ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays have always prided themselves on defense, but the 2013 team may be good enough to be headed for the record books.
Through 131 games, Tampa Bay's 48 errors are the second fewest in Major League history -- behind the Orioles, who have just 39. Both teams are on pace to break the all-time record set by the 2003 Mariners, who had just 65 errors.
"Everybody is always going to focus on the team's offense because it's cool to do that, but we're only here because of our pitching and defense," manager Joe Maddon said. "You can't separate one from the other. They're good at the same time, and they help one another. That's who we are. We hit the jackpot regarding our acquisitions at shorstop and first base. [Ben] Zobrist has played his best second base, and [Evan Longoria] has been really good. We're pitching well because our defense has been outstanding."
Maddon has managed some impressive fielding teams since taking over in 2006, but he thinks this could be his best yet, and the numbers agree. The franchise record of 73 errors in a season was set in 2011. The Rays are on pace for just 59.
"I've seen us really good, but I have not seen us this good," Maddon said. "Part of being this good is making the routine play routinely. The spectacular play has been made, but a lot of it plays into our positioning and the work we do in advance to get the guys in the right spots. All of those things have led us to our great defensive year."
Peralta's success forged by craft, deception
ST. PETERSBURG -- Tampa Bay right-hander Joel Peralta entered Thursday's contest among the American League's leaders in appearances (65, tied for first) and holds (34, first).
Peralta also leads AL relievers with 212 appearances since joining the Rays in 2011.
What makes Peralta a marvel to watch is the fact he's not a hard thrower like many late-inning guys, but he finds a way to get the job done.
Rays manager Joe Maddon credited Peralta's success to a combination of "want to, which is guile" and the fact the ball he throws "does move."
"I mean, there's a little ride on that fastball that makes it difficult for a lot of hitters to catch up," Maddon said. "But then he's got two really good other pitches, with the split and the curveball.
"Furthermore, don't underestimate the importance of deception. When you go out and you're scouting guys all the time, everybody's looking for that beautiful, clean delivery. And that's all right. But I really dig funk and deception in the bullpen. And I think a little bit of the success he's had is the funk he's got."
Peralta smiled when asked how he sees himself.
"Smart pitching, I would say," Peralta said. "Once, a friend of mine told me, 'If you want to be successful, try to get in the hitter's mind, keeping them off balance.' I'm trying to get in the hitter's mind every time I throw a pitch. So I'm trying to guess what he's guessing. I'm trying to guess what he's waiting for. Scouting reports help, and just being aggressive. Probably the most important thing is to not be afraid."
Peralta believes that fear disables a lot of pitchers.
"I know guys that are afraid of getting the pitch for contact," Peralta said. "And that doesn't help. If you don't want to pitch to contact, you are afraid of getting hit. And if you're afraid of getting hit, something bad is going to happen because you're going to live outside the strike zone -- and when you come in, they're going to get you."
Despite the many reasons cited, Peralta said he has been surprised by his success.
"I work really hard, but the fact that I'm not a hard thrower and I don't have that great stuff like a lot of guys do, especially in this division and this league -- for three straight years, it's really tough to do," Peralta said.
College elective: Rays sport football gear on trip
ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays have never been afraid to stray from conventional Major League practices, so it came as no surprise when manager Joe Maddon asked his players to wear the jersey of their favorite college football team on their upcoming 10-game road trip to the West Coast.
"I would like to promote wearing it on each leg, and if you want to promote more than one team, that's fine," Maddon said. "I'm working on my Lafayette jersey."
Prior to Thursday's game -- which coincided with the start of the college football season -- 15 different jerseys could be spotted in the Rays' clubhouse, ranging from local teams like South Florida and Florida to hometown favorites like Sam Fuld representing New Hampshire.
Pitcher and Vanderbilt alumnus David Price spared no expense by throwing his Wednesday bullpen session in a full Commodores uniform, complete with a helmet and authentic ankle tape.
"I would play somewhere between water boy and long snapper, probably," Price said. "I played for two years before I wised up and figured it's best I left that alone."
Alabama natives Desmond Jennings, who had a football scholarship offer to Alabama, and Auburn fan Wesley Wright fell on opposite sides of the "Iron Bowl" rivalry, but a clubhouse fight did not erupt.
"There could be some brawling going on, there's no question," Maddon said. "I'm all for that. A nice friendly brawl within the clubhouse once in a while is OK when it comes to fighting over your favorite collegiate football team."