ANAHEIM, Calif. — Down eight runs in the third inning Saturday night, the Rays seemed headed for a numbing defeat they would hope to quickly forget.
Instead, they ended up with a stunning — and record-tying — 10-8 victory over the Angels they will be talking about for a long time.
Especially if they end up playing into October.
After getting back in the game with seven runs in the fifth and getting even with one in the sixth, the Rays took the lead, dramatically, naturally, in the eighth, on a two-run pinch-hit homer by Carlos Peña, the first of his career coming off the bench.
"What a great comeback,'' Pena said. "We showed a lot of heart tonight.''
The Rays matched their largest comeback win in franchise history, having trailed 9-1 at Toronto on July 25, 2009, before winning 10-9. In doing so, they extended their red-hot roll, winning for the 10th time in their past 12 games, improving to 66-54, a season-high 12 games over .500, and maintaining their lead in the AL wild-card race.
"I really felt all along we had a chance," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "How could you not love the resolve, and staying with it, and coming back like that against a really good team in their home ballpark. ... I'm really proud of our guys.''
To think it all began with a dismal start by Alex Cobb, who allowed the eight runs, on 12 hits, while lasting only 22/3 innings. "Everything I threw up there, good pitch, bad pitch, was hit and found a hole,'' Cobb said. "There obviously were a lot more bad pitches than good pitches.''
But the Rays roared back to tie, scoring seven in the fifth, including a three-run double by Ben Zobrist and a two-run homer by Evan Longoria, and another in the sixth, on a sac fly by Jose Lobaton.
Once the Rays got even, the game turned into a battle of the bullpens.
And that worked to their advantage as they trotted out, in order, Burke Badenhop, J.P. Howell, Kyle Farnsworth, Jake McGee, Joel Peralta and Fernando Rodney, the former Angel who was booed before finishing with his majors-high 38th save (after a hit batsman, walk and wild pitch put runners on second and third with one out).
"It was all about the bullpen,'' Maddon said. "The bullpen permitted that to happen.''
The go-ahead rally, before a crowd of 41,086 gathered to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Angels' 2002 championship, happened quickly.
Jeff Keppinger opened the eighth against Kevin Jepsen with a single to center. Maddon sent up Peña, benched the past two nights due to matchups, to hit for Sean Rodriguez, who seemed a logical choice to bunt.
But Maddon said, as he often does, "the bunt is a very overrated play.'' He wanted Peña, who was 1-for-2 against Jepsen, to swing. And he took a big one on a 2-and-2 pitch, driving it over the rightfield fence.
"We thought Carlos was a really good matchup at the moment," Maddon said. "Honestly.''
Pena has been having a hard time overall, crediting coaches Derek Shelton and Dave Martinez and advance scouting coordinator Mike Calitri with keeping him positive and working hard. Pinch-hitting has been even more of a challenge, as Pena was just 6-for-31 in his career and uncomfortable doing so. "It's not an easy thing to do,'' Pena said. "Your heart rate goes from 0 to 200 in a matter of seconds as soon as you come up the stairs (from the dugout). It's hard to keep under control.''
Pena also contributed with his glove, scooping Ben Zobrist's throw to first for the final out.
The consensus in the loud clubhouse afterward was that Zobrist's hit was the biggest of the night, at least before Pena's.
The seven-run rally against C.J. Wilson, who now has a 10-start winless streak, started innocently, with a pair of one-out singles by Rodriguez and Ryan Roberts. A walk to Lobaton loaded the bases. A single by Sam Fuld scored the first run and a walk to Desmond Jennings another. Wilson created some breathing room by striking out B.J. Upton. But then Zobrist lashed a ball down the third-base line for a bases-clearing double. And Longoria, adding to his dazzling numbers at Angel Stadium, homered to center to cut the margin to 8-7.
The Rays made it all the way back the next inning, Roberts doubling, going to third on a passed ball and scoring on a sac fly by Lobaton, who also had a good game behind the plate.
It was the second straight night the Rays posted a seven on the Angel Stadium scoreboard, marking the second time in franchise history (and in the past two seasons, also July 28-29, 2011) they had back-to-back games with that many in a single frame.
It was also the first time they scored at least 10 runs in back-to-back games since April 2010.
By the end of the night, the Rays were talking about channeling their amazing comeback from Game 162 last year.
"The similarities were pretty amazing,'' Fuld said. "I came up with the bases loaded when we were down 8-0 tonight and 7-0 in Game 162, then Longo hitting the home run later in the inning to put us just down by one, then having a pinch-hitter hit a huge home run, Carlos and Dan Johnson. Pretty freaky. I said it at the time, and everyone was like, you're right. The similarities are amazing.''
And this, too, could be a game they talk about for a while.
"It's definitely going to be something we look back on and we're able to draw from it at the least,'' Longoria said.
Added Fuld: "We'll all remember this one.''