ST. PETERSBURG — Making the playoffs for the fourth time in six years made the season a success. Being ousted for the third straight time in the AL Division Series made for a disappointing end.
And now the Rays head into another uncertain offseason.
Principal owner Stuart Sternberg is already on record saying the 2014 budget will be affected by the team finishing last in attendance this season. The Rays ranked 28th this year with an opening day payroll of about $58 million.
Before the final out Tuesday, speculation had started about the future of ace David Price, who is two years from free agency but, with a $10 million salary that will increase significantly next season, is a candidate to be traded.
The Rays also hold options on four players, with 2B Ben Zobrist ($7 million) and SS Yunel Escobar ($5 million) certain to be brought back, OF David DeJesus ($6.5 million) and injured RH reliever Juan Carlos Oviedo ($2 million) less likely.
Among nearly a dozen potential free agents, the Rays will have to make decisions whether to pursue keeping 1B James Loney, DH Delmon Young and C Jose Molina. Closer Fernando Rodney would seem likely headed to a big payday elsewhere.
Other free agents include RH relievers Jesse Crain (injured), Roberto Hernandez and Jamey Wright; INF Kelly Johnson; and DH Luke Scott.
LONGO RULES: C Jose Lobaton's two-out walkoff homer that won Monday's Game 3 was a shock to everyone in the organization, from principal owner Stuart Sternberg on down. "It was absolutely as unexpected a moment as one that has ever happened here," Sternberg said.
But the three-run homer by 3B Evan Longoria in the fifth that pulled the Rays even and put them in position to win is the kind of thing the Rays have come to expect from their franchise player. "The fact that 'Longo' once again put us right," manager Joe Maddon said Tuesday. "We've seen it so many times. For him to do it again, that's pretty incredible. … Longo reaffirming who he is here."
It was the ninth career postseason homer for Longoria, his fourth that gave the Rays a lead or a tie. (It also was his first homer against Boston's Clay Buchholz after 36 prior at-bats, his most without a homer against any pitcher.)
LINING UP: Kelly Johnson was something of an unexpected choice to start at DH on Tuesday, Maddon picking him over slumping Matt Joyce and deciding to keep Young back for reserve duty. … Maddon also decided to stick with Lobaton behind the plate, saying he figured there would be some residual benefit from Monday's heroics. … RF Wil Myers was back in the lineup after leaving Monday's game with leg cramps the Rays attributed to dehydration. He beat out an infield single but finished the series 1-for-16.
ABOUT MONDAY NIGHT: Lobaton, Rays research says, became the first player in history to hit a two-out walkoff homer in an elimination game. It was the 10th two-out walkoff homer in the playoffs overall. … He also was the third to hit a walkoff homer to keep his team from being swept, joining Boston's Trot Nixon (2003 ALDS) and David Ortiz (2004 ALCS). The Red Sox came back to win both of those series. … It was the 46th walkoff homer overall in postseason play, and the first for the Rays.
MISCELLANY: Price was supposed to start Game 5, but he was in the bullpen and warming up during the ninth inning Tuesday, and Maddon said they would have used him if needed and figured something out had they rallied. … Because Lobaton's homer landed in the rays touch tank, the Rays will donate $5,000 to a charity of his choice and $5,000 to the Florida Aquarium, which maintains the tank.