9=8… Rays Win the American League East

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The chase for the division is over. The Rays will sit atop the hardest division in baseball at the end of the regular season. It had been 11 years since anyone BUT the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox had been division champs. That streak ends, at least for one year. Who else is ready to join the Rayvolution? Are you feeling the heat already? The winner of the AL Central most certainly will when either the White Sox or Twins begin a best of 5 against the Rays Thursday night at Tropicana Field, where the Rays have the best home record in all of baseball. Rumor is that BOTH games are sold out. The Rays are undefeated in the last 20 or so when the crowds at home are over 30,000. You do the math.

I just wanted to share my enthusiasm, obviously, but also Tampa Tribune’s Martin Fennelly’s column. He’s one of my favorite journalist because of his style of writing. It’s unique… almost mirroring a sort of stream-of-consciousness. You simply could not sum up the season any better than how he does t in this piece. Enjoy reading it!

By MARTIN FENNELLY | The Tampa Tribune

Published: September 27, 2008

Updated: 02:40 am

DETROIT Most of them left the visitors clubhouse without knowing whether they owned a flag or not. The franchise that has waited 11 seasons to plant one in the Red Sox and Yankees had to wait a little longer.

Many of the amazing Rays departed Comerica Park after losing to the Tigers on Friday night. Their magic number for clinching the American League East remained 1. The Yankees were clobbering the Red Sox, but doing it in and around rain delays at Fenway Park.

So Rays scattered, some to the team hotel, others to a nearby casino; the latter seemed appropriate for the team that had beaten all the odds. Rays manager Joe Maddon lingered in the clubhouse with his coaches and a small platoon of his miracle men.

But one by one, or three by three, the others came back to the stadium.

They had to be together.

It’s like that grand old man, Cliff Floyd said.

“We’re a team, after all.”

The clock struck midnight.

And the magic number turned to none.

The Red Sox were crushed by the Yankees.

Actually, it was 12:52 a.m., Destiny Time, when the pumpkin turned into a coach all over again.

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They sprayed champagne and poured beer on their AL East caps and shirts, they smoked big fat cigars (eventually setting off stadium smoke alarms) and screamed “9=8,” the Maddon-made mantra that became the running theme – nine men competing for nine innings equals one of the eight playoff teams.

There’s something about a group of sloppy Rays forming a circle around Carlos Pena and Evan Longoria as they dance cheek to cheek that, well, never gets old. Or maybe it was the skipper himself parting the sea of celebrants, holding aloft a bottle of Patron tequila as if was a holy relic.

“Jon?”

Maddon was calling Rays mad dog Jonny Gomes.

Gomes seized said tumbler.

And it was on.

Here are your Rays, Tampa Bay.

They are tickling America’s nose as much as any bubbly could.

Forget the presidential debate.

Move over, McCain and Obama.

Meet the real candidates of change.

And the new Beast of the East.

It had been 11 years since anyone other than the Yankees or the Red Sox had won the American League East. We figured it would be another 111 before that changed.

These Rays believed different.

Never mind that the combined Red Sox and Yankees payrolls resembled some sort of federal bailout plan, or that Rays players earned less than the left side of the New York infield. That whining sap, Yankees sort-of owner Hank Steinbrenner, is right. It isn’t fair being the AL East.

How are you going to beat the Rays?

People, stupid people, will say that Joe Maddon’s guys backed in, seeing as they’d lost two straight to the Tigers.

Let me tell you something:

When you go from worst to first, when you go from 96 losses to 96 wins, from fantasy to reality, there’s no such thing.

You don’t back into a mountaintop.

“You don’t back into something like this,” Pena said.

Amen, brother.

If you own a car horn, honk it.

If you own a frying pan, bang it.

If you love an underdog, bark at the moon.

The story that couldn’t be beat couldn’t be beaten by the Red Sox, either.

“We stared everyone down,” Rays reliever J.P. Howell said the other day.

Every single Ray, big names, no names, any name, chipped in.

And believed.

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“You’ve got to believe it before you see it,” manager Joe Maddon said.

Yes, they would have liked to have clinched it their way. The Tigers would have none of it, and that includes Tampa son Gary Sheffield, who hit the 498th and 499th home runs of his career.

But it happened anyway.

No one could stop the Rays.

They stared everyone down. They lost Longoria and Carl Crawford to injuries and they kept staring. They lost Troy Percival and B.J. Upton and they kept staring. They lost seven in a row before the All-Star break and they kept staring. They lost that first game at Fenway a few weeks ago and kept staring. And believing, even when others didn’t.

“If you weren’t here to see it, you wouldn’t believe it,” said Dan Johnson, who probably got the biggest hit of the season, that ninth-inning home run off Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon to tie a game that the Rays eventually won.

