These days, fans are used to the Rays finishing a season with at least 90 wins. But for the franchise’s first ten seasons since its start in 1998, the Devil Rays ended each season below .500. Although the D-Rays’ 2004 season ended with 91 losses, they made history when they reached .500 for the first time ever after April. On June 26, 2004, the D-Rays beat the Miami Marlins 6-4, giving Tampa Bay a 36-35 record.
Miami’s Juan Pierre began the top of the first inning by hitting a single off of D-Rays starting pitcher Mark Hendrickson, who went on to strike out Miguel Cabrera. Michael Tejera, the starting pitcher for the Marlins, recorded his first strike out of the night against Tampa Bay’s Geoff Blum. Tejera went on to walk Rocco Baldelli.
The bottom of the second inning was explosive for Tampa Bay’s offense as Julio Lugo lead off the action by drawing a walk, followed by Toby Hall’s single to center field. Tejera got himself into a bind by walking Rey Sanchez and Joey Gathright in a row, loading the bases. Hall and Sachez scored in the next play off of Carl Crawford’s single. The action continued as Geoff Blum hit a single to right field, allowing Gathright and Crawford to score, putting Tampa Bay up 4-0.
However, Miami retaliated in the top of the fourth inning as Mike Lowell hit a single to center field. Hendrickson walked Jeff Conine, and then hit Mike Redmond with a pitch, causing him to load the bases. Lowell scored off of Hee-Seop Choi’s groundout. But, the Marlins continued to stay productive as Conine and Redmond scored off of Alex Gonzalez’s triple, who scored Miami’s final run of the inning after Damion Easley doubled to left field. The Marlins and D-Rays were tied at 4-4.
Tampa Bay sent in reliever Jorge Sosa to keep the Marlins from scoring any more runs, and he was successful, as he struck out Cabrera and Lowell in the fifth inning. The bottom of the seventh inning began with promise for the D-Rays as Miami reliever Josias Manzanillo walked Gathright. Miami replaced Manzanillo with Matt Perisho.
Things only continued to get better for Tampa Bay as Crawford hit a double, allowing Gathright to score. Perisho walked Blum, making Miami put in another reliever, Ben Howard. Miami’s tactic was successful as their infielders made a double play off of Rocco Baldelli’s ground ball.
Aubrey Huff scored the D-Rays’ final run of the night with his leadoff homerun in the bottom of the eighth inning. Miami could not come back to score any more runs, even after Choi hit a double to right field in the top of the ninth inning.
Although both team’s pitching staffs struggled, with Miami recording only four strikeouts and six walks, and Tampa Bay fairing only slightly better with five strikeouts and one walk, this game was a huge milestone for the D-Rays. By being above .500 after April for the first time in franchise history, Tampa Bay was offered hope that their season could end with a higher record than ever before. Unfortunately, the 2004 season ended with a 70-91 record, but for a while, the D-Rays believed it could be the season that their bad fortune turned around.