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Tampa Bay Rays beat Texas Rangers 6-3 to avoid elimination in AL division series

ARLINGTON, Texas

Friday's workout was over, but before the Rays would head back to their Fort Worth hotel, word spread there was going to be a short meeting. The door to the coaches' room was shut, the players gathered at the far end of the clubhouse, and for nearly 15 minutes, Carlos Peña delivered an inspirational message. Remember where you came from, he told them, who you used to be, how much you've overcome to get to this point. Citing how Evan Longoria wasn't drafted out of high school, how Grant Balfour dealt with injuries, how his own career was in jeopardy before he joined the then last-place Devil Rays, Peña reminded them that they weren't prima donnas or silver spooners but fighters and scrappers and battlers. And, he stressed, make sure that is how you show up to play Saturday. "Not the guys we in our minds have become, but I want the guys that wanted to become (more), those guys that were dreaming at one time," he explained Saturday afternoon. "Those guys. That humble bunch." A few hours later, Peña was talking at this locker again, marveling really, at how it all worked out. The Rays came alive and stayed alive with a 6-3 win over the Rangers that

extended the best-of-five AL division series to at least Game 4 today. And it was Peña who delivered again, knocking in the tying run, scoring the go-ahead run then adding a two-run homer for good measure.

"That's crazy," Peña said. "It's that magic that I know exists. I know that there's teams like this; we know that we have this magic lingering around us and all we have to do is believe. And when things like that happen, it makes you wonder it it's actually true."

Peña's words were inspiring and they were relaxing, and seemed to touch several Rays.

"I'm just glad everyone listened," reliever Dan Wheeler said.

Starting pitcher Matt Garza delivered the big game they needed, working into the seventh and allowing only two runs. The defense was again dazzling. The bullpen got the chance to matter.

And most critically, after not getting any big hits in the first two games, they suddenly got a handful Saturday: B.J. Upton doubled in the run that tied it the first time in the sixth, snapping their 0-for-14 drought with runners in scoring position. Dan Johnson doubled off left-hander Darren Oliver to start the go-ahead rally in the eighth. John Jaso followed Peña's single that retied the score with a two-out, two-strike single that put them ahead to stay.

"I was so nervous hoping that we didn't get swept," said leftfielder Carl Crawford, whose ninth-inning homer expanded the lead to 4-2. "That was the main thing, just don't get swept. We got so close, just to get out of that, it feels so much better. It almost feels like we're winning the series right now."

The Rangers do still lead the series 2-1. They need just to win today's matinee to wrap it up. And history says the odds remain long for the Rays, as only one team, the 2001 Yankees, won a best-of-five series after losing the first two at home.

But there was a noticeable feeling of relief and confidence in the Rays clubhouse, and the sense they think the opposite feelings on the other side of the building.

"Now the pressure is on them," said reliever Joaquin Benoit, the former Ranger who got the win. "They don't want to go back to Tampa (Bay)."

Peña can be the conscience of the team, but a .196 batting average that has led to being dropped in the order and occasionally benched, including Game 2 on Thursday, can diminish the ability to lead. Plus, the first baseman is at the end of his contract, meaning Saturday could have been his final game and the eighth-inning at-bat his last as a Ray.

But he was feeling confident at the plate, having just missed a three-run homer earlier, and with the Rays down 2-1, he laced a 1-and-2 Oliver fastball to right, scoring pinch-runner Desmond Jennings. Peña moved to second on Jason Bartlett's two-out walk, then scored on Jaso's single. Peña added a two-run homer in the ninth to make it 6-2.

The fact that he led them to victory after leading the meeting wasn't lost in the clubhouse.

"It's backing up the talk," manager Joe Maddon said.

"It worked," Bartlett said. "It seems like he always comes through in the clutch. I think he was more relaxed after that speech, too."

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay Rays beat Texas Rangers 6-3 to avoid elimination in AL division series 10/09/10 [Last modified: Sunday, October 10, 2010 10:07am]
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