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10/09/08 4:30 PM ET

Maddon workout day interview

Rays skipper discusses pregame rituals, Tampa Bay's ascent

First of all, we talked last week about how big the Rolling Stones were, part of your pregame ritual. If you had a Stones song that would describe this team, would it be "Street Fighting Men" on Midnight Ramblers?

JOE MADDON: Whoa, depends on the time of the day (laughing).

I think we've played both sides of that. I'm still into the start me up version. I still like that to start off our day. I've played it before. Every game. Every time I've walked in on game day. I'm going to do it again tomorrow, so we're going to stay with start me up, but those both fit our group pretty well. Nicely researched.

These two franchises are about as different as you can get in terms of history, resources, revenues, tradition, all that.


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Was there a time that you think your team was intimidated by that, and at what point do you think they ceased to be intimidated?

JOE MADDON: I can only speak for the last three years. Really, I can't speak prior to that.

I know coming into this, I just thought there was too many components or too many -- primarily players that were just happy to be here. I thought this was kind of like a place just for potential major league players sometimes to hang out and say they were in the big leagues. Nobody was really concerned about that much about winning, just being here was good enough.

That was one of the main parts or components or changing the culture here was to move beyond that mindset where it was just happy to be here. It was just way too comfortable.

So the first year really was just pretty much evaluation. Of course, you're trying to win every game but you're still evaluating what you have and how you want to make those changes. I had some ideas coming in, and of course combining that with Andrew and the rest of the guys, we started to implement them, and part of it was to create an overall plan and stay with it; and knowing that you're going to take some body blows during this time, but you've got to stay with it, man.

You can't just succumb to what other people think. You've got to do what you believe is the best to make this into a viable, consistently good organization.

So the first year was tough, and then the second year I thought by the halfway point, I'd say post All Star break, right around the -- I still talk about the acquisition of Dan Wheeler right about that time, even though we gave up Willy, who I thought was wonderful; Donny coming in and making us much better.

All of a sudden you start seeing mindset changing where you start winning games you can or are supposed to win based on you how the game had flowed. I think the players started to understand, too, at that point it wasn't just about being happy to be there. We were moving in the right direction.

I thought at the conclusion of the second year, we were having our exit meetings in Toronto and really emphasized to the guys how important our last off season would be harding this year.

What I'm trying to describe is the fact that we knew the culture needed to be changed. That is not an easy thing to do and it requires time. We're still in the process of making it better, but for right now obviously it's really come a long way from day one.

What is your roster situation with Percival? And then right field, is that platoon, as well?

JOE MADDON: We haven't announced our final decisions. We're still going back and forth and talked a lot about 11 pitchers, as opposed to 10 this time around.

You know, quite frankly I probably am leaning towards -- I should say we are leaning towards 11 pitchers over 10. So that would influence Percy, probably, yes.

So he threw really well today. He threw really well, velocity on the fastball was really good, I really liked his breaking stuff, and overall command of that. Furthermore, he threw 35 pitches, and actually he was getting better as he got deeper. We still have to finalize all those things.

Regarding the platoon in right field, you'll see right handed pitchers and you'll see Gabe out there; you'll see a left handed pitcher. We have two options. If Rocco is able to go defensively, we kind of like that. Rocco goes in the outfield and that frees up free Willy Aybar to be able to DH. So that's nice to be able to do.

If Rocco is unable to play right field, he would DH, and then you go with Fernando Perez against the lefty, which I'm also very comfortable with.

So we have different options, but what we've done at this point we'd like to go Rocco in the outfield; Willy DH, if that's possible.

So if you do add another pitcher, it would be Percival?

JOE MADDON: I didn't say that.

But it would be decided tomorrow?

JOE MADDON: We've talked about it. We have our different thoughts. But it doesn't necessarily have to be Percy.

Kind of a follow up to what Sean was asking before, this particular season, I've heard different things about what your goal was going into the season, whether it was most wins ever, 81 wins; but then I keep hearing that actually it was 90 wins. I don't know what it was, but was there a time this season that you can pinpoint where you could see, this team could see, hey, you know what, we're pretty good, we can do this?

JOE MADDON: Well, we went to spring training -- when you address your team during spring training, you don't want to just say, listen, boys, our goal is to be .500. I think that's inappropriate.

But then again, where we had come from, it was kind of difficult to imagine we would win 90 some games. During the off season, I really wrestled with those thoughts and tried to figure out the best way to present this to our group; whereas going to the playoffs became a viable option.

Nine players play nine innings hard. We become one of the eight teams in the playoffs, but if you go deeper, I talked about getting nine more wins out of the offense, nine more wins out of the defense, nine more wins out of the pitching staff. That's a big objective, or it can be a big objective, but it kind of defines to the group, that's 27 more wins, which would have put us at 93. We actually clinched the wildcard spot with 92 wins this year.

So everything that I had been taught and read and believed in; first of all, you've got to believe it before you see it. A lot of people have to see it first. I believe you have to see it in your mind's eye first. So I had to make it believable to these guys.

The other part was read I Harvey Dorfman's book. You have to be more specific. So if you're going to ask for that kind of a quantum leap within your group and not be more specific, they're going to look at it and scoff at you, which they may do anyway. But that's where I came in; specifically, 27 more wins this way. If you're just going to aim for 81 wins, the threat there is that you might win 75.

