Marlins-Rays rivalry hits new heights
Both teams legitimate contenders; mutual respect from managers
MIAMI -- One of the premier events of this Interleague weekend is the battle of Florida, featuring the Tampa Bay Rays and the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park.
This is a new development, but this is not a subjective call. If you consider the combined records of the two teams, there is only one Interleague matchup that is better. That would be the Texas Rangers and the San Francisco Giants. But, apart from the 2010 World Series, those teams have absolutely nothing in common.
The Rays and Marlins have the mutual geography for a rivalry. More to the point, for the first time in their relatively brief histories, the two teams are simultaneously very good. They are both genuine contenders. And their records cannot be in any way diminished because they are both operating in the toughest divisions in their respective leagues.
The opener Friday night went to the Rays, 5-1. This three-hour, 49-minute contest was best described by Rays manager Joe Maddon as "not an oil painting." But that is not the issue. The issue is Rays vs. Marlins becoming a featured attraction in the Interleague scheme of things.
The backdrop for this series was a tidal wave of managerial mutual respect. Some rivalries are built on animosity. You think, for instance, Michigan/Ohio State football constantly in that category, and Yankees/Red Sox at least some of the time. Here, for the moment at least, there will have to be a rivalry built on a foundation of admiration and esteem. It's tough, but that's the direction they've chosen.
Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen was so supportive of the Rays on Friday that, without being asked, he launched into an impassioned plea for the Tampa Bay area to build a new ballpark for the Rays.
"Build a ballpark for them, please," Guillen said in response to a question regarding the growing rivalry between the two teams. "Why not? They're playing well, they've got a great organization now. They deserve that. They've earned it.
"It's fun to watch those guys play, man. It's fun. They play the game good, they play the game right, they play the game hard. They're playing in a very tough division and they kick everybody's butt. I don't see why they don't build this ballpark. They should."
That was just the tip of the iceberg, but with Ozzie, you are asking for depth of feeling, not for brevity. On the topic of Maddon, Guillen was even more expansive.
"He's good. He's got the ballclub to do it and his players believe in him and he believes in his players," Guillen said. "It seems like every time he does something, it works for him.
"He's been winning all these years. He's a very smart baseball man, very smart. And players love to play for him and respect him. That's all you can ask as a manager. When players love to play for you and respect you, you've got it done. I think players respond to him very well, and that's the key.
"For the last three or four years, they've been playing great baseball, little by little, inning by inning. Safety squeeze in the first inning, in the American League? OK. It's 1-0. Now, all of a sudden you look and it's 2-1 in the eighth. And they squeezed in the first inning. Not too many managers do that. But he believed in his pitching staff, he believed in his players. They play pretty solid baseball, day after day.
"Not because he's here, not because I'm competing against him, the one manager I admire most is that man and Ron Gardenhire [of the Twins]. Period. Everybody else I respect. And I hate a few, the same way they feel about me. But that man I respect. The stuff he does, it's interesting and you learn from that man. He's a brilliant man for baseball, brilliant."
Maddon, without being pushed in that direction, also spoke of Guillen in laudatory terms.
"Ozzie, I go way back with him with the White Sox. I have a great deal of respect for him," Maddon said. "I know he does a great job, but he's also very entertaining. He's good for the game.
"I just have a very good feeling about him. We come from different places, but I think the passion for the game is equal."
The Marlins have the two World Series championships on their side of the argument. The Rays have three postseason appearances over the last four seasons in their plus column. But now these two clubs are simultaneously on course for success. This is stuff of which the truly good Interleague series are made.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.