Dan who?

Tampa Bay who?

The Beast of the East, that’s who.

We once questioned how they were doing all this.

Now there’s only one question:

Why not the Rays all the way?

“Why not us?,” Floyd asked. “Nobody wants to play us.”

Why not the Rays over the Twins or White Sox, or Angels and Red Sox? Why not their pitching, defense, bullpen and enough hitting to make you think someone upstairs has just come downstairs and is doing the backstroke in the Rays tank?

We’ve spent a season wondering just when these cats were going to crack, and right now we could walk from here to the postseason on Rays champagne corks.

Why not the Rays?

And to think, there was a time when a lot of Rays wanted no part of the AL East. The Red Sox and Yankees were menaces.

Gomes, who was the life of the celebration, remembered the first time Maddon told his Rays that the AL East was the best place for the Rays.

“We thought he was high,” Gomer said.

And so they are – high, oh, so high.

And the Red Sox can only look up.

And there’s a moral to the story.

“I bet every team with a payroll like ours can take something from this,” Floyd said.

I bet someone slugging it out for seven bucks an hour can take something from this.

“In this day and age, where most everything seems to be measured by the amount of money you put into it, people can identify with good play, with effort,” Maddon said. “They can identify with putting something together, with coming together, with unity, trust and accountability.”

Gomes added, “It’s the story of the kid who keeps getting his lunch stolen by the bullies until he punches back, and he keeps all his money.”

There’s a lot of kid in these amazing Rays. Before Thursday’s game, Carl Crawford smiled like he was waiting on a parade.

“And now we got a flag to wave,” Crawford said.

“This is only the start,” Maddon said.

Believe it.

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WaMu goes Wawaa…

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Just in case you HAVEN’T heard, your neighborhood friendly financial giant Washington Mutual is the latest casualty of the slumping financial trend here in the US. I know that it’s not too funny, but I can’t help but laugh when scouring news sites and seeing a headline like “WaMu is the biggest bank failure EVER!” I just imagine someone saying it very exaggeratingly… ironically its true. Anyway, here’s the news release if you are interested in reading.

NEW YORK/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Washington Mutual Inc was closed by the U.S. government in by far the largest failure of a U.S. bank, and its banking assets were sold to JPMorgan Chase & Co for $1.9 billion.

Thursday’s seizure and sale is the latest historic step in U.S. government attempts to clean up a banking industry littered with toxic mortgage debt. Negotiations over a $700 billion bailout of the entire financial system stalled in Washington on Thursday.

Washington Mutual, the largest U.S. savings and loan, has been one of the lenders hardest hit by the nation’s housing bust and credit crisis, and had already suffered from soaring mortgage losses.

Washington Mutual was shut by the federal Office of Thrift Supervision, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp was named receiver. This followed $16.7 billion of deposit outflows at the Seattle-based thrift since Sept 15, the OTS said.

“With insufficient liquidity to meet its obligations, WaMu was in an unsafe and unsound condition to transact business,” the OTS said.

Customers should expect business as usual on Friday, and all depositors are fully protected, the FDIC said.

FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair said the bailout happened on Thursday night because of media leaks, and to calm customers. Usually, the FDIC takes control of failed institutions on Friday nights, giving it the weekend to go through the books and enable them to reopen smoothly the following Monday.

Washington Mutual has about $307 billion of assets and $188 billion of deposits, regulators said. The largest previous U.S. banking failure was Continental Illinois National Bank & Trust, which had $40 billion of assets when it collapsed in 1984.

JPMorgan said the transaction means it will now have 5,410 branches in 23 U.S. states from coast to coast, as well as the largest U.S. credit card business.

It vaults JPMorgan past Bank of America Corp to become the nation’s second-largest bank, with $2.04 trillion of assets, just behind Citigroup Inc. Bank of America will go to No. 1 once it completes its planned purchase of Merrill Lynch & Co.

The bailout also fulfills JPMorgan Chief Executive Jamie Dimon’s long-held goal of becoming a retail bank force in the western United States. It comes four months after JPMorgan acquired the failing investment bank Bear Stearns Cos at a fire-sale price through a government-financed transaction.

On a conference call, Dimon said the “risk here obviously is the asset values.”

He added: “That’s what created this opportunity.”

JPMorgan expects to incur $1.5 billion of pre-tax costs, but realize an equal amount of annual savings, mostly by the end of 2010. It expects the transaction to add to earnings immediately, and increase earnings 70 cents per share by 2011.

It also plans to sell $8 billion of stock, and take a $31 billion write-down for the loans it bought, representing estimated future credit losses.

