8/17/2014 2:18 P.M. ET
No matter their standing, Rays look to finish strong
By Bill Chastain and David Adler / MLB.com
ST. PETERSBURG -- After Sunday's 4-2 loss, Tampa Bay is 10 games behind in the American League East standings and 6 1/2 back for the AL's second Wild Card spot.
While their situation looks dire, the Rays still have a shot at making the playoffs and regardless of whether they make the playoffs, they want to finish strong so they have some momentum heading into next season.
"Finishing strong is very important," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "That's who we are now. We're not just trying to be a .500 ballclub. Our goal is to get there.
"We just need to perpetuate who we are. We don't want to slide back even for one year. Right now we've had one of the best records over the last two months. That's how it's supposed to be. I think we need to [finish strong] or we slide backwards."
The starting rotation is healthy -- sans Matt Moore, who had season-ending Tommy John surgery -- and contains the formidable group of Drew Smyly, Alex Cobb, Jeremy Hellickson, Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi. Cobb echoed Maddon in stressing the importance of the rotation finishing strong now that they are healthy and all together.
"I think the continuity of the group," Cobb said. "The core of it is there. It feels like the past two seasons that I can remember, maybe three, the five [starters] that break for the season really haven't been together for the entire time.
"David [Price] had an injury last year. So on and so on. We really haven't been together that much. So this next month of the season where, hopefully we can build off good pitching and stay together and be consistent would be huge going into next season. And knowing what we're capable of."
So there is plenty left to play for this season. And one thing is certain: playing hard is always fashionable.
Jeter's presence turns up the noise at Tropicana
ST. PETERSBURG -- Tropicana Field was as loud as it's been all season on Saturday, and the Rays weren't exactly happy about all the noise.
The roars from the 31,042 fans in the stands for the Rays' 3-2 loss to the Yankees -- the only Tampa Bay sellout this year aside from Opening Day -- were overwhelmingly for New York. The volume hit its crescendo when Derek Jeter grounded the go-ahead single through the right side in the ninth inning off Rays reliever Jake McGee.
That rubbed Joe Maddon the wrong way, to say the least.
"It's great, it's great that it's sold out, I understand that people like Derek Jeter -- but you've got to come out and root for the Rays, too, you understand?" the Rays manager said after the game. "I mean, I totally appreciate what's going on, but I'm not gonna sit here and defend all of that noise in the Yankees' favor in our ballpark. I'm not gonna defend that. So if you're gonna come out, root for the Rays. We'd appreciate that."
There have always been large pro-New York turnouts at Rays-Yankees games -- many Florida residents are transplanted New Yorkers, the Yankees have their Spring Training and a Minor League affiliate in Tampa, and Jeter owns a waterfront home in the city.
On Saturday, with The Trop at capacity, it was especially noticeable. There were cheers for the Rays, of course, but they were dwarfed by the ones originating from behind the visitors' dugout. The loudest, obviously, were for Jeter -- the "Der-ek Jet-er" chants started every time he came to bat, not just in the ninth inning.
After the game, Jeter said the atmosphere at The Trop felt "almost like a home game."
Manager Joe Girardi said, "The cheers that you heard for him today, the chanting of his name, I'm not so sure I've heard his name chanted that loud at an opposing stadium this year" -- and that includes all the standing ovations the Yankee captain has received on his farewell tour around the league.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. David Adler is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.