Perhaps the tone of the Rays' magical season was set in spring training, when minor leaguer Elliot Johnson barreled over Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli in the ninth inning on March 10. The message was sent: These Rays played hard. They played to win. And they weren't going to be pushovers. Two days later, the Yankees and Rays would brawl after Shelly Duncan spiked Akinori Iwamura at second base.
2 of 15John Iacono/SI, Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
All-Star glory: Gaining the advantage
Not only did the Rays have three All-Stars for the first time -- Evan Longoria was elected by the fans' vote; Scott Kazmir and Dioner Navarro were picked by the players -- Tampa Bay players had a major impact on the result. Longoria sent the game to extras with a tying eighth-inning double; Kazmir was the winning pitcher. Who could have predicted that AL victory would mean home-field advantage at the Trop for the World Series?
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Wild six-run ninth inning stuns Indians
The Rays specialized in walk-off victories in '08 -- they have 12 entering the World Series -- but none was more stunning than the six-run, ninth-inning rally to beat Cleveland 10-7 on Aug. 6. The Rays, who trailed 7-4 entering the bottom of the ninth, got a score-tying homer from Gabe Gross, then a three-run walk-off bomb by Carlos Pena to win it.
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Shields shuts down the Angels
Most dominant pitching outing in Rays history? It could be this one. James Shields limited the Angels to just one hit -- a third-inning Brandon Wood single -- in a 2-0 victory on May 9. Longoria won it with his first career walk-off homer, a two-run blast off Justin Speier. Shields' performance was just the franchise's second complete-game, one-hit shutout.
5 of 15Greg Nelson/SI
Garza nearly no-hits the Marlins
Then again, this just might be Tampa Bay's finest pitching gem. Matt Garza nearly threw the first no-hitter in Tampa Bay history, allowing just one hit (a seventh-inning homer by Hanley Ramirez) in a 6-1 victory at Florida on June 26. Garza struck out 10 and walked one in his first-ever complete game. And the pitch Ramirez hit for a homer? "I don't know how he hit it. I wouldn't swing at it," Garza said.
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Gross takes down Rivera, Yankees
The first moment the Rays truly felt they belonged? Perhaps it was this 11-inning 2-1 victory over the Yankees. Gabe Gross singled off closer Mariano Rivera to win it, plating Jonny Gomes and setting off a wild celebration at Tropicana Field. "We're winning close games against good teams," closer Troy Percival said at the time. "The way we're fighting, you can see it's not a fluke."
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Navarro's extra timely grand slam
Some believe this was the moment that lit the fuse for the Rays' run. Sitting with a 17-16 record on May 8, the Rays blew a three-run lead in the ninth inning ... only to rally to win 8-3 in 13 innings on Dioner Navarro's grand slam. Tampa Bay finished the month by winning 17 of its next 23 games to climb into the AL East lead.
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No. 71 and Rocco's return
Tampa Bay set a franchise record with its 71st victory of the season on Aug. 10 in Seattle -- a milestone in its own right. Even more significant? The return of Rocco Baldelli, who played for the first time since May 15, 2007. The star-crossed Baldelli, who had been diagnosed with mitochondrial disorder in the spring, even had an RBI single in 11-3 victory over the Mariners.
9 of 15Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
Big sweeps at the Trop
Tampa Bay had the majors' best home record in 2008 (57-24), and even the best teams in baseball found it difficult to win at the Trop. The Red Sox were swept twice there. The Rays also swept the AL West champion Angels. And they made a huge June statement with a three-game whitewash of the NL Central-winning Cubs, a sweep capped off by Carl Crawford's grand slam off Scott Eyre in a come-from-behind 8-3 victory on June 19.
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Unlikely hero stops the losing slide
Tampa Bay carried a seven-game losing streak into the All-Star break -- and many believed it was the beginning of the Rays' end. On the brink of an eighth consecutive loss, the Rays got a two-run, seventh-inning homer from Ben Zobrist (right) off Toronto's A.J. Burnett to get back on track. In its first 13 series after the break, Tampa Bay went 12-0-1 to maintain its AL East lead.
11 of 15Damian Strohmeyer/SI
Rays prove they can win at Fenway Park
Fenway Park had always been a house of House of Horrors for the Rays. They hadn't won a series in Boston since 1999 ... until Carlos Pena's opposite-field, three-run home run in 14th inning on Sept. 10 propelled Tampa Bay to a thrilling 4-2 victory. The marathon game, which lasted 5:02, was a 1-1 pitchers' duel until Pena's blast; the Rays then survived after loading the bases in the bottom half of the 14th, getting an unlikely save from little-used Jason Hammel.
12 of 15Bob Rosato/SI
Two Longoria swings, two playoff homers
Evan Longoria accomplished what only one other person in major league history has previously done -- hit a home run in each of his first two postseason at-bats, matching Gary Gaetti's feat from 1987. The likely AL Rookie of the Year, who swatted 27 homers in his debut season, went deep on his first two playoff swings in the Rays' 6-4 Game 1 victory over the White Sox in the AL Division Series.
13 of 15Damian Strohmeyer/SI
Minor league call-up makes major impact
The most unlikely hit of the Rays' unlikely season. With the Rays just three outs from falling out of first place for the first time June 28, Dan Johnson hit a pinch-hit, game-tying homer off Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon on Sept. 9. Tampa Bay scored again in the ninth to beat Boston 5-4. Even more amazing? It was Johnson's first at-bat in a Rays uniform -- he called up from Class AAA Durham earlier in the day, but didn't make it to Fenway Park in time to be in the starting lineup.
14 of 15Cliff Welch/Icon SMI
Tampa Bay clinches first playoff berth
The day when 9=8 -- manager Joe Maddon's spring training mantra: nine players playing hard for nine innings equals one of eight postseason berths -- became a reality. Tampa Bay clinched its first playoff berth by beating the Twins 7-2 on Sept. 20. The Rays joined the 1991 Atlanta Braves as the only teams to advance to the postseason a year after having the worst record in the majors.
15 of 15Al Tielemans/SI
Rays beat Sox in Game 7, advance to 1st World Series
It took seven games -- and the resiliency to bounce back after a monumental Game 5 collapse and another loss in Game 6 -- but the Rays clinched their first AL pennant and World Series trip with a thrilling 3-1 victory over the Red Sox. The unexpected star of the clincher? Rookie left-handed pitching phenom David Price, who nailed down the final four outs to pick up his first career save.
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