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05/14/08 8:23 PM ET

Rays react to Steinbrenner's comments

Players complimented, but say they're not serving as model

ST. PETERSBURG -- "The tables are turned now."

Even before Jonny Gomes heard of Hank Steinbrenner's comments following Tuesday night's game, the Rays outfielder was cognizant of what the crowd of 16,558 at Tropicana Field had also witnessed: the Rays are playing like champions.

That school of thought clearly wasn't lost on Yankees co-chairman Steinbrenner, who said the Bombers might benefit from catching some of the Rays' enthusiasm.

"[The Yankees have] got to start playing the way the Rays are playing," Steinbrenner said following the Yankees' loss Tuesday. "[The Yankees] need to start treating it like when they were younger players and going after that big contract, like they're in [Triple-A] and trying to make the Majors. That's the kind of attitude and fire the players have to have."

When told of the comments, rookie Evan Longoria -- clearly one of the young "fiery" players Steinbrenner was referring to -- said the Rays are simply putting the pieces together.

"I think a lot of us are trying to establish that [fire] as far as our team mentality and the way we go about things," Longoria said. "For somebody like the Yankees, not to say that they are the biggest and the best, but they have a pretty good track record as far as what they've done. For a team like that that wants to follow what we're doing is pretty cool."

Heading into Wednesday's game, the Rays are off to a franchise best 23-16 start, tops in the American League East, while the Yankees are just 19-21.

"I think it's a long time coming. We've got so much talent and we've had so much talent for a long time," Longoria said. "I think we are finally figuring it out, putting things together and putting the pieces in place. Obviously, it's a good thing for somebody as prominent as [Steinbrenner] and the Yankees to notice that we are doing something good."

Gomes also noted that while it was a "nice compliment" from Steinbrenner, the Rays aren't trying to be a model for anyone else -- they are just trying for the first time in club history to consistently win some games.

"You are just starting to see what we have," Gomes said. "For so long this team has had that on paper. You know [pitchers] James Shields, [Scott] Kazmir, [Matt] Garza -- they've always been good on paper ... the hitters are coming along, and now we are doing [what was needed] in between the lines."

As for why Steinbrenner believes his slumping squad should adopt the Rays' way?

"I guess you should ask them that question," Gomes said, adding that the comments were a nice "pat on our back, from the Boss."

It certainly was, given the bad blood that transpired between the two teams in Spring Training -- and resulted in an altercation with multiple suspensions and fines.

However, the Rays were cautious in assessing Steinbrenner's recent remarks.

"I heard about that," Rays manager Joe Maddon mused. "That's very complimentary and I appreciate the good words."

"It's a nice compliment," Eric Hinske agreed. "At the same time, we are out there playing hard every day, and I think we are playing with a lot of energy."

In other words, the Rays are here to stay, and the rest of the American League East should take heed.

Although Gomes said the club isn't out to "be a statue" for the rest of the Major Leagues, the Rays are starting to show that they are a force to be reckoned with.

"There's definitely a leveling going on," Longoria said. "It's pretty cool because now you know there's not going to be teams at the end of the year that are so far out that it really doesn't matter. Hopefully everybody's right there and playing for something when you come into September."

Brittany Ghiroli is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.