10/16/08 5:40 PM ET
Torre impressed with upstart Rays
Dodgers manager not surprised with Tampa Bay's rise
By Jason Beck / MLB.com
During his tenure as Yankees manager, Torre managed against the Red Sox and Rays at least three dozen games each season. The battles with Boston, of course, were incredible pressure cookers as part of the two teams' intense rivalry. The games against the Rays didn't get nearly the attention, but they were must-win series in their own right.
"Believe me, I used to get tortured for losing to Tampa, because it's [the Yankees'] home base," Torre told reporters during one of the NLCS media sessions. "But they had Spring Training there and they played there and that's where our Spring Training home was with the Yankees."
This year, in bits and pieces, he has had the luxury of watching those two teams battle from afar -- first for the American League East, now in the AL Championship Series. And he likes what he sees from the Rays, the culmination of a process he could see happening in stages each year.
"You could see them," Torre said. "They would bring one player after another that could do things. Started with [Rocco] Baldelli and Carl Crawford and Aubrey Huff. I mean, they had a lot of players with talent. Then all of a sudden they started adding these guys. Upton, I guess, was a guy that had some injury for a time.
"And it was always [that] they couldn't get enough outs. They basically couldn't get enough outs. They had some pitchers that could shut you down. They've gotten a little bit more mature and then they added some pieces. [Matt] Garza was a big piece for them, even though they gave up a good player in [Delmon] Young. But no question in my mind, the biggest difference is that Joe Maddon can reach into that bullpen and go lefty/righty and get great results."
That didn't mean he had them going this far, this season. Like many, he figured the Red Sox would eventually overtake the Rays during the stretch run to the regular season. The Rays eventually won him over, and he can remember the exact night in September when it happened.
It was during the Rays' visit to Fenway Park in early September, and the final night, they were trying to take the rubber match of the three-game set. While the Rays and Sox played extra innings into the late hours of the night, Torre watched on television from California as Carlos Pena's three-run homer put Tampa Bay up for good in the 14th.
"At that point," Torre told reporters, "they made me believers that they're for real and that they could look them right in the eye and not back away. And they're talented. There's no question. Boston's talented, too."
"They were beat up a little bit, but ... when I looked up there in that September night and saw what was happening, I think I didn't have to pick Boston anymore. Because any time anybody asked me, I said it's probably going to be Boston, based on the fact that they had the experience. But they just faced that and just went after it. I'm pretty impressed with what Joe Maddon has done down there."
As for how quickly the change happened, Torre wasn't overwhelmed.
"It's really not that much of a surprise," Torre said. "For them to go from worst to first, yeah, sure, that's probably a surprise it happened that quickly. But I think they just got a little bit of a roll and they certainly were tested all year, even though they had all year, they still had to go out there and fight off Boston all year long."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.