The Tampa Bay Rays advanced to the ALDS on Wednesday with their 4-0 win over the Indians in Cleveland. The victory gives the club some breathing room for the first time in days, as the Rays needed to win their last game of the season the beat the Rangers in a tiebreaker just to clinch a Wild Card spot. The Rays are one of the most colorful clubs in baseball. They'll next face their division rivals, the Boston Red Sox, in a best-of-five series. Here are 19 awesome things about the Tampa Bay Rays:
1. Their defense
The Rays finished second in the league in defensive efficiency - the rate at which batted balls are turned into outs. A huge key to their success in the field is their aggressive use of defensive shifting based on opposing hitters' tendencies. But it helps that they have a bunch of excellent defenders like Yunel Escobar and Ben Zobrist.
2. Manager Joe Maddon welcomes animals to the clubhouse
Maddon's one of the game's best innovators both on and off the field. During spring training he welcomed this penguin to the clubhouse. The Rays also saw cockatoos and snakes invade their locker room. Also, one time, a merengue band.
3. And he'll buy you a beer
When the Rays were struggling in early September, Maddon welcomed fans to join the players at their "Win or Weep" postgame party at Legends sports bar in Long Beach, Calif., where he makes his offseason home. Turns out he's got good taste in bars, too: Legends has a projection screen so big it's like watching baseball in IMAX.
4. David Price
The reigning AL Cy Young Award winner didn't match his gaudy 2012 numbers in 2013, but he started throwing more strikes and wound up leading the league in complete games, walk rate, and strikeout-to-walk ratio. He also seems like a generally awesome dude, mentoring the team's younger pitchers and occasionally throwing bullpen sessions in a football uniform.
5. David Price's dog
First off, the dog's name is Astro - presumably a reference to the Jetsons and not Jose Altuve. And Astro's a prolific tweeter who got his own bobblehead day.
6. Jose Molina's pitch framing
People used to chuckle at aspects of catcher Jose Molina's game until the folks at Baseball Prospectus examined the way he frames pitches - pulling balls into the strike zone to fool umpires - and determined he's "the best pitch-for-pitch defensive catcher of the last 60 years." Pay close attention to how he receives pitches on or beyond the corners during the playoffs.
7. Everything else about Jose Molina
Molina's defense is good enough to make him a valuable player, but it's still OK to chuckle about the other aspects of his game. He's generously proportioned, he can't really hit, and he's ridiculously slow.
8. Their general weirdness
The Rays' 18-inning marathon against the Orioles in late September exposed the fact that team personnel own both Gene Simmons and Chewbacca masks. Is anyone really surprised?
9. Postgame ice cream parties
Look at how happy Jose Lobaton is to receive ice cream after a walk-off hit. Jose Lobaton loves ice cream. Who doesn't love ice cream? Stars: They're just like us!
10. Evan Longoria is signed forever
Longo's the Rays' best position player and one of the best all-around players in the Majors. He's 27 years old, and Tampa Bay has him locked up on a reasonably team-friendly deal through 2023. They signed him to his first extension just six days after he came up, then added on more years this offseason. Young starter Matt Moore got a similar extension after 19 1/3 big-league innings. It's a smart way to do business if you don't have a ton of money but you've got faith in your young players.
11. They're crafty
Check out the pickoff move Alex Torres pulled in July. Brilliant.
12. Very crafty
The Rays retired Juan Uribe on a hidden-ball trick in August. And even by hidden-ball-trick standards, it was pretty advanced: 3-6-5 in the scorebook.
13. Their park has actual Rays in it
Do the Cubs have cubs? No. Do the Mariners have mariners? Maybe sometimes, but only by coincidence. The White Sox don't even wear white socks most of the time. But the Rays have a tank of rays in Tropicana Park. Your move, Tigers.
14. And Bloomin' Onions are available
Tropicana Park doesn't exactly have the best reputation among big-league ballparks. But it does have an Outback Steakhouse concession, which means you can enjoy a Bloomin' Onion while you watch a ballgame.
15. Alex Cobb's perseverance
Cobb threw 6 2/3 innings in the Wild Card game to help the Rays to victory. In nine regular-season starts after returning from a terrifying injury suffered on a line drive to his head, he yielded only a 2.41 ERA. It's incredible to think about what it must take just to return to the mound after a moment so scary, no less dominate once you do.
16. Their homegrown pitching
When Roberto Hernandez (ne Fausto Carmona) started a game for the Rays earlier this season, he became the first free-agent to open the game on the hill for the club since Hideo Nomo in 2005. David Price, Alex Cobb, Matt Moore and Jeremy Hellickson were all drafted and developed by the Rays. Chris Archer, pictured here, came to the club as a minor leaguer in the trade that sent Matt Garza to the Cubs before the 2011 season.
17. Sam Fuld's Wikipedia page
Reserve outfielder Sam Fuld plays the type of head-first baseball that apparently inspires Wikipedia editors to maintain his page with remarkable vigilance. Sam Fuld has more sections on his Wikipedia page than he has Major League home runs. It has one more section than Warren Spahn's page, and Warren Spahn was one of the best pitchers who has ever lived.
18. Wil Myers' upside
Baseball fans have been a bit spoiled in recent years by the remarkable ascensions of Mike Trout, Bryce Harper and Yasiel Puig. The Rays' 22-year-old outfielder's bat his quieted a bit by his home park, but players as young as Myers don't often perform as well as he did in his first 88 games. And he hit 37 homers in the minors in 2012. He's already very good. Soon enough, he'll be great.
19. Fernando Rodney's hat
The Rays' closer practically wears his hat sideways when he pitches. It's pretty cool on its own, and way cooler when you consider how angry it's going to make Brian McCann if the Rays face the Braves in the World Series.