ST. PETERSBURG — Desmond Jennings hadn't been feeling too good. The quick start that thrust him into prominence and even some extended rookie of the year conversations had faded hard, and the frustration of three singles total over the past nine days was mounting.
But one swing late Wednesday afternoon was all it took to improve his mood, and, at the least, extend the Rays' chances to change their fortunes going into a weekend showdown series with the AL wild card-leading Red Sox.
Jennings' homer on the first pitch of the 10th inning gave the Rays a 5-4 victory over the Rangers, recouping a win — the 1,000th in franchise history — on a day that looked to be lost when Kyle Farnsworth blew a ninth-inning lead.
"It definitely gives us a better outlook and vibe going into that game on Friday," typically day-at-a-time manager Joe Maddon said. "It was pretty vital."
The challenge is still daunting: seven games behind the Red Sox with 20 to play. But better than if Wednesday's matinee, played before a Trop gathering of 11,190, had gotten away. "It was big," starter David Price said. "We can't really fall any more games behind."
Jennings, with a .105 average and no extra-base hits since Aug. 28, thought he hit Mark Lowe's first pitch of the 10th well enough to win it, though he got a bit worried when leftfielder Josh Hamilton kept going back for it. "I was like, man, where you going?" Jennings said. "Then it got out."
He felt even better when he turned third and saw his teammates waiting for him, tossing away his helmet and leaping stylishly into the waiting walkoff celebration, the Rays' 11th of the season (and sixth in their past 20 home games) and his first in the big leagues.
"That was the most exciting thing I've (done) in a while," Jennings said. "It's one of the best feelings in the world to see everybody huddled up right there waiting on you to get in."
Even though the treatment in the mob got a little, uh, personal: "I was almost naked when I left the pile."
The homer was Jennings' ninth in 43 games for the Rays (a pace for 34), but what made it so impressive, Maddon said, was what came before. The 3-for-35 skid Jennings lugged into the game wasn't getting any better after a first-inning walk (though he scored), two flyouts and a tough strikeout.
But when the Rays came up in the 10th, Jennings went right to work, looking for, and getting, a first-pitch fastball from Lowe.
"I think that's part of the beauty of him — he doesn't carry any negative with him … ," Maddon said. "He's very talented. He's very competitive. He does it in his own quiet way, but you can see it in his eyes — it's burning pretty brightly. So I really have a lot of faith in him."
Jennings wasn't the whole story. Price, though not sharp, got them through six innings with the lead. Ben Zobrist doubled in two runs, his first extra-base hit since Aug. 27 and RBIs since Aug. 28. Rookie Brandon Guyer, with a tip from Evan Longoria to get his hands ready sooner, hit his second big-league homer. And Farnsworth, after giving up Ian Kinsler's one-out homer in the ninth for his fifth blown save, limited the damage despite a third-strike wild pitch and a ground ball single.
"A big slip," Maddon said, "if we had not been able to pull that out."
Marc Topkin can be reached at email@example.com.