Sunday, February 25, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

That's one Rays' rally. Now what?

ST. PETERSBURG — Finally, a glimmer of hope.

You see a pile of Rays jumping up and down on home plate and what do you know, you wake up today and the sun seems a little brighter and the sky seems a little more blue.

Happy days are here again. Well, let's make that singular. It's a happy day. A happy day is here again.

Still, at least for a moment, the Rays' season doesn't feel like it's tumbling down the side of a mountain.

That's what a walkoff win will do for you.

The Rays got their first walkoff of the season Thursday. Sean Rodriguez blasted an 11th-inning homer for a 5-2 win over the A's, and if you didn't know better, you might have thought Tampa Bay had won the pennant. That's how good this one felt. And that's how the Rays celebrated it.

Who could blame them with the way this season has been going?

Put it this way: The Rays needed this one.

"We've needed several over the past couple of days," manager Joe Maddon said, smiling.

True. Seems like every game for the past week or so, the Rays had the tying run on base or at the plate in their last ups only to end up watching the other team high-fiving on the mound a few moments later. They had lost four straight and 11 of 15. They had lost nine out of 10 at home.

And they had lost something even greater: their mojo. No matter what happened to the Rays over the past few years — losing streaks, injuries, whatever — they never seemed to lose their confidence that the next day was going to be a good day.

But lately there was an unfamiliar feeling surrounding the Rays: doubt.

Instead of finding ways to win — as the 2008-13 Rays would do — the 2014 Rays were waiting to see how they would lose.

Get a couple of runners on? Hit into a double play. Load the bases? Leave them stranded. Need a deep fly to score a run? Here's an infield popup instead.

The Rays have been going so badly lately that they actually surprised you when they did something good. That here-we-go-again losing attitude not only took over the fans, it started to seep into the Rays.

On Thursday, the Rays finally figured out a way to do a little celebrating for a change, and perhaps regain some of their swagger.

The Rays are still in last place. They still have problems hitting the baseball. And you've probably noticed by now that their closer can't seem to close games.

But if you were ever going to have high hopes again, if you were ever going to believe that the Rays can turn around what has been thus far a dreadful season, now would be the time.

The Rays came from behind to win a game they blew and then probably should have lost. And now the Red Sox, losers of seven in a row and the one team in baseball playing worse than the Rays at the moment, are coming to town for three games.

Just maybe the Rays are due to go on a roll.

"That is a win right there that can hopefully propel us," third baseman Evan Longoria said.

"I want to believe so," Maddon said. "You have to get over the top. You have to keep pushing the rock till it starts rolling in the correct direction."

There are reasons to believe.

Starting pitcher Alex Cobb, out since mid April, returned to the rotation and was dominant, throwing 62/3 shutout innings. And though the signs are subtle, the Rays are starting to hint that they might be coming out of what has felt like a teamwide, seasonlong hitting slump.

Wil Myers has been hitting hard liners into bad luck the past couple of days. Desmond Jennings picked up two hits Thursday. And Longoria, who has looked lost at the plate for the past couple of weeks, started the 11th-inning rally Thursday with a hard single.

"This game is funny," Longoria said. "I really felt like I never played the game for the past two weeks. And there's time when it's real easy. Finally, to get something going there and just be able to contribute and feel like you're a part of it is good. But regardless, a win is really what we have been searching for, and any way we could've come across one in this situation is a big win."

There is still a lot to sort out with the Rays.

Getting 10 hits in 11 innings Thursday doesn't mean the Rays' hitting woes are solved. Until Rodriguez's homer, they had scored only two runs. Closer Grant Balfour, who has been shaky much of the season, blew his second save. Starting pitchers David Price and Chris Archer have to get more consistent.

The Rays could come out tonight and get run over by the Red Sox and the whole vibe could turn sour again.

Then again, maybe Thursday was the start of something special.

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