TORONTO — Figures.
As inconsistent and tortuous as the Rays' season has been, as many times as they've alternated looking like they'll never win and never lose another game, it is probably somehow fitting that their chances to make the playoffs have come down to what will be a wild final day of the regular season.
"Why not?" manager Joe Maddon said. "We've been here before. We've been in these moments. We never do things seemingly easily. So let's play (today) and see what happens."
The Rays put themselves in this position with another staggering loss to the last-place Blue Jays, 7-2 Saturday, their pitching tattered and their offense shut down by J.A. Happ.
The loss dropped the Rays into a tie with the Rangers for the second wild card at 90-71, one game behind the Indians, bringing the heated race for the two American League wild-card spots down to today — and possibly beyond if ties remain to be broken.
The Rays this afternoon will have 16-game-winning All-Star Matt Moore on the mound against, in an odd twist, St. Petersburg native Todd Redmond, hoping to repeat their Game 162 history of two seasons ago.
"I'm excited," said third baseman Evan Longoria, the homer-hitting hero of the 2011 finale. "I'm excited for (today). Of course, it would be nice to not have to worry about (today) and have it locked up, but at the same time the teams that are behind us are playing their butts off. You've got to give them credit and just handle business ourselves, be able to go out there and win a game and not have to worry about watching the scoreboard."
As damaging as the two losses to the Jays were, the Rays didn't lose all control of their destiny.
Simply put, if the Rays win today, they extend their season to at least a tiebreaking Game 163 on Monday in either Texas or Cleveland. Lose, and they risk being eliminated if the Rangers — whose game with the Angels starts two hours later — win.
In between are scenarios where they could still host the Wednesday wild-card game, end up on the road as the second wild card or, if there is a three-way tie, potentially go from playing in Toronto today to Cleveland on Monday to Texas on Tuesday to St. Petersburg on Wednesday and on to Boston on Friday.
While travel director Jeff Ziegler and other Rays officials worked out all the airline, hotel and logistical contingencies, heading either home, to Cleveland or to Texas this afternoon, Maddon preferred a much simpler approach.
"The only scenario is whatever helps us win (today)," he said. "That's the only scenario that matters and then you just react to everything else. I'm not worried about that. We win that game (today) and they'll tell us where we're going next. We'll get on the plane, I'll get a good bottle (of wine) and we'll go."
Winning today assures they'll be headed to another game somewhere, and Moore said he is excited to have the season in his left hand.
"Absolutely," he said. "I wouldn't shy away from a situation like this. It's something every teammate would love to be able to step up for everybody and have a good game. That's what we're looking to do (today). I'm feeling very good and very confident about it as far as what we do."
Moore said pitching coach Jim Hickey mentioned to him a couple of weeks ago that the season might come down to him pitching in Game 162, and last week Moore acknowledged that if so, "that's going to be the biggest game of my life, for sure."
The Rays are, naturally, happy to have him on the mound today, with David Price and Alex Cobb lined up for whatever games are next. "I really believe you're going to see the best side of Matt Moore," Maddon said.
All season, Maddon has praised the resiliency of the team, and he said the key today — "Resiliency to infinity" — is for them to be themselves and play their game. "We just haven't done that the first two games up here," he said.
Maddon, naturally, expects them to respond. So, too, does Longoria.
"We like to make it interesting, that's for sure," he said. "We can't say we've never been there before, and I like our chances. … I think we're in a good spot."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected].com. Follow him on Twitter at @TBTimes_Rays.
Rays at Blue Jays, 1:05, Rogers Centre, Toronto. Pitchers: Moore (16-4, 3.23) vs. Redmond (4-2, 3.77). TV: Sun Sports. Radio: 1250-AM, 97.9-FM
Indians at Twins, 2:10, Target Field, Minneapolis. Pitchers: Jimenez (12-9, 3.38) vs. Diamond (6-12, 5.54)
Rangers vs. Angels, 3:05, Rangers Ballpark, Arlington, Texas. Pitchers: Darvish (13-9, 2.82) vs. Vargas (9-7, 4.01)