ST. PETERSBURG — B.J. Upton had already done the hard part Wednesday afternoon, lacing a ball into the leftfield corner that scored Racin' Rich Thompson from first base to give the Rays a 5-4, 11-inning victory over the Blue Jays.
So he took a few steps off second base, flung his helmet aside and stood waiting — "He was like, 'Come on, bring it on,' " Carlos Peña said — for his teammates to mob him in celebration.
"I don't know what was going through my head," Upton said. "I just knew the game was over."
After nearly four hours and several wasted opportunities before a Trop matinee gathering of 11,471, the end to their fourth walkoff win was somewhat sudden.
Thompson had reached first after being hit by a Darren Oliver pitch — for the second time in his at-bat, the ump not agreeing on the first one. After Peña struck out, Upton jumped on a 2-and-2 cutter but didn't think it was enough to score Thompson, who raced across the plate without even a throw.
"I heard he could run, and obviously we haven't really got a chance to see it," Upton said. "I hit that ball and I thought it was going to be second and third with one out. And as I'm touching second base, he was already around third base.
"It kind of blew my mind there was not a play at the plate."
Thompson, one of four players in the lineup who wasn't with the Rays at the start of the season, and one of two who weren't with them a week ago, had a simple plan: "I was running until somebody stopped me."
And once again, despite all the missing Rays, with 10 players on the disabled list, they continue to win, improving to 27-18 on the strength of an American League-best 17-7 home record and moving back within one game of first-place Baltimore.
From principal owner Stuart Sternberg on down, they talk about hanging on and hanging in — "We've held our own," Sternberg said — until they get their injured well.
"The phrase we've been using is 'tread water,' " Upton said. "You see a lot of other teams around the league that are healthy and we aren't, but at the same time we find a way to get it done. And that's what it's about."
Said manager Joe Maddon: "I believe we can hold serve through this whole thing. I truly believe that. Different guys have to step up and do something good, and there's been (that)."
Thompson, acquired May 16 from Philadelphia's Triple-A team, did, and Upton did, logging his fifth career walkoff hit, fourth against Toronto. Before that, Drew Sutton, acquired Monday from Pittsburgh's Triple-A team, did, making the best of his first time in the cleanup spot with a two-run double.
So did old standby James Shields, the veteran ace who worked impressively into the eighth, striking out 10. And relievers Fernando Rodney, who worked two scoreless innings (lowering his ERA to 0.40), and Jake McGee, who pitched the 11th for the win.
Maddon lifted Shields with one on in the eighth and a 4-2 lead, but Joel Peralta gave it up, allowing a two-run homer to Edwin Encarnacion. The Rays were aggressive with a chance in the ninth but came up short, Peña lying at the plate stunned he had been tagged out, trying to score from second on an infield single. They took a different approach after a leadoff walk in the 10th, Maddon declining to have Elliot Johnson bunt, but that didn't work out either.
But they felt the battle of the bullpens was in their favor, and by the end of the long afternoon, they again were the ones celebrating.
"That's what we do," Upton said. "That's how this team has been."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]