ST. PETERSBURG — The weird way in which the Rays scored their 3-2, 10-inning walkoff win Wednesday might be best defined this way: Ben Zobrist scored the winning run and didn't know it.
"I really didn't have a clue," Zobrist said. "I thought we were switching sides again until I heard the crowd reaction and I looked over and Sean (Rodriguez) was fist-bumping and I was like, "Yeaaaaa, great.' "
Zobrist eventually joined the celebratory mob that formed around Rodriguez near second base, and asked the same question that so many others, on the field, in the dugouts, the stands and their living rooms had after what was officially a walk-off fielder's choice: "What happened?"
Rodriguez, whose hustle to second made the victory possible, didn't have time amid the tomfoolery for the details: "I was like, 'We won,' " he said. "That's all that matters."
In terms of beating the Tigers for the first time this season, improving to 70-58 and moving back within 7 ½ games of the American League wild card, Rodriguez was right on.
But what did happen made for pretty good conversation, too, as the Rays scored their fifth walkoff win of the month, and 10th of the season.
After a tremendous nine-inning start by Wade Davis, Evan Longoria's 22nd home run, Johnny Damon's 2,700th career hit and another slew of wasted chances, the Rays got to the bottom of the 10th tied 2-2 and had the bases loaded with two outs.
Elliot Johnson hit a hard ground ball pretty much right at Tigers third baseman Brandon Inge. Inge made the decision, at the least debatable if not questionable, to throw to second. Ramon Santiago, shifted toward first, broke to the base but Rodriguez, running all-out and sliding hard, beat the throw, allowing Zobrist to score the winning run.
Rodriguez said he anticipated a number of scenarios, including making sure he slid late so he was on the base, but he had only one thing in mind when Johnson hit the ground ball: "Get to second as quick as possible."
Johnson was among those surprised to see the game end because Inge threw to second rather than step on third or throw to first.
"I was amazed, I couldn't believe it," he said. "I wasn't even thinking about anything happening at second base."
But Inge, who had bobbled Zobrist's potential double-play grounder to set the rally in motion, insisted he made the right play since the ball was hit to his left. And, also, that second-base umpire Ed Rapuano blew the call.
"I thought he was out, and a lot of other guys did, too," Inge said. "It's not fun when it goes down like that and the game should still be going on."
There was one other element to the play, which was Johnson remembering to keep running to first. He must have still been excited after the game, because in saying he didn't want to commit a modern-day version of Merkle's Boner — a famous 1908 baserunning gaffe by Giants rookie Fred Merkle, who failed to advance to second on a walkoff hit — Johnson called it Finkle's Boner, making him the first person to confuse Merkle with a character from an Ace Ventura movie. Seriously.
Manager Joe Maddon, who preaches hustle above all else, was ready to make Rodriguez a model for the entire Rays organization.
"We win," Maddon said. "because of his effort, period."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]