ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays can be, depending on what night you watch them, a lot of things. But the one thing they are not, manager Joe Maddon likes to proudly say, is afraid.
So that's why they'll keep running and trying to steal bases when it doesn't always seem wise. And why they'll let a guy with a career average of .180 go to the plate in a key eighth-inning situation.
And why Monday afternoon, after Ryan Roberts stole second and Chris Gimenez singled him in, the Rays were celebrating a 4-3 victory over the stumbling Yankees that pulled them to within 2½ games of first place in a suddenly airtight American League East race at 74-61. They remained 1½ behind the surging Orioles for the second wild card.
"I just loved the way we played today," Maddon said. "I liked the energy. I liked the way we came after them today. I think that was good. I want to believe that's what we're about."
After a big-game effort from James Shields, a loud homer by B.J. Upton, a well-planned double-steal and some timely hitting, the Rays found themselves batting in the eighth, before a boisterous playoff-type crowd of 28,585, with the score tied at 3.
What looked like a promising start, a single by Jeff Keppinger and an apparent stolen base by pinch-runner Rich Thompson, was wiped out by a controversial-at-the-time out call, enough so that Maddon was ejected, then apologized. A fly ball left them with two outs and nothing doing.
But Roberts singled off Yankees reliever David Robertson, then — here's that no-fear thing — took advantage of the green light from Maddon, and after two throws over by Robertson and with a 2-and-1 count he took off for second, arriving safely.
"In that situation in the game you've got to put pressure on them and keep it on them," Roberts said. "Just because somebody got thrown out doesn't mean you can't run at all for the rest of the time. You've got to pick and choose the situation. … I just ended up guessing right."
Gimenez, he of the .178 average over parts of four big-league seasons, including six weeks with the Rays previously, was next. He earned his Sept. 1 recall primarily due to his hitting against left-handers, which is why he started Monday vs. CC Sabathia, and he knocked in the first run with a second-inning single.
But Maddon, or, technically, bench coach Dave Martinez, let him hit because of Robertson's reverse splits, meaning the reliever is a right-hander who actually can be tougher on lefties.
Once he got past telling himself it was "the biggest at-bat of your life," Gimenez (GYM-en-ez) stood and delivered, bouncing a single that got by second baseman Robinson Cano, hobbled by a sore left hip, to score the winner.
"Well," Gimenez said, "that was one of the best things that's happened in my career."
Being in the middle of the Rays' now standard raucous postgame celebration — what with the clapping and the slapping — and pulling on the victory light quickly became a close second. "It doesn't get much better than that," he said.
With 27 games left, the Rays know there is a lot more to come. "The important thing," Maddon said, "is to at least win the series."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]