It seemed only proper that these do-nothing-easy Rays would take their pursuit of the playoffs down to the last day — and now an extra day — of the season, only fitting they would turn what looked for most of Sunday to be an easy victory into a harrowing 7-6 survival.
And now it seems only appropriate that they are headed to Texas having to beat the Rangers — those Rangers — in tonight's tiebreaker just to get to Wednesday's American League wild-card game.
"It just seems like if there was a road that we had to travel down, this would be the one," third baseman Evan Longoria said. "I think Texas, although we'd love to be at home and in the playoffs, it might be where we need to be. It might be something that we need to prove to ourselves in order to get to the next step."
The Rays' past two trips to the playoffs ended with first-round losses to the Rangers, and the sting of the early ousters remains.
"Texas has been a team that has played us extremely tough, and they've hit me extremely well," said lefty David Price, who will start tonight against Texas rookie Martin Perez. "It would definitely make it a little bit more sweeter for us to do it against those guys."
The Rays and Rangers play tonight because both won Sunday, finishing 91-71, one game behind the top wild card Indians, and forcing the majors' first tiebreaking game since 2009 and the 14th overall. The Rays blew a 7-0 lead, then hung on against the last-place Blue Jays after losing the first two games of the series. The Rangers completed a four-game sweep of the Angels with a 6-2 win that was their seventh straight overall.
The game is in Texas because the Rangers won the season series with the Rays 4-3, splitting a four-game series at Tropicana Field this month. Tonight's winner heads to Cleveland for another one-and-potentially-done affair, and the Rays are just happy for the opportunity.
"It's wonderful to be playing another day based on what had happened over the last couple of days, so I'm happy with that," manager Joe Maddon said. "We just got done playing Texas. It seems we do this on an annual basis. We know how good they are."
The game the Rays won Sunday to get there was challenging enough.
They couldn't have started better, scoring six runs in the first inning and chasing St. Petersburg native Todd Redmond, rookie Wil Myers getting them started and Jose Lobaton delivering the biggest hit, a two-run double. They expanded the lead to 7-0 with Matt Moore settling in after a three-walk first, and it seemed their only anxiety of the afternoon would be in watching the end of the Indians and Rangers games in the clubhouse to know where their plane was headed.
But Moore lost it quickly in the sixth, allowing four straight hits that led to three runs, and it got worse from there. Reliever Jake McGee faltered, then — after Maddon theatrically got kicked out and shortstop Yunel Escobar turned a dazzling double play — Joel Peralta faltered, and closer Fernando Rodney, pitching for the first time in a week, did, too, as the Jays got the go-ahead run to the plate in the seventh and again in the eighth. Then Rodney allowed a leadoff single in the ninth but retired the next three, and the Rays could finally exhale.
"Unbelievable game," Lobaton said. "Being up by seven, now 7-6 in the last inning. A little nervous."
Moore talked about the excitement, how "all the high blood pressure, you can feel your heart pumping through your shirt, it was worth it."
Maddon — who admitted he thought awkwardly back to Game 162 in 2011 when the Rays overcame a 7-0 deficit to beat the Yankees and gain a playoff spot — said he thinks it could actually have a relaxing effect on a team that looked tight.
"I really believe after a moment like that, just let the air out," he said. "Stop worrying about stuff. … I know we're not in the playoffs yet, but the fact that we've gotten to this point, let's just let the air out and let's just go play."
Even better, at Texas.
What did you expect?
Sunday's scare against Toronto and tonight's win-or-go-home Game 163 against Texas are par for the course for this Rays team, Gary Shelton writes. 1A
The Rangers have roughed up David Price like no other team in baseball, but the Rays ace is confident he'll make amends in tonight's start. 3C
Fed up with the home plate umpire, Joe Maddon gets himself ejected and perhaps inspires his team in the process. 4C
And in Texas …
Tonight: Game 163
Rays at Rangers, 8:07, Rangers Ballpark, Arlington, Texas TV/radio: TBS; 620-AM
At stake: Winner plays the Indians in Wednesday's AL wild-card game.
Pitchers: Rays — LH David Price (9-8, 3.39 ERA); Rangers — LH Martin Perez (10-5, 3.55 ERA)
AL wild card
Rays or Rangers at Indians, 8:07 Wednesday, Progressive Field, Cleveland. TV: TBS
NL wild card
Reds at Pirates, 8:07 Tuesday, PNC Park, Pittsburgh. TV: TBS