who ended with a 14-1 mark.
B.J. Upton is two home runs shy of 30. If he can reach the milestone, he would be the first player in team history to have a 30-homer, 30-steal season.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. Greg Zeck is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.