BALTIMORE — As draining as it was Wednesday night trying to keep up with the Rays' efforts to clinch the American League East — they were down big early then roared back for an 11-6 win; the Red Sox were up big early, faltered then rallied — it was even more intense on the field.
Today, it can be much simpler.
Get up early after getting into Detroit late, beat the Tigers in the (unfortunately) 1:05 p.m. game and the Rays are the unlikely champs of baseball's toughest division.
And they'd have all night to celebrate.
"I've kind of been preaching all along that we shouldn't be looking at the scoreboard," Eric Hinske said. "So in that sense, it's nice to put it behind us. If we win, we win the division. That's kind of a relief to think of it that way."
The Rays had contingency plans, had they won and the Red Sox lost, to celebrate with champagne and beer Wednesday night in Baltimore. Now, with a three-game lead with four to play and the tiebreaker over Boston, they have a similar arrangement in Detroit should they get the win, or the Boston loss, they need.
It was in the visitors' clubhouse at Comerica Park where the Rays had a champagne toast in 2004 to acknowledge not finishing last for the first and (until this year) only time as they won 70 games. This celebration would be slightly more meaningful.
"Win and it's done with," B.J. Upton said.
Wednesday wasn't nearly as straightforward.
The Rays were down five runs in the first and 6-0 in the second and were seeing the Sox up 4-0 in their first. But the Rays didn't blink and ended up with the consolation prize of their 96th win. Edwin Jackson recovered from his rocky start to keep the Orioles down, and the hitters, as they did in all four wins here, came around, scoring five in the fourth, two in the sixth and four in the eighth — even as the 'F' went up in the CLE BOS box on the out-of-town scoreboard.
"When you start believing in yourself that strongly, you do a lot of strange things in a positive way," manager Joe Maddon said. "Our guys really felt they were fine. I know the game started badly, but our guys in the dugout were good. I truly felt we had a chance to come back and do that.
"We're just at that point. You have to believe, and I don't think, I know, our guys do."
The six-run deficit matched the largest the Rays have overcome, the fifth time they did so. They were creative in style and substance against the pitiful Orioles, taking the lead on a two-run triple by Akinori Iwamura and scoring three times on bases-loaded walks to run their major-league-leading total to 24.
Jackson allowed six straight hits to start the game, and mixed in a balk, in giving up five runs. But he was determined to at least help the team by sticking around to save the bullpen, and Maddon lauded him for his effort as he worked into the sixth and ended up with a most improbable win.
"I love when a guy could do that," Maddon said. "He has a very difficult beginning and has the wherewithal to stay in the moment, settle down and give us a chance to win, which he did."
Jackson said the game was another example of how the Rays have stuck together.
"That was just a team effort battling," Jackson said. "Pretty much everyone showed guts tonight and we pulled that off."
The Rays won't have much time to recover, thanks to the odd scheduling of a day game after a night game in another city, which Maddon said reminded him of minor-league bus rides from Calgary to Idaho Falls.
But with the chance to win the division title themselves on the field, Maddon doesn't have much concern. "I'd like to believe our guys will be ready to come out (today), they're going to find the energy to go after them," he said. "I'm really eager to see that."
Marc Topkin can be reached at email@example.com.
The deadline is midnight tonight to register to win the chance to buy tickets through the Internet presale for a potential Game 5 of the division series at Tropicana Field. See raysbaseball.com for details. Further details will follow if/when the Rays clinch the AL East.
The Rays' injured All-Star still says he wants to return to the lineup for the playoffs but doesn't believe he'll get clearance from the team. 4C
Photo gallery online
Check out a photo gallery from Wednesday's game at Baltimore at rays.tampabay.com