The Devil Ray Made Me Do It

I consider myself fairly intelligent. I am capable of tying my own shoes. I can walk and chew gum nearly simultaneously. I was educated in the scientific method. I even worked for a brief time as a rocket scientist at a nuclear plant (and no the reactor operators are nothing like Homer Simpson). Given this background I always attempt to look at a problem and break it down to logical steps to understand the issue and to hopefully find a resolution that will restore balance to the universe. Scientists are really into balance. I think deep down they all wanted to be circus performers but then who wouldn’t? Where else can you test the boundaries of spatial geometry by placing an infinite number of clowns into a small car? As usual, I digress. The problem that I find myself currently contemplating is the inconceivable notion that the Diamondbacks cannot beat their expansion mates the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

Ever since that fateful day on March 9, 1995 these two franchises were connected when both were awarded teams to begin play in 1998. That connection will never be broken and throughout history these two organizations will be compared to one another. Both ownership groups had high hopes that day that they would build successful franchises that would continually rank among the elite both on the field and off. These two organizations took different approaches to the same problem making the comparisons even more interesting. They started their paths very similarly at the expansion draft where they chose players from the other 28 franchises. Little did any of us realize this would be the only time the Diamondbacks would ever beat the Devil Rays in head-to-head competition. Jerry Colangelo called the coin toss and avenged the loss of the toss that occurred when the Phoenix Suns came into being. That coin flip cost the Suns the ability to select Lew Alcinder who would later change his name to Kareem Abdul Jabar and become one of the greatest centers of all time. In the case of the Diamondbacks; Colangelo won the toss and elected to allow the Devil Rays to pick first giving the Diamondbacks picks 2 and 3. The Devil Rays attempted to persuade Jerry to change his mind but that would not happen. Tampa Bay selected Tony Saunders with the first pick. Saunders pitched in 1998 and 1999 for the Devil Rays. His career ended on May 29, 1999 when he broke his arm while pitching to the Texas Rangers. He would attempt to come back but broke the same arm while throwing during a rehab assignment.

The Arizona Diamondbacks selected LHP Brian Anderson with the second selection and RHP Jeff Suppan with the third selection in the expansion draft. Both of these players went on to have successful careers at the major league level. Anderson was an integral part of the 2001 World Series championship team for the Diamondbacks. Suppan would find success after leaving the Diamondbacks and was a critical component of the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals World Series championship team. During the 1998 Inaugural Seasons for both Tampa Bay and Arizona, there were many comparisons made between the two teams. The Devil Rays struggled but were able to scratch out some much needed wins to keep their losses in double digits compiling a 63-99 record that first year. The Diamondbacks a few small winning streaks and compiled a 65-97 record besting their expansion partners. At that point these teams diverged in their approach to the game. The Diamondbacks amassed an array of veterans and made a run at winning now. The Devil Rays attempted to build their team through their farm system amassing an array of high draft picks that would grow into a strong young ball team. These personnel theories resulted in the Devil Rays having a 9 year streak of losing records. Their high point was 2004 which saw them compile a record of 70-91 for a .435 winning percentage. The Diamondbacks on the other hand have had 5 winning seasons out of 9 with their high point being in 1999 when they compiled a record of 100-62 for a .617 winning percentage. An interesting bit of trivia is that the Arizona Diamondbacks saw their worst season occur the same year as the Devil Rays best season. In 2004 Arizona fell to an abysmal 51-111 record for a .315 winning percentage.

Over the course of 9 years the Tampa Bay Devil Rays have underperformed their expansion counterparts. Since 1999 they have had a top 10 selection in the amateur draft due to their lack of on-field success. During that same time period the Diamondbacks have had 2 top 10 selections; one in 1999 as an expansion team and one as a result of the 2004 debacle of a season. This dichotomy of success is what makes it all the more perplexing as to why the Tampa Bay Devil Rays are the only franchise that the Arizona Diamondbacks have never beaten. This season marks the third time these teams have met during Interleague play and through last night’s game the Diamondbacks record is 0-7. The first meeting between these two teams occurred in 2004 at Bank One Ballpark where the Devil Rays beat Randy Johnson, Rheal Cormier, and Brandon Webb. The second meeting was last season at Tropicana Field in Tampa Bay. During that series the Devil Rays beat Miguel Batista, Brandon Webb, and Edgar Gonzalez. Last night Tampa Bay beat Livan Hernadez to run their record to 7-0 against the snakes. Tonight’s game sees Arizona feature Doug Davis while tomorrow the Devil Rays will face rookie Micah Owings. I really thought that last night was the best chance Arizona had of breaking this streak.

Livan Hernandez has been a strong starter for most of the season ranking in the top 10 for quality starts. Tampa Bay countered with Edwin Jackson who came in with an 0-8 record and an ERA of over 8. You would have thought that would equate to an advantage for Arizona. Instead it was Jackson who looked like a former World Series MVP basically shutting down the Diamondbacks until injury forced him from the game in the bottom of the fifth inning. Arizona never looked like they could match the energy of Tampa Bay and slowly the Devil Rays put this game out of reach.

Not only was the game outcome depressing, so was the attendance. Only 18,963 were there to witness the continuation of this streak. It was a much different crowd than what we saw during the Boston Red Sox series. The energy level in the stands was non-existent. At times you could almost hear the grass growing in the outfield. The one positive note was that I couldn’t find a Tampa Bay fan in the stands. I looked long and hard for a vocal fan wearing a Tampa Bay hat and jersey and I just couldn’t find one at least not anywhere near Section 132. So for today and tomorrow I’ll continue my search for the elusive diehard Tampa Bay fan at Chase Field and I’ll hope that one of the next two Diamondbacks pitchers can put a stop to the madness and get this Devil Ray monkey off our backs.

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