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Before the final game of 2009, Chris Ray shook the hands of a couple of the team's regular beat writers and thanked them for being fair and not piling on him too much during what was a nightmarish season for the reliever. It was a classy but hardly surprising gesture by Ray, who was a good guy and a great teammate.

Most of the attention on the trade that sent Ray and Rule 5 pick Ben Snyder to the Texas Rangers for starter Kevin Millwood and some cash was on the Orioles fulfilling their long-time quest to add a solid veteran to the top of their rotation, and rightly so. But let's not forget that Ray had a couple of pretty good years for the Orioles

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I distinctly remember a game during the 2006 season when the neophyte closer threw a 3-2 slider to Hideki Matsui with the bases loaded and two outs and the Orioles' clinging to a one-run lead. Matsui took the pitch for strike three and Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter raved about Ray's guts to throw that pitch when a walk would have meant a tie game.

Of course there were some tough moments for Ray, many of them coming against New York or Boston. He pitched hurt in 2007 before eventually having Tommy John surgery and he was never right this past season, when he had a 7.27 ERA in 46 appearances and endured one stint on the disabled list and another in the minors. But he never made excuses or hid from the media, even after the toughest of blown saves.

I spoke to Ray the night of the trade and he had nothing but great things to say about the Orioles. He said he owed his career to them, thanked them for believing in him and acknowledged their need of a veteran starter like Millwood. He didn't say a bad word about the organization that traded him on the same day he represented the Orioles at a team-sponsored Christmas party for students, unfortunate timing for both parties.

Ray's fastball velocity started to come back as the 2009 season progressed and he said that he has put on eight pounds of muscle this offseason to get some strength back that he felt he lacked last year. He said his 2009 struggles have provided great motivation. The bet here is that he'll return to form and be a pretty effective reliever for Texas.

Jeff Zrebiec

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