CHICAGO — The Rays did what they could Saturday to stay alive in the American League wild-card race. But as they were wrapping up their 10-4 victory over the White Sox, relieved by the solid outing from rookie starter Matt Moore and encouraged by the offensive outburst, the jarring harshness of their predicament flashed before them on the stadium scoreboard.
The chance to pull within two games of the A's for the second wild card, and to ensure they'd still be playing for something when they take the Trop field Monday night, all went away as the A's, down 4-0 early and 4-2 in the ninth, rallied to tie then beat the Mariners with a 7-4 walkoff in 10 innings.
"Unfortunate," Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
The news got worse later, as the wild-card-leading Orioles also won. So despite their victory, the Rays actually lost ground, as they remained three behind the A's and four behind the O's, and now with only four to play. They also are one-half game behind the Angels, who were rained out in Texas and play a doubleheader today.
"It's tough," catcher Chris Gimenez said. "But at the same time, we put ourselves in this position, and somehow we're going to have to just keep winning and hope for some help."
Last year, the Rays won their final five games and got enough help to get into the playoffs on the dramatic final night. Saturday, they said that experience helps them maintain hope now.
"Nobody ever gives up, especially here," said outfielder Matt Joyce, who hit two homers. "Anything's possible, and we definitely know that better than anybody. So anything can happen. We're going to keep playing hard and trying to win."
They'll do so today with the added benefit of having their ace, 19-game winner David Price, on the mound, and facing a Sox team that has lost nine of 11 to drop two back in the Central race and is starting rookie lefty Jose Quintana.
With a win, the Rays (87-71) can at least extend their pursuit of Oakland to Monday. But if the Rays lose and the A's win, they'd be done tonight. Also, their hopes of catching Baltimore with a three-game sweep at the Trop would be gone if they lose or the O's win.
"We do need some help," Maddon said. "But we've got to believe that's going to happen while we take care of our own business. We were 1-0 on Saturday. Let's go 1-0 on Sunday and see what happens by the time we get back home."
They were impressive in taking care of things Saturday.
Moore, who hadn't won in six starts and didn't make it past four innings in any of his past three, was much better, though apparently not as dominant as he looked in retiring the first 13 and allowing only one hit and two walks into the sixth.
"I went out there and competed with what I had," Moore said.
"Efficient," Maddon said.
Maddon was concerned about a dropoff in velocity, from the usual upper 90s to a few pitches that clocked 89, and pulled Moore in the sixth with only 77 pitches and a 6-0 lead. Both said afterward there were no health issues and if there is another start to be made — such as a potential tiebreaker on Thursday — that he'd be good to go.
"Matt did a nice job righting himself," Maddon said. "I know his confidence has to ascend a bit after that outing based on what happened his last several starts."
After being held to one run on three hits Friday as their eight-game winning streak ended, the Rays jumped on Sox Cy Young candidate Chris Sale, taking a 3-0 lead on an RBI double by Ben Zobrist and a two-run homer by Jeff Keppinger, then extending it 5-0 and chasing Sale in the fourth. Gimenez homered in the sixth, then Joyce in the seventh and in the eighth.
"Tough loss (Friday) night and you read all the epitaphs and whatever, and our guys come out (Saturday) and play the kind of game we had just been playing a couple days ago at home where you put all the runs on the board," Maddon said. "We're capable."
And hopeful. But that's all that's certain.
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]