ST. PETERSBURG — As the longest game in Rays history entered the early hours Saturday, which is "Star Wars Day" at Tropicana Field, Chewbacca fittingly came to the rescue.
Players had started to wear the old-school rally caps in the 17th inning. But with the Rays and Orioles still tied in the 18th, having gone 10 innings without a run, Luke Scott came back from the clubhouse wearing the furry mask of the fictional Chewie. Reliever Jamey Wright channeled KISS with his Gene Simmons attire, including boots.
"We were about to have the saxophone down and the maracas," catcher Chis Gimenez said. "We were seriously about to run out of of instruments, so we had to win quick."
There was nothing quick about the Rays' 5-4, 18-inning win over the Orioles, which lasted 6 hours 54 minutes and ended at 2:05 a.m., less than 11 hours from today's first pitch.
But after David DeJesus finally delivered the walkoff single with one out, easily scoring Desmond Jennings from second base, Rays manager Joe Maddon said the victory — which moved them back into top wild card spot, ½ game ahead of the Indians — could be an "incredible boost" heading into the final week.
"That's probably the best win of the year for us," Jennings said.
Or, as righthander Jeremy Hellickson appropriately put: "That was the craziest 7 hours of my life."
Hellickson, Sunday's scheduled starter, picked up the win after throwing 2⅓ scoreless innings of relief, one of a major-league record 21 pitchers used between the two teams. Quipped Maddon: "Who didn't play?"
Jennings, scratched from the original lineup due to neck stiffness, pinch-hit in the ninth and ended up playing nine innings, picking up two hits including the one-out double that started the winning rally in the 18th. Every Rays position player but Freddy Guzman appeared, with Josh Lueke and Roberto Hernandez the only relievers to not pitch.
"You talk about a team win? Every player here matters," Maddon said. "And (Friday) is a perfect example."
The Rays (84-69) had looked like they were in good shape hours earlier, with ace David Price on the mound and a three-run lead after two innings. But Price wasn't at his best, lasting just five-plus innings and scattering nine hits, allowing two runs, and the Orioles battled back, going ahead 4-3 in the seventh. Ben Zobrist tied it up in the bottom half with his second RBI, to go along with several dazzling defensive plays at second base.
Both bullpens shut it down from there, with Rays relievers finishing the game with 11 scoreless innings. Maddon said rookie right-hander Jake Odorizzi was "fantastic," throwing 3⅔ one-hit extra innings just three days removed from starting the Triple-A national title game.
"It was the most exiting game I've ever been apart of," Odorizzi said. "Everyone is ecstatic to A, get it over with, and B, come out on top."
There was a playoff-like desperation from both teams in front of 21,247 at Trop, with a couple thousand fans staying until the end, chanting "Pizza!" as Hellickson recorded the team's 10th strikeout to end the top of the 18th. Previously the Rays' longest game had been 5 hours 44 minutes on July 7, 2011, against Boston.
"That is the hunt for October — that's everything you play 162 games for," Gimenez said. "That win means a lot for us. To win it the way we did, I hope we can run with it. It couldn't have happened at a better time. It's a huge boost for us."
The Rays still had a lot of energy in the dugout until the end — "hysteria" as Odorizzi put it — with DeJesus saying everyone stayed to cheer the rest on. "We were trying everything at that point," Jennings said.
With Jennings on second following his 18th inning double, DeJesus pulled a T.J. McFarland pitch into right-center — his fourth hit of the night. As DeJesus rounded first, he triumphantly raised his arm before tossing his helmet in the air, with it ending up accidentally plunking an a charging Kelly Johnson during the infield celebration. Scott also ran out, still wearing his Chewie mask, just one of the Rays many clubhouse party tools they had brought out early.
"In my book," Sam Fuld says, "Chewbacca won us the game."
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.