TORONTO — Still waiting for word if they really lost Saturday's protested game, the Rays were watching another one nearly slip away Sunday.
What could have been a two-run lead was only one after another replay controversy, this one involving the catcher collision rule, went against them. Then fielding miscues on the first two plays in the bottom of the 10th left them on the verge of another staggering loss, with Blue Jays on first and third, no outs and the top of the order up.
Manager Joe Maddon went to the mound, walking slowly to allow the players to calm down. He then delivered urgent words — that they weren't to play for the tie, to do whatever they could to keep the runner at third from scoring: "We've got to win this game."
It sounded good, but …
"We've seen those get away from us before," third baseman Evan Longoria said. "It takes a guy making pitches to get out of that situation."
And Brad Boxberger — after, as Maddon joked, he was done yawning — did just that, getting two pop-ups and a strikeout to secure a 2-1 victory that gave the Rays at least a series win.
"Huge," Boxberger said. "Lose a tough one (Saturday), to be able to come back out (Sunday) and compete is huge."
Though the Rays improved to 64-66 with the win, they remained 7½ games behind the Mariners for the second American League wild card and moved to 10 behind the East-leading Orioles, whom they visit for four games starting tonight.
"This will be a big series for us, a good determiner of how the rest of the year is going to go," said Jake Odorizzi, who starts tonight. "We have to make some moves, and we have to do it against the best team."
Losing Sunday would have made the challenge even greater. The Rays led from the first inning but wasted too many chances to add on. Eventually, Chris Archer, who had been sharp, gave up the tying run in the seventh as former Ray Dioner Navarro scored.
But the Rays came back. Ben Zobrist walked to open the 10th, and the Rays got a big break when Nolan Reimold — who replaced an ejected Jose Bautista in right — botched Logan Forsythe's fly ball, putting runners on second and third.
Longoria bounced a single through the infield that scored Zobrist. Forsythe tried to get home, too, but was thrown out, which led to the latest controversy regarding the plate-blocking rule.
Forsythe said he initially had the required "lane" but that Navarro took it away as he started to slide. Maddon lauded Navarro's play but said he was "absolutely" blocking the plate illegally, so he asked the umpires for a review, only to be told the "interpretation" of the replay officials in New York was that Navarro was taken into Forsythe's path by the throw, so the out stood.
That prompted Maddon to restate his opposition to the new rule, saying it was inappropriate, unnecessary, impossible to specifically define and, in more colorful terms, taking machismo out of the game.
"I'm all for that rule going away," he said. "It's a bad rule."
Making it worse, the Rays stranded Longoria, capping a 1-for-11 day with runners in scoring position.
Then the bottom of the 10th broke badly, first baseman James Loney missing a tough throw from Forsythe after a slow roller and Boxberger botching a bunt that took a tricky bounce on what he called the "trampoline" turf, putting Jays on first and third with no outs.
Having blown the lead Saturday, Boxberger was determined not to let another game get away. "You can't let a little weak hit spiral the inning out of control," said. "Two weak hits kind of turned the inning into something I didn't want it to be."
He made one pitch to Jose Reyes, who hit a pop foul that Longoria raced to track down as he collided with the side wall. Boxberger made one pitch to Melky Cabrera, who popped it up behind second.
Then he made five to Reimold — batting where the ever-dangerous Bautista would have been — for a strikeout that ended the long afternoon and sent the Rays off to Baltimore in a better mood.
"We're uplifted," Archer said. "We won two out of three here, and we have a chance to sweep at a later date (pending the protest). I'm totally happy."
Contact Marc Topkin at email@example.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.