ST. PETERSBURG — Friday was a letdown, and Saturday looked like a meltdown. A series of mistakes, some mental and some physical, left the Rays trailing by a run going to the ninth inning and headed to a second straight defeat.
But these Rays keep proving they are different, and they found another way Saturday, rallying to their first come-from-behind walkoff win of the increasingly magical season, 4-3 over the Astros, and moving back to within a half-game of first place.
"Confidence," manager Joe Maddon explained. "We've talked about it before, if you keep it close, we can do something late. Our guys believe that. They feel that. The bench is alive. This is another one of those growth moment wins. I don't know the last time we necessarily did something like this."
It was in September, as their first six walkoff wins this year came when they were tied, and it was the first time in 26 games they'd won when trailing after eight innings.
"There's no more wondering," starter Edwin Jackson said. "Now we know we can win games … regardless of how we have to win."
Credit went to a lot of places as the Rays moved again to 14 games over .500 at 44-30, and on a pace for 96 wins, before a loud pro-Rays crowd of 29,953.
Certainly to Gabe Gross, whose pinch-hit bloop double landed about 4 inches inside the leftfield line and scored the tying and winning runs. "I didn't take a very good swing, but I got pretty lucky," said Gross, who has had the winning hit in three of the walkoffs. "Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good, and in that case it was. Just hit the right spot, barely fair, and good enough to get us a win."
To Cliff Floyd, who started the rally with a leadoff single off Doug Brocail, who, in another break for the Rays, was subbing for regular closer Jose Valverde.
To Eric Hinske, who got a hit, and Dioner Navarro, who was hit by a pitch, to keep it going. Before that, to pitchers Jackson, J.P. Howell (who again got the biggest outs) and Dan Wheeler. And to Maddon, for again making what looked like all the right moves (including not pinch-running Gross for Floyd earlier in the inning so he could instead hit for Jason Bartlett).
But a little needs to go to the smallest man in the clubhouse, Bori Uchibori, the diminutive interpreter for Akinori Iwamura who spends free time during the games throwing to hitters in the batting cage behind the dugout.
Because it was there that the winning rally was born, as Floyd, who entered the game as a pinch-hitter in the sixth, and Hinske, Navarro and Gross, who Maddon used as pinch-hitters in consecutive at-bats, all gathered before the ninth and Uchibori helped get them all ready.
"Tip your cap to Bori for throwing to us," Floyd said. "He may have to have rotator cuff surgery in a year."
Jackson put the Rays in position to win with 61/3 solid innings, and Howell kept it that way by pitching out of a bases-loaded one-out mess in the seventh. But a couple of mistakes by catcher Shawn Riggans, and a non-call from umpire Bob Davidson on obvious interference at second base by Carlos Lee, all contributed to the Astros going ahead 3-2 in the eighth.
But the Rays, it turned out, were just getting started. "To get away with another win when we were staring losing two in a row to them in the face, it's just a great feeling," Gross said.
And an increasingly familiar one.
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.