Much was expected from the Rays rotation entering the season, and it's quite possible the rotation could produce a Cy Young Award winner in LHP David Price, who started Thursday against the visiting Red Sox.
Add the bullpen, which has exceeded expectations and has a Cy Young candidate in RHP Fernando Rodney, and the staff is turning in a season for the record books.
The Rays entered Thursday's game needing 10 strikeouts to tie the 2001 New York Yankees' American League record for strikeouts in a season of 1,266. The Rays began the night fourth on the all-time list and passed the 2001 Red Sox (1,259) and 2009 Yankees (1,260) en route to the AL record when Price recorded six strikeouts in the first seven innings.
When the topic of the strikeout record was mentioned during manager Joe Maddon's pregame media session, he first asked, "With our pitchers?"
Forgive him the confusion. The Rays entered the game having struck out 1,221 times. That makes them the first team in history to record more than 1,200 strikeouts both on offense and defense.
"It just speaks to the talent of our guys and the power of our (pitchers), also, a lot of it, too, the health of our guys," Maddon said. "It also speaks to the power of our bullpen, too. The bullpen has been outrageous in their contribution."
Led by a team-high 193 strikeouts by tonight's starter, RHP James Shields, the Rays rotation leads the AL and is second in the major leagues with 814 strikeouts prior to Thursday's game.
The bullpen has fanned 442, which is third in the AL and eighth in the majors.
"Our staff, as far as I'm concerned, is the best pitching staff in the American League if not the major leagues," Shields said. "We've worked really hard this season. You got to give our bullpen a lot of credit for that. Our starting rotation has done what it needed to do to get that kind of strikeouts. Just to be in that category is pretty good."
The Rays also began the night with a staff ERA of 3.28, tied with Washington for the lowest in the majors. They've held opposing batters to a .230 average, which is lowest in the AL in the designated hitter era.
Five of the last six AL teams to finish the season with an ERA as low as the Rays advanced to the World Series.
The Rays bullpen leads the AL with a 2.85 ERA helped by a major league-low 1.90 ERA since the All-Star break.
Shirts off their backs
Beginning tonight and running until end of the season, fans who donate to either the Rays Baseball Foundation or Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association's Educational Foundation will receive scratch-off cards that provide an opportunity to win prizes.
Included are game-worn autographed Rays jerseys.
It's not the hand
IF Sean Rodriguez became the first AL player to make multiple errors in consecutive games since Detroit's Carlos Guillen on April 18-19, 2006, when he committed two each while playing third base in Monday's and Tuesday's games. The last three were on throws.
Rodriguez, who came off the disabled list Saturday and is still playing with a fractured bone in the pinky of his throwing hand, said the injury is not to blame.
"I can't sit here and give the easy excuse that I just came off the disabled list. That's not who I am," Rodriguez said. "I can make those plays hands down. Were they routine plays? For me, yes. That's the way I looked at it. I just messed up."
Rodriguez said he messed up because he tried to hurry the throws.
"My assessment was I felt like I was a little quick. I tried to do everything really fast, really in a hurry when that's never been my style of defense," Rodriguez said. "I've always been nice and smooth and efficient."
Maddon said that is understandable for an infielder who didn't play in more than two weeks.
"I guess that little clock in your head, all of a sudden you haven't played in a while and then you play and the speed of the game is a totally different animal when you're actually doing it," Maddon said. "I wouldn't doubt the speed was a little quick on him the other night."
Remember the Bolts
The Rays will help the Lightning promote its 20th anniversary tonight.
Rolling Thunder, the Lightning's mobile fan truck, will set up in Lot 7 at the Trop. Lightning coach Guy Boucher will throw out the first pitch. Brian Bradley, who played for the Lightning when the team played at what was then the ThunderDome (now the Trop), and Dave Andreychuk, captain of the 2004 Stanley Cup champion team, will attend the game.
There will be pregame activities, and the seventh-inning stretch will have a Lightning theme.