CHICAGO — The Rays took care of what they needed to Sunday, beating the White Sox 6-2 to keep their postseason hopes alive as they head home for the final three games of the season and getting ace David Price his milestone 20th victory.
But as much as they've done in winning 10 of their past 11 games, their chances to make it back to the playoffs have been reduced to an extreme long shot — making up three games on the A's with three to play, then having to win a tiebreaker — and that could be gone by tonight.
And the worst part is there's very little they can do about it.
"It's out of our hands," centerfielder B.J. Upton said. "We've just got to hope for a little bit of help."
More than a little, actually.
In simplest form, the Rays need to sweep the Orioles while the A's get swept at home by Texas. And that would just be to force a one-game tiebreaker for the second AL wild card, which would be Thursday in Oakland.
That's all the Rays (88-71) were left with after Sunday wins by the Orioles and Yankees — who are now tied for the American League East lead — officially put the division title and first wild card out of reach. And then the A's made it worse by beating Seattle to remain three games ahead. Plus, there's also the Angels, who split a doubleheader at Texas and are tied with the Rays.
"It sucks to be in the position we're in when you're trying to root for other teams to lose,'' third baseman Evan Longoria said. "It kind of gives you the feeling of being on the other side. When you don't control your own destiny, it's not the best feeling."
"Of course, it's a little bit frustrating,'' manager Joe Maddon said.
They at least felt good about what they did on the field Sunday, starting with Price, who became the first 20-game winner in Rays history and enhanced his chance to become their first Cy Young Award winner as well.
"I would hope so," Maddon said.
Handed a two-run lead on the first of two homers by Upton — who needs two more in his likely last three games with the Rays to reach 30 — Price worked a solid seven innings. He allowed two runs in a messy fourth but wasn't challenged much otherwise, improving to 20-5 and maintaining his major-league-best 2.56 ERA. At 27, he is the youngest 20-game winner in the AL since Johan Santana did it at 24 in 2004 for the Twins.
Price said he considered it as much a team achievement as an individual one — "It's been very special" — and that it hadn't really sunk in yet. Plus, he wants to start again in the playoffs.
Even in expressing their confidence, and referencing last season's dramatic dash, to get back into the playoffs, the Rays sounded a bit resigned to their likely disappointing fate of missing out, which will become official as soon as they lose or the A's win once.
"I still believe we can do this because there still is that mathematical opportunity," Maddon said. "But regardless, you've got to appreciate our guys. That's 10 out of 11 at this time of the year, under these circumstances where you can't really hiccup. We had that one mulligan the other night. Our guys have been outstanding, everybody — pitching, hitting, the defense, the coaching staff. They've all been great."
"We need something to happen, but you can't be disappointed with the effort," Longoria said. "We've been as good as we could be down the stretch."
The problem, of course, is what they did to get into this predicament, specifically losing 26 one-run games and going 1-7 in a mid September stretch against Baltimore, New York and Boston.
"We need some help," Price said. "That's what we needed last year and it happened. Just keep winning. Weirder things happened last year."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]