ARLINGTON, Texas — Another strong start from Jake Odorizzi and home runs by Logan Forsythe and Evan Longoria led the Rays to a 6-3 victory over the Rangers on Thursday night.
They wrapped up their country crossing road trip at 6-4, won the 10th of their past 12 series and got back within one game of .500 at 60-61, with a chance to become the fourth team ever to get back to even after being 18 or more games under.
But now comes the hard part.
As the Rays jetted home, with a projected 4 a.m. arrival, they have to get right to work, opening a rugged and critical stretch in which they play 28 of their next 32 games against teams they are chasing for a playoff spot — starting tonight with the Yankees, then the Orioles, Blue Jays and Tigers.
"It's exciting," manager Joe Maddon said. "I hope the fans are as excited as we are because we've worked very hard to put ourselves back in this position, now it's up to use to take advantage of it."
Though the Rays played themselves from a 24-42 start back into contention for at least the second American League wild-card spot by going 36-19, they have had trouble gaining ground of late, still six games and five teams back, so going head-to-head provides a better chance.
"Now's the real test,'' Odorizzi said. "We can make up a lot of ground if we continue to play this well.''
This is the second time the Rays, who were 24-42 after a June 10 loss to the Cardinals, are a win away from getting back to .500, also at 53-54 with David Price on the mound July 30. The three previous teams to get even after being at least 18 under: the 2004 Devil Rays, 2006 Marlins, 1899 Louisville Colonels.
Odorizzi led the way Thursday, working seven strong innings. He held the Rangers to four hits, though one was a two-run homer in the fourth to Geovany Soto, while walking one and striking out seven, extending his major-league rookie leading total to 146.
After going 2-6, 5.31 in his first 12 starts, Odorizzi over his last 12 has gone 7-3, 2.65 to get to 9-9, 3.82.
"His pitch selection has gotten better. … We've learned him and I think he's learning himself better and with all that and the familiarity with the catchers it's all gotten better year in progress,'' Maddon said.
"And of course confidence. The guy is confident, he's swaggering out, he's swaggering, he's got a little bit of John Wayne working right now. It's good.''
The Rays caught a break when Rangers ace Yu Darvish went on the disabled list instead of starting and they took advantage against Robbie Ross Jr.
In the second, Yunel Escobar reached on an infield single and Forsythe homered on an 0-and-2 pitch. "That really got us going,'' Maddon said
In the third, singles by Brandon Guyer, Longoria and James Loney led to two more runs. In the fifth, Ben Zobrist drew a one-out walk and Longoria, getting a partial day off as the DH, launched his 15th homer.
"I'd like to believe his confidence is building going into this really critical run for us,'' Maddon said.
They'll need everything they have.
Contact Marc Topkin at firstname.lastname@example.org.