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Why 82 wins matters

82 = 2008

Oakland Athletics v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images

With their 5-4 victory over the Oakland A’s, the Rays push their win total to 82 games.

Getting to 82 wins is not seen as much of anything in the modern game. The middle of baseball between the very bad and the very good seems to be a forgotten land for many pundits and writers. And while the Rays still have longshot playoff chances that are more important to think about, and pushing 90 wins seems well within grasp, it’s the number 82 that I want to take a moment to celebrate.

That total has not been reached since 2013, and I think this should be celebrated. With 82 wins, the Rays have secured that they will have more wins than losses on this year. This is the first time in Kevin Cash’s tenure that this will be the case. As Rays fans, many of us have gotten accustomed to this team being at, near, or above 82 wins. That’s a sign of a healthy franchise, and a far cry from the Devil days.

Back in 2008, I still remember distinctly all the big games and moments. One that passed by quickly as there were much bigger fish to fry was a 14-3 drubbing of the Baltimore Orioles on August 29th. Scott Kazmir, he of the former green sleeves and vest days, took the mound to bring the Tampa Bay region their first winning season. Carlos Pena and BJ Upton delivered RBI base knocks to fully move on from the Green to the Navy and Columbia Blue.

Tampa Bay Rays v Boston Red Sox, Game 5 Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

At the end of that day, it was just another win to keep pace and remain atop the American League. That’s what it was to the national audience. But to me, to folks in Tampa, St Pete, Clearwater, Riverview, the I-4 corridor, and heck the whole region, it meant something a bit more. It meant the Devil Rays were finally winners.

Obviously just finishing slightly above .500 would have been a disappointment at that point, but the idea that we were watching a team that many were still was getting used to with a new color scheme, a whole slew of new and exciting faces, and lack of Devil before the Ray were now not a doormat or a punch line but a winning club announcing it’s presence with authority.

Much like in 2008, the Rays now have much loftier goals than just getting above .500. The odds of the Rays landing a Wild Card slot are still not zero; I’m glad this young collection of talent is much more concerned with winning out than celebrating win number 82. However, that doesn’t mean that this accomplishment is not important.

Before the season getting to this point would have seemed unthinkable by many. The Rays haven’t gotten to this point in the last 4 years.

The Devil Rays never got here. Not with fading old stars like Fred McGriff, Wade Boggs, and Jose Canseco. Not with promising young talent like Carl Crawford, Scott Kazmir, and Rocco Baldelli.

But these young Rays with as bright a future as any team in baseball? They are here already.

The 2008 Rays brought in a new era of baseball to Tampa Bay. They looked different, they played different, and suddenly winning was not a novelty but to be expected.

Now as we celebrate the 20th anniversary of this franchise, and the 10th anniversary of those 2008 Rays, a new era has just begun.

And it begins with a winning season.