The FDIC said the acquisition does not cover claims of Washington Mutual equity, senior debt and subordinated debt holders. It also said the transaction will not affect its roughly $45.2 billion deposit insurance fund.

“Jamie Dimon is clearly feeling that he has an opportunity to grab market share, and get it at fire-sale prices,” said Matt McCormick, a portfolio manager at Bahl & Gaynor Investment Counsel in Cincinnati. “He’s becoming an acquisition machine.”

BAILOUT UNCERTAINTY

The transaction came as Washington wrangles over the fate of a $700 billion bailout of the financial services industry, which has been battered by mortgage defaults and tight credit conditions, and evaporating investor confidence.

“It removes an uncertainty from the market,” said Shane Oliver, head of investment strategy at AMP Capital in Sydney. “The problem is that markets are in a jittery stage. Washington Mutual provides another reminder how tenuous things are.”

Washington Mutual’s collapse is the latest of a series of takeovers and outright failures that have transformed the American financial landscape and wiped out hundreds of billions of dollars of shareholder wealth.

These include the disappearance of Bear, government takeovers of mortgage companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and the insurer American International Group Inc, the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc, and Bank of America’s purchase of Merrill.

JPMorgan, based in New York, ended June with $1.78 trillion of assets, $722.9 billion of deposits and 3,157 branches. Washington Mutual then had 2,239 branches and 43,198 employees. It is unclear how many people will lose their jobs.

Shares of Washington Mutual plunged $1.24 to 45 cents in after-hours trading after news of a JPMorgan transaction surfaced. JPMorgan shares rose $1.04 to $44.50 after hours, but before the stock offering was announced.

119-YEAR HISTORY

The transaction ends exactly 119 years of independence for Washington Mutual, whose predecessor was incorporated on September 25, 1889, “to offer its stockholders a safe and profitable vehicle for investing and lending,” according to the thrift’s website. This helped Seattle residents rebuild after a fire torched the city’s downtown.

It also follows more than a week of sale talks in which Washington Mutual attracted interest from several suitors.

These included Banco Santander SA, Citigroup Inc, HSBC Holdings Plc, Toronto-Dominion Bank and Wells Fargo & Co, as well as private equity firms Blackstone Group LP and Carlyle Group, people familiar with the situation said.

Less than three weeks ago, Washington Mutual ousted Chief Executive Kerry Killinger, who drove the thrift’s growth as well as its expansion in subprime and other risky mortgages. It replaced him with Alan Fishman, the former chief executive of Brooklyn, New York’s Independence Community Bank Corp.

WaMu’s board was surprised at the seizure, and had been working on alternatives, people familiar with the matter said.

More than half of Washington Mutual’s roughly $227 billion book of real estate loans was in home equity loans, and in adjustable-rate mortgages and subprime mortgages that are now considered risky.

The transaction wipes out a $1.35 billion investment by David Bonderman’s private equity firm TPG Inc, the lead investor in a $7 billion capital raising by the thrift in April.

A TPG spokesman said the firm is “dissatisfied with the loss,” but that the investment “represented a very small portion of our assets.”

DIMON POUNCES

The deal is the latest ambitious move by Dimon.

Once a golden child at Citigroup before his mentor Sanford “Sandy” Weill engineered his ouster in 1998, Dimon has carved for himself something of a role as a Wall Street savior.

Dimon joined JPMorgan in 2004 after selling his Bank One Corp to the bank for $56.9 billion, and became chief executive at the end of 2005.

Some historians see parallels between him and the legendary financier John Pierpont Morgan, who ran J.P. Morgan & Co and was credited with intervening to end a banking panic in 1907.

JPMorgan has suffered less than many rivals from the credit crisis, but has been hurt. It said on Thursday it has already taken $3 billion to $3.5 billion of write-downs this quarter on mortgages and leveraged loans.

Washington Mutual has a major presence in California and Florida, two of the states hardest hit by the housing crisis. It also has a big presence in the New York City area. The thrift lost $6.3 billion in the nine months ended June 30.

“It is surprising that it has hung on for as long as it has,” said Nancy Bush, an analyst at NAB Research LLC.

On facebook, I just saw my friend’s status which reads, “(friend) is a J.P. Morgan Chase account holder now. Awesome?” Classic.

Well, I am now off to the downtown Rays watch as they take on the Detroit Tigers to hopefully CLINCH the AL EAST. I’ll try to begin the Austin storytelling tonight through TTMC III: Austin Edition, which should be a multi-part deal. And we’ll finish the sci fi list by this weekend, thank God. ND vs. Purdon’t tomorrow as well… we’ll have a nifty preview.

Go Rays. Read the heap.

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