Amid all the craziness that typically goes on in the Rays clubhouse after a win — the thumping music, strobe lights, fog machine, assorted instruments and attempted dancing — manager Joe Maddon summed up the wild night with a simple silent gesture.
As team vice president Rick Vaughn walked into his office after the 4-3 12-inning victory over Texas on Wednesday, Maddon raised his hand as if writing his name in the air, and the symbolism was obvious: The Rays had the signature win they had been seeking, the kind of moment they feel can propel them through the rest of the season and into the playoffs.
"I want to believe this game has to give us some kind of impetus moving forward," Maddon said.
There was plenty of reason to believe, from the way they came back twice, overcoming their own defensive lapses to tie in the sixth and again in the 11th, to then rallying to win before a Tropicana Field gathering of 14,827, "pushing" the total for the first three games of the series to 36,337.
"You talk about a total team victory right there," Maddon said.
The win improved the Rays to 83-68 and gave them sole possession of the American League wild-card lead. With 11 games to play, they are one game ahead of the Rangers, 1½ of the Indians, two of the Orioles and 3½ of the Royals and Yankees. Also, it evened the season series with the Rangers 3-3 meaning the winner of tonight's game will have the tiebreaker that could determine homefield advantage for a play-in or wild-card playoff game.
Desmond Jennings had the biggest redemption, from misplaying a line drive in the second inning that cost the Rays two runs to delivering the winning hit that sent them to their majors-high-tying 11th walkoff victory, scoring pinch-runner Sam Fuld from second.
"It felt good to win a game regardless, but it definitely felt good to win a game after that," Jennings said. "It was a good team win."
Rightfielder Wil Myers was the next most relieved Ray, as he made what Maddon branded a "rookie mistake" in being too casual fielding a single by Adrian Beltre in the 11th and allowing Elvis Andrus, who was running on the pitch, to score all the way from first, putting the Rangers up 3-2.
"I should have been more aware of the situation that was going on and who was running and charged the ball with more aggressiveness," Myers said. "I felt bad about what had happened, especially in this game that means this much, that I could let something like that happen. It's one of those things you learn from and you don't let it happen again."
The Rays tied with the game with some dramatics of their own. After two quick outs against Rangers closer Joe Nathan, Matt Joyce, despite a 2-for-35 September, drew a walk. Freddy Guzman — added to the roster Tuesday to serve as a pinch-runner — introduced himself boldly by stealing second, then David DeJesus, acquired in an August trade, delivered a two-strike single to tie it.
"I was just like, 'Let's go,' " DeJesus said. "Being the new guy here I just want to come in and contribute anyway I can and I'm excited to do that."
Before Jennings could win the game in the bottom of the 12th, Brandon Gomes saved it for them in the top of the frame.
The seventh Ray to pitch in relief of Chris Archer got the biggest of the 18 outs by the bullpen, striking out Ian Kinsler with runners on second and third to end the inning.
Maddon was reluctant to use Gomes, going to Roberto Hernandez instead to open the 11th, because he had warmed up hours earlier in the fourth. Gomes said he didn't care and welcomed the opportunity, then showed it by striking out Kinsler on three pitches. "He's a tough guy,'' Maddon said.
That set up the winning rally. Jose Lobaton, who delivered the Rays' last two walkoff wins a month ago, started this winning rally with a single up the middle. Yunel Escobar finally got a bunt down with two strikes to send Fuld to second. And then Jennings — who in the second broke two steps in, then froze, on the Leonys Martin drive over his head — salvaged the night with a single to right.
"He had the chance for redemption, and he came through,'' Maddon said.
That actually was the third Rays rally of the game. After they went down early, as Archer overall gave them a solid six innings, Sean Rodriguez hit a two-run homer to tie it in the sixth.
"All that stuff,'' Maddon said, "I want to believe is going to give us some kind of push.''
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @TBTimes_Rays.
AL wild card
Team W-L Pct. GB
Rays 83-68 .550—
Rangers 82-69 .543—
Indians 82-70 .539 ½
Orioles 81-70 .536 1
Yankees 80-72 .526 2½
Royals 80-72 .526 2½
It took longer than expected, but Rays infielder Tim Beckham, the first overall pick in the 2008 draft, can finally call himself a major-leaguer. 4C
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