When the New York Yankees announced in 2007 that they would indeed be making a push for the playoffs and a World Series in 2008, it was widely assumed that they would be the favorites to win the AL East. It was to be a coronation really, the season would end with the Yankees atop their division and would return to the playoffs.
A younger, less experienced, but talented and charismatic team had other ideas however. During Spring Training 2008 they too announced that they too would be making a push for the top of the AL East.
Many felt the Tampa Bay Rays were too young and inexperienced to make a serious run at the Division. The Yankees were a well oiled machine, with a stronger financial backing. Simply put, the Yanks were a lock. The media had already given them the title.
Five months have passed since the season began and oh how the tables have turned. The Yankees, though they held out as long as they could, have finally conceded to the division to the likely nominee of the AL East to the playoffs, the Tampa Bay Rays. And while the Yankees have at least publicly accepted this, many of their supporters have not.
Polls show that a significant number of Yankee supporters will not support the Rays in the national race for a World Series. Some have even suggested that if the Yankees can't represent the AL East in the playoffs, that they would rather support the likely wild card candidate, the Boston Red Sox. When it is pointed out that the Red Sox are against everything the Yankees stand for, it is clear from their responses that these Yankee supporters are simply too hurt at this point to accept the fact that their team didn't win.
The Devil Rays will have to mend some fences if they hope to garner the support of these fans during the playoffs. Many are still fuming about an incident in March in which a Yankees back up catcher had his wrist broken. Joe Maddon, the Rays manager, dismissed the incident as playing hard baseball; but many fans felt their team was being disrespected by the younger, brasher Rays.
It is not clear what will happen in October, but if the Rays hope to garner the support of a significant number of Yankee supporters, they will have to work hard to heal the divisions between the two sides and unite the AL East.