But if the goal is to win 92 or 93 then you potentially may win 85 or 86 or whatever. So I think you always need to set your sights a little bit higher, and you're always going to get people rolling their eyes, et cetera, which I've gotten used to doing what I do for many years now, and it doesn't bother me.

If you present it in a way that it is believable, then it becomes attainable, and honestly that's exactly what I thought going into the season and that's why I laid it out the way I did.

Was there a point in the season, though, when you could see that this thing was -- when everybody here could see that this thing really was coming together?

JOE MADDON: Honestly, early on, I thought when we swept the Blue Jays and the Red Sox here Blue Jays in Disney. Then we had the Red Sox right here, sweep, sweep, that really I think started to get us thinking a little bit.

Also, pre-All-Star break you lose seven in a row, and everybody is really waiting for us to fall off the horse at that time, and it was a very easy thing to imagine. However, we held our ground. Two win victory over the Blue Jays, Ben Zobrist's home run in the eighth winning beats Burnett here after all this bad stuff going on. Then all of a sudden we start to win all these close games again.

I think that's probably the overall tipping point for the season was that particular post All Star moment, whereas we were able to win some close games against the team with the best pitching in all of baseball, the Blue Jays, we win them close, we win here with them.

Then we start to build in August and have the best August in the history of this ballclub, and we're doing it without Carl, without Longoria, without Percy, and everybody is gaining some ownership into the situation. This anonymous group is gaining ownership.

Okay, if I had to pick one tipping point, I would say it's that series versus the Blue Jays post All Star break. There's other incidences I pointed to prior to that, the extra inning game win on the road in Toronto after being swept by the Red Sox. That's a big moment. I've always felt when win on the road in extra innings that says a lot about your team being that you don't get the last at bat, and we've done it several times this year, including the game in Boston recently.

So we've had those little tests. But if I had to nail down one tipping point it's probably that series versus the Blue Jays following the All Star break when we had lost seven in a row.

What is it about James Shields in your opinion that makes him come up so big in big games and makes you want to hand him the ball in situations like tomorrow night?

JOE MADDON: Focus. He's just got tremendous focus. He just sees the catcher's glove, and he's got a lot of confidence. He's got a lot of self confidence, beyond being good. He's got all this inner strength, intangible stuff, that permits him to be able to do these things in these moments.

He's really competitive, to the point where when I first met him that first year I was kind of trying to tone him down a bit because he would actually get a little bit too assert I have, I thought, during the course of the game.

So I think he's been able he's learning to control his emotions a bit, which I think is a better way to go when you try to get a guy to control his emotions, as opposed to build, and then he's got incredible focus and self confidence.

To go with all the qualities he's got as a pitcher: He uses his fastball first, he's got an incredible change up, he uses the cutter, developed a curveball. Even though he had a pretty successful year last year, he wasn't satisfied with that. He has all of these inner desires to get better, and that's why he's a good pick for tomorrow's game.

Just comment on how Rocco Baldelli has adapted to his role with this team and how he's maintained his value to your ballclub?

JOE MADDON: Well, Rocco is the consummate team player. Coming back as he has, between him and our training staff with Ronny Porterfield, et cetera, we were trying to pinpoint toward the end of the year, and it's exactly what happened.

Rocco being back and being as athletically gifted as he is -- he really is. This young man, I know you got a chance to see him a couple years ago, but physically gift wise he's one of the tops in the American League. Getting him to play on a regular basis, again, would be beautiful. Just being able to utilize him as we have as a right fielder DH, possibly pinch hitter is all great. But also his influence and his stability within the clubhouse matters. I'm really big into all that stuff. I think it goes well beyond your batting average.

So he is all of that, and furthermore his defense, he's been playing defense at a high level. His arm is still very good. He's able to run very well when he has the appropriate amount of rest, too, so he's been phenomenal. It's great to have him back.

He is almost an original Ray, and I think a lot of times people identify -- when you say the name "Rocco," people just think immediately about the Rays, and that's a good thing. I'm looking forward to him continually getting better because, again, this is one of the more gifted young baseball players in the American League.

Can you talk about how from a team perspective the 18 games you played against Boston, particularly the two series in September, helped you prepare for this week?

JOE MADDON: Yeah, I think from the day one that I had this opportunity to work here, people were always concerned about playing the American League East. And I thought, what better place for young baseball players to learn how to become good Major League players than to play in the best division.

So for me, even when we were getting our butts kicked quite regularly, it was a wonderful place for us to learn how to play, under those intense moment in front of that crowd against world champs, between Fenway and Yankee Stadium; and Toronto having the best pitching in the American League, both leagues. And then, of course, Baltimore with their really outstanding offensive club.

We've had to battle through some very difficult teams. We played these teams almost 80 times annually, and that's not easy. And that's the part retrospectively, looking at this, I guess to this point I'm most proud of is the fact that we were able to win this division. You're talking about Boston playing in Fenway, but these other teams are very difficult.

We did not play well against the Yankees this year overall, and Toronto we won in a lot of close games. In Baltimore I think they have one of the most underrated offensive teams around. Playing those games in Boston early on, winning those two early games gives us the confidence, and that is important, but this has been going on for three years. This is not an easy division to play in but it's absolutely the most fun.

Courtesy of FastScripts by ASAP Sports. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.