CLEVELAND — Everyone in the meeting to set the Tampa Bay Rays' 25-man roster for Wednesday's wild-card game agreed rookie OF Kevin Kiermaier should be on the roster. They were about to move on to the next spot when Andrew Friedman spoke up.
“I said, 'Hold on a minute. We got to back up. I know we like crazy. This is who we are, but we can't gloss over this,' ” the Rays' executive vice president of baseball operations recalled before Wednesday's game with the Indians.
Kiermaier spent the season at Triple-A Durham. He spent the past few weeks working out at the Rays' minor-league complex in Port Charlotte in an effort to stay ready if he was needed by the big club.
He was added to the roster Monday, made his big-league debut in the bottom of the ninth inning of the win against the Rangers, then found himself with a coveted spot on the postseason roster.
“This is such a fun and crazy ride,” he said. “The past 72 hours have been one of the best stretches of my life. This is what you play for.”
Kiermaier was named the top defensive player in the Rays' farm system. He remained active to give the Rays an above-average, late-inning defensive outfielder and possibly a pinch-runner with the ability to score from first on a ball in the gap.
“He's a way-above-average outfielder,” Rays farm director Mitch Lukevics said. “He's the type of guy you can count on in the late innings of a game.”
The Rays have taken chances in the postseason with rookies. LHP David Price got the final outs in Game 7 of the 2008 ALCS. LHP Matt Moore started Game 1 of the 2011 ALDS.
Both had played in September, so neither was as raw as Kiermaier.
But Friedman felt the shock value of such a move had worn off during the meeting. That's why he stopped it.
“This is crazy, it's out there,” Friedman said. “But it's who we are. It's what we do.”
Unlike Price and Moore, Friedman said Kiermaier's role will be limited, though it could have a big impact.
“We're not asking him to play center field and hit leadoff,” Friedman said. “We're asking him to come in and score from first on a ball in the gap or go run balls down in the outfield, all things that come very natural to him.”
Those meaningful September games
As happy as he is for his team to have reached the playoffs, Rays owner Stuart Sternberg said the Rays reached their goal last week.
When asked before Wednesday's game if it is World Series championship or bust for the Rays, he said, “I genuinely want to play meaningful games in September and we did that,” Sternberg said. “That is the benchmark we measure and will be when you're in the division we're in with the resources we have.”
Sternberg said his expectations for the team coming out of spring training was a win total in the high 80s.
“So we outperformed,” he said.
He said too much can happen during a 162-game season to ruin lofty expectations by any organization.
“Any season can fall in a heartbeat,” Sternberg said. “So to get to 90 wins again, to play baseball in the end of September that is really important, and now you get here, it's not a question of greed, but you have a different goal.”
Rays manager Joe Maddon said the hardest decision when finalizing the 25-man roster for Wednesday's game was not including DH Luke Scott.
Scott said he was not surprised.
“I haven't played much in the last seven and a half weeks,” Scott said. “The writing was on the wall.”
Ratings on Sun Sports this season were the second-highest since the network began carrying Rays games. Since Sept. 10, the Rays averaged a 5.72 household ratings average. That was 16 percent better than their season average. … Rays TV play-by-play announcer Dewayne Staats is one of 10 finalists for the Ford C. Frick Award for excellence in baseball broadcasting.