SEATTLE — The Rays seemed headed for a fittingly futile finale to their dreadful West Coast road trip Sunday, loading the bases with no outs in the seventh inning of a one-run game with the pesky Mariners and getting absolutely nothing out of it.
"I honestly thought, 'That's got to be about it.' Uncle at that point," manager Joe Maddon said. "I really, in a perverse way, felt something good has to happen after that. Has to. Because you can't sink to any lower lows than that."
With all the Rays' talk about staying positive and keeping the faith as they kept losing games and their margin of comfort for a playoff spot, they actually delivered, finding that "something" and heading home buoyed by a vital 4-1 win.
First James Loney, with two on in the eighth, doubled in the tying run. Then Sean Rodriguez, who made the inexcusable mistake Friday of getting picked off second, delivered the winner, a pinch-hit single that, thanks to a Seattle error, scored two.
"Instant gratification," Rodriguez said. "Instant redemption."
As they packed for the cross-country flight eager to leave the West Coast behind — having gone 3-7 on the trip, 3-12 for the season, including Arizona — and enjoy today's final off day of the season, all the Rays were feeling better about themselves.
Though still 7½ games behind the American League East-leading Red Sox, whom they host next in a three-game series that won't be quite the anticipated showdown, the Rays (78-64) moved two games ahead of the Indians and Orioles, who both lost, for the second wild-card spot and stayed 21/2 ahead of the Yankees and 31/2 of the Royals. They are three behind Texas for the top wild card.
"Momentum is a big factor in this game and we definitely got it right now," Rodriguez said. "That's all we wanted, to have a little momentum so that way at least the spirits are up.
"Everybody here comes ready to play every day. So with 20 games left, don't count us out — that's for sure. We'll hold on to this thing."
Sunday morning, despite having lost 11 of 14, Maddon sat in the dugout and talked about how they needed to remain committed to their process and themselves and confident they would rebound.
"I know we're better than this," he insisted. "I know we've got better results in us."
Sunday afternoon, Maddon sat behind his office desk and talked about the importance of that belief and how this one win could now propel them to a solid finish over the final 20 games.
"The thing is, everybody goes through bad moments," he said. "Everybody does. Every team out there has gone through bad moments this year. Ours is just occurring right now, and a lot of it is that it is a tough trip. … It was kind of a buzz saw moment, and we survived it in a sense, and we get to go back home.
"Of course you've got to believe. I believe every moment of every day. I never lost faith in any of this. You're kind of looking for that moment when you can break through again. It happens today, and it happens at a good time before you go home."
After Rodriguez gave them the lead, with his first career pinch-hit-winning RBI, they still had to hold it. Joel Peralta walked two of the first three in the eighth, struck out Franklin Gutierrez, then had to deal with Raul Ibanez, who was 4-for-6 against him. "I didn't want to face that dude," Peralta said.
But too much had gone wrong for too long. Peralta got ahead with a fouled-off fastball, then threw two changeups, his best pitches of the day, to end the threat. The Rays added an insurance run in the ninth — though, fittingly, only one despite getting two walks, two singles and two doubles — and Fernando Rodney finished.
Most importantly, the Rays went home happy.
"It's going to be a very interesting finish," Maddon said. "I have total faith our guys are going to get it done."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]tampabay.com. Follow him on Twitter at @TBTimes_Rays.