SPORTS> North America
Rays hold heads high after turnaround season
Updated: 2008-10-30 16:08
PHILADELPHIA - Losing the World Series on Wednesday would not lessen the feeling of accomplishment among the Tampa Bay Rays and their belief that this was the first step in a future of success, their players and manager have said.

"I'm very proud of our guys," Rays manager Joe Maddon told reporters after the Phillies won the completion of Monday's rain-suspended game 4-3 to win the best-of-seven series 4-1.

"Really a truly remarkable job. We made a powerful statement. It's just the beginning."

Tampa Bay turned around a decade at the bottom of the standings by going from last year's worst record in Major League Baseball all the way to the Fall Classic in their first postseason as their young talent suddenly came of age.

"We're a young team. We'll enjoy what we did and get ready for next year. It has been a nice ride for us," said outfielder Carl Crawford, 27, a seven-year Rays veteran and the longest-serving player on the team.

"We won't be a joke to anybody anymore. We established ourselves as a real franchise now, a real team.

"This will give us a lot of confidence coming into next season. We want to come back," Crawford said.

Evan Longoria, the slugging rookie third baseman, had a woeful time at the plate, going 1-for-20 for a .050 average, but came away with a sense of optimism.

"We did a tremendous amount of growing this season," he said. "We've accomplished so much. I think the fans understand we have a winning group of guys here and a group of guys that are going to be here for a long time.

"We didn't put this team together through big trades and money. It has been built from the ground up and these guys that are here are going to be here for a long time."

Rookie left-hander David Price showed flashes of dominant form and said the experience would help him.

"I wouldn't trade this for anything. Yeah, we lost the World Series, but this is a great way to start my career.

"I learned it's a little tougher pitching in the postseason. The game is faster. It's something I got to experience this year and I'll get to use in my later years."

Left-handed starter Scott Kazmir agreed.

"It felt like it was a marathon all season and a sprint to the finish.

"A taste of playoff baseball was huge for all of us."

James Shields, the winning pitcher in Tampa Bay's win in Game Two, was proud how the team surpassed expectations.

"We shocked the world," said Shields, who said it was annoying to be "the worst underdog in the history of MLB."

Maddon said things would never be the same for his young charges.

"Our guys are not going to be happy without playing in October from now on," he said.