CLEVELAND — The Rays' marathon series opener with the Indians on Friday night was so long, it started in May and ended in June.
In between, there were three rain delays totaling nearly five hours, and a seventh-inning stretch (yawn) that came around last call at the local bars. But Tampa Bay held on for a 9-2 win in front of the passionate fraction of 29,603 that remained at Progressive Field for the final out at 2:53 a.m, the latest game in Rays history.
"I'm really proud of our guys," manager Joe Maddon said. "That was about as cool a win as I've experienced in professional baseball."
The Rays' sixth-straight victory matched their season high, giving them an American League-best 18-10 mark in May.
James Loney had two homers, including a two-run blast in Tampa Bay's five-run third, to lift the offense. And veteran Jamey Wright's bullpen-saving, three-inning effort — in relieving lefty starter Matt Moore — began a group effort that held the Indians to just one hit.
"Jamey Wright was the hero of the night," Maddon said.
When first pitch was pushed back from 7:05 p.m. to 9:02, it marked the start of a long night. The teams played for 16 minutes, getting to the top of the second inning before it was delayed again, for 13 minutes. They tried to resume, for all of three minutes, but the game was stopped for another long delay at 9:34 p.m, with Moore walking off the mound and ending his 11-pitch outing.
The Rays players killed time during the delays in different ways; some played video games, cards or ping pong. Wright checked in with family and friends who were dealing with the aftermath of the Oklahoma tornadoes, then watched television. "Whatever we can do," outfielder Sam Fuld siad. "It's definitely easier in the big leagues to wait, as opposed to being cramped in an A-ball clubhouse. Sometimes, it can be fun."
Meanwhile, fans in attendance on $1 hot dog night had fun, too, cheering loudly when the Orioles' walkoff win over the Tigers was shown on the JumboTron, putting the Indians — temporarily — in a first-place tie in the AL Central. They chanted "We want baseball!" and "Let them Play!"
"It was pretty incredible," Maddon said of the fans.
But Maddon, aware of his worn-out bullpen and Moore out of the game, said "if (the game) had been called off I wouldn't have been upset." Maddon took a slow walk around the outfield grass around 10:30 p.m., noticing the "spongy" conditions, But when Maddon joined Indians manager Terry Francona to take a final lap an hour later, it had improved enough for them to feel comfortable playing.
The Indians on Saturday apologized to fans for the "challenging experience," saying that with the uncertain weekend forecast, and no viable mutual off days for potential makeup games, the postmidnight restart was necessary.
"I think we were all kind of shaking our heads, I don't think any of us had really experienced anything like that," Fuld said. "In retrospect, yeah, we're glad we played. It was nice to avoid having long double-headers, especially when there's rain in the forecast. As ridiculous as (Friday night) was, I think everybody handled it well."
Wright was given 15-minute notice he'd be stepping in for Moore, and filled in admirably with four hitless innings, striking out four.
"As far as Matt one inning, cause of the rain and everything, I can't imagine it working out any better than it did," Wright said. "They make you wait around until midnight, you want to go out there and beat up on them. and I'm glad it worked out."
Maddon said he could sense a lively atmosphere the dugout, even late into the night, with Fuld saying the team's already "loose" personality making it easier. "When we first got back to playing at midnight, the dugout was full of energy." Fuld said. "Borderline delirious."
The Indians wouldn't get their first hit until the fifth off Josh Lueke, when Ryan Raburn, a former Durant High and University of Florida standout, ripped an RBI double that caromed off the back of Joyce, who was leaping at the rightfield wall.
"Spiderman let the ball hit him in the back," Maddon joked.
After two innings by Lueke, lefty Cesar Ramos took over for the final three, picking up his first career save. Tampa Bay added three more runs in the ninth to seal the deal.
"It was very awkward way to do this," Maddon said. "But if you're going to stick around that long, you might as well win it."
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.