NEW YORK - Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg views these next three weeks leading up to the All-Star break as a crucial stretch for his team, which has struggled putting everything together this season. "I think as we talked about before the season, the only thing I thought we could count on was the defense and that's been there, and everything else has been topsy-turvy," Sternberg said. "I think our best baseball should be ahead of us, but by the same token the last couple of weeks it was important for us to play a bit better than we have been. But we've got a stretch ahead of us here where we have an opportunity to do some good stuff. It's important we play really well from here on to the All-Star break." Sternberg touched on several topics before Thursday's game with the Yankees at Yankee Stadium - the play of his team, the arrival of top prospect Wil Myers and the fact he was standing in front of the Rays dugout, just a few feet from Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and members of the Hillsborough County Economic Development Corporation. The mayor and the HCEDC are in New York on business and attended the game. Their tickets came with field passes.
Sternberg acknowledged that it is unusual for him to be chatting on the field at Yankee Stadium with the mayor of Tampa. "He's here, and I'm here," Sternberg said. "I'm expected to be here. I'm always here." The Rays began the night in fourth place in the American League East, two games above .500 and six games behind the division-leading Red Sox. Two starting pitchers - David Price and Alex Cobb - are on the disabled list. Three rookie pitchers will make four of the seven starts on this road trip. The offense has been spotty and the rotation has not been the sure bet most people figured it would be heading into this season. "It's baseball," Sternberg said. The addition of Myers is expected to help the offense. Sternberg said the rookie's call-up Tuesday was due to a number of factors, none more important than the fact the Rays' offense needed a jolt. "He seemed to put it together sort of at the same time when some of our bats went a little bit cold," Sternberg said. "We needed from the right side a little bit more pop. We'll see how it goes." When asked for his impression after Myers' three games in Boston, Sternberg said, "He looks a lot like Evan (Longoria) in the box, only stands up a little taller, a little open. To me it looks a little special, because without the batting gloves it stands. The bat looks like an extension of his arm. We've had guys without batting gloves before, but they seemed to have hairier arms. It seems to be an extension of his arms and it looks very natural." Sternberg said he gets excited whenever the Rays promote one of their top prospects to the big leagues, beginning as far back as Scott Kazmir. "It's always a real exciting time the first few days," Sternberg said. "But after the first few days it seems like they've been here a long time." With the help of Myers and with other players performing to their capabilities, Sternberg said he expects the Rays to play meaningful games in September. "Oh yeah, I expect to," he said. "The unfortunate thing is the division, nobody is running away with at this point, but we should have been, could have been a few games closer. Considering the way we played our record shouldn't be any worse than it is, but at the same token we have to start replicating offensively what we did in May and we have to start pitching like we know we can pitch." firstname.lastname@example.org (813) 259-7227 Twitter: @RMooneyTBO