ST. PETERSBURG — They began the day with a meeting, manager Joe Maddon gathering his Rays to remind them they were better than they had shown and needed to tighten up some mental aspects of their game and provide the necessary daily effort.
They ended the day with another meeting, gathering to give Pat Burrell their best — and to take some of his — in celebrating his two-run 11th-inning homer that delivered a 3-1 victory Tuesday.
For Burrell, who has struggled miserably since signing a two-year, $16 million deal, it was arguably his first big moment, a glimpse at what he is capable of and what the Rays expected.
"I'm standing there thinking I'm just so happy for him," Maddon said. "This guy has worked very hard to get things going. The injury did bother him when he hurt his neck, and I think switching leagues has had something to do with it.
"But he hangs in there, he's very stoic, he doesn't cry, he doesn't make excuses and he came through big."
For the Rays (45-39), it was a big moment, too, as they snapped a four-game losing streak and stayed within 5½ of first-place Boston. Part of Maddon's mantra Tuesday was that their goal remains to win the AL East, "not to become the wild-card team."
Burrell was able to provide the finishing touch because of a strong effort by James Shields, who again didn't get much support — this time the Rays were handcuffed by Marc Rzepczynski, a 23-year-old making his big-league debut — but worked into the eighth before allowing two singles that led to Toronto's run.
As important was some snazzy defense by Ben Zobrist at second and a spectacular laserlike throw by B.J. Upton to nail Aaron Hill at the plate to end the eighth and preserve a 1-1 tie.
"Money," catcher Dioner Navarro said.
Because his throws had been tailing to the right, Upton started the ball to the left, kept it low and let it fly. "I was trying to carry it to the plate the whole way," he said. "I threw it and it ended up in the perfect spot for Navi."
"A great play," Maddon said.
Burrell hasn't done much even good thus far, with nine extra-base hits and a .222 average: "I haven't been performing," he said. "It's that simple." So with his teammates gathered at home to celebrate their fourth walkoff win of the season and the fourth walkoff homer of his career, Burrell put his head down and went in hard.
"I figured I'd go in firm and try to push the pile," he said.
"He moved it a little bit, too," Upton said. "He came in like a linebacker looking to tackle somebody."
Maddon said the physical effort and the attitude haven't been a problem, but he was clearly frustrated by how they played in being swept by Texas. Mindful of the seven-game losing streak they had going into the break last year, he decided to speak out.
"I just wanted to pick the mental side of the game up a little more today," he said.
They needed something, as Upton acknowledged the Rangers "just flat-out wanted it more than we did, and I think everybody in this clubhouse knows that can't happen. …
"We've got to keep doing the things we're doing and maybe do a little bit more."
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.