ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The first telephone call, as Tampa Bay general manager Andrew Friedman remembers it, was placed roughly 14 months ago, during the days leading up to last year's July trade deadline.
|'I think Jason Bartlett is one of the MVPs of the team,' Rays manager Joe Maddon says. (Getty Images)|
The final telephone call, as history records it, occurred last Nov. 28.
There were dozens of calls in between, players shuttled into the Twins-Rays trade talks and players pulled out. Staredowns and bluffs.
Different permutations of the deal that ultimately was struck, without which Tampa Bay today would not stand two victories from clinching its first playoff berth in franchise history.
Starting pitcher Matt Garza, shortstop Jason Bartlett and a minor-league pitcher named Eduardo Morlan to the Rays in exchange for mercurial outfielder Delmon Young, infielder Brendan Harris and outfielder Jason Pridie.
After which, they should have immediately bronzed the telephone in Friedman's office and placed it on display, under a glass case or something.
"I've said all year that I think Jason Bartlett is one of the MVPs of the team," Rays manager Joe Maddon said before his club allowed five ninth-inning runs in a stunning 11-8 loss to begin a four-game series with the Twins on Thursday night, a night on which they stood an excellent chance to move to within one victory of clinching a postseason berth. "We have won not because we've out-hit everyone, but because of our defense.
"And he's been the glue to holding it together."
"I had never seen him pitch before," Maddon said. "But you could see watching him this spring, you talk stuff, this guy owns some of the best stuff in the American League, period."
Friedman's first conversation in the very early stages of framing the deal that would make Tampa Bay's 2008 season was actually with Terry Ryan, about six weeks before he stepped down as Twins' GM and turned the reigns over to Smith, his assistant.
The Rays, as usual, were playing for next year. Before now, when haven't they? They needed a shortstop even more than they needed fans. Harris wasn't an everyday guy. Ben Zobrist wasn't ready. Josh Wilson? Please.