ST. PETERSBURG — Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon’s face broke out in a wide smile when Seminoles Bobby Henry and daughter Barbara Cypress approached him outside the baseball team’s clubhouse Aug. 15. Barbara had a gift for Joe: an authentic handmade Seminole doll.
It was 30 minutes before game time and the start of a three-game series with the New York Yankees. Maddon accepted the gift and chatted with Barbara about how Seminole dolls are made.
“This doll is going to go right in my office, right on my desk,” he promised, “for good luck.”
The Rays won the game, 5-0, to even their record at 61-61 and became only the fourth team in Major League history to be 18 games below .500 and reach the .500 threshold in the same season.
Then they went out and lost the next four games in a row.
“Maybe we better get that doll out of there,” joked Bobby, who earlier in the season, at Maddon’s request, “treated” Tropicana Field, the clubhouse, parking lot, various bats and gloves and watched games from special seats provided by the manager.
In fact, the Rays’ stunning comeback started in early June and coincided when Maddon first invited Henry to pray for his team. At that point, the Rays had baseball’s worst record (24-41).
Twelve weeks later, after a 37-20 streak, the Rays were the hottest team in baseball and back in the hunt for a spot in the playoffs.
Then the losing streak started.
As of Aug. 25, the Rays were 64-67, two and a half games out of a wildcard playoff berth, with 31 games to go.