I grew up Tampa Bay Devil Rays fan and let me tell you, it was rough.
They almost never won, their star players received little attention from national sports media such as ESPN and Fox Sports. If they had a star player he was probably injured, quickly traded, or he flamed out badly.
Whenever they did win, or at least managed something memorable, it was always fun to try to catch a glimpse of the highlights on Baseball Tonight or Sports Center.
So I’d sit patiently, watching endless highlights of other teams’ stars, or listening to long expositions breaking down some All-Star from a bigger market.
Finally, the Devil Rays would come on — usually accompanied by some kind of slight. Their logo appeared on the screen and the highlights began...and then it was over. They showed a minuscule summed up version of the game that captured none of the intensity.
The dearth of good national Rays coverage is well known, but I’ve been thinking about it recently as I’ve been plumbing (Devil) Rays history for our series in honor of the team’s platinum anniversary. My frustration came to a boil as I watched a highlight clip from one particular game in 2003.
It was a nail-biter with exciting offense, a strange, pre-replay call; some clutch hitting and base running, and multiple comebacks from both teams.
You wouldn’t know any of that from watching ESPN’s 90 second recap of the game.
On May 18th, 2003, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays were in Baltimore to take on the Orioles. Joe Kennedy took the mound for Tampa Bay and was opposed by Omar Daal.
The two pitchers traded zeroes on the scoreboard for the first three innings of the game before Tampa Bay’s offense broke through in the 4th inning. With two outs, Rocco Baldelli tripled, this was followed by back-to-back doubles from Aubrey Huff and Travis Lee. Toby Hall singled home Lee and the Devil Rays were up 3-0.
(None of this is mentioned in the clip, however they do include Devil Rays hitting coach, Lee Elia getting ejected for arguing balls and strikes during that frame)
In the bottom of the 4th, the Orioles jumped right back into the game with a leadoff home run from Jeff Conine. Following a ground out, Tony Batista laced a ball into right field, but would be thrown out trying to advance to second. Following a single from Geronimo Gil, Devi Cruz would tie the game with a two run blast, evening things up at 3-3.
(None of this is mentioned, instead the clip jumps to the 7th inning)
The Orioles took the lead in the 5th inning and chased Joe Kennedy from the game thanks to several hits strung together and a costly error from Devil Rays 2B Terry Shumpert.
In the top of the 7th, the Orioles clung to a 5-3 lead. Terry Shumpert tried to make up for earlier fielding gaffe as he lifted a fly ball to deep left field. Unfortunately for him and the Devil Rays, Melvin Mora would take the ball away from the first row of seats in left field for a fly out. The Devil Rays weren’t done though, as Julio Lugo would hit a solo home run to make it, 5-4 in favor of the O’s.
(Giving ESPN some credit, they show this)
((Not the Lugo HR, just the Mora HR robbery))
In the top of the eighth inning, Aubrey Huff lifted a deep flyball towards right-center field, near the grounds crew’s shed. The ball bounced off the shed’s roof, caromed off another wall beyond the shed and back onto the playing field where the outfielders half-heartily retrieved the ball.
Huff circled the bases, and then to the shock of all, the umping crew signaled the ball was still in play and live. Huff ended up at third and was livid. His anger was nothing compared to the intensity of an enraged Lou Pinella, but the call would stand, Huff was given a triple. Still, 5-4, in favor of Baltimore.
Travis Lee was now up with Huff on third and one out in a one run game in the top of the eighth inning, the game was on the line. Buddy Groom, on the mound for Baltimore, managed to jam Lee, popping him up down the left field foul line, just beyond the infield.
Baltimore third baseman Tony Batista ranged back on it and seemed to camp underneath the ball, before realizing he had underestimated the trajectory and hadn’t ranged back far enough.
He completely whiffed on it as it bounced in front of him. Aubrey Huff darted for home, and just narrowly beat the throw to tie the game at five.
(ESPN thankfully included this bit, good job ESPN)
The inning wasn’t over yet. After a Toby Hall strikeout, Jared Sandberg managed to draw a walk to put two runners on base for Marlon Anderson, who promptly drilled a ball into the right-center field gap, clearing the bases with a two run double to make it, 7-5 in favor of Tampa Bay. Jason Tyner would single, pushing Anderson over to third, but Julio Lugo ended the threat with a flyout.
(ESPN producers are viscous, merciless butchers who can’t let us have nice things...none of the above was shown)
The Baltimore Orioles once again displayed massive resolve though as they battled back once more during the bottom of the eighth inning.
Travis Harper was now in for Tampa Bay, allowed singles to the first three batters of the inning, giving up a run in the process. A sacrifice bunt followed by Lance Carter coming in and yielding a sacrifice fly would even the game at 7, the game was tied, once again.
(Literally no highlights of the Baltimore offense this game, none...)
Jorge Julio, who gave up the double to Marlon Anderson in the eighth, was still in the game for Baltimore during the top of the ninth. With one out, Rocco Baldelli singled and then Aubrey Huff came up once more to deliver a clutch hit for Tampa Bay.
With the first pitch of the at-bat, Huff laced a ball into the left-center field gap and Rocco ‘The Woonsocket Rocket’ Baldelli motored around the bases and scored easily to give the Devil Rays the lead.
(ESPN managed to show the Devil Rays taking the lead, this time)
Fortunately the Devil Rays would be able to bring Huff around to score as well thanks to a Travis Lee single that gave Tampa Bay a 9-7 lead heading into the bottom of the ninth inning.
Lance Carter was still in for Tampa Bay, and delivered his first pitch to Melvin Mora, who immediately made a deposit into the bullpen area beyond left-center field to make it a one run game.
(ESPN has decided that all they needed to show was Huff’s ‘triple’ and double, as well as Terry Shumpert being robbed of a home run...that’s all this game merited. Oh, and some managerial arguments with the umpiring crew, two of those instances to be exact)
Amazingly, Carter settled down, retired the three Baltimore hitters in order and was rewarded with the victory for his efforts.
See, that was fun and thrilling game. With a team like the 2003 Devil Rays, you didn’t see that kind of fight too often. So, join me in being enraged at how the 2003 Tampa Bay Devil Rays were treated in this brief 90 second summary of a game that occurred over 14 years ago.