The Tampa Bay Rays Can’t Lose

The longer the Tampa Bay Rays can extend their season-opening winning streak, the more baseball fans will learn about the St. Louis Maroons.

The rollicking Rays beat the Boston Red Sox, 9-7, Wednesday for their 12th consecutive win to open the season, yanking the attention of the baseball world away from rule changes and pace of play and refocusing it on one of the best starts to a season since the 19th century.

The Rays, who play Boston again on Thursday, are one win from matching the modern record of 13 consecutive victories to open a season, set by the Atlanta Braves in 1982 and equaled by the Milwaukee Brewers in 1987.

Tampa Bay’s 12 straight victories have also tied the Rays’ franchise record for consecutive wins at any point in a season, which they had previously set from June 9-22, 2004, when Lou Piniella was the manager.

“Congrats to the guys,” Manager Kevin Cash told reporters in St. Petersburg after Wednesday’s game. “That’s pretty awesome. We’re doing something that is pretty meaningful and impactful.”

Wednesday’s game was also the Rays’ 12th consecutive win over Boston at Tropicana Field, a period of domination dating back to last year.

If Tampa Bay wins again on Thursday afternoon to tie the modern record, the next longest streak in view would be the longest in the major leagues, which have an official history that stretches across parts of three centuries.

The top mark to start a season was the 20 consecutive wins reeled off by the 1884 Maroons, a team in the Union Association that included star outfielders like Buttercup Dickerson and Orator Shafer. St. Louis finished the U.A.’s only season with a 94-19-1 record, 25 more wins than the Cincinnati Outlaw Reds, who had the second most.

The data-reliant Rays, who have made it to the postseason in each of the last four seasons, and won the American League pennant in 2020, have long been characterized by continued success despite their low player payrolls and their outdated domed stadium with modest attendances and revenues. In the highly competitive American League East, with perennial powerhouses like the Yankees, the Red Sox and the Toronto Blue Jays, the Rays have uncovered and developed excellent players, and have turned that into consistent success. But nothing like this current run.

Granted, their early schedule has not been taxing. They have faced Detroit, Washington, Oakland and Boston, four teams with low expectations. But Tampa Bay is not the first team in the 123 seasons of the so-called modern era to ease into the season with a relatively soft opening slate, and only three teams have ever started off 12-0.

Going back to the 19th century, the ’84 Maroons, who went on to briefly join the National League after the Union Association shut down, outscored their opponents by an average of 4.1 runs a game, according to Baseball Reference. The Rays are winning, on average, by 5.4.

The Rays have had only a single one-run game this year, and before Wednesday they had won 10 of their first 11 by at least four runs.

They took down the Oakland A’s by 11-0 on Saturday. For those who missed it, Tampa Bay provided an encore the next day with a replica. Two 11-0 wins in a row over the same team.

The Rays have hit more home runs (30) than they have given up runs (27). Just two weeks into the season, they already have 10 players with at least two home runs and seven with at least three.

Not surprisingly, the Rays lead the majors in runs scored, total bases (230) and on-base plus slugging percentage (.945). Also not surprising, their pitchers lead baseball in earned run average (2.17) and are tied with the Minnesota Twins for lowest batting average against (.194).

“As far as the pitching goes, the overall execution has been pretty remarkable,” Cash said.

The pitching success has been achieved without the help of Tyler Glasnow, who has been out with an oblique strain. Zach Eflin, another top starter who signed with the team as a free agent this off-season, won his first two starts but was placed on the injured list with lower back tightness. That provided an opening for Taj Bradley, a top pitching prospect, to make his major league debut Wednesday on his mother’s birthday.

Ana Mosley watched and cheered from the stands as Bradley threw five strong innings for the win, allowing three runs, five hits and a walk and striking out eight. Bradley, a right-hander, was notified Tuesday of the call-up from the Class AAA Durham Bulls, and had one hour to pack and get to the airport for a flight to Tampa amid a rush of activity and phone calls.

He pitched through the first inning like a 10-year veteran, but when he returned to the dugout, the long-awaited moment briefly overwhelmed him.

“After the first inning I got pretty emotional,” he said in an interview with WDAE, the Rays’ radio broadcaster. “I had to cover my face with a towel. I had some tears going. After getting out of that first inning, I was excited, man. It’s a dream come true, a childhood dream come true.”

Randy Arozarena, the Rays’ slugging left fielder, hit his third home run of the season on Wednesday, and the shortstop Wander Franco was 3 for 5 with two runs batted in and two runs scored, upping his batting average to .340. Franco has four home runs.

“Wander’s on fire right now,” Cash said.

The entire Rays team is hot, but a season-opening winning streak does not guarantee success. The ’82 Braves lost, 3-0, to the St. Louis Cardinals in the playoffs, and the Brewers won 91 games, but finished third in the American League East and missed the postseason.

The only certainty is that the Rays will eventually lose. Not even the 1884 St. Louis Maroons were invincible